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Wednesday, 28 December 2005 00:00

At least I got the books

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When I heard the screen door slam, I knew she was gone. I made it to the window just in time to see Joni Mitchell’s big yellow taxi pulling away and sweet, little 2005, waving at me from the back window. She had on my favorite “Day of the Dead” T-shirt, and the hussy was smiling! The note on the TV said “See you if I’m ever back this way.” Well, she won’t be back, but she did give me some good books. Here is a list of the “10 Keepers.”

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
New York: Alfred A. Knoph
$24.95 – 309 pages

This dark parable comes in the guise of a noir thriller with all the trappings of a Jim Thompson novel. On the surface, it is about a drug deal gone bad, the desperate flight of the doomed, and the pursuit of a vengeful killer. However, at a deeper level, this tale concerns the collapse of the American Dream and the rapid approach of something akin to judgment and/or apocalypse.

Shakespeare: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd
New York: Doubleday & Company
$32.50 – 572 pages

Yes, it is too long and it is repetitious. It is also marred by Ackroyd’s fits of adulation for his subject. However, the author’s extensive research is truly astonishing. In addition, many of the traditional concepts of Shakespeare’s life are either revised or demolished as a consequence of Ackroyd’s findings. Finally, the descriptions of 16th century London are unforgettable — especially in terms of the Elizabethan love of ritual and spectacle as it is reflected in the theatre.

Gilgamesh edited by Stephen Mitchell
New York: Free Press
$24 – 290 pages

Before Samson, before Hercules, before Thor — there was Gilgamesh. This epic is the story of literature’s first hero. Part god and part mortal, Gilgamesh is capable of astonishing feats, yet he must die. In a desperate attempt to avoid his fate, he makes a journey to the end of the Earth where he hopes to acquire immortality. Translated by Stephen Mitchell, the quest of Gilgamesh reads like a disturbing parable of Iraq and America.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
New York: The Berkley Publishing Group (Paperback)
$14 – 371 pages

This novel about guilt and redemption sparked the creation of hundreds of discussion groups throughout the United States, and is undoubtedly destined for the movies. After betraying his half-brother and escaping Afghanistan, Amir finds his life in California haunted by guilt. When he discovers “a way to be good again,” he decides to make a harrowing journey back to his devastated homeland to find Hassan, the kite runner. It is a search that could cost him his life.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
New York: Alfred A Knopf
$24 – 288 pages

Hailsham, nestled away in the rural English countryside, is a very special school. Certainly, the students are “special.” Kathy, the narrator of this darkly poignant tale knows that she and her classmates are being prepared for “service” to mankind. Little by little, Kathy (and the reader) learns just what that service is. In the world of “donor” surgery, Never Let Me Go is a very “timely” novel in fact, Hailsham may already exist.

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk
New York: Doubleday & Company
$24.95 – 404 pages

In my humble opinion, Palahniuk is the most imaginative, audacious, shocking and humorous writer in America. This bizarre plot (a writers’ retreat in an abandoned theatre) reads like an anthology of Hitchcock, Rod Serling, and Stephen King with a generous helping of urban myths thrown in for “brio.” (If you are easily offended, don’t go near this book!)

Fleshmarket Alley by Ian Rankin
New York: Little, Brown & Company
$22.95 – 432 pages

Anyone who is a fan of murder mysteries has probably sampled Ian Rankin’s “tartan noir” collection. The appeal of these books is mostly due to the unique character of the morose and alcoholic protagonist, John Rebus, an aging warrior (police inspector) who suffers from perpetual burnout. In this latest offering (there are at least twelve “Rebus novels”), John searches for a murderer in the dark streets of Edinburgh while listening to heavy metal bands and suffering bouts of unrequited lust for his associate, the lovely Siobhan Clarke.

Strange Affair by Peter Robinson
New York: William Morrow
$24.95 – 368 pages

Like Ian Rankin’s John Rebus, Peter Robinson’s police inspector, Alan Banks is also a glum, hard-drinking law officer. Well, it is little wonder. He has been abandoned by both his wife and his lover, his house has been burned by an arsonist and now, his brother has vanished, leaving only a cryptic message on Alan’s answering machine. Alan’s search leads to the 9/ll disaster and the disquieting discovery that his brother’s life “changed” that day.

Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac edited by Douglas Brinkley
New York: Viking Press
$25.95 – 387 pages

If there was ever any doubt about the profound influence of Thomas Wolfe on Kerouac, these journals should resolve the issue. Written while Kerouac was completing The Town and the City, Kerouac confesses his fears and frustrations in a diary format. He also plans his future, dreams and rants. It is a fascinating glimpse into Kerouac’s personal life. Most interesting of all is two unpublished pieces, “Rain and Rivers” and “Tales of Rainy Nights.” Thank you, Douglas Brinkley.

New Stories from the Old South edited by Shannon Ravenel
Chapel Hill: Algonguin
$13.95 (paperback) – 309 pages

Over the last two decades, Shannon Ravenel’s annual collection of “the best in the South” has won critical acclaim. Certainly, the nineteen selected authors for 2005 looks like a Southern Who’s Who. Dennis LaHane’s “Until Gwen” is guaranteed to make those short hairs on the back of your neck tingle! Janice Daugherty’s “Dumdum” filled me with nostalgia for R. C. Colas and moon pies. Kevin Wilson’s “The Choir Director’s Affair” sent me to the dictionary to see what a “split uvula” is. Now I know!

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