Mouldering on the Shelves

These are capsules of books I read in 2000. Comments? Mail me.

Mouldering on the Shelves:

Rikenbacker An Autobiography, Edward V. Rickenbacker

Rickenbacker has led probably the most exciting life of the 20th century, and it's fascinating to hear him tell about it. He was one of the first successful automobile racers, scammed his way into the Army Air Corps in WWI despite being too old, was the US Ace of Aces (downed the most planes of any US flier), went broke designing and selling his own car, bought and built Eastern Air Lines, nearly died in a plane crash in 1941, less than a year later while undertaking a troubleshooting/intelligence mission for the US government another plane crashes and he's lost at sea for 24 days in a rubber raft. Two weeks after his recovery from that, he's off to Russia for more intelligence. This is a man who got to read his own obituary not once, but twice.

He writes engagingly and forthrightly. I'm sure this isn't the whole story, but it's still pretty amazing. He's an unusual man. Very much the capitalist and devout Christian, yet clearly a daredevil and hellraiser. He's a brilliant self-taught engineer and mechanic who believes in telepathy. Fascinating.

If you see this in a used book store, it's well worth your time.

Highly Recommended.

Screwjack, Hunter S. Thompson

I like Hunter, but this really isn't the best book to buy for content. "Mescalito," the longest and best of the stories in here is available in Songs of the Doomed, which also includes a bunch more interesting material. Go for that, unless you're a completist, which I am. And I can't find my copy of Songs, so I'm happy to have another copy of "Mescalito."

A Christmas Memory, One Christmas, & The Thanksgiving Visitor, Truman Capote

These are three short memoirs from Capote about his childhood. They're beautiful. Wise, well written, and charming, with just enough of a melancholy lesson.


A Necessary Evil A History of American Distrust of Government, Garry Wills

This was a slight disappointment, not so much a history per se, but a set of responses to various historical arguments marshaled against government. As that, it's solid. Wills is lucid and informed, and he brings several interesting facts to the reader's attention. Still what this mostly made me want to do is read the opposing viewpoints to contrast them; it's of limited interest to hear one side of an argument. I suppose that's not a bad feature.

Afterburn, Colin Harrison

I really disliked Afterburn, because I never could connect with the characters. I found it particularly annoying that Harrison completely defines each of his characters in terms of their preferred style of copulation. In fact, his obsession with sex and procreation is distracting throughout. Other than that, this is a well plotted thriller populated by gritty (and in my opinion unlikable) characters. He writes a fair gritty thriller, but for my money there are much better.

Sick Puppy, Carl Hiaasen

Sick Puppy is fable of sorts about the current state of Florida politics and environmentalism that holds equally well at a national or international scale. Hiaasen tells a fun story, with characters that are just enough larger than life to believe they're fictional, but life-sized enough to worry that you might be one of them. It has a similar feel to Pest Control, but is even better written. Very enjoyable.


The Many Aspects Of Mobile Home Living, Martin Clark

Clark's tale of the misfits and hypocrites that we all are, and the basic goodness of people is an enjoyable read. Clark has an affable writing style, but his themes and characters hold up to more reasoned analysis, too. His characters spend a lot of time lying to and hiding from themselves, but in the end that power of fiction serves them well, too.

Those characters are likable enough and the plot brisk enough that it's an easy read as well as a rewarding one.


Truman, David McCullough

McCullough does a fine job bringing Truman to life and chronicling his significant achievements. The reader learns not only how Truman lived, but a lot about how the office of the U.S. President changed after WWII. As one of the first to confront world issues as both the president and the leader of the free world, Truman's decisions set precedents (both good and bad) followed to this day.

McCullough gives a good impression of both the man and the issues that he confronted. If one can fault him for anything, it may be liking Truman a bit too much, but that seems to have been a common problem among those who knew him.


Prize Stories 2000 The O. Henry Awards, edited by Larry Dark

The prize stories were a bit of a disappointment to me this year. They were all well written enough, but taken together they were sort of relentlessly bleak. I now know what it must be like to teach a creative writing class where the students all have the same idea, and all expound on it competently, but without real inspiration. And this review would drone on for a couple more lines like that and peter out, had I not encountered Jonh Biguenet's brilliant "Rose."

"Rose" may be the finest 2 pages of fiction I've ever read. Biguenet crafts an intricate, moving story of life's unfairness, a mother's love, and a victimless bargain with the devil in fewer words than the introduction of the first place story in this collection. I can't say enough good about it; even if you never buy this collection, or read anything else out of it, read "Rose" in the aisle of your favorite bookstore.

Looking back, there are some really good stories in here. The three winners are all solid, of course, as are Judy Budnitz's "Flush," Melissa Pritchard's "Salve Regina," Jeannette Bertles's "Whileaway" and Tim Gautreaux's "Easy Pickings". In fact, as I looked over the contents for these I realized that I liked many more of these stories than I remembered initially. I do think they suffer from being packed to closely, metaphorically speaking, but they are all solid, there are some genuinely great ones, and then the spectacular "Rose."


Azazel, Issac Asimov

I don't know quite how I wound up reading this one. As a rule, I don't like Asimov's fiction. This collection of fantasy stories about wish fulfillment gone wrong are seemingly designed to play up what I like least about it - his characterization. The only science fiction I enjoy of his is the puzzle-driven stuff, Foundation, or the robot murder stories. I'm hard pressed to remember a single Asimov character.

At any rate, these stories are diverting enough. I can't really recommend them, but Asimov's workmanlike stories are well-constructed, if never engaging. If you like Asimov's fiction, you'll probably like this.

Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen

The thrilling prequel to Lies Across America is very similar in tone and scholarship, but focused on the abysmal state of American History texts. Again I learned a bunch, and from my recollection, he's dead right about American History texts.


The Baltimore Case, Daniel J. Kevles

Many people remember the high profile accusations of impropriety leveled against David Baltimore and his laboratory. I'm willing to bet that few of those people know how the accusations eventually panned out or have any idea of the disturbing process by which they were generated. I sure didn't. People who are interested in science should.

The Baltimore Case is technical, but not overwhelmingly so. Kevles does a good job making the science clear to an educated layman, but it may be a challenge for even smart people who are not of a scientific bent. His narrative is good, and easy to follow, even when the science can be confusing.


The American President, Philip B. Kundhardt, Jr., Philip B. Kundhardt, III, Peter W. Kundhardt

So, I learned some things in reading the Kundhardt's study of the American Presidency, but I'm really left with whetted appetite. I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised by that; the work is a companion to a PBS documentary, and is therefore heavy on pictures and somewhat light on text. Still, their methodology is interesting, arranging Presidents thematically rather than chronologically. That brings out surprising parallels that helps the reader look at the historical events differently.

It's nice that every president gets some time, but at the same time, no president is explored very deeply. The work feels a little too boosterish about the presidency, and I feel sure that there are some things glossed over.

Cryptonimicon, Neal Stephenson

This may be the finest piece of geek fiction ever written. (Now there's a niche market for you.) Any book that's introduced the Halting Problem by page 50 and includes a working perl script is definitely gunning for the geek market. Stephenson clearly knows geeks and can portray them clearly.

But, Stephenson's better than that. Although the technical material is cogent to the plot, it's explained clearly enough for any science fiction reader to grasp more than enough to enjoy the story. And despite its trimmings, Cryptonomicon is an adventure story, with hidden treasure, jailbreaks, and derring-do aplenty, albeit not always in the forms one expects to encounter them.

Stephenson's a talented writer by any metric. Several times a single word in his prose made me see old scenes with new clarity. He also manages to keep a complicated plot purring through 2 time periods with 20 major characters. It's a joy to read, and if anything is over too quickly (at 900 pages). And in fact, the ending does seem to leave some plot points dangling, but not glaringly so.

A must.

Passionate Sage The Character And Legacy Of John Adams, Joseph Ellis

Ellis's American Sphinx did as much to interest me in John Adams as in Jefferson himself. The tidbits that Ellis threw out about Adams when discussing their lengthy correspondence hinted at a complex, interesting, and misunderstood statesman. Obviously Ellis put them there because he'd learned them writing this work.

He uses roughly the same approach in Sage to illuminate Adams as he used to explore Jefferson in Sphinx (Sage was written first, but you know what I mean). That is, he examines the statesman at various key points of his public life, rather than providing a full chronology.

Adams is an interesting subject. He's interesting, irascible, and correct far too often for his many detractors. Ellis does a good job of capturing such a contradictory character.


The Life Of Andrew Jackson, Robert V. Remini

This is a condensation of Remini's three-volume biography of the Seventh President, but it doesn't ever feel like there are gaps. Surely there's more Remini could say about many of the incidents, but the work is consistent, cohesive, and feels complete. And what a subject!

In my readings I've bumped against Jackson a couple times, and always come away with the impression that I should know more about him. Remini convinces me that's true. He does an excellent job of conveying Jackson's larger-than-life persona without ever quite believing it. He not only brings Jackson alive as a persona, but evaluates his lasting impressions on the political landscape of America.

Remini is clearly a Jackson fan, but he never lets this cloud his evaluations. He is justly critical of Jackson's Indian removal policies while showing Jackson's motivations for them. He describes Jackson's political missteps as well as his triumphs, and ultimately provides an enlightening discussion of one of the most interesting and influential US Presidents.


Lies Across America What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong, James W. Loewen

Loewen's Lies Across America is an eye-opening survey of America's historical and physical landscape focusing on how we've chosen to mark our passing there. The resulting picture isn't very pretty at all. There are far too many unrecorded incidents and misrepresentations. Of course, there's no particular surprises there: people remember things that make them feel good, and ignore their shortcomings. It's an unimaginable disservice to America when this personal tendency gets magnified to a national scale.

Loewen has directed me back into historical readings for a while, but whole time periods in which he's sparked my interest seem to be missing from my local book stores' shelves - which proves his point.

Loewen's a crusader, but he's a crusader who writes clearly and documents his work. His style is readable, and despite the fact that he's writing about relatively weighty matters, the book never drags. I don't agree with everything he says, but I get the impression from his prose that he'd respect my opinion as long as there was some thought behind it.

Unless you know what the US/Philippine War was about, this book is Recommended.

Burr, Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal is a well-respected author, and somehow I'd never managed to read his work before. If Burr is any indication, that's an error on my part.

Burr is a fictionalization of the writing of Aaron Burr's memoirs in the early 1830's. The telling of that tale allows Vidal to comment on most of the founding fathers, New York and National politics in both the 1790's and the 1830's, and the general history and culture of those times. And, of course, he gets to take on Burr himself. Painting a believable picture of a man either reviled or forgotten, depending on what you've heard, and painting him as a believable charismatic leader is a daunting challenge. Vidal's Burr has enough of the devil in him to be interesting, and enough of a person to be believable.

From what I know, (and I'm somewhat primed, having recently read Alexander Hamilton, American and Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898) Vidal's historically accurate, except for the changes he admits in the Afterword. That's not to say it's a history; Vidal's clearly presenting what he believes to be Burr's viewpoint. I plan to read a biography in the near future for a more balanced picture, but the novel was great fun and enlightening besides.


Words and Rules The Ingredients of Language, Steven Pinker

Pinker's clearly a good writer and a good scientist. He expresses his interesting and reasonable ideas on understanding how the brain works with language (specifically regular and irregular verb tense formations) clearly. Better than that he backs up his ideas with actual experiments, summarized and referenced if I wanted to confirm what he said. Maybe this isn't a big deal, but I appreciate work written for non-experts that is still written for people who understand the burdens of proof that science imposes.

Probably the worst thing about the book is its subject. I was fascinated to hear how he thinks the mind works, but I'm sure a lot of people just don't care. If you think you might, or just want to read well written science, have a look.


Nude in Tub, G. K. Wuori

Wuori's stories are well enough constructed and score well on the kind of content that Lit Majors love, but left me cold. His simple sentence and story structure may be intended to be minimalist, but the effect is to distance the reader from his characters so completely that we might be reading a page 10 news story. One challenge in writing in a minimalist style is to paint the characters clearly in a few verbal brush-strokes. Wuori too often substitutes quirk for character and populates his fictional Maine with (quirky) zombies.

The other aspect of Nude In Tub that I found off-putting was the brutality of many of the stories. I'm not one to shy away from brutality, but here it felt too calculated. One can imagine Wuori thinking to himself "I need a violent act to act as a symbol here, and I'll escalate the violence right to where I think it will shock the reader." His violence is the opposite of being gratuitous; he adds exactly enough to be symbolic, and in so doing leeches the brutality of its emotive force.

Barrow's Boys, Fergus Fleming

The history of British Naval exploration overseen by John Barrow is a fascinating chronicle of Acts of Manliness, in the sense that my friends and I reserve for extraordinarily dangerous or difficult feats of questionable merit. Fleming's lively telling of the various tales is not to be missed.

Fleming's a natural narrator and apparently a solid researcher. He's got his facts (which would be interesting just laid end-to-end) and a gift for pacing that evidences itself both in the overall organization of the book, and in the individual sentences that make up its chapters. If you have any interest in what drives men to climb mountains, this book is worth a read.


Alexander Hamilton, American, Richard Brookhiser

Alexander Hamilton is one of the more overlooked of the founders, for a couple reasons: his enmity with Jefferson means that his star has faller in proportion to Jefferson's rise, and furthermore, Hamilton's early death cut short his work.

Brookhiser does a fine job showing why this ought not to be the case. He points out Hamilton's many contributions from humble beginnings. More importantly he brings Hamilton and his contemporaries alive as people. Many biographers surround the founders with a bit too much of a halo. Dodging this trap around the less-revered Hamilton is relatively easy (Hamilton did make some whoppers of mistakes), but Brookhiser also points out that the other founders, for example Jefferson, were human beings, with all the inconsistencies that entails. His metaphor likening Jefferson's writing style to a scrambling quarterback is worth the price of the book.

In general Brookhiser has a good ear for the writing styles of Hamilton and his contemporaries, which makes for some interesting analyses of their characters. It's remarkable what one can discern about a man's thought patterns from his writing style. In general he does a good job moving from facts to motivations, which livens the discussion.


Basic Heraldry, Stephen Friar and John Ferguson

Heraldry is one of those weird topics that I care just enough about to find interesting, but not so much that I really want to know everything about it. It's a fascinating graphical shorthand for following British (well, European) history and worth looking at as a form of graphic design. Friar and Ferguson do a good job introducing the field and taking the reader on a whirlwind tour.

Their prose is readable, and even dryly witty, as one might hope in the study of such a musty primarily English art. Their approach is a little unusual in that they run through the history of heraldry before giving the basic terminology and rules. This worked pretty well for me, but your mileage may vary.

It's a good book if you're interested in picking up a smattering of information on the topic.

Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose

Molly Ivins doesn't seem to like Dubya much. It turns out that I didn't think much of him before I read this book, and it certainly hasn't enhanced my impression any. But it's important to say that Ivins journalism appears to be solid, although not objective. Her opinion is supported well with her facts, and she does a pretty good job staying to substantive issues of the campaign. For the most part this is an assessment of Bush's performance in public life, not an exploration of his private behavior. I'd like to say that she stays away completely, but there are some references to Bush's drug history, for example.

As informative and interesting as the facts are in the book, it's probably worth reading it just to bask in Ivins prose. It's clear, to the point, and colorful. The book's worth it as a primer on Texas political slang alone.


Bagombo Snuff Box, Kurt Vonnegut

This tour through Vonnegut's early fiction was a lot of fun for me, but there's little that Vonnegut has written that I haven't found something to like in. Still, unless you're a Vonnegut fan or completist, you may want to pass on these in favor of some of his more powerful work. Most of the stories here, though all complete, feel more like sketches than his novels. Unless you're already a fan, read Mother Night or Slaughterhouse Five as your first taste of Vonnegut.

It's not that the stories are bad. They're better than competent, with foreshadowings of the great writer to come. But, if you haven't met the great writer to come, there's no reason to build up to it.

Fate Is The Hunter, Ernest K. Gann

Ernest Gann is a man in love with airplanes. And with the adjective. Because I share his love of the former, I forgive him his excesses with the latter. Gann can probably believably be called an aviation pioneer, flying in the early days of commercial airlines, and helping to establish the Air Transport Command in WWII. He completed some of the early regular trans-oceanic flights and has a collection of stories of close calls and exciting experiences that are a delight to read.

Gann may be an excellent pilot, but his prose is often too flowery and overwrought for my tastes. In fact, it's sometimes so overstated as to be comical. As I mentioned, I found the stories so fascinating that I could overlook the style.

One more important thing: one of his themes is that luck played a huge role in the his survival and of those friends who did. Although most of the flying scenes take place before 1960, if you're uncomfortable with the idea that airline pilots get lucky and that even commercial flights have unforeseen and dangerous problems, you may not want to read this book.

Recommended if you're interested in aviation war stories.

My Father's GunOne Family, Three Badges, One Hundred Years in the NYPD, Brian McDonald

McDonald's book is an acceptable read, but not a stunning one. For a while it's kind of hard to figure out why. The idea is certainly compelling: tell the story of a family of cops from Tammany Hall to modern days. You get the drama of police work and a look behind the scenes as well. So why isn't this a blinding page turner?

Honestly, it's the writing. McDonald's certainly a competent writer. Everything's clear, understandable, and well organized. Unfortunately, the style is very journalistic, specifically, it reads like a long newspaper feature article. This isn't bad, but because it reads like a feature article, it had no permanence in my mind. I'll forget about these people in a few months, and I wouldn't if McDonald's voice was a little stronger.

City of Light, Lauren Belfer

Lauren Belfer's novel set in turn of (the nineteenth) century Buffalo could be called a murder mystery, but it's really more than that. It's a very strong period piece with compelling characters, a strong sense of place, and a fine reminder that simpler times often weren't any simpler.

In Belfer's hands, 1900 Buffalo is a place of booming technology that's changing a nation's way of life, racial and labor tensions, environmental strife, and the site of Presidential intrigue. A century later, all that's still around, although it's largely passed Buffalo by. Although the city is a strong character, and the sense of place is very strong, her characters themselves are well crafted and interesting. The narrator, Louisa Barnett has a fine voice, and is a perfectly cynical guide to modern life in Buffalo. Her tour through the shades of grey at the turn of the century is moving and enlightening.

Highly Recommended.

A People's History of the Supreme Court, Peter Irons

Peter Irons is a biased man. That's not news; he states his bias as a civil rights scholar and activist up front in the introduction. Even without such an announcement, a reader would have no trouble discerning this from his book. That he's willing to state his bias explicitly and not shirk from it is laudable.

The history itself is diverting and enlightening. Any study of the Supreme Court's rulings is going to miss some of the important ones, but Irons's stated bias tells you which ones he'll pay the most attention to. The work itself covers the drafting of the U.S. Constitution to 1992, concentrating largely but not exclusively on civil rights cases. Irons also devotes sizable space to the stories of the people and the often penny-ante cases that the Court used to set precedent.

I came away from this with a clearer impression of how political a body the Court really is, and a better understanding of the big picture of trends in its decisions.

Recommended if you're not offended by Irons's self-proclaimed activist bias.

Turn of the Century, Kurt Andsersen

Andersen wanted to write a satirically funny novel about the excesses of the media. Unfortunately, his world isn't different enough from the one I live in to get more than a wry chuckle out of me, and his characters, though competently depicted, don't hold my interest. There's nothing to dislike about Turn of the Century (except maybe its glacial pacing), but there's nothing the elevates it from the pack. It may be more entertaining if you live physically or metaphorically further from the entertainment and computer businesses.

The Basic Eight, Daniel Handler

The Basic Eight is a funny, cynical, and harrowing trip back to high school. It's also a smart self-referential look at the media and the nature of truth, but it's the harrowing trip back to high school that gripped and disturbed me.

Handler's obviously one of the few people who remembers the painful set of contradictions that late adolescence entails and can express it well. His characters are all coming of age with grand designs of sophistication while still being firmly kids, with all the insecurity and uncontrolled passion that entails. The narrative brings all those feelings back in a melancholy rush that makes it impossible to put the book down. Several times I had a feeling similar to when people yell at the screen in a monster movie, except that I had really lived some of these mistakes, and the consequences were more real than some hockey-masked boogey man getting his licks in.

It is fiction. Handler raises the stakes considerably in order to move his plot, to paint his characters and to comment on the national media (especially their handling of the recent kids-shooting-kids circuses), but his characters are always painfully human, and painfully young. The lead character is also well written and writes well, which makes the prose a joy to read. Even when it's breaking your heart.

A must.

Boy in the Water, Stephen Dobyns

Stephen Dobyns can still write a gripping novel. He can also write a new novel, which is a relief. It's always nice to find a writer, rather than someone with one book in him that is going to be replayed into a career. Boy in the Water is structurally similar to his excellent Church of Dead Girls, but there significant differences of focus.

Church is, in my opinion, a triumph of mood. Whatever its considerable other merits, what I remember most about it was the growing dread and near nausea of discovering uncomfortable truths about the small town it's set in, far too many of which have nothing to do with the abductions that drive the plot. The feeling of being forced to distrust and investigate one's neighbors, while knowing that they're doing the same to you (and realizing that everyone has something to hide) is the point of the excellent thriller he hangs it on.

Boy is also a thriller/mystery with all the set pieces of the genre competently executed. It's a gripping read whether you want to think about it or not. But if you do think about it, Dobyns offers you the opportunity to consider the motivations that lead to evil, how people are victims of others and themselves, and the disturbing fact that pure evil has value for its very purity.


Dragon, Steven Brust

Vlad Taltos, Brust's smart-mouthed assassin is back for another round. I really enjoy Brust's work, especially his Taltos stuff. The books are certainly genre stuff, sword and sorcery, but exceptionally well thought out, and written in a way that nods to the eccentricities of the genre without completely undermining it.

Brust doesn't write them in order either. When he decides to tell a story with Vlad and the group, he simply tells it. And he gets the continuity right. With a little work you can order the novels, but half the fun is figuring out where the novel sits in the series. Sadly, if you were wondering where Vlad was going after Orca, this book won't tell you. It will tell you about another couple of interesting events in Vlad's life and Dragaera's history though, and charmingly so.


Juneteenth, Ralph Ellison

Ellison's second novel was never completed by the author or published while he was alive, and Juneteenth shows that maybe that's not a bad thing. Much of Ellison's voice is here in the rhythm, passion, and beauty of the prose, but it still feels unpolished to me. The editor's notes indicate that this work was pulled from the longer body of passages and notes that make up Ellison's 40-year work in progress. It feels like it wasn't honed into a book the way the author would have. The whole thing feels too diffuse to have the pounding impact of Invisible Man.

Now, surely Invisible Man is a high standard to hold someone to. And there is much to appreciate about Juneteenth, but for me it still reads like a work in progress rather than a finished novel.

Catch-22, Joseph Heller

There are many satirical books that make you question society's values or that make you viscerally aware of the world's absurdity. That's not to say that showing a reader those things is easy or that it isn't worthwhile, just that society's a pretty easy target. Heller does an exemplary job skewering the world, as anyone who's ever heard the phrase Catch-22 can probably guess.

What surprised me about Catch-22 was how beautiful the writing was and how strangely affecting some of the characters were. Heller's reputation of over-the-top satire is well deserved, but some of the endurance of the work has to come from Heller's ability to slip powerful images and poignant moments into the chaos. Although I laughed and mocked when I read it, I'll remember the parts that stopped me with a catch in my throat. Heller's ability to evoke both life's absurdity and beauty in the same sentence makes the book.


Ex Libris, Anne Fadiman

Anne Fadiman is a book lover's book lover. If you (like me) proofread the menu, enjoy hearing about historical book inscriptions, or think a list of lost vocabulary is a treasure trove, these essays are for you. If not, there's a really fun Bond book right below this review.

Fadiman's prose is meticulously crafted, but flows well enough that you can always see the human being who is addressing you. At the same time, you get to revel in the care of her construction. Technically these are all brilliantly executed personal essays. She's unabashedly scholarly, though, and if you could never enjoy a laugh with your English teacher in High School, you may have a hard time warming to these essays.

If you're a bibliophile, highly recommended.

Cold Fall, John Gardner

How did this get in here? Well, via the $2 bin at Crown Books.

This is another installment in John Gardner's continuation of the James Bond books. That's really all you need to know. It's a Bond book, i.e., a flashy, short, shallow festival of sexist action. I enjoyed it as usual.

Guiltily recommended.

Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories and other disasters, Jean Shepard

I was introduced to the amazing Mr. Shepherd when my favorite high school English teacher announced that for 2 days before winter break he would "share his Junior Prom" with us. What he did was give us a two-day break from a demanding class and paralyze us with laughter by reading "Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories" aloud. I've been meaning to re-read that story since. Mr. Hall, if you're out there, it's as funny now as it was then. Funnier, because I now know how those bourbon shots felt.

If you're not Mr. Hall, but you like short stories about growing up that are sentimental but not sappy, and frequently hilarious, this is a great book. Horrid neighbors, the trek to a family vacation, a real county fair, and, of course, my English teacher's Junior Prom all get Shepherd's treatment. He's a natural storyteller and a fun writer.


High Fidelity, Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby has a pair of staggering gifts. He can both mimic the glossy, evasive array of attitude, dialog, and deception (of self and others) that young men project to protect themselves from a world in flux, and a sentence later rip it aside to show the boy behind the curtain. He does this all without so much as a hesitation in his polished narrative.

High Fidelity is about a young slacker's last break-up. Last in the sense that it changes his attitudes about their inevitability, and the desirability of permanence. That sounds preachy, but Hornby's too good a writer to make anything that obvious. I saw a lot of myself in this book, for better and for worse. Check it out. It's fun.

Highly Recommended.

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