December 1, 2003: “Despite industrial imperatives that focus on current releases…”

Despite industrial imperatives that focus on current
releases with the hopes of creating bestsellers, hopefully in the
giga proportions of Harry Potter, there are occasional reminders
that the literary moment is not coincident with the commercial one.
Jonathan Yardley's "Second Reading" columns in the Washington
Post
are some of those. Recently Yardley revisited the prodigious
oeuvre of John
D McDonald
which reminded me that before there was Parker or
Hiaasen or James Hall or Thomas Perry or Lehane and Pelecanos, there
was McDonald's Travis McGee.

Another such restraint on the dominance of immediacy (at least
for me) is the twice-yearly half price sale at the Bryn Mawr Bookstore
in Cambridge—which was sweetened by a surprise 75% off sale
on fiction in August. Among the treasures that fell into my hands
(I always see these acquisitions as providential) was The Red
and Green
by Iris Murdoch, The Venerable Bead by Richard
Condon, Ocean Sea by Alessandro Baricco, Einstein's
Monsters
by Martin Amis, The Good Samaritan & Other
Stories
by John O Hara, The High Spirits by David
Huddle, Birds of America by Mary McCarthy,
Reflections of An Angry Middle Aged Editor by James Wechsler
and many others. For the price of an overpriced lunch in Harvard
Square I came away with a fair-sized box of books. And based on
Louis Menand's recent piece in the New Yorker (Sept 15,
2003) on Condon, I started reading The Venerable Bead,
which is a hilarious send up of anti-Communism, American Style.
Condon makes a great use of (faux) Albanian culture and as humorously
as Tune in Tomorrow (the film version of Vargas Llosa's
Aunt Julia and The Scriptwriter) with Peter Falk, Keanu
Reeves and Barbara Hershey, scapegoats Albanians.

I finally saw the film The
Trials of Henry Kissinger
by Alex Gibney and Eugene Jarecke.
There is a lot to be said about any narrative rendering of the uncompleted
Kissinger Saga, and this film does well to scratch the surface with
the prosecution represented by the irrepressible Christopher
Hitchens
whose book of the same name is a brilliant encapsulation
of Kissinger's high crimes. The film starts out with shots of Henry
accompanied by Billy Strayhorn's masterpiece "Lush Life"
(sung by the singular Johnny Hartmann from his collaboration album
with John Coltrane) and has some interesting tidbits (Alexander
Haig, a former Kissinger aide who comes off as a twit, calls Hitchens
a "sewer pipe sucker").

Back to finishing up Stuart Dybek's must read (an obnoxious imperative,
no?) new story collection, I
Sailed with Magellan
. A witless curiosity had me scanning
the NYTBR piece on Dybeks' book, and I came away aghast that the
great Nelson Algren was not mentioned in a book about piece about
a Chicago writer. That in turn reminded me of a
righteous piece of Algren hagiography
(and more) called "Mediocrity's
Vengeance" by another vastly underrated American writer, Michael
Ventura. And on and on…

Scroll to Top