Guest Recommendations: Gabriel Roth

A new series where we ask smart, talented people what they’re into at the moment. This week’s smart, talented person: Gabriel Roth, author of the novel The Unknowns.

Critique My Dick Pic

The penile self-portrait, or “dick pic,” exists in a cultural space saturated with shame. A married politician who goes to prostitutes is embarrassed, but one who photographs his penis has turned himself into a kind of sexual clown. On OkCupid and SnapChat, men send unsolicited dick pics as a form of aggression, a way of symbolically thrusting their phalluses into woman’s faces.

There’s nothing wrong with penises, and nothing wrong with photography, but our current cultural practices would have us believe there’s something inherently pathological about the combination of the two.

Enter the Critique My Dick Pic blog, which introduces critical standards to the form, assessing submissions on their composition, framing, perspective, illumination, and general sexiness. The author doesn’t pull punches — “the eroticism factor of your picture is approaching zero as it contains very little intimacy or warmth,” she advises one hapless photographer — but even her harshest reviews are constructive: it’s impossible to imagine that their recipients’ subsequent work won’t improve.

The site’s message to men is something like this: Don’t think that your penis is somehow magically wonderful, and don’t imagine that its penisness alone makes it worth our time — but don’t think your penis is inadequate or frightening or repulsive either. Put some thought into how your penis presents itself to the world. Help it put its best foot forward. And then take a picture of it and send it to a girl you like. Like all art, a dick pic is a gift, and the key to successful gift-giving is empathy. Men could stand to learn a lot from this.

(Critique My Dick Pic is totally SFW, unless your workplace frowns on photographs of big hard cocks for some reason.)

Donald Duck Comics by Carl Banks

I’ve been reading a lot of comics with my kid lately, because we both like them, and it’s funny to see what works for both a two-year-old and a normal person. Reading aloud reveals things about comics that you might not notice under normal reading circumstances. Tintin, for instance, has a kind of Hitchcockian precision: there’s an increment of plot in every panel, which makes for an incredibly fussy read-aloud experience.

The ones we like best are the Donald Duck comics that Carl Barks drew in the forties, fifties, and sixties — humorous vignettes and tales of adventure starring Donald, his Uncle Scrooge, and his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie. The stories feel slick and easy-going the first time through, but on the eighth they reveal quietly profound details of characterization and cunningly digressive plots. The settings are visually striking, the cast of characters is large and vivid, and the narrative logic is never strained or compromised. They’re also a great way to introduce a person with little real-world experience to important tropes of our shared culture such as stamp collecting and the Klondike Gold Rush.

I bought a bunch of remaindered paperback Barks collections for five bucks each at Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books in the West Village, but I regret to report that the glue binding in these editions, from Gemstone Publishing, doesn’t stand up to repeated readings. (Pages from “The Many Faces of Magica De Spell” are currently strewn around my living room.) Happily, Fantagraphics Books has begun a series of properly bound and beautifully restored hardcover volumes, a couple of which my kid will be getting for Christmas.

Shelsky’s

I’m mostly pretty down on this current trend of people making really good food and then selling it for a lot of money, because I usually can’t afford it and the idea of it just makes me dissatisfied with whatever I’m eating. It does not enrich my life to know that, had I chosen a different lifestyle and achieved success in business, I could be eating a pickle that was pickled by a master briner using vinegar made by monks or something.

But every now and then I go to Shelsky’s Smoked Fish on Smith Street and pay a substantial sum that is nevertheless a fair price for delicious, subtly flavored salmon or whitefish or herring on pumpernickel with a bit of cream cheese. The suggestion implicit in Shelsky’s food is that it tastes like the smoked fish my ancestors ate, before Big Lox took over and smothered the delicate flavor of the fresh fish with salty oversmoking and mass production. I have no idea if that’s true and I kind of doubt it, because the past was mostly terrible for everyone, but I don’t really care. When my ship comes in and all the checks have cleared, I will host a giant brunch, with huge platters from Shelsky’s, platters covered with Gaspé Nova and black cod sable and both kinds of kippered salmon, and you’ll be invited, and we’ll talk about stuff we read on the Internet while the kids play on the floor.

Gabriel Roth is the author of The Unknowns and hopefully something else eventually.