Posts filed under ‘What I’m reading’
Reading the excerpt below makes me think of how difficult yet rewarding it must be to peel and eat a durian, that strange fruit found only in southeast Asia, and guarded by not only a foul odor but a thick husk of thorns. The excerpt comes from an essay by the science fiction writer, literary critic, and teacher Samuel R. Delaney called “Of Doubts and Dreams.” It’s part of a collection of related essays by Delaney titled About Writing.
I had been playing poker with Martha Frankel and her crew up in the Woodstock area for well over a year before I learned she was semi-secretly writing a memoir about, among other things, poker. For a while after that, I didn’t hear anything more. Martha was an extremely experienced magazine journalist, but I knew how hard writing a book can be – especially your first book, and a memoir to boot (something I’ve never dared). And I knew too how long the odds can be against getting published.
But Martha landed an agent – and then a deal. And when Hats and Eyeglasses, as the memoir is called, came out in hardcover last year, it got loving reviews.
Now it’s out in paperback. I rarely read memoirs, but I’ve read this one and recommend it. Am I biased? Sure. Is it good anyway? Yes. Is it about poker? Yes – sort of. It’s more about family and about sticking together, even under the worst of circumstances. I won’t say too much more except to give you just a paragraph from one of my favorite scenes in the book. Martha has traveled to Ft. Lauderdale to visit her cousin Keith, who (a) is a cook, and (b) is going to teach her poker.
So now we’re in his kitchen in Florida, and he’s telling me about straights and flushes, but he refuses to divulge whether it’s capoccolo or prosciutto that gives his lasagna such a zing. “Why should I tell you?” he taunts me, hiding a jar of red pepper flakes. I ignore him and stare at “the list” I’d made up for myself.
Keith hates the list and doesn’t understand why I need it. “Because I can’t remember what comes between three-of-a-kind and four-of-a-kind,” I whine.
“You better remember, because those are the hands that are going to win you money.” He lights a cigar and holds the match under the list. “You’re smart,” he says as it bursts into flames. “Just remember the fucking thing.”
P.S. If you’re the cautious type and want to know a bit more about Martha before investing your $14.95, you can check out this profile in The New York Times.
Not book reviews, just quick notes -
Writing in the Dark: Essays on Literature and Politics, by David Grossman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008; 144 pages, $18). Grossman is an Israeli who writes essays, commentary, and occasionally journalism – but mostly novels. I’ve never read his fiction but his essays are wonderful. The title piece in this collection was first delivered in 2007 as an address at the Pen American Center. Like much good writing it seems artless at first, almost shapeless – think of Montaigne or “The Golden Notebook” – and yet at the same time utterly assured. In this and the other essays, Grossman gropes his way through the dark to celebrate the triumph of private language over the debasement of words by governments and interest groups at war with each other. Grossman writes from a country at war, and yet what he has to say is quite pertinent to the U.S. , a country busy conducting not one but two wars out of the immediate sight of its citizens.
Other Colors, by Orhan Pamuk (Vintage paperback reprint, 2008, 464 pages, $15.95). I’m actually reading the 2007 hardcover edition, which I picked up a couple of weeks ago at The Strand over on Broadway and 12th Street in Manhattan. I enjoyed though never finished an earlier memoir by this Nobel prize winner, Istanbul: Memories and the City – hmm, I’ll have to get back to that one at some point. What I like about Pamuk is his slow style, abhorrence of confession for its own sake, masculine sentimentality, and willingness to muse about meaning rather than merely present a string of scenes. A nice change from the relentlessly present-tense memoirs churned out in this country.