Saturday, August 01, 2009


It is not unusual to have two or three books going at once, especially if they are a manageable combination like one fiction, one history, and one of short stories. Somehow that's moved out of control recently and, maybe in reaction to one disconcertingly horrible book commented on here recently or whether it's because not one of the current books is overly compelling, I now have five underway, all but one started in the last week. This is really not manageable, but then again how fortunate to have so many choices.

130 pages into "The Polish Officer" by Alan Furst, I'm part of the Polish intelligence office in 1940 Paris preparing to flee as the French government and army have not only abandoned Poland, but Europe as well. In the last two years my interest in this type of historical fiction has been revived, last in evidence in the seventh grade. What that means is not something to dwell on.

142 pages into "In the Kitchen" by Monica Ali, a follow up to the exceptional "Brick Lane", and I'm definitely in the kitchen, not necessarily enjoying it all so much, waiting for bad things to happen, cognizant of the good writing but not yet pulled in by the story and some of the characters. It's too soon to tell.

107 pages in on "Methland, the death and life of an American small town", by Nick Redding, a recently published study of a rural American tragedy through the microcosm of one small Iowa town. I am aware for various reasons of the way that methamphetamines have somehow cut out the heart, geographically and more, of the big rural middle, stuck in the middle James McMurtry would say, and I'm committed to this book. The writing at times has a descriptive style that seems to try too hard, maybe it's great, but to me can be distracting. The reporting, however, is solid.

190 pages now on "The Raw and the Cooked, Adventures of a Roving Gourmand" by Jim Harrison, and this book that has been sitting around unfinished for quite a while. A couple of months ago the first half went in a flash, and then it became more than a little repetitive, probably because many of the chapters are entries from a monthly magazine column. When time decides, however, some of the best is yet to come as we, or the writer and the reader, are moving on to France.

Then came "The Best American non-required Reading", edited by the highly regarded, by me, Dave Eggers, part of the Best American series 2008, but newly a part it seems from prior years, and this is full of reading to pick at. Even great anthologies have stories and articles that don't work for everyone and this one already does, but all of the writing itself seems good and it's a real distraction, including some quirky parts, like Best American---names of champion show dogs of 2007, New York Times headlines from 1907, others, and quotes from Kurt Vonnegut books, of which a very few will be shared here with acknowledgement:
---"You go up to a man and you say, How are things going Joe? and he says, Oh fine, fine, couldn't be better. And you look into his eyes, and you see things couldn't be much worse. When you get right down to it, everybody's having a perfectly lousy time of it. And the hell of it is, nothing seems to help much." The Sirens of Titans
---"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be." Mother Night
---"Maturity, Bokonon tells us, is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything." Cats Cradle
---"Another flaw in the human character is that everyone wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance." Hocus Pocus
---"Guess what? TV is an eraser." Timequake
---"The first remedy for the worldwide epidemic of depression is a gift called the blues." A Man Without a Country

On top of all of this, this week's New Yorker is one of those issues with multiple must-reads that grab attention.

Back to the armchair and footstool.


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