Two good books; one bad meal (12 cents)

I have to start by saying that Lucy Honig, author of the new novel “Waiting for Rescue”,is a friend, a college classmate of my wife. Lucy has spent much of her life writing, and winning recognition of and prizes for, short stories. “Waiting for Rescue” is her second novel. She tells us that, although the official publication release date is not until sometime after the first of September, it is already available through Amazon. It is published by Counterpoint, in soft cover only.

If the mark of a good book is whether or not you want to continue reading or, in the alternative, put it aside, this book is terrific. I read it over two or three days, in a few long sessions, but more importantly, by snatching five minutes here, and ten minutes there. I clearly wanted to know what was going to happen next.

The book is written in the first person; it reads like fact, not fiction, more like a blog, or a diary. The narrator is a teacher of writing in a public health department of a major university in Boston. In fact, the author spent many years in just this role. But, from reading her brief biography on the cover the book, you would never know this. This was obviously a conscious choice, and I wonder why.

There are several characters important to the book – a young graduate student from Sudan, who develops a fatal illness; a young faculty member whose father may, or may not, be a convicted murderer; a second staff member, a middle aged Russian, who has an affair with the narrator; a director of a public health observation program in Kenya. Each of their stories in fact is a short story, tied together by the various interconnections of the characters, but able to stand on their own. But they are sufficiently tied together, with a simply but somewhat quirky rhythm. I felt that I was just floating down a river, calm here, mild rapids there, watching the scenery go by.

I think that’s a good way to put it. The book flows. It does not build to a climax. It could go on forever. Story after story would continue to develop.

The second book was written about 15 years ago, “Colored People”, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s memoir of his pre-college years, growing up in a small paper mill town in West Virginia. Gates, Harvard literature professor and department head, gained notoriety with his recent run-in with the Cambridge police.

I realized that I knew virtually nothing about Gates. Now I know a fair amount about his early years, I know that he has a surprisingly engaging writing style, and that he is an apparently unabashed memoirist. By that, I mean that he tells it as he sees it, describing people as he viewed them, in great detail, their strong points and their weaknesses exposed for all to see. I admire this type of writing, particularly since I cannot seem to emulate it. I am afraid I will embarrass myself, or that I will upset others.

He talks about his extended family, the surprisingly open sexual practices of the so many members of the colored/Negro/black community of the town of Piedmont, his own intellectuality, lack of athleticism and combination of shyness and arrogance, his many friends, and the delicate and changing nature of relations between blacks and whites. The book was apparently quite a big seller when it came out. I recommend it highly.

I wish my dinner Sunday night was as good as these books, but our night out with friends at Chef Geoff’s was quite a disappointment. We probably won’t repeat it. And, to add salt to the wound, when I walked out of the house this morning, I saw a note stapled to the telephone post in front of the house. This telephone post collects a lot of stapled notices; I regularly pull them off. This particular note was posted by (and how random is this?) Chef Geoff’s, a restaurant probably two miles from the house, advertising a Yappy Hour (bring your dog and have a drink or dinner on the patio on August 26). Not only random, but WEIRD. Another reason to stay away.

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