Friday, June 30, 2006

Thomas Beller, How To Be a Man

It was with embarrassment and quiet glee that I picked up Thomas Beller's promisingly titled How To Be a Man: Scenes from a Protracted Boyhood last month. It was next to Carson Kressley's book on wardrobe, Off the Cuff: The Essential Style Guide for Men, and the Women Who Love Them, and that gave me pause, but the shelving may have been some kind of in-joke by the UVic bookstore's staff. It may even have been an homage to Jane McGonigal's Ministry of Reshelving project, but I don't know about that.

What a treat Beller's book turned out to be.

Each separate piece comes with a title and an age Beller was at when the events occurred, but since they're not in chronological order, I'm reasonably confident that it's not a faux-plainspoken fragmentary postmodern autobiography. These are just scenes and moments, of varying seriousness and on topics as diverse as carpentry, bagel inventories, and a '77 Thunderbird. Beller, a streetball-playing journalist with a varied work history, comes off like a guy I wish I knew, and that's a rare experience for me in the area of books about guyishness.

There's just so much earnestness in these books, when what you want is to hear about the state of being inhabited by the kind of guy you might want to know. Bill Zehme's
The Way You Wear Your Hat : Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin' gave me the right impression in a bookstore once, but I didn't buy it and find out; Garrison Keillor's Book of Guys has flashes of it. Beller's How to Be a Man is it, though. He talks about masturbation maybe once too often for me, and his New York state of mind can sound a bit self-important, but honestly, it's worth twice the price of admission.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

June 22, 2006 - RRU booksale

Robert B. Gibson, ed. Voluntary Initiatives: The New Politics of Corporate Greening ($5)
Jonathan Harr, A Civil Action ($5)
Christine A. Hult, Researching and Writing Across the Curriculum ($5)
Bjorn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World ($5)
David Pepper, Modern Environmentalism: An Introduction ($5)
Howard Rheingold, Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution ($5)

Bonanza!

Royal Roads University's bookstore, such as it is, is only open 11 until 2, Monday to Friday, but every book is $5. OK, they're all books in organizational change, environmental studies, and management strategies, but I was happy.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Memories of My Melancholy Whores

Memories of My Melancholy Whores. How can you not respond to this complicated series of words? Whores -- such disrespect! The ownership we imagine in My, the melodrama implied in Melancholy: yes, yes, I know the Spanish title is Memorias de mi putas tristes, so the publisher (or Edith Grossman) is playing up the musicality more than is necessary, but it's a word I'd expect GGM to use.

More than that, Melancholy is a great word choice, especially for its melodramatic associations and the shadow those associations cast over the narrator.

Rather like the title character in Autumn of the Patriarch, our unnamed and ancient narrator inhabits a world whose existence depends on the collaboration of others. He writes for a newspaper, yes, and earns money and has a public reputation, but without his knowledge, his mother paid to have his first columns appear in the newspaper. He is said by others to be quite seriously well-endowed, and claims to have had sex with 514 women before he gave up keeping track at age 50, but he has never had sex without paying for it. (For me the precision of the number 514 also evokes Florentino Ariza in Love in the Time of Cholera, who was with so many women while waiting for his beloved Fermina Daza.)

Echoes. Memories of My Melancholy Whores is vintage GGM, but shorter. It doesn't have the touches that make people call some of his other novels "magic realist," but you won't confuse its author with anyone else: Jorge Amado's and Mario Vargas Llosa's fiction is related to GGM's, but in Edith Grossman's translation, there's no mistaking that prose. Haven't we met this character before?, we ask, haven't we slept in this hammock already?

In that sense, GGM and the narrator are one and the same. Both men tell stories about themselves, GGM in his wonderful autobiography Living to Tell the Tale and this unnamed man in Memories, a title he came up with for "a narration of the miseries of my misguided life" (13). Throughout this novella, our narrator sees himself first of all as someone seen, someone whose life occurs publicly and therefore needs to be told carefully, floridly, echoing the romantic tones we falsely associate with times long-past. The theatricality of the novella's speaker, and his situation, mark this as just another book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

In my eyes, that's cause for happiness, in spite of the creepiness and not-infrequent outbreaks of misogyny. If you weren't persuaded by Love and Other Demons or Innocent Erendira etc, this won't sell you either, but it's an accessible place to start reading GGM's work.

Monday, June 12, 2006

June 11, 2006 - garage sales

Benjamin R. Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld: Terrorism's Challenge to Democracy ($0.50)
Ken Borden & Reuben Schafer, How to Make Love to a Feminist ($0.50)
Sharon Pollock, Walsh ($1.00)
George Ryga, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe ($1.00)

Pollock's and Ryga's plays (especially Ryga's) are classic Canadian literature about First Nations issues, and I've been increasingly embarrassed not to have copies on my shelves. Barber's book will get into the "moderately urgent" nonfiction reading queue, and Borden/Schafer ... has been in my possession more than long enough already.

Friday, June 09, 2006

June 9, 2006 - UVic Bookstore

Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can't Be Jammed ($19.95)

But free, because I had a lovely gift certificate from the department for letting some grad students guest-lecture in my first-year classes last semester. I'll get right on it, once I finish Gabriel Garcia Marquez' Memories of My Melancholy Whores. GGM's been languishing computer-side for weeks as I fail to get reading time, so maybe this week I'll get the two hours it'll take to zip through it. (I don't feel guilty about zipping through some authors' works, because I know I'll be back several more times over the years!)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

June 8, 2006 - Bolen's

James Little, ed., Way Out There: The Best of explore Magazine ($24.95)

I was looking for a non-textbook set of readings next semester's English 215 (expository prose), and this should do fine. Essays about the extinct Tahltan bear dog, speed-record recumbent cycling, herpetology, marathon swimming -- and all in lucid, accessible prose.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

June 4, 2006 - house contents sale

Columbia Encyclopedia, second edition (1950)
National Geographic Atlas, fourth edition (1975)

I was actually there to buy a driver for a friend who's starting to play golf, but the old chap who's moving into his daughter's house saw me hefting these classics and told me to take them. I take offers of free books from actual readers very seriously, so I wasn't going to turn these down.

The venerable encyclopedia goes to my office, and the second gets saved for whenever my daughter's genetics twig the same interest in maps that had me spend so many hours with the third edition of the atlas.