The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

World War II veteran Tom Rath has killed 17 men. This is one of the most interesting things about himself that he considers putting into his one page autobiography the Broadcasting Corporation requests he submits as part of his job interview. He gets the job after blowing off the task, and enters a world where he’s not sure what his answers should be– appeasing the boss and assuaging feelings or telling the honest truth. This struggle takes him through most of the book, where he finally decides on truth, and his life becomes straightened out.
He had a few months during the war, living with a woman (Maria) in Rome, the outcome of which was a son. When Tom runs into an old army buddy runining the elevators at the Broadcasting Company, he finds out that Maria is in trouble and needs money. Eventually Tom tells his wife Betsy about the whole mess (see above for the epiphany on honest truth).
Tom inherits a large estate of his grandmother’s, but the old servant presents a claim that postdates the will; honesty prevails when Judge Bernstein investigates and discovers that the servant has been cheating the grandmother for years.
All in all, a bit too simple and moralistic for my taste, but a quick and delightful read. Oh, and I like his mantra that soothes him when anxious:
“It doesn’t really matter. Here goes nothing. It will be interesting to see what happens.”

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If You Want to Write

Enough with the books on writing already! This one, however, might be the end of the addiction for me. Brenda’s kind words encourage you to just do it, just write wildly and freely, write from the heart about something you know, describe something, reveal the truth as you know it.
An unfortunate photo choice shows the author in the year of publication and then 45 years later, looking very much like the Crypt Keeper. We humans do tend to resemble skeletons as we age.
And so, Brenda’s 12 things if you want to write:
1. know that you have talent, are original and have something to say
2. know that it is good to work
3. Write freely, recklessly, in first drafts
4. Write novels, plays, anything.
5. Don’t be afraid to write bad stories… to find out what’s wrong with it, write 2 more then go back to it
6. Don’t be ashamed of what you’ve written in the past
7. Discover your true, honest, untheoretical self
8. Don’t dilute your mind with stimulants
9. If you’re never satisfied with your writing, it’s a good sign.
10. Don’t be discouraged by your inner voice
11. Don’t reing yourself in
12. Stop always appraising yourself

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No one belongs here more than you

The weird quiet poignancy of Miranda July comes through in her first book of stories. I first stumbled onto the shakey wonder that is Ms. July in her film (written/directed/starred) Me And You And Everyone We Know, then to her marvelous website promoting the book.
Her writing is clean, minimal, dances around the huge crazy truths she’s unveiling and makes everything bizarre seem normal. Like catching Madeleine L’Engle’s husband out in his car with another woman’s head in his lap (which she thought was a cat). Or the dramas of sharing a patio with a downstairs neighbor and ensuring you get exactly 50% of the time on the deck. Or dreaming up ways to meet Prince William in a pub in England where everyone gathers around listening to you tell your amazing story (nevermind about what). Or being the 3rd parent to the daughter of an ex-boyfriend and ending up in family therapy with them, falling for the therapist, then finding that your “daughter” is now dating the therapist.
It’s a mixed up foggy world, but Miranda July makes it glow just a bit brighter, and you never know what’s coming around the corner.

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The Savage Detectives

Best thing I’ve read in 2007. A book in 3 parts: Mexicans lost in Mexico (1975), The Savage Detectives (1976-1996), The Sonora Desert (1976). Juan Garcia Madero kicks us off with entries from his diary in Mexicans Lost in Mexico, from November 2 (invitation to join the visceral realists) through December 31 (peeling away from a house to protect a prostitute from her pimp on New Year’s Eve, heading for Sonora with Belano, Lima and Luna. We join Madero again at the end with The Sonora Desert, with entries from January 1 through February 15, as they search the desert wasteland for Cesera Tinajero, a poetess of the original visceral realists in the 1920s.
The meat of the book is the middle, Savage Detectives, all 400 pages of it culled from the perspective of everyone except Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano, but filling in the gaps about their lives in Europe and Africa. Both were not Mexican, but Argentinian and Chilean respectively, and head off to Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, Israel and parts beyond. To try and recreate all the stories packed into this section would be madness.
Suffice to say, the story is packed with poetry, since we’re following the story of two poets from Mexico City in the 70s. There’s also adventure, eroticism, loyalty, duels, hunger, jailtime, a boy rescued from a crevasse by Belano, poets drinking mescal and smoking Ducatos, the search for Cesera Tinajero who ended up giving her life for the prostitute whisked away from Mexico City on New Years Eve 1975.
This was the kind of book that makes you want to live your life to the fullest, to pack in as much joy and adventure and poetry as possible, to realize there is no shame in not writing but just appreciating.

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