June 29, 2007

Pocket Book Review # 3

No One Belongs Here More Than You, by Miranda July

It would be a disservice to say the stories in Miranda July's collection are propelled by a quirky voice. They are propelled by a voice that is captivating, funny, wise, and honest. What July has figured out is that a voice can sound strange but also be a delight, that it can be slightly alienated and confused but also have the timing of nightclub stand-up.

Here is the narrator of "Majesty" explaining her job as an earthquake safety counselor:

"There's a school in the neighborhood, Buckman Elementary, and every year they invite the firemen in to explain how to Stop, Drop, and Roll, and later in the day I come in and talk about earthquake safety. Sadly, there is very little you can do. You can stop, you can drop, you can jump in the air and flap your arms, but if it's the Big One, you're better off just praying. Last year a little boy asked what made me the expert, and I was honest with him. I told him I was more afraid of earthquakes than any person I know. You have to be honest with children."

June 25, 2007

Pocket Book Review # 2

In the Shadow of the Sun, by Ryszard Kapuscinksi

"The Soccer War" is an egaging and fascinating read, but "The Shadow of the Sun" is a masterpiece.

"The Soccer War" bounces all over, from Africa to Latin America, and occasionally Kapuscinski steps in with a journal entry on the Big Book he wished he'd written and that, perhaps, he thought he never would. It's great reading, but it's also a disparate collection.

All the stories in "Shadow" are set in Africa, which makes the work cohesive and coherent in a way that "Soccer War" is not. This collection of reportage is essentially a checkered history of 20th Century Africa, reported by an eloquent, thoughtful, and thoroughly engaging correspondent.

Colonialism in Africa reduced ten thousand entities to fifty, Kaupsinski writes, "but much of the underlying variety, this mosaic -- this shimmering collage of pebbles, bones, shells, bits of wood, pieces of tin, and leaves -- has remained. The more closely we stare at it, the better we see how the bits and pieces of this tableau change place, shape, and hue, giving rise to a spectacle staggering in its mutability, richness, and pulse of color."

June 21, 2007

Pocket Book Review # 1

The Soccer War, by Ryszard Kapuscinski

From 1958 to 1980 Kapuscinski was the Polish Press Agency's correspondent in Africa and Central and South America. He flew from one crisis to the next, a literary man with a journalist's notebook, reporting on wars and revolutions, profiling political leaders, revolutionaries, and madmen, and living with the common people in their tin houses on their ramshackle streets.

The Soccer War is a collection of reports from Kapuscinki's far-flung travels, interspersed with soaring diary entries styled, whimsically, "Plan for a Book That Could Have Started Right Here," "Plan for a Book That Could Have Been Written," "Plan for a Book That Will Never Be Written," etc. It's touches like these that make Kapuscinski's essays so special. He writes about tragedy, but never loses his sense of the beauty and absurdity of the world.

It's a Vintage paperback. $14. You cannot go wrong.

June 17, 2007


OK, so I don't update this blog very often. I know this greatly disappoints my three readers. But today -- glorious day! -- is different. Today I check in to update Ye Olde Blogg. Here is the rundown:

Sarah Vowell Was My Soul Mate is on The Nervous Breakdown

Judas Breaks His Silence is on the Opium website.

And finally, I put a movie on You Tube that I made several years ago, called Quimby Explodes

Please enjoy.

For those who have read this far, some recommendations. First, the New York Times has struck blogging gold in Paper Cuts, the new blog by Times book review editor Dwight Garner. It's lively, funny, and the behind-the-scenes look at the Book Review you always wanted.

Second, I admit to having a love-hate relationship with reading. I love to read, and I'm always plowing through something or other, but so many books just aren't particularly great. They are good, but they don't offer the transcendent experience that can make reading a truly special experience. Well, thankfully, there are exceptions, and "In the Shadow of the Sun" by Ryszard Kapuscinski is one of them. I read "The Soccer War" earlier in the week, and while that book is very good, "Shadow of the Sun" is a masterpiece. It recounds Kapuscinski's twenty years of adventures in Africa as a foreign correspondent for Poland's state newspaper. The adventures and Kapuscinki's writing are amazing. And, best of all, it's a $15 Vintage paperback. The best kind of book.