Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Stephen Ausherman, Jessica English, Leslie Davis, Julie Birnbaum

JANUARY 20, 1998: 

Dirty Laundry: 100 Days in a Zen Monastery
by Robert Winson and Miriam Sagan (La Alameda Press, paper, $14)

Robert, a Zen priest, decides to spend a practice period in a Colorado monastery, where he encounters hostility, disillusionment and infrequent moments of enlightenment. His wife, Miriam, regularly commutes from Santa Fe to be with him and finds she enjoys the journey more than the destination. The authors' child is cited often for a good measure of the wisdom of innocence, but this joint diary sometimes sinks to the level of "Kids Say the Darnedest Things"--or worse, a record of bowel movements that make mommy proud. But then, that's just one of thousands of candid and unromanticized details from monastic life. That and the unexpected references to pizza, blow-jobs, Barbie and Ken and "Hogan's Heroes." Though I was initially disappointed to read that they "took out harmful gossip," I did appreciate getting the dirt on contemporary practices of American Zen. (SA)

Family: American Writers Remember Their Own
Sharon Sloan Fiffer and Steve Fiffer, eds. (Vintage, paper, $13)

I have my own family; we've got plenty of our own sentimental stories and skeletons. So why read a collection of essays about the families of contemporary American writers I know little of? To make believe my family's normal, maybe. Besides, the achievement of any good work of art is that you--the viewer, the reader, the listener, whatever--can relate to its subject and characters. And that's what makes Family successful. In the collection, 18 writers dispel the most sticking stories of their kin--whether they be about a long-lost relative, their parents, their cats or found families composed of friends. My favorite (where I see myself in 20 years): Beverly Donofrio, author of the memoir Riding with Boys in Cars, writes an acidy-sweet vignette called "Neighbor." Sure, some of the stories are sappy; others are abrupt and distant. Still, this is a fine collection of memoir writing to inspire you to think about your own family and to test drive some talented writers that you may not have picked up on. (JE)

by Leslie Ann Nash (Chronicle, cloth, $12.95)

Aesthetically speaking, this novel is fabulous--bound as a journal with daily entries providing the plot and pace. Leslie Ann Nash is your narrator, an American transplant in Paris during the late '40s. As the manager of a nightclub, Aerobleu, we follow her drunken days in post-war France. The political environment of the times as it affected daily living is very much part of her tone and cadence, though the true color comes from the many famous characters that spice up these fictitious pages. Picasso, Piaf, Jimmy Carter, Josephine Baker, Django Reinhardt and many others are mentioned in her entries, dating from 1947 to 1952. This novel reads like a journal and can be consumed in a few hours. With the material being neither dense nor demanding, it is more like a brief sojourn to a different time. For the romantics among us, this jaunt into a world of jazz, sex, intrigue and many martinis might be what the doctor ordered. (LD)

Virtual Spaces: Sex and the Cyber Citizen
by Cleo Odzer (Berkley, paper, $14)

With all the unbridled optimism about the intellectual possibilities of the Internet, the irony is that news sites are having trouble meeting ends while sex-based sites are multiplying exponentially. In Virtual Spaces, anthropologist Cleo Odzer charts the realm of cybersex as an active participant. Her journey begins in 1990, when "talk" functions first enabled us to exchange messages on a split screen with other people online. It ends in the high-graphic/video sex palaces of 1997. The progression of sex online is fascinating both as a record of the incredible speed of technological advance in this decade and as a testimony to the universality of the human libido and heart. In front of that glowing screen, participants can experiment sexually in ways they never would in RL (real life), even experiencing virtual sex as the opposite gender. Odzer tends to be repetitive, indicating that her work could have been condensed into an article rather than stretched into a book. The compelling ideas, however, (and, of course, the hot sex scenes) carry the reader to a new perspective on the sexual sphere of the technological revolution. (JB)

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