Friday, February 19, 2010

30 Days of Recommendations: Collected Poems of Donald Justice

Collected Poems

by Donald Justice

What’s it about: the collected poetical works from the 60 year career of the award winning poet Donald Justice.

Why you should read it: again I will let another writer speak for me - "Donald Justice is likely to be remembered as a poet who gave his age a quiet but compelling insight into loss and distance, and who set a standard for craftsmanship, attention to detail, and subtleties of rhythm.” -Marvin Bell.

I discovered Donald Justice’s work reading John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire, where his work is liberally quoted by one of the characters. "Who is this Donald Justice and how come everything he says applies to us?” another asks. Indeed. There are times I feel he talks directly to me, as his work is concerned with the quotidian, the quiet poetry of the mundane. I've even committed a few to memory.

Justice, who died in 2004, in his career won the Lamont Poetry Prize, the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, and the Lannan Literary Award. Collected Poems was nominated for the National Book Award.


A Map Of Love

Your face more than others' faces
Maps the half-remembered places
I have come to I while I slept—
Continents a dream had kept
Secret from all waking folk
Till to your face I awoke,
And remembered then the shore,
And the dark interior.

To A Ten-Months' Child

Late arrival, no
One would think of blaming you
For hesitating so.

Who, setting his hand to knock
At a door so strange as this one,
Might not draw back?

Men at Thirty

Thirty today, I saw
The trees flare briefly like
The candles upon a cake
As the sun went down the sky,
A momentary flash
Yet there was time to wish

Before the break light could die
If I had known what to wish
As once I must have known
Bending above the clean candlelit tablecloth
To blow them out with a breath

Men at Forty

Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.

At rest on a stair landing,
They feel it moving
Beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
Though the swell is gentle.

And deep in mirrors
They rediscover
The face of the boy as he practices tying
His father's tie there in secret

And the face of that father,
Still warm with the mystery of lather.
They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
Something is filling them, something

That is like the twilight sound
Of the crickets, immense,
Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
Behind their mortgaged houses.

The Thin Man

I indulge myself
In rich refusals.
Nothing suffices.
I hone myself to
this edge. Asleep, I
Am a horizon.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

30 Days of Recommendations: Black Gold of the Sun

Black Gold of the Sun

by Ekow Eshun

What’s it about: London born, Ghanaian raised Eshun returns to his African homeland in search of his roots and his identity.

Why you should read it: because it’s a compellingly written personal account of a person caught between the worlds of the immigrant and the assimilated, history and the future, innocence and corruption. Eshun discovers a Ghana unchanged in centuries in some places and modern in others, and a disturbing fact that some of his ancestors were themselves slave traders. An intriguing read about personal identity and cultural politcs.


“My name is Ekow Eshun. That's a story in itself. Ekow means 'born on a Thursday'. The Ghanaian pronunciation of it is Eh-kor and that would be fine if I'd grown up there instead of London where, to the ears of friends, Ehkor became Echo. Throughout my childhood I was pestered by schoolyard wags who thought it hilarious to call after me in descending volume: 'Echo, echo, echo.' It was my first lesson in duality. Who you are is determined by where you are.

My parents arrived in London from Ghana in 1963. They never meant to stay. And even though they have spent most of the past forty years in Britain, Ghana is still their home. When I was a child growing up in London, its sounds and smells pervaded our house. Ghana was there in the hot pepper scent of palm nut soup tickling your nostrils as you entered the house; the highlife songs rising from the stereo; the sound of my mother shouting down a capricious telephone line to her sister in Accra.

But Ghana was their home, not mine. I knew this from experience. I was born in 1968 in a red-brick terraced house in Wembley, north London. I was the youngest of four children. When I was two my parents moved the family to Ghana. We lived in Accra for three years. In 1974, we returned to London. I was five years old. I didn't plan to go back.

My last sight of the place was a country in meltdown. A military junta had taken power shortly before we left. I remembered long speeches by generals on a black-and white television. The hourly price rises for a bag of rice. Strikes and shortages and demonstrations. What was there to return to?”

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

30 Days of Recommendations: Sway


By Zachary Lazar

What’s it about: three vaguely intertwined stories of real figures (Rolling Stone Brian Jones, underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger, Manson family member Bobby Beausoleil) that tell of the excesses and loss of innocence that were the turbulent 60s.

Why should you read it: extremely well written, vivid accounts of fictional occurrences of real people (one hopes Lazar has good lawyers) and jump cuts in the narrative make for a dizzying and at times nightmarish read about the violent end of cultural myths.


“It was spring, 1966. Anger would go for walks in his new neighborhood, a slum taken over by young people, and try to make sense of the odd mishmash of deterioration and adornment: broken stairways with freshly painted railings, run-down porches crawling with morning glories or draped with a faded American flag. He saw young people holding hands and whispering to each other, or sitting on the sidewalk playing guitars, barefoot, the muscles moving solemnly in their shoulders and arms. In Golden Gate Park, he saw streams of soap bubbles drifting over the lawn, flashing prisms of light, and in the distance behind them there might be anything: a group of truant schoolkids, a girl with a German shepherd, a cross-eyed boy in black body paint juggling a set of knives. Everyone under thirty had decided to be an exception: a musician, a runaway, an artist, a star.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

30 Days of Recommendations: The Moviegoer

The Moviegoer

By Walker Percy

What’s it about: the improbably named Binx Bolling, a young man from a moneyed Southern family, and his search for…love? …happiness? …. meaning? while living at the movies in post Korean War New Orleans.

Why should you read it: this modern classic of 20th Century American fiction deftly balances existential and spiritual themes with a thrilling plot as Binx involves his fragile cousin Kate in his mad search.

Winner of the 1961 National Book Award and rated #60 of the 100 Best English Language Novels of the 20th century by the Modern Library and on Time Magazine's 100 Best English Language Novels 1923-Present.


"What do you seek -- God? you ask with a smile.

I hesitate to answer, since all other Americans have settled the matter for themselves and to give such an answer would amount to setting myself a goal which everyone else has reached -- and therefore raising a question in which no one has the slightest interest. Who wants to be dead last among one hundred and eighty million Americans? For, as everyone knows, the polls report that 98% of Americans believe in God and the remaining 2% are atheists and agnostics -- which leaves not a single percentage point for a seeker. For myself, I enjoy answering polls as much as anyone and take pleasure in giving intelligent replies to all questions.

Truthfully, it is the fear of exposing my own ignorance which constrains me from mentioning the object of my search. For, to begin with, I cannot even answer this, the simplest and most basic of all questions: Am I, in my search, a hundred miles ahead of my fellow Americans or a hundred miles behind them? That is to say: Have 98% of Americans already found what I seek or are they so sunk in everydayness that not even the possibility of a search has occurred to them?

On my honor, I do not know the answer."

Google Books version here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

30 Days of Recommendations: The Book of Job

The Book of Job

Translated by Stephen Mitchell

What’s it about: a modern translation of one of the most philosophically loaded books of the Old Testament, the Book of Job, from master translator Stephen Mitchell.

Why you should read it: because Job, with his inexplicable punishment from God, sounds even more modern in this translation as he tries to make sense of God and faith in a world of suffering.


"He [God] does not care; so I say
he murders both the pure and the wicked.
When the plague brings sudden death,
he laughs at the anguish of the innocent.
He hands the earth to the wicked
and blindfolds its judges’ eyes.
Who does it, if not he?”

Google Books version, here.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

30 Days of Recommendations: How We Die: Reflections of Life's Final Chapter

How We Die: Reflections of Life's Final Chapter

by Sherwin Nuland

What’s it about: Yale School of Medicine’s Nuland’s precise description of how we die from old age, cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's, accidents, heart disease, and stroke.

Why you should read it: with effortless prose, Nuland has produced a book about death that is factual, calm and surprisingly reassuring in describing the mechanism of death. What’s the most painful way to go? Drowning.

Winner of the 1996 National Book Award for Non Fiction.


"These days we don't learn about death firsthand as we did when I was a small boy, when most people died at home. Death is no longer a part of life, that old cliche, but that true cliche. Most people learn about death by reading about it in novels, going to the movies, where the patriarch lies in bed surrounded by those who love him and he gives his final blessing and says his last words, closes his eyes. . ."

Google Books version here

Saturday, February 13, 2010

30 Days of Recommendations: Ask the Dust

Ask the Dust

by John Fante

What’s it about: struggling writer Artuto Bandini trying to survive in Depression Era Los Angeles while falling for an intriguing beauty.

Why you should read it: Published in 1938, it’s a gritty, compelling novel, full of the poetry of the lives of those who strive in poverty. Seedy and beautiful, there’s a singular mind of a writer there who left a handful of works in the 1930s and 1980s and under different circumstances could have been one of America's greatest writeres. Read it once, and it stays with you forever like all good cult novels.

It was turned into an unsuccessful film in 2006 with Colin Farrell.

Opening Lines:

"One night I was sitting on the bed in my hotel room on Bunker Hill, down in the very middle of Los Angeles. It was an important night in my life, because I had to make a decision about the hotel. Either I paid up or I got out. that was what the note said, the note the landlady had put under my door. A great problem, deserving acute attention. I solved it by turning out the lights and going to bed.

In the morning I awoke, decided that I should do more physical exercise, and began at once. I did several bending exercises. Then I washed my teeth, tasted blood, saw pink on the toothbrush, remembered the advertisements, and decided to go out and get some coffee.

I went to the restaurant where I always went to the restaurant and I sat down on the stool before the long counter and ordered coffee. It tasted pretty much like coffee, but it wasn't worth the nickel. Sitting there I smoked a couple of cigarets, read the box scores of the American League games, scrupulously avoided the box scores of National League games, and noted with satisfaction that Joe DiMaggio was still a credit to the Italian people, because he was leading the league in batting.

A great hitter, that DiMaggio. I walked out of the restaurant, stood before an imaginary pitcher, and swatted ahome run over the fence. Then I walked down the street toward Angel's Flight, wondering what I would do that day. But there was nothing to do, and so I decided to walk around the town.

I walked down Olive Street past a dirty yellow apartment house that was still wet like a blotter from last night's fog, and I thought of my friends Ethie and Carl, who were from Detroit and had lived there, and I remembered the night Carl hit Ethie because she was going to have a baby, and he didn't want a baby. But they had the baby and that's all there was to that. And I remembered the inside of that apartment, how it smelled of mice and dust, and the old women who sat in the lobby on hot afternoons, and the old woman with the pretty legs. Then there was the elevator man, a broken man from Milwaukee, who seemed to sneer every time you called your floor, as though you were such a fool for choosing that particular floor, the elevator man who always had a tray of sandwiches in the elevator, and a pulp magazine."

Friday, February 12, 2010

30 Days of Recommendations: Jitterbug Perfume

Jitterbug Perfume

by Tom Robbins

What’s it about: Beets, immortality and the god Pan (that’s about as best as I can make it for you).

Why should you read it: Because it’s wacky fun and a great read from its opening paean on the humble beet to the secrets of perfumers and Bohemian kings, this is a madcap, but substantial and thoroughly enjoyable experience. I recall reading a whole chunk of this book in the bookstore and being so enthralled I bought it and finished it in a marathon reading within a few days.

Opening Lines:


The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.

Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets.

The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip . . .

The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.

The beet was Rasputin's favorite vegetable. You could see it in his eyes.

In Europe there is grown widely a large beet they call the mangel-wurzel. Perhaps it is mangel-wurzel that we see in Rasputin. Certainly there is mangel-wurzel in the music of Wagner, although it is another composer whose name begins, B-e-e-t—.

Of course, there are white beets, beets that ooze sugar water instead of blood, but it is the red beet with which we are concerned; the variety that blushes and swells like a hemorrhoid, a hemorrhoid for which there is no cure. (Actually, there is one remedy: commission a potter to make you a ceramic a$$%@#&—and when you aren't sitting on it, you can use it as a bowl for borscht.)

An old Ukranian proverb warns, "A tale that begins with a beet will end with the devil."

That is a risk we have to take.”

Thursday, February 11, 2010

30 Days of Recommendations: The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake

The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake

by Breece D'J Pancake

What’s it about: a collection of wonderful and very American short stories from the tragically short career of Breece D'J Pancake who took his own life at age 27.

Why should you read it: I’ll let another writer tell you.

"As for Breece D'J Pancake: I give you my word of honor that he is merely the best writer, the most sincere writer I've ever read. What I suspect is that it hurt too much, was no fun at all to be that good. You and I will never know."

--Kurt Vonnegut in a letter to John Casey

Opening Lines from “Trilobites”:

“I open the truck's door, step onto the brick side street. I look at Company Hill again, all sort of worn down and round. A long time ago it was real craggy, and stood like an island in the Teays River. It took over a million years to make that smooth little hill, and I've looked all over it for trilobites. I think how it has always been there and always will be, least for as long as it matters. The air is smoky with summertime. A bunch of starlings swim over me. I was born in this country and I have never very much wanted to leave. I remember Pop's dead eyes looking at me. They were real dry, and that took something out of me. I shut the door, head for the café.”

Read the rest of the story here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

30 Days of Recommendations: Collected Poems by Stevie Smith

Collected Poems

by Stevie Smith

What’s it about: the complete poems and doodles of eccentric English poet Stevie Smith (1902-1971).

Why you should read it: because of her ability to tackle a serious subject, plainly and playfully (think - the love child of Emily Dickinson and Ogden Nash) and with a healthy dose of irony. Funny and wise, aching and ironic, Smith’s nimble poems dance their way across themes of War, Death and human interaction. I keep this book on the nightstand to steal a quick, enjoyable read.

*Smith was the subject of a play, Stevie, which was turned into a 1978 film starring Glenda Jackson.


Not Waving but Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,

But still he lay moaning:

I was much further out than you thought

And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking

And now he's dead

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,

They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always

(Still the dead one lay moaning)

I was much too far out all my life

And not waving but drowning.

Audio link to a BBC site of Smith reading the poem.

The Jungle Husband

Dearest Evelyn, I often think of you

Out with the guns in the jungle stew

Yesterday I hittapotamus

I put the measurements down for you but they got lost in the fuss

It's not a good thing to drink out here

You know, I've practically given it up dear.

Tomorrow I am going alone a long way

Into the jungle. It is all grey

But green on top

Only sometimes when a tree has fallen

The sun comes down plop, it is quite appalling.

You never want to go in a jungle pool

In the hot sun, it would be the act of a fool

Because it's always full of anacondas, Evelyn, not looking ill-fed

I'll say. So no more now, from your loving husband Wilfred.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

30 Days of Recommendations: The Grass Harp

The Grass Harp

by Truman Capote

What’s is about: After his parents die, young Collin Fenwick is sent to live with his maiden aunts, the dippy Dolly and the serious Verena. An argument between the aunts breaks out over the production of Dolly’s home medicine, and Collin, Dolly and a servant Catherine run away to live in a Chinaberry tree and inciting a battle between the two sisters’ temperaments.

Why should you read it: An early Capote novel written when he was only 26, this is another of his lyrical, poignant novels of the South, full of vibrant, fully living characters and vivid description. The conflict between the sisters may seem small, but hides a battle about the joys of life verses conformity. An often overlooked gem amid Capote's other books.

Made into a play and a 1991 film. Often this short novel is collected with A Tree of Night and Other Stories.


“A waterfall of color flowed across the dry and strumming leaves; and I wanted then for the Judge to hear what Dolly had told me: that it was a grass harp, gathering, telling, a harp of voices remembering a story."

Monday, February 08, 2010

30 Days of Recommendations: Into Thin Air

Into Thin Air

by Jon Krakauer

What’s it about: Krakauer’s harrowing, first person account of the May 1996 disaster on Mount Everest, where eight climbers died near the summit after a freak storm popped up.

Why you should read it: One of the best adventure/nature books you will ever read, Krakauer’s clear, concise prose makes you feel all the effects of a high altitude climb without you actually putting yourself in danger. Anyone reading this riveting account, and deciding to try to ascend Everest, needs to have their head examined.

Krakauer was the author of Into the Wild and an writer for Outside Magazine where this book was first an article.


"In March 1996, Outside Magazine sent me to Nepal to participate in, and write about, a guided ascent of Mount Everest. I went as one of eight clients on an expedition led by a well-known guide from New Zealand named Rob Hall. On May 10 I arrived on top of the mountain, but the summit came at a terrible cost.

Among my five teammates who reached the top, four, including Hall, perished in a rogue storm that blew in without warning while we were still high on the peak. By the time I'd descended to Base Camp nine climbers from four expeditions were dead, and three more lives would be lost before the month was out.

The expedition left me badly shaken, and the article was difficult to write. Nevertheless, five weeks after I returned from Nepal I delivered a manuscript to Outside, and it was published in the September issue of the magazine. Upon its completion I attempted to put Everest out of my mind and get on with my life, but that turned out to be impossible. Through a fog of messy emotions, I continued trying to make sense of what had happened up there, and I obsessively mulled the circumstances of my companions' deaths."

Sunday, February 07, 2010

30 Days of Recommendations: Always Coming Home

Always Coming Home

by Ursula K. Le Guin

What’s it about: “the archeology of the future.” It’s the cultural examination of the Kesh, a tribe of vaguely Native American people who "might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern California” from the viewpoint of a woman called Stone Telling, replete with stories, songs, myths, recipes and even a language (take that Elvish & Klingon).

Why you should read it: because Le Guin weaves her obsessions with myth and anthropology, Taoism and modern civilization into the compelling story of an invented people living in a wholly believable utopia.

Selection: from “Dira”

“Heya hey heya, hey heya heya, in that time that place, in the dark cold time, the dark cold place, she was going along, this woman, a human woman, walking in the hills, looking for something to eat. She was looking for brodiaea and calochortus bulbs before they bloomed, and putting out snares for brush rabbit, and gathering anything that could be food, because her people were hungry and so was she. Those were times when people had to work all day for enough to eat, times when even so they didn't have enough to eat, and people died of hunger, human and animal, they died of hunger and cold, so they say.

She was hunting and gathering in the hills, then, and started down into a canyon where she thought she saw some cattail down by the creek. She got into buckbrush and scrub oak and thorn, and had to push her way along; there weren't any deer trails, not even rabbit trails. She pushed along through the brush, trying to get down into the canyon. It was very dark, like it was going to rain. She thought, "Oh, before I get out of this brush, this time of year, I'll be covered with ticks!" She kept brushing at her neck and arms and feeling in her hair for ticks, trying to keep them from sticking to her. She didn't find any cattails. There was nothing to eat down in the canyon. She started to go along downstream, pushing through that thick underbrush, tearing her shirt and scratching her skin on the buckbrush and the thorn. She came into a place where the yellow broom grew very tall and close together. Nothing else grew there. The broom was half dead and grey-looking, without flowers yet. She pushed her way into the broom thicket, and ahead of her there, in the middle of the thicket, she saw a person standing. It was a wide, thin, dark person, with a little head, and one hand without fingers, just two prongs, like pliers or pincers. It stood there waiting. It had no eyes, they say. “

Saturday, February 06, 2010

30 Days of Recommendations: The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House

by Shirley Jackson

What’s it about: a researcher collects a small group of misfits to investigate the possibility of the supernatural at a cursed New England home. What starts as a lighthearted romp through an old house, turns sinister and frightening once the sun goes down and the lights dim.

Why you should read it: one of the truly frightening and very influential (Stephen King borrowed heavily from it for The Shining) haunted house stories in fiction, filled with scenes of things that not only go bump in the night, but touch your hand and call your name. This highly literary novel was filmed very successfully in 1963 and very badly thirty years later, both times as The Haunting.

Not to be read alone in the dark. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Opening Lines:

"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill house, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for 80 years and might for 80 more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."

Friday, February 05, 2010

30 Days of Recommendations: The End of the Affair

By Graham Greene

What’s it about: Writer Maurice Bendrix has an affair with married Sarah Miles during the London Blitz. After one barely escaping a bombardment attack, Sarah abruptly breaks things off with the stunned Bendrix. Two years later, a jealous and bitter Bendrix runs into Sarah’s milquetoast husband, Henry, who tells him he suspects his wife of having an affair and asks him to investigate who it might be, never realizing they both had a rival neither had a hope of overcoming.

Why you should read it: because it’s one of the best books by Greene, who was constantly overlooked by the Nobel Prize committee, and because of his ability to get inside the head of the obsessive Bendrix, boiling between rage and love while the object of his obsession wrestles with faith and fate. Anyone who has been disappointed in love, or those who like good writing and a good mystery, will appreciate this moving work.

Opening Lines:
"A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead. I say 'one chooses' with the inaccurate pride of a professional writer who—when he has been seriously noted at all—has been praised for his technical ability, but do I in fact of my own will choose that black wet January night on the Common, in 1946, the sight of Henry Miles slanting across the wide river of rain, or did these images choose me? It is convenient, it is correct according to the rules of my craft to begin just there, but if I had believed then in a God, I could also have believed in a hand, plucking at my elbow, a suggestion, 'Speak to him: he hasnt seen you yet.'

For why should I have spoken to him? If hate is not too large a term to use in relation to any human being, I hated Henry—I hated his wife Sarah too. And he, I suppose, came soon after the events of that evening to hate me: as he surely at times must have hated his wife and that other, in whom in those days we were lucky enough not to believe. So this is a record of hate far more than of love, and if I come to say anything in favour of Henry and Sarah I can be trusted: I am writing against the bias because it is my professional pride to prefer the near-truth, even to the expression of my near-hate."

Thursday, February 04, 2010

30 Days of Recommendations: The World According to Garp

The World According to Garp

by John Irving

What’s it about: The short, raucously funny life of writer and wrestler T. S. Garp, from his birth to single parent and reluctant proto-feminist Jenny Fields, to his legacy, both literary and familial, beyond his violent death.

Why should you read it: because the novel switches between tragedy and comedy in an instant, leaving you laughing one minute and breaking your heart the next.

Filled with examinations on life, gender, sex, violence and literature, this book was instrumental in my own developing reading sensibilities, showing me that literature could be about real life. One of my top ten all timers.

Just beware of the Under Toad!

From the first chapter:

"In the theater, it was not her purse that the soldier wanted. He touched her knee. Jenny spoke up fairly clearly. "Get your stinking hand off me," she said. Several people turned around.

"Oh, come on," the soldier moaned, and his hand shot quickly under her uniform; he found her thighs locked tightly together--he found his whole arm, from his shoulder to his wrist, suddenly sliced open like a soft melon. Jenny had cut cleanly through his insignia and his shirt, cleanly through his skin and muscles, baring his bones at the joint of his elbow. ("If I'd wanted to kill him," she told the police, later, "I'd have slit his wrist. I'm a nurse. I know how people bleed.")

The soldier screamed. On his feet and falling back, he swiped at Jenny's head with his uncut arm, boxing her ear so sharply that her head sang. She pawed at him with the scalpel, removing a piece of his upper lip the approximate shape and thinness of a thumbnail. (I was not trying to slash his throat," she told the police, later. "I was trying to cut his nose off but I missed.")

Crying, on all fours, the soldier groped his way to the theater aisle and headed toward the safety of the light in the lobby. Someone else in the theater was whimpering, in fright.

Jenny wiped her scalpel on the movie seat, returned it to her purse, and covered the blade with the thermometer cap. Then she went to the lobby, where keen wailings could be heard and the manager was calling through the lobby doors over the dark audience, "Is there a doctor here? Please! Is someone a doctor?"

Someone was a nurse, and she went to lend what assistance she could. When the soldier saw her, he fainted; it was not really from loss of blood. Jenny knew how facial wounds bled; they were deceptive. The deeper gash on his arm was of course in need of immediate attention, but the soldier was not bleeding to death. No one but Jenny seemed to know that--there was so much blood, and so much of it was on her white nurse's uniform. They quickly realized she had done it. The theater lackeys would not let her touch the fainted soldier, and someone took her purse from her. The mad nurse! The crazed slasher! Jenny Fields was calm. She thought it was only a matter of waiting for the true authorities to comprehend the situation. But the police were not very nice to her, either."

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

30 Days of Recommendations: Sleeping In Flame

Sleeping In Flame

by Jonathan Carroll

What’s it about: Walker, an expatriate American living in Vienna, meets Maris, an artist escaping an abusive lover. As they fall in love, they discover Walker has a secret to his identity and are threatened by malevolent forces right out of the Brothers Grimm.

Why you should read this: Because of the compelling plot, likeable characters and writing worthy of any magic realist. As with every genre-crossing book by Carroll, this novel is filled with magic and suspense. You find yourself falling in love with the characters as they fall in love and in danger. A great, escapist read for mystery, fantasy and literary readers.

Opening Lines:

"It took me less than half a lifetime to realize that regret is one of the few guaranteed certainties. Sooner or later everything is touched by it, despite our naive and senseless hope that just this time we will be spared its cold hand on our heart.

The day after we met, Maris York told me I had saved her life. We were in a café, and she said this through the folds of a black sweater she was pulling over her head. I was glad she was lost in the middle of that pullover because the statement, although true, made me feel much too brave and adult and embarrassed. I didn’t know what to answer.

“It’s quite true, Walker. The next time I saw him he would have killed me.”

“Maybe he just wanted to go on scaring you.”

“No, he would have tried to kill me.”

The voice carried no emotion. Her big hands lay open and still on the pink and blue marble table. I wondered if the stone was cold under her palms. If I had been really brave I would have covered her hand with mine. I didn’t."

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

30 Days of Recommendations: The Brief History of the Dead

The Brief History of the Dead

by Kevin Brockmeier

What’s it about: When you die, you go to the City, a place where all the recently dead go, and stay there until the last living person who remembers you dies and then passes into the City themselves. Where you go after that is a mystery.

Meanwhile, in the world of the Living, a virus is released that starts killing everyone on earth until the last person alive is Laura, a research scientist in Antarctica. The City begins to be filled with people she remembers – her parents, old boyfriends, a panhandler she once gave money to, her dentist, people important and on the periphery of her life – and who slowly come to realize their common link to Laura and her survival.

Why you should read it: lyrical and moving, this novel will haunt you long after you finish it. Booklust author Nancy Pearl (whose review got me to read this book) said that there’s not a week that went by after she finished it that she does not return to it again and again. A favorite book of mine in 2006.

Opening lines:

"When the blind man arrived in the city, he claimed that he had traveled across a desert of living sand. First he had died, he said, and then–snap!–the desert. He told the story to everyone who would listen, bobbing his head to follow the sound of their footsteps. Showers of red grit fell from his beard. He said that the desert was bare and lonesome and that it had hissed at him like a snake. He had walked for days and days, until the dunes broke apart beneath his feet, surging up around him to lash at his face. Then everything went still and began to beat like a heart. The sound was as clear as any he had ever heard. It was only at that moment, he said, with a million arrow points of sand striking his skin, that he truly realized he was dead."

Monday, February 01, 2010

30 Days of Recommendations: A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces

by John Kennedy Toole

What’s it about: Ignatius J. Reilly, a comical rotund failure with a philosopher’s soul and exaggerated sense of his own genius, living with his mother in New Orleans and an eccentric cast of characters.

Why should you read it: The funniest book you will ever read from an author who committed suicide because he couldn’t get this book published, 11 years before it won him a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981. Scenes of laugh out loud hilarity alongside references to heavy philosophical topics. Think Oliver Hardy by way of Erasmus. Also, very evocative of New Orleans (there’s even a statue of Ignatius on Canal Street). One of my all time favorite books and one I can remember laughing out loud as I read the whole first chapter in a bookstore.

Opening lines:

"A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs."