Speed Reader Deluxe
By Alibi Staff
SEPTEMBER 29, 1997:
A History of Light
It's with uncommon skill that the Truchas-based poet Alvaro Cardona-Hine unspools this thin, tensile story of first love. Composed as a book-length prose poem, A History of Light describes the author's own boyhood in Costa Rica, where he fell desperately in love with a white girl across the street. Though the sentimentality is quite intense, there is a filament of truth that burns within it; that's the dawny age, after all, when gentle emotions rage like thunder. Cardona-Hine documents his love with a universal appeal, and he creates some truly stunning imagery: "Your face has freckles, as if it had lain a whole night exposed to the elements and your skin had photographed the stars." Written with all the uncanny sensuality of a fever dream, A History of Light lends itself to anyone who learned about love before they knew they were ready. (BdeP)
While roaming the West as a carpenter, cropworker and stripper among other things, Greg Leichner has salted away enough anecdotes to document half a lifetime. And in his debut book, Man Alive!, he shows that these stories are more than just memories. Over the course of 11 chapters, the Placitas-based author takes us through his days as an apple picker in Washington, a hermit in Montana, an everyman on the slick streets of his hometown in Ohio. Most of the time, he manages to sidle up to us and put well-crafted turns of phrase in our hands. But there are spells where he languishes in the solipsism that's common to the genre--long rehashes of his itinerary, for example, or thoughts on topics like "freedom," which seem only vague. Somewhat narrow, somewhat brilliant, all human, Man Alive! is still enough to suggest that we haven't heard the last of Leichner. (BdeP)*
Christmas 1598: Juan de Oñate, the first governor of New Mexico, finds that his nephew and troops have been killed at the pueblo of Áco in an Indian uprising. Oñate exacts his cruel revenge on the Ácoma people, killing many in battle, enslaving survivors and cutting one foot off each man over 25. Albuquerque author Lana Harrigan embellishes this history--as seen through Rohona, an Ácoma man who serves in the household of a high-ranking Spanish officer and, as fate would have it, falls in love with his wife. I would dare to say that Harrigan has serious potential to garner an enormous following, for many of the same reasons that Anne Rice is so loved: for the realism and romance; the mysticism and sensual description, steeped in a solid history and sound research. Though they are worlds apart, Harrigan is to New Mexico what Rice is to New Orleans. Already a sequel to this first novel, called K'atsina, is ready to be published. And though it's premature, I am clearing plenty of space upon my bookshelf. (JE)
The Lady Who Liked Clean Rest Rooms
It's been 40 years since J.P. Donleavy freaked out the establishment with his novel The Ginger Man. Now he's working on a "series of New York stories," the first of which is this novella, The Lady Who Liked Clean Rest Rooms. Despite its title, Rest Rooms is not some Joycean revelry in scatological talk (though there is that element to it). Instead, it's the story of a filthy rich Scarsdale matron who loses her husband, her house and her fortune in one fell swoop. As part of her grief therapy, she treats herself to afternoons at the Met and some side trips in search of a "proper" place to pee. Naturally, antics ensue. In the end, it's an unsuccessful--and incredibly outdated--social satire, but Rest Rooms does resonate with one simple meditation: Namely, the possibility that suffering is the one thing that makes life worth living. (BdeP)
Reading a Kinky Friedman book, for me, is the next best thing to being there. Having spent several summers and one hell of a trip to Mexico with the country singer turned mystery writer, I came to know the Kinky Friedman behind the super-sleuth Kinkster character in all of his 10 novels. And there isn't much difference.
Most--if not all--of Friedman's recurring characters are the real-life action figures he presents them as: from Ratso, the Kinkster's erstwhile Dr. Watson, to Rambam, the Jaguar-driving, embassy-bombing strongarm. And the quirky mysteries that ensue are quite often just as philosophically profound as they are Texas-sized hilarious.
Road Kill stars Willie Nelson who, due to an unshakable Indian curse, fears for his life. The Kinkster smokes cigars, drinks Jameson's and saves the day. To tell you any more would be criminal. (MH)
I have not read Corelli's Mandolin, apparently the more famous novel by Louis de Bernieres. But if it's anything like The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts, it's a funny, tragic novel with a healthy sense of the absurd. Set in a fictional Latin American country, Nether Parts tells what happens when Doña Constanza decides to divert the river to fill her swimming pool, and the local villagers don't like it. Much like Robert Stone's A Flag for Sunrise, the book draws on a myriad of bizarre characters, a winding plot and a kind of smiling sadness that so often helps a story of needless death seem bearable. Funny yet poignant, The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts employs a delicate balance to delight its readers. (MM)
I am neither embarrassed nor alone in admitting that comic books were the catalyst for my love of literature. In my case, Gold Key's Tarzan the Terrible and Classic Comic's Time Machine were gateways to the world of grown-up books, but my discovery and subsequent love for Raymond Chandler came several years later. The notion of presenting legitimate fiction in comic format is hardly new, and the genre of graphic fiction has made some impressive accomplishments in its own right, but I never expected to see the work of one of my favorite authors so masterfully and so faithfully presented. Lark's artwork captures all of Chandler's grit and romantic realism while retaining, word for word (yes, I checked), the artful linguistic judo that is the hallmark of Chandler's genius. This is a must-have. (NB)
The Old Farmer's Almanac
The Old Farmer's Almanac is a delightful blend of weird folklore and odd products you'll never see advertised anywhere else. The 1998 edition features the standard fare of yearly national weather forecasts, as well as planting and zodiac timetables. (The Almanac predicts below-average precipitation in the Southwest until next June. It also claims that Albuquerque's in for a hotter than normal November and a cooler than normal summer.) This year's edition almost saw the end of the hole that has appeared in the book's upper-left corner for the last couple of hundred years. (A reader survey discovered that only 19 percent of readers used the infamous hole, which cost $43,187 to punch.) My favorite odd fact: In 1996, more admen died on the job than in any other profession, including electrical repair shops and petroleum refineries. (CJ)
The distinctive, elegant covers designed for Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Paul Chambers and hundreds of other Blue Note Records releases have become classic images associated with the jazz of the era. Often using Francis Wolff's stark photographs, Chief Designer Reid Meyers and his team created countless sharp graphic designs for Blue Note sleeves based on the mood of the record inside each one as described by label president Alfred Lion.
For the next 11 years, Meyers and his designers managed to turn the Blue Note "look" into an art form in and of itself. More than 200 classic examples await in this fantastic coffee table book, along with a forward by Lion's wife and informative essays by the book's editors. Truly an elegant addition to any library. (MH)
Subtitled Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society, this history book looks at gender relations in colonial America by using court records as evidence. A simplification of the book's thesis is that early Americans viewed the family as an extension of the state, with the father as the grand authority; it was part of the state's mission to ensure that the father fulfilled his duties. But the state was not perfect in its own administration of duties, and Norton looks at the cases that ended up in court, which included sex crimes, property disputes and the like. Norton even examines the special case of widowed women. Founding Mothers and Fathers is one of the more interesting history books on shelves in recent days. (MM)
--Nick Brown, Blake de Pastino, Jessica English, Michael Henningsen, Christopher Johnson and Marina Mostar
* Man Alive! is only available by mail. You can get a copy by sending $11.95 to Speed of Light, PO Box 1011, Placitas, N.M. 87043.
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