Thursday, December 20, 2007

Octopus Book Notes: Like A Piece Of Lead With Wings On It

As happens from time to time, I find myself reading three or four books at once -- and not completing any of them. As I mentioned the other day, I'm in the middle of Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land. I'm continuing to plug through that, but not with a ton of enthusiasm.

Carl Spitzweg (1808-85), Der Bücherwurm (1850) [public domain]

I'm also in the middle of Hunter S. Thompson's Hell's Angels, which I am loving. I just keep putting it down and picking up something else. He's relatively sober so far in this book, which is different -- it's a different tone than in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or The Great Shark Hunt -- more akin to the attempts at something like legitimate reportage in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. The more I go back to Thompson, the more I am convinced that he really was one the great American writers of the twentieth century. I will try to finish it this weekend.

The other day I picked up Paul Barrett's recent book, American Islam. I had seen references to this book popping up everywhere, and Barrett quoted and interviewed in various places, and was curious. I just started the book, but it's excellent so far. It doesn't romanticize Muslims in America, or demonize them. So far, Barrett strikes a very fair balance: I find myself agreeing with the dark sides or problematic aspects of Islam in America that Barrett highlights in his chapters on various types of American Muslims (a publisher, a feminist, an activist, an Imam, etc.). And I find much that is hopeful in what Barrett points out about American Muslims: we love this country, we work hard to succeed, we believe in the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution, we cherish the opportunities we have been given here, and we want to play our part in the great American experiment. I highly recommend it.

I'd never read any Henry Miller before picking up Tropic of Cancer the other week at Read Books, our one an only used bookstore here in Eagle Rock (unrelatedly, I really want to talk to Read Books' marketing people and whoever advised them on trademark issues). I've been dipping in and out of it, but mostly find it to be an unholy mess so far. One great bit has stayed with me -- Miller's description of an erection: "it feels light and heavy at the same time, like a piece of lead with wings on it." I think I had come across that phrase many times before, but it was slightly thrilling to be surprised by it when reading the book. Oh, almost forgot: when I was paying for the book at the register, the owner of the store, a very nice middle-aged bookish-looking (!) woman whose kids are often at the store with her, reading on the couch, doing their homework at the front desk, asked me if I wanted a bag for the book. I don't know what came over me, but I was a total ham: I made a a funny face and said, "You mean, like a brown paper bag?" She apparently thought that was sort of funny -- she laughed -- but probably a little creepy (the laugh was a little nervous). I got into the Intrepid and sped off into the Eagle Rock night to be alone with my shamelessly uncovered work of obscenity/great literature.

Finally, the other day, the slightly insane but apparently very well-read Ron Paul, in criticizing Mike Huckabee's Christmas ad (with floating cross over his shoulder) quoted Sinclair Lewis about fascism coming to America wrapped in religion. I felt a little guilty not knowing much about Sinclair Lewis, so I went to the library and checked out Babbitt, of which I've only read the first three pages, laying out the setting in Zenith, Ohio. Those are some awesome three pages.

I wish I had some more time.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for very kind comments about my book, AMERICAN ISLAM. It's out in paperback from Picador next week. -- Paul Barrett

Octopus Grigori said...

Wow -- that doesn't happen a lot.

Thanks for visiting the site, Paul. I'll be sure to pick up a copy.

READBooks said...

You don't really think that we have marketing people do you? Regarding the owner's nervous laughter, the mention of brown bags brings back memories of her husband's sordid affair with Night Train Ltd., and a first date in an alley way. It wasn't your fault.

READ Books