It's spring & finals are approaching for the busier human beings. I'm daydreaming about a singing trip to Alabama in May. Who has time to read a novel? Did you know that less then 50% of Americans will read a novel this year? I blame it on Sanjaya Malakar. While Sam Amidon was working on his list of top ten movies for 2007, I was compiling a short list of short excerpts in American Literature, manageable-sized chunks to read on the grass when you're pretending to be studying but actually looking at dancing hippies (see picture). Most of this list is lesser-read stuff by great dead-white-male American tragicomedians.
A) Herman Melville - Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile, Chapters 8 thru 12.
Accidental covert American agent Israel Potter is sent on a secret mission to give Dr. Ben Franklin a message in Paris during the Revolutionary War. Melville portrays Franklin as a nearsighted know-it-all & the adventurer Paul Jones as a bastard.
B) Thomas Pynchon - Mason & Dixon, Chapters 27 & 28.
Read this after Melville's portrait of Franklin. Charles Mason & Jeremiah Dixon go womanizing with Franklin in Philadelphia, & come away with an impression that the famous inventor is "unfocused." I've annotated these chapters for Liam Joseph Olaf Worland Golden, & I'll publish my notes here soon. In Chapter 28, Mason & Dixon go to Col. George Washington's plantation, & meet his despondent Jewish slave Gershom.
C) Mark Twain - Roughing It, Chapters 12 thru 17.
Nothing is funnier than Twain's send-up of Salt Lake City, reflections of when he pass'd thru it in the early days of Western Expansion. An entire chapter is devoted to slamming the Mormon Bible.
D) J.D. Salinger - "Teddy" from Nine Stories.
A beautiful classic. Salinger turns ninety on January 1st, 2009, nineteen days before Bush leaves office & twenty-four days before Robert Burns's 250th. (The title for Jerome David's only published novel is from a Burns song.) I was trying to figure out how to send him a telegram in Cornish, New Hampshire, but apparently the wires are down. "Teddy", about a ten-year-old genius, is good to read next to:
E) Jonathan Safran Foer - Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.
I love this book, & it's a pretty fast read. Nine-year-old Oskar Schell decides to track down everyone in the New York Phone book with the last name Black, determined it should prove that his dead father loved him. (It's shorter if you skip the letters from his Grandparents, but go back & read them this summer.)
F) Dashiell Hammett - The Thin Man.
Another fast read, Hammett's classic post-noir mystery written at the beginning of the noir craze. The wit of the husband-&-wife detectives has not dulled over the years (as opposed to anything Chandler wrote). The old movie is also amazing. "You look like I need a a drink!"