Book Review: Diary of Indignities (Patrick Hughes)

I’ve been mulling this one over for a while. The review, not the book. It’s taken me quite a while to figure out how I should begin, and to establish exactly what there is for me to say. Eventually I decided this fairly rambling, conversational tone is probably the best (and, as an added bonus, easiest!) approach to adopt. As an added benefit it matches the tone of Diary of Indignities quite nicely. Sadly, I’m not going to be as funny as this book is. Which is very, very funny indeed.

It’s safe to say that you might not entirely agree with that claim. This is a book, based on a blog, written by a man “pimping out half-assed, embarrassing stories and mocking his family on the Internet in order to get the positive reinforcement denied him in his dead-end career or train-wreck social life”. It’s composed of self-deprecatory tales of indignity, woe, failure, drink and drug abuse, and every so often the author’s arse and its exciting adventures in medicine and blood. If you don’t find shit like this terribly amusing – you might, for example, consider it to be puerile, stupid, self-destructive or what have you – then stroll on by. Why are you reading about a book called Diary of Indignities, anyway?

If, however, this sort of shit does amuse you, and perhaps if you can relate to being young, or stupid, or punk, or having a shitty childhood, or partying, or squatting, or having crazy parents, or devising elaborate ways to fuck with people for laughs, then you’ll probably get a lot out of this. This will mostly be laughter. A few times, I laughed until I cried. I concede that on two occasions this was when I looked at the photos of Hughes’ retired father wearing a home-made Batman costume designed for a 6-year old. Seriously, that has to be the funniest fucking photo I’ve ever seen, and that includes the one where a proud father Photoshopped goatse into the background of his baby photos. But there are plenty of other gems as well, such as this beautiful little tale:

“As legend has it, the [Huegel incident] is as follows: Once, in mid-song during an intense, emo-filled practice by his band, Spoke, Huegel let out what he also thought was an innocent little bottom burp that resulted in a single round turd rolling out of his shorts and onto the warehouse floor. The whole band stopped to a silence, and Jon Resh (who’s responsible for designing the book you now hold) exclaimed, “What’s that, brother?” To which Huegel replied, “Dude! It’s my shit.” And walked off in humiliation. Now, whether or not it all happened exactly like that, I’m not sure. But I like to believe it did.”

On occasion there are also moments of genuine poignancy, buried in there amongst the stories of misfortune and poor judgement. On rare occasion Hughes doesn’t play them for laughs. At times you get a picture of Hughes as a guy who doesn’t only use his sense of the absurd as a way to glean humour from his life and history. I’m not gonna quote these, though, as robbed of their context they just wouldn’t have the same impact.

For the most part, though, this is a book that I found goddamn hilarious, and have already read parts of several times. I’ve also read them out to people – thereby robbing them of half the humour thanks to my not-designed-for-comedy oratory skills (incidentally, ladies? Kissing me makes me shut up. Remember this) – they’re that good. What you have here is a bunch of funny stories from Hughes’ perspective; with some I can really relate to what he’s writing about (confusing shitty childhood, hateful school years, moving around, having no money, falling into punk rock, making retrospectively laughable claims about the same, being socially retarded – the usual sort of teenage thing), and with others they’re just funny, weird or awesome.

Diary of Indignities has also given me some idea of what it might have been like growing up in Florida as a social misfit and punk rocker in the 80s and 90s. As I basically nerd for Gainesville, this is pretty cool. Okay, it’s not exactly meant to represent an accurate picture of the period or the scene or anything. It’s not even meant to be an accurate picture of Hughes’ life, although from what he writes it’s fairly representative. But still.

Hell, where am I going with this? I’m not going anywhere. I’ve already said what I think: this book is really, really funny. I’d lend it to all my friends, but I don’t want to part with my copy. I guess I’ll just have to exhort them to buy it instead. And so should YOU. If you’re not yet convinced, just ask yourself: where else can you find a book that starts with the sentence “Oh, I just remembered—one time I made out with this retarded kid in church.”

Exactly.

[ Published by M Press. There’s only a US edition ($14.95) as best I can tell. But it’s also on UK Amazon for £7. You can also check out Pat Hughes’ blog right here. For the record, I accepted the book for review as soon as I got to the stealthy Narwhal. And say, did you know Amazon UK now has a feature telling you the most commonly used words in a book? It’s unenlightening in the best possible way. ]

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