Apex Hides The Hurt

Colson is back on track with this book– back to the level of The Intuitionist. I am thoroughly enjoying the playful nature of the subject matter– a nomenclature consultant is hired to rename a town. The musings on names is delightful. I am also struck by the description of people who are “other”– because the main character is black, whenever he encounters other black characters, they are simply described as “man” or “woman”; but when encountering whites, it’s “white man” and “white girl.” I like it. It reminds me that 99% of every other book is written in the other vein. And it reminds me of how my parents describe people– I’ve always been struck by their insistence to clarify that someone was a black guy, versus just being a guy. Hopefully this is a generational tic that will devolve out of use.
Now finished, I am well pleased with the entire story. The question of Freedom vs. New Preospera vs. Winthrop for the town, and the ultimate choice by the consultant (Struggle). His limp. His amputated toe b/c Apex really did hide the hurt as his toe got more and more infected. I like the way Colson teases out the story, parses out piece after piece, mentioning the narrator’s “precondition”, “incident”, even the considered names for the town. Lucky (new founder) vs. Albie (Winthrop old founder) vs. Regina (mayor). Muttonchops the bartender & the housekeeper who wages war on the consultant’s hotel room. The fact the nomenclature consultant remains nameless throughout.

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Who knew the true story of Warren Harding’s presidency could be so sad and interesting? Warren went from being an aw-shucks editor of the Marion, Ohio newspaper to being maneuvered into office (first Senator of Ohio, then President) by Harry Daugherty, the conniving and scandal-inviting grafter. The question of Harding’s black ancestry is raised more than once (and denied). Once Harding is President, he takes his responsibilities seriously, and begins learning about the world and its ills, arguing for civil rights, labor laws, global disarmament. His theme is very much discouraged by the old guard, led by Henry Cabot Lodge, the perpetual presidential-office seeker. Harding’s friends begin taking advantage of their newfound privileges immediately, transferring the Teapot Dome oil reserves from the Navy to the Dept of the Interior, where rights are handed over to a civilian in exchange for $250k. There is also scandal involving bribe-taking for booze makers during prohibition, and a Veteran’s Hospital graft scheme.
Throughout the story, the events are recreated by one Nan Britton, Harding’s young lover from his hometown of Marion. She describes stalking him from an early age, contributing a poem to the paper, bicycling by his house, spying on him in his offices. In her twenties, she follows him to Washington where he has just been elected Senator. Right before Harding embarks on the journey across the country (where he will end up dying in San Francisco), Nan becomes pregnant.
The author notes that in 1931 Nan Britton published a best-seller, “The President’s Daughter,” telling about her life with Harding and doing her best to salvage his reputation. Royalties from the book opened a home for unwed mothers. Her book contains quotations from several of his speeches, including this from a July 21, 1923 speech shortly before his death: “Ask not what your country can do for you: Ask– what may I do for my country?”
Harding seems the forgotten predecessor of People’s Presidents such as Kennedy and Clinton.
Recommended by Old Bean

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Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever

Winners of the worst analogies in a high school essay, gleaned from a WaPost contest. Including:
“John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.”
“From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and “Jeopardy” comes on at 7 p.m. instead of 7:30.”

The Sparrow

It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten tangled up in a plot and been loathe to put down the book. The Sparrow has a story that you have to ease into, to get comfortable with the idea of Jesuits and space travel. But once you’re there, you’re in. Emilio Sandoz, the linguist, finds himself the butt of a cosmic joke as he’s been sent around the world to learn languages and then dump all his knowledge into an AI program. The tale takes 8 brave souls to Alpha Centauri in search of the Singers. Years later, Emilio comes back alone, wrecked. It is a story of a man’s quest for god and his challenges of the faith.
The title reference comes 7 pages from the end. “Matthew ten, verse twenty-nine,” Vincenzo Guiliani said quietly. ” ‘Not one sparrow can fall to the groud without your Father knowing about it.’ ” “But the sparrow still falls,” Felipe said.

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Collection of short stories looked tantalizing from the distance, since it appeared to be a sort of travelogue winding its way from Japan, Hong Kong, etc. Instead, Mitchell creates distinct short stories with the age old trick of including characters from the previous story into the current story. And so each story is related to the other in some nondescript way. Writing is almost above average, but the cutesy inclusion of other characters ruined it for me. Couldn’t get past the 3rd story.

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The wind-up bird chronicle

Dreamlike tale of a recently unemployed man whose cat runs away, then his wife runs away, then has mysterious events begin happening to him. Naughty phone calls from phantom women who float into and out of his dream, the 16 year old neighbor who tans and watches for cats and does wig surveys, naming the cat after his brother in law who becomes a famous politician at the heart of the story. Mystical powers of comprehension and psychic healing. Blue mark on his face after sitting at the bottom of the abandoned well for several days and passing through the wall. Beating the guitar-case carrying man with a bat. Tales of Manchuria, skinning the spy alive. The bequest of an empty box. Meeting Cinnamon & Nutmeg and having clients come to the hanging house.
Overall pretty amazing read.

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