Sunday, February 11, 2007

3 Books

A friend of mine leant me Dave Eggars' memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius a few weeks ago. I had tried to read the book when Steph brought it on our trip to Japan at the end of 03. So I made another attempt to read this book. Both attempts unsuccessfull. Eggars never really captured my interest, in his writing or what he's writing about. Maybe it would have worked better as a magazine article.
Speaking of magazines, I found Freakonomics: a rogue enonomist explores the hidden side of everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner at the North Van library. My friend Stephen Huddart had reccommended it and I'd read quotes or references to it over the past couple of years. Another strangely magazine-like book. Levitt hardly has insight on everything. His insights are dribbled out, surprisingly few in this book. His discovery that legalized abortion in the States is responsible for falling crime rates is indeed interesting but I wonder if the same statistics from other abortion-liberalizing societies shows the same result. His last chapter, blaming parents for giving their kids "weird" names and thus guaranteeing they'll have a harder time in life than kids with "normal" names, is something I'm seeing refuted as I type. On TV, Kobe Bryant is playing against Cleveland in an NBA game. The NBA is full of players with names the announcers struggle to pronounce, but I see that as a good thing, showing how basketball is globally popular and not dependent on the US for all its good players. Can we blame Kobe's parents for naming him after a beef dish they were fond of? His name doesnt seem to be doing him any harm. As the owner of a "weird" name myself, I've found there are 10 strangers who, when they hear my name, express liking for it, as if wishing it were their name, for every person who criticizes it.
The one chapter I particularly enjoyed is called The Ku Klux Klan and Real-Estate Agents. The story of how one man, Stetson Kennedy, infliltrated the Klan in Atlanta, and gave away its secrets to the Dick Tracy radio show, which made a laughing stock of the Klan for kids of America, is an inspirational tale. Almost Firesonian (power or radio, power of humour).
But the insights Levitt offers are few. It's not as if he's teaching us how to discover the truth buried in statistics. Imagine if Al Gore promised us all the secret to stopping Global Warming if we each send him $19.95.
Along with Freakonomics, I picked up Prime Green: remembering the sixties by Robert Stone. I had read his novel A Flag for Sunrise many years ago and enjoyed it. Before I could open the book, the latest issue of The New York Review of Books appeared in my mail box, with a critical review of Prime. The reviewer was disspointed that Prime has so little about religion (apparently a major preoccupation in Stone's novels) and so much about drugs. Well, it is a book about the 60s, and Stone hung out with some of the most stoned people of his era. His insights into his friends Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady are of particular interest to me as I wrote a radio play about Neal.
Stone's description of tripping with the Merry Pranksters at the NY World's Fair in 64 is also of interest as I attended that fair. Unfortunately, Stone calls it the last real world's fair. Nonsense! 3 years later, I attended Expo 67 in Montreal, which was a Very Big Thing in Canada that year, and the best of the 5 worlds fairs I've attended.
Throughout the book, I kept finding paragraphs that I'd like to underline, but it's a library book so I can't. That's the sign of a good book. I'm pretty sure I read the story of Kesey in Mexico that Stone writes in some magazine. But unlike the other two books, Prime is more than a good collection of magazine articles. It made me want to read Stone's other novels. And unlike Kesey, Stone isn't dead, so perhaps there'll be more to come. Whether it's a familiar place Stone is describing, like the NY World's Fair or Shakespeare &. Co. in Paris, or an unfamiliar place like New Orleans or Antarctica, Stone's descriptions are so vivid it's like being in those places, without all that expensive air fare.


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