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Greetings, readers! As few individuals whose names aren’t Beaujon may have noticed, I’ve been gone for the past two weeks. (In New Hampshire. Writing something other than blog posts.) Hey, the leaves were pretty…there were rabbits to be eaten…there were felled Black Locusts to be sawn through! (And reams of leaden prose, of course, demanding the same treatment.)
But now I’m back. Hell, I may even start twittering again. Still, those bookish weeks up north gave me time for something other than woodwork and typing. After the jump, four books suitable for reading by a crackling woodstove, and one suitable for kindling.
1. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. Gore Vidal’s blurb—”her genius for prose remains one of the few satisfying achievements of our second-rate culture”—is a.) practically self-parody and b.) probably true.
2. The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson. This is the kindling candidate. Abundantly smutty and, for all its posturing, as hardboiled as a three-minute egg.
3. The Book of Guys by Garrison Keillor. Just because this is the sort of thing your grandfather might hand you over Christmas brunch with a smack on the back and a cloying chortle doesn’t mean it isn’t inspired.
4. Westward, Ha! by S.J. Perelman. My only previous experience of Sidney Joseph Perelman was a childhood squandered on Marx Brothers movies. Turns out? His prose is the literary equivalent. In this slim 1947 volume, Perelman tours the orient on Holiday‘s dime*, whipping idiom with the glee of a lion-tamer and treating Al Hirschfeld, his traveling companion, in much the same way. Also of note are Perelman’s New Yorker sketches, like “Farewell My Lovely Appetizer,” a dig at the noirists with whom Perelman used to get “fractured on Manhattans.”
5. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee. Inside my copy, I discovered a yellowed clipping from the New York Review of Books (early ’70s, I believe) in which the critic calls this volume “the book few read and no one finishes.” A challenge! I gritted my teeth and dug in. (Full disclosure: still digging.) Couple points: a.) The most readable passage in this book is Walker Evans’ opening encomium, “James Agee in 1937.” b.) Certain passages are eminently skimmable, including a 50-plus-page digression describing, plank by plank, the farmhouses of three sharecropper families. c.) The rest is arguably worth the slog because d.) reading Agee is an unmatchable tonic against writer’s block and e.) certain grafs feature that commodity once known as “deathless prose.”
* Three weeks ago, I was invited to tour Columbia Heights on City Paper‘s dime. Their dime not being what it once was, I maintained a half-block perimeter centered around the corner of 15th and Girard NW. The nurses at La Clinica del Pueblo were confused by my presence but otherwise charming.