Thursday, January 28, 2010

Deaths: A Fugitive from Fame and A Heated Historian

Such a sad couple of days for the reading world.

As pretty much everyone has heard, we have said adieu to two of our country's Most Valuable Minds: J.D. Salinger, that great chronicler of youth and juvenile angst -- author, of course, of A Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zoey, and Nine Stories--; and Howard Zinn, professional doubter, histrionic rebel and revisionary, and author of books like A People's History of the United States and La Guardia in Congress to name a few.

With little doubt these passages are sad -- even remarkable for our time. The men were great and their works immeasurably greater. And yet unlike the manifold fatalities in Haiti which loom across news bulletins, these deaths are by no means tragedies. Zinn, we know, was in his eighties, and Salinger in his nineties. Both died naturally of the causes which are supposed to take us and drifted painlessly away.

There a special solace to be taken in this type of death. And it is different than that which we find with other deaths. For one, we cannot -- should not -- grieve them. They died at the right time. There was no drama. Any dreams unfulfilled were probably meant to be left unfulfilled by whoever decides such things. Most importantly, both lived deliberately and plainly, doing the things they believed in, even (especially) when it bewildered and confused the public. And so on.

And so they pass, not as invisibles, or pitiables, or men who stared at pens and blank pieces of paper wishing this or that, but as people who did what they wanted, died when it was right, and couldn't give a damn what you said about it. (You phonies.) As Raymond Carver said shortly before he (himself) died: "art is not self-expression; it's communication." And that's what we've got to remember and celebrate about Salinger and Zinn. Their lives may have been their own, but their art is (and has always been) all ours for the taking.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cool New One!

I've had the hardest time picking out things to write about
lately -- I suppose it's just the time of year, what with the Haitian
catastrophe, the storms beating at California, genital-hating underwear bombers,(the Dems loss in Massachusetts), Leno vs. Conan, rumors about an unpcoming John Cena movie with none other than Danny's all just...just so much for a person, right?

Ah gee.

until something great strikes, here's the news: a great new book by the
handsomest Italian kid this side of the Jersey Shore (see above).

The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano (Viking, 25.95. US: March
13, 2010) -- The story of two vulnerable, perennially damaged souls who approach intimacy but cannot find a common denominator, The Solitude of Prime Numbers is a great new book which plays out that timeless question: what is it that makes us so lonely ? and furthermore, what can be done to bridge that loneliness? Sad as a raindrop, smart as a whip, and concise as "I Love You," Giordano's book is a wonderful and welcome rumination upon the subject. Already a bestseller around the world (millions sold!), it's sure to be a hit when it hops across the pond -- even in this crazy country where telling someone you're "not great" today is more taboo than browsing pornography in public. Perhaps it has some lessons to teach. Perhaps a lot. But I don't know. Read it, love it and find out!


Monday, January 11, 2010

Gosh. School. Gosh.

I'm not sure why exactly but I've been smelling a hint of college in the air. Is it because it's just about the beginning of our young president's sophmore year? Because of the ! exciting ! acceptance letters young seniors are just beginning to receive? Or maybe just the NYTimes' awesome pull-out about higher education ( Whatever it is, I think it's a feeling worth chasing down...

And with that in mind here are some books to give, or suggest on that college-bound, college-searching, college-pining student. For help with the distance, the people, that elusive sense of direction (not that it's necessary...), and so on -- books that just feel right for this time.

Dubliners by James Joyce (Oxford UP, 9.95 etc.) -- A great book. Literally the best book of short stories ever written. Short. Elegant. Young Joyce, perfect thoughts, brief and aching glimpses into ordinary lives. Good for anybody, but best for a young somebody.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (Anchor, 14.99) -- You've probably read it, your friends have read it, your grandmother and her bridge partners have read it, and you listen to the movie's soundtrack when driving to the mall. Well whatever, we say. It's still one of the great books about young people, and yearning, and the glories and pitfalls of a romantic life well-led.

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse (New Directions, 8.95, etc.) -- Another well-loved book that's been around the block, and still very, very worth the countless readings and re-readings your philosophy teacher asked of you. A tall tale. An allegory. A religilo-spiritous-adventure of the highest, brightest cast. And, not to mention, a true classic.