Saturday, March 2, 2013

Vacation Reading

  • A God in Ruins by Leon Uris - I remember at age twelve, when I first considered myself to have my own "library". Fifteen books or so, I had, and four of them--I remember this quite well--Leon Uris books, Exodus, The Angry Hills, Topaz, and Mila 18. The rest were sci-fi or fantasy: Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury; and a Vonnegut or two. And an atlas. (Soon I added Arthur Hailey and Harold Robbins to my oeuvre, but that's for another conversation.) I've picked up a couple of Urises since the mid seventies, but not so much as you might expect of someone whose personal collection was 25% Uris at the start. A God in Ruins has the epic generational sweep of Trinity, the political intrigue of Exodus and the righteous man's polemic of QB VII--this time the issue is gun control (curious since so many of his early books were so violent). I liked the story, I liked the characters he wanted me to like, I disliked the ones he wanted me to, the ending seemed appropriate... in a word, it was formula. If you only read one Leon Uris book, don't read this one. Read Exodus. And if you read a second, read QB VII.
  • Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith - This is the third installment in the lovely "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series focusing on Mma Precious Ramotswe and her betrothed, Mr JLB Matekoni of the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. This episode features a feral child discovered in the Botswana bushveldt, a Government Man who suspects his sister-in-law is a poisoner, a crisis at the Miss Beauty and Integrity Contest and a bout of depression being suffered by Mr JLB Matekoni. In the midst of all this, the agency is under financial strain, and Mma Makutsi, graduate of the Botswana Secretarial College with a score of 97%, must step into the breech. These books are not really detective stories, but they are truly delightful reading!
  • The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas - At a Saturday afternoon barbeque in suburban Australia, a spoiled four-year-old takes a swing at another child with a cricket bat, and gets slapped by the other kid's father. This event reverberates over several months and five hundred pages, as the event and its afetermath are related from the points of view of the main (adult) actors. The court case is done halfway through the book, and halfway through the characters--each gets one chapter, then it's on to the next POV. This format works well to expand the moral complications of what is in reality an everyday event.
  • America Unchained by Dave Gorman - Is it possible to travel the USA coast-to-coast in a car without paying homage to The Man (TM)? Meaning, without relying on using at all corporate American retail outlets like Exxon, McDonalds, Best Western. Gas-Food-Lodging. While it seems like a political tome in the making, Gorman's reasons were simpler than that: on a comedy stand-up tour (he's a British comic i am familiar with via QI, for example) across the US, he was dispirited by the soul-less, samey-samey hotels and restaurants he was booked into. He came back, bought a 1970 Ford Torino station wagon in San Diego and made his way ultimately to Savannah, Georgia in six weeks, meeting lots of real Americans along the way. This is a unique travel book, humorous, thoughtful, appreciative Americana.
  • The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith - I had about eighty or so pages yet to go in this book when I left Ayette's Bamboo House Restaurant, Port Barton, after breakfast one morning, sticking it securely, or so I thought, in my camera bag. When I arrived at my bungalow a twenty minute walk later, it was gone. I immediately retraced my steps, then again, asking at every little business and home along the way. Nada. I am so enamoured of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series that when I got back to Seoul, I had to make my way to What The Book to buy a new (well, used) copy and finish it up. Anyway, this is the fourth book in this charming, gentle and wise series of tales from an Africa I miss--where concrete and tarmac smell acrid and harsh, but thatch, earth and burned coals smell of home and happiness. As usual, there are no bloody, twisted bodies or missing millions in this edition, but a radio stolen twenty years earlier, a new detective setting up shop in Gabrone, and an idea by Mma Makutsi, Precious Ramotswe's assistant detective (and 97% score graduate of the Botswana Secretarial College), to earn money on the side by offering typing classes--for men.

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