Remember Me Like This
by Bret Anthony Johnston
(Random House)

Here’s the deal: Bret Anthony Johnston is the single most distinguished literary figure ever associated with the skateboarding realm—the historically anti-establishment/loner/nonconformist sport where visual content reigns supreme—and certainly the only winner of a Pushcart Prize1 who can 360 flip.

And look O Gentle Reader, this isn’t someone who skated for a few years and now occasionally dusts off the memories, drags them down from the attic, only to place them back in a cabinet cluttered with adolescent curios.

To this day, Mr. Johnston — director of Harvard’s creative writing program, author of the critically acclaimed short story collection Corpus Christi, editor of Naming the World and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer, author of the Danny Way documentary Waiting for Lightning — skates2 with evangelical fervor.

He’s a skater.

And that’s what’s great about this impeccably credentialed author. Trite as it sounds, Mr. Johnston is living proof that skaters—still freighted with the “slacker” image—can do any darn thing they please, even ride first class to the literary establishment’s innermost sanctums.

Hemingway had bullfights.

George Plimpton had football.

Bret has the board.

So for observers of the skateboarding literary scene, such as it is, the publication of Mr. Johnston’s first novel, Remember Me Like This, is a cause for three cheers, a bunch of “woo-hoos,” and a passel of “yippees.”

In skateboarding, instantly obsolete “web clips” are all too common; 365 pages of well-wrought fiction are not.

A stirring portrait of a family’s emotional life, Remember Me Like This tells the story of Eric and Laura Campbell and their 11-year-old son Justin’s haunting disappearance. What fate ultimately befell him? How do they swim against a riptide of grief? Is true reunion even possible after the passage of so much time, so shattering a psychic injury?

These are but a few questions besieging the Campbells as they struggle with the sense that one day a loved one simply fell into a black hole—the void violence carves daily into the American mind, body, and soul.

Indeed, a soggy corpse sets the plot in motion. But far from being a stagy whodunit crowded with chintzy cliffhangers, dark and stormy nights and mustache-twirling villains, Remember Me Like This is a finely etched study of trauma’s long half-life and the way it seeps into the soil of communities, in this case fictional Southport, Texas, the Campbells’ Gulf Coast town.

Publically there are the search parties, and the billboards plastered with the names of the missing. Privately there are self-recriminations, the endless, all-consuming cycles of “what-if?” “if-only…” and “why?”

By the same token, the tragic subject matter grants Johnston ample opportunity to thread the narrative with moments of credible redemption. Laura Campbell volunteers at a dolphin sanctuary, a moody atmosphere evoked with precision and care. (One realizes this is as much her refuge as it is theirs.)

And of course, one would be mildly disappointed if skateboarding did not furnish Remember Me Like This with a few motifs. Sure enough, Griffin, Justin Campbell’s thoughtful younger sibling, is a devotee, and Johnston has clearly taken great pains to depict how this four-wheeled wooden plank can offer unique solace to an adolescent cut adrift.

There are many reasons to read Remember Me Like This.

Its loving evocations of a Texas town’s skate spots is certainly one of them.

However, something else, something beyond skateboarding, is also going on here: a storyteller grappling with fiction’s eternal tasks.

Fiction—as no other creation quite can—opens other lives: the grieving parent, the bereft brother, the missing son.

Without fiction’s truth, the stranger at the stoplight, the co-worker quietly crying in the next cubicle, or that family the neighborhood over—the one you heard something crazy, something horrible happened to—stays shrouded in mystery, hidden in plain sight. You wonder how they pulled through, question what you would do, and have no answers.

Until a book like Remember Me Like This rises from the mist.

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American Fun
by John Beckman
(Random House)

“America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy,” John Updike alleged. John Beckman’s immensely charming history often reads as an untangling of this theory. Since America’s inception, he argues, there have been forces arrayed for and against fun. (The opening chapter recounts the epic battle between grouchy William Bradford, of Plymouth Colony, and fun-loving Thomas Morton, of Merry Mount.) A professor of English at the U.S. Naval Academy, Mr. Beckman explores cultural moments that were pure fun (proto-jazz musician Buddy Bolden scores an early hit with “Funky Butt”) and when capitalistic calculations supplant true joy (P.T. Barnum, etc.).

But no history of American fun would be complete without remarks on our country’s singular contribution to fun: skateboarding. Never fear, Mr. Beckman gives the Dogtown and Z-Boys era its due and ponders why skateboarding, like so many American sports, loses touch with its roots in pure play.
Truly epic in scope, American Fun is amazing, and you should purchase it from your local independent bookseller and blah, blah, blah would you mind if I asked you a personal question? Yeah, you, O Gentle Reader! Are you currently taking any medications? Adderall3 or other stimulant? Because here’s the thing: Book reviews are generally kinda boring, and if you have read this far, congratulations on your tenacity. Why you’re here when you could be watching “Otters holding hands” or “Husky Dog Talking – ‘I love you’” on the Net is beyond this reviewer, but your commitment to this relationship is touching/you have dependency issues and you look so beautiful and vulnerable and I love you woof woof woof!

Hence, in gratitude for your doggedness, we’re going to shake up, disrupt, and radically transform the (skateboarding-themed) capsule book review industry! You ready, dog?

Since Professor Beckman literally WROTE THE BOOK ON FUN, the royal we called him ON THE TELEPHONE. Oh yeah, that’s right. And we explained that since Mr. Beckman was in some sense A PROFESSOR OF FUN, we thought it would be SUPER FUN4 if we watched a new skateboard video together and, like, deconstructed it or whatever.

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directed by William Strobeck

“How did you get this number?” Professor Beckman said frostily.


In point of fact, the even-keeled scholar was perfectly amenable to dissecting cherry—the first full-length video released by Supreme, storied skate shop and clothier.

The countercultural equivalent of an event film, cherry features legends and decorated veterans (Mark Gonzales, Paulo Diaz, Jason Dill, etc.), reigning cult figures (Alex Olson, Dylan Rieder, etc.), recent initiates (Sage Elsesser, Sean Pablo, Tyshawn Jones, etc.),5 and the experimental jet set (Chloë Sevigny etc.). As this mélange suggests, cherry is as much a bleary-eyed love letter to the downtown demimonde—a deliberate provocation rife with “adult content”—as it is a skate video. To those who say skateboarding has become too sterile, cherry says, “Not so fast.” Here is a NSFW film that would make its parents and eccentric relatives—Larry Clark and Harmony Korine, Nan Goldin and Diane Arbus, Jim Goldberg and Martin Bell—proud.

And where did Mr. Beckman stand6 on the film’s rougher edges? Was it all in good fun?

“[The film] almost makes an argument about street skating,” Mr. Beckman said. “A certain element of flaunting transgression.”

“Raw ‘folk’ fun often happens in rough, often abject conditions,” he mused. “Merry Mount was no walk in the park. The Gold Rush, the American Revolution. These were really intense environments, but fun often arises out of them. [cherry] celebrates that aspect of street skating. These kids find these crappy corners of the city, just this piece of metal sticking out that no one would think to notice, and they turn it into this playground. They just have so much fun with a derelict corner of the cityscape… It’s really respectful of what street skating is about. ”

Verdict: Fun!

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by Seb Caryoal
Introduction by Dave Chappelle
(Last Gasp)

You’re still here? You know what your problem is? You’re needy. That’s your problem. Now I’m rolling my eyes to express condescension laced with thinly veiled contempt even as I invite you up for coffee, slip into something a little more comfortable, light some candles knowing all too well that this dysfunctional, increasingly toxic relationship with you O Gentle Reader will yet again sway-lurch toward another ill-advised intimacy for reasons I can’t fully explain, and don’t really want to, but whatever. You apparently need an explanation. Why you have this pathological need to label everything instead of just letting things be is something you should really think about and work on. Seriously. That’s what is so amazing about skateboarding. It is beyond words. Words can’t explain. But then you do have books that start to limn the edges of what skateboarding really is, like this book which is a book of photographs and interviews and yarns about storied San Francisco skate shop FTC and to turn its pages is to turn back time to the little store off Van Ness that was this warm little world of stickers burning-bright behind glass and new decks clicking and clacking onto the counter with a thwap and to the Embarcadero Plaza—the plaza in that picture up there—when it was all that it was, the dreamscape that it was. (It was Hollywood, baby.) And if you went into FTC in those days, or heard the bricks clattering under your board or even saw the dude in that picture up there, you just felt like you were, as Baudelaire once said of his walks through Paris, “wading into a vast reservoir of electricity.” Do you see that dude in that picture? That dude was the dude that every dude wanted to be. That’s Mike Carroll. He used to skate with the most insolent expression on his face. And when you saw him skate you either got it instantly, knew you’d seen a glimpse of something outside time, or you were an idiot, a “T-Dog.”(Slang. A fake skater.) There he is: king and crown, throne and scepter. And I don’t care if you’re William Friggin Faulkner no one will ever be able to do it justice though this book comes close. In certain sports media circles you regularly hear the term “endemic audience” thrown around and yeah, okay, that’s probably a relevant term. It would be technically accurate to say this book appeals to “the endemic audience.” But then maybe you believe there is a way to “bridge the gap”—make things a little more legible for the “mainstream” or “non-endemic audience” without sacrificing the essentials or resorting to footnote7 upon footnote. All you have to do is try to explain. Try to explain that FTC presided over skateboarding’s most influential era and, just like in the movies, it was the place that a rag-tag band of misfits, many lacking any real home life to speak of, called home. Try to explain why these guys were personal faves: Jovontae Turner, Drake Jones, Shamil Randle and Lavar McBride etc. Try to explain that Shamil Randle skated with an afro pick in his hair, that Drake Jones had a little light bulb tattooed on his wrist, that Lavar McBride was a child star and, as he relays in the book, became homeless and this is baffling because this was the KID THAT HAD IT ALL. But doing so feels so cheap, quick, and dirty because you really did want to linger on the afro pick and say THIS IS NOT JUST A CULTURAL NUANCE, THIS IS SKATEBOARDING and anything less than rhapsodic, overwrought language feels like a disservice, especially to this era that so reliably makes skaters of a certain age go gaga, this reviewer included for sure, for sure. So much depends on an afro pick. You either get it or you don’t. And anyway, aren’t you over it—sick and tired of explanations? Explanations are risky. They have this weird way of ruining the moment. “We murder to dissect,” William Wordsworth said. Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle: The act of observation changes the thing observed. So shut your mouth O Gentle Reader! Silence is golden! Hit the lights! Don’t say another word.

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by Jason Ellis with Mike Tully

Last but not least, this bad mama jamma.

The Awesome Guide to Life: Get Fit, Get Laid, Get Your Sh*t Together needs no introduction because, jeez, just look at the cover.

Here is Mr. Ellis, a retired pro skater, periodic MMA fighter and Sirius XM radio host, on courtship: “One time, when I was on a skate tour in my early thirties, I managed to have sex with a giant lady.”

Bad book. Down boy.

And here is the eponymous host of the Jason Ellis Show analyzing why, in the wake of Romanticism, the mimetic theory of art began to wane: “I look sweet. But if you try and look like me you’ll probably look like a jackass.”

Drop it. No.

(The Awesome Guide to Life is, in fact, a follow up to Mr. Ellis’s wry, wistful memoir I’m Awesome.)

And yet, inviting target though Mr. Ellis’s foray into self-help literature may be, there is something oddly agreeable about his voice. One suspects he is actually a bit of a satirist, if not a subtle one. In other words: Mr. Ellis is indeed a self-exalting individual hell-bent on turning his narcissistic delusions into a cottage industry, but he is also a send-up of this sort of guy and he sort of knows it and, God help you, at times you can’t help but laugh at/with the man.

A guilty pleasure/“brain break” if there ever was one, you like it even if you don’t necessarily like that you like it.

Or, in Mr. Ellis’s immortal words, “Finally, there is crack. There is no right way to do crack. End of story.”

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When I was in college, David Foster Wallace gave a reading. As a joke I asked him to fill out a dining hall comment card. I also asked what, if anything, he thought of skateboarding, thinking that this distinguished author might have something profound to say. “The little fuckers run into me in front of the library,” he said.

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1 The Pushcart was awarded for the short story “Soldier of Fortune.” But run don’t walk to “The Gift of Fear,” Johnston’s masterly Men’s Journal article on skateboarding legend Danny Way which was included in 2012’s Best American Sports Writing.

2 Full disclosure: Please note that Mr. Johnston is a longtime friend/idol of this reviewer and that Mr. Johnston is also a better skater than this reviewer and this reviewer is totally at peace with that and is not being defensive at all.

3 What was the name/number of the physician that you saw? It’s for a friend.

4 Fun is an all-important aesthetic criterion in skateboarding.

5 All of whom have recently joined Mr. Dill’s latest venture, a board company called Fucking Awesome.

6 For example, in time-honored skate video tradition, cherry documents altercations with security guards. “Maybe this is where I find myself getting a little older and moralizing,” Mr. Beckman said. “That’s clearly not a ‘fun’ opinion on my own part I’m sure, but whatever.”

7 Okay, now you’re hovering. Please stop hovering.