Gloss & Dross

Playing the fool

There are few reasons to pay attention to Toby Young's second memoir, The Sound of No Hands Clapping. Young is 42 years old and, yes, you read it right, this is his second memoir. Unless you're a prodigy along the lines of Mark Twain or David Sedaris, is there any reason to have two memoirs at this age? Being ambitious and British hardly seems compelling enough for a $25 book.

Other reasons to dislike Toby Young: He's as vapid and fame-starved as any Real World cast member. The critical eye he capably turns on pop culture, love and marriage somehow dissipates when it comes to his overarching desire for celebrity.

In How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (2002), Young fell from a seemingly enviable journalistic perch at Vanity Fair, where he upset movie stars and his editor Graydon Carter. For this, he's married and back in London, his gaze fixed on the Hollywood film business. Contracted by what he assures is a "Very Powerful Hollywood Producer," Young busies himself adapting a book about a disco-era legend into a screenplay. It never really takes off.

At the same time, Young has become a father and an actor, while holding down a day job as theater critic, which he admits he's totally unqualified for. None of this is terrifically exciting, but despite being a complete ass, Young is a genuinely funny and charming writer.

Case in point: his account of his short-lived cub reporter gig at The Times (of London). Rather than working his way up a promising career ladder, he hacks into the company's computer network and spends his time messing with his supervisor. To Young, such mischief is as inevitable as exhaling. As a writer, he has great instinct. In his romps are many worthy insights into the life of a successful writer. Also buried in these pages are some great exchanges between Young and a Los Angeles "industry" friend about screenwriting and the creative process.

The Sound is hardly a book without problems. Young's self-deprecation is shticky, in part because his knack for making a royal twat of himself grows suspect due to its frequency. But the funny often manages to cancel out the skepticism.

Maybe it's because Americans put British folk on a pedestal of erudition, but it's a welcome relief to find a Brit who's smart and a complete imbecile. In his first memoir, an exasperated Graydon Carter tells Young he's "like a British person born in New Jersey." It's meant as a slight, of course, though it's not totally untrue. But thank goodness for that because it's what makes his memoirs work. If only more British people were born in the Garden State. —John Dicker


Medical porn

Deborah Gumucio, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan Medical School, has spent years eyeballing sperm, dead skin, viruses and fat cells under a microscope. Thankfully, she's decided to share such beauty with others.

Instead of keeping those images locked away at the School of Organogenesis, where it could only be appreciated by all the organo ... um ... the specialists, Gumucio, along with her colleagues and grad students, offer enlarged and framed photos to metro Detroiters, on the cheap. They call it "bioartography," and it's actually not that bad-looking — sort of reminiscent of prints by unscientific artists that sell for thousands of dollars. See for yourself at the Ann Arbor Art Fair this year Wednesday through Saturday, July 19-22, throughout the streets of downtown Ann Arbor. —Rebecca Mazzei


Man of letters

News about Hurricane Katrina, about all that was lost, is unfortunately, evaporating slowly from memory. But if you think you can't be moved by images of the aftermath, consider road-tripping to Michigan State University, where the Kresge Art Museum shows a small exhibition of personal letters by MSU alumnus and former New Orleans resident John Scott. Scott's correspondences — to MSU art professor Clif McChesney and his wife Jane — are hand-written in pen and ink in calligraphic script with accompanying watercolor illustrations. His tone bends from curiously philosophical to sad and resigned about art and about losing his home and studio, which are gone for good. Scott has since relocated to Houston and is in poor health. —RM


Through July 28 in the Old Masters Gallery at Kresge Art Museum, MSU Campus, East Lansing; 517-353-9834.

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