r e c o m m e n d e d    r e a d i n g

On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt been none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen. He dint make the groun shake nor nothing like that when he come on to my spear he werent all that big plus he lookit poorly. He done the reqwyrt he ternt and stood and clattert his teef and made his rush and there we wer then. Him on 1 end of the spear kicking his life out and me on the other end watching him dy. I said, ‘Your tern now my tern later.’ The other spears gone in then and he wer dead and the steam coming up off him in the rain and we all yelt, ‘Offert!’

Expanded edition, Indian Univ. Press, 1998


Several writers and readers, friends of Archipelago, suggest some good books:

Odile Hellier (The Village Voice Bookshop, Paris; by phone):

          “One book I loved very much: ADA, by Nabokov. What a wonder, the writing! Reading Russian, I’m all the time tuning into the Russian mind and, reading him, I see the playfulness of his Russian mind translating itself into English. It comes through in the irony, the ridiculousness of the world, the distance between the character and what happens to him. How he plays: puns in three or five languages: French, English, Russian, sometimes German, sometimes Italian — and the language of the entomologist, with his complicated, ornamental descriptions of plants and insects: a Baroque playfulness, combined with tenderness and a totally subversive love. This book is about culture, society of course, with an ironical eye on the upper classes of France, England, and America, which he knows because that was his milieu. I cannot tell you the pleasure I had reading this book, how it stimulates the imagination: it takes you above the ground.” Vladimir Nabokov, ADA (US: Vintage; UK: Penguin; paperback)
          “It’s incredible that Grace Paley would be in Paris just now, reading [at the Village Voice] these essays written over the years, given the political climate of the last week, the bombing of Kosovo, because these essays also dealt with political activities of the past. She’s certainly against the bombing, as she was against the war in Vietnam, but although she did not speak about Yugoslavia, she understands that it is necessary to get rid of evil. Her life as an ecologist, woman, feminist, pacifist, an activist in many issues: it is meaningful for me to have her here, now.” Grace Paley, JUST AS I THOUGHT (New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1999)
          “Barbara Kingsolver’s new book is a quantum leap up from her previous novels — the scope, the canvas, the destiny: enormous; really wonderful. The book is about the imposition of cultures on other cultures. The title says it all: the preacher who carries his guilt with him to Africa, to the Congo of Patrice Lumumba. In a small village where the people speak Kilonga he wants to baptize by immersion the children, because he feels they live in darkness, though the river is filled with crocodiles! He speaks about ‘Patajesus,’ drawing on the Kilongan word for ‘truth’; but he pronounces it as ‘poisonwood,’ and so is totally wrong: he preaches not that Jesus is ‘truth’ but ‘poison.’ This is a real novel, of ‘real’ lives: the preacher, his wife, and their three daughters. Five different lives lived with humor and tragedy in moral, cultural and political situations; a masterpiece.” Barbara Kingsolver, THE POISONWOOD BIBLE (US: HarperCollins; UK: Faber paperback. 1998)
          “I read a British book which you may want to know about, by a man who was in prison and then worked in a slaughterhouse. Despite the fact that it was a little bit difficult for me to enter that world at first, I found the author is very, very generous with his rather picaresque, rather deformed characters. A very generous book, funny at times in spite of the very, very, very dark world. It’s really a beautiful book.” Jimmy Boyle, THE HERO OF THE UNDERWORLD (UK/US: Serpent’s Tail, 1999)
          “Jake Lamar is an African-American writer living in Paris who is best known for BOURGEOIS BLUES. His third novel, CLOSE TO THE BONE, is just out. His novels are always contemporary and interesting, about the African-American middle class which has money and education and goes back and forth between Europe and the States. He is a subversive kind of writer. He writes about African-American characters, but he’s not protecting them at all: he blurs borders, frontiers, lines between white and black. He debunks the polarization and, though he certainly speaks about racism, undermines it all the time. Racism is an issue, but not treated as we’ve been used to seeing it dealt with in novels. This is a new kind of African-American literature. He’s not carrying the banner of race, but describing a generation across colors.” Jake Lamar, CLOSE TO THE BONE (NY: Crown Books, 1999)


Susan Garrett (TAKING CARE OF OUR OWN, Dutton, 1994; MILES TO GO: Aging in Rural Virginia, University Press of Virginia, 1998):

          “I marvel at the hours of total delight I spend pouring over a large book called ON THE ART OF FIXING A SHADOW. This is a treasure house of photographs, from the beginnings of photography in 1839, through photography’s transformation into art and beyond, to 1989, accompanied by four essays written with penetrating grace by some fine art historians: Sara Greenough, Joel Snyder, David Travis and Colin Westerbeck. Hold this book in your lap and make yourself comfortable, let your eyes travel deep into the magic of Fox Talbot’s ordinary scene “The Open Door” (1844), from there to French, British and American photographs of architecture, soldiers and chimney sweeps, bridges and industrial plants (I love Albin Coburn’s “Pittsburgh Smoke Stacks” [1910]), street scenes in Paris, London, New York, the wild American West, and the artistic amazement to be found in light on the human body. If your library doesn’t have it, beg them to buy it.” ON THE ART OF FIXING A SHADOW, ed. Sarah Greenough, Joel Snyder (National Gallery of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, 1989)


Elizabeth Benedict (THE JOY OF WRITING SEX, A Guide for Fiction Writers, Story Press, 1998; SLOW DANCING, 1985 and THE BEGINNER’S BOOK OF DREAMS, 1988, Knopf; SAFE CONDUCT, Farrar, Straus & Giroux):

          “My favorite definition of fiction is Henry Green’s, who said that it should be ‘a long intimacy between strangers.’ On the scale of intimacy, the three books I’ve picked are all at the extreme end, and all, it seems, are about nostalgia for lost worlds, or longing for the innocents we were when we got to live in those distant but flawed lands.
          “Elizabeth Hardwick’s SLEEPLESS NIGHTS is a dreamy yet tightly written burst of what she calls ‘backward glancing.’ Back at the childhood in Lexington, Kentucky; the flight to intellectual life in New York; the encounters with Billie Holiday; the marriage that is over (‘Are you lonely?’ a young women asks the divorced narrator. ‘Not always,’ is her answer.) What endures for the narrator in this work of what she calls ‘transformed and even distorted memory’ is her life of reading books, ‘all consumed in a sedentary sleeplessness.’ The last page of SLEEPLESS NIGHTS is magnificent.” Elizabeth Hardwick, SLEEPLESS NIGHTS (o.p. but available in used bookstores)
          “It’s only been in the last few years that James Salter’s books have had the wide audience they deserve. My favorite is LIGHT YEARS, a novel about the slow, quiet disintegration of what seems like a perfect family. Set in the late 1950s and mid-late 1960s, the parents are ex-urban intellectuals and aesthetes and devoted to their two small daughters. They live in a great old Victorian house along the Hudson, among good friends, good books, children’s games from another era. ‘They lived a Russian life,’ Salter writes, ‘a rich life, interwoven, in which the misfortune of one, a failure, illness, would stagger them all. It was like a garment, this life. Its beauty was outside, its warmth within.’” James Salter, LIGHT YEARS (Vintage)
          “THE BOOK OF EBENEZER LE PAGE, by G. B. Edwards, is an oddity and a great literary wonder, written in the beautiful French patois of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. It was brought to light by John Fowles, who wrote the forward, after the manuscript was found among the author’s papers when he died in 1976. It’s set on Guernsey, between the 1890s and the 1960s, from the time of the island’s isolation and innocence, to its darkest days when occupied by the Germans – and to its current status as a trendy, ‘quaint’ vacation spot, which we’re as angry about as Ebenezer is, by the time we’ve spent so much time in his company. He feels intensely about everything and everyone in this deliciously rich novel of longing and love.” G. B. Edwards, THE BOOK OF EBENEZER LePAGE (Moyer Bell Ltd., paper)


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