Friday, January 14, 2011

Two Good Ones I've Read Recently

Two books I've read recently that deserve comment here.

"West with the Night" by Beryl Markham is one of the best books I've read in years The writing is amazing, and the stories are fantastic. It's the story of her life, growing up in Africa during the early years of the 20th century. What a fantastic life, what a great series of adventures she had!

There's the parrot's moment of greatest triumph followed instantly by his greatest embarrassment. Getting mauled by a lion as a young girl. The boar hunt with the local warriors, in which her beloved dog Buller almost gave his all. And those are just her earliest years. At 17 she became a horse trainer, leading to a successful racing career (and the story of the race between her Wise Child and Wrack is as good as the match race chapter in "Seabiscuit.") Then she saw an airplane and her life changed. She became one of the first women pilots in the world, and her decriptions of flying are poetic, brilliant, and prescient. She captures a glimpse of an Africa that no longer exists. Her description of using an airplane to scout elephant herds for hunting parties is fascinating. She doesn't approve, and she seems to understand the wildlife better than she does most people.

Ernest Hemingay, who knew her, praised her book as better than anything he'd ever written, so it sure doesn't need my praise. If you haven't read "West with the Night," get it. Read it. Great book.

Then there's Christopher Moore's "Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal." The only previous book of Moore's I've read, "The Stupidest Angel," is one of the funniest books I've ever read. I was surprised "Lamb" wasn't more straight out funny. It has laugh-out-loud moments, but it really is more of a straightforward story, making up a whole history of Jesus (called Joshua in the book) that fills in the huge blank spot in Christ's biography. It's irreverent – to say the very least. Others might call it sacreligious or even blasphemous. But it's also sort of compelling, and creates a character that is both more full-blooded and more satisfying than the plaster saint we're used to thinking of.

Of course it's tragic. We all know the story, and seeing it through the eyes of someone who loves the character of Joshua as a brother, as a lifelong friend, is more painful than the more remote Gospel stories. There's also a fair amount of sex – calm down, not by Josh, but Biff has an active sex life which he feels obligated to describe to his pal. I'd say there's probably more sex in the book than any previous story of Christ.

But in the end it manages to be surprisingly respectful and – yes, more even religious – than you'd expect.

(But if you want straight, sreaming funny, "The Stupidest Angel" is a sure bet. Save it for next Christmas season. Mixes the Yuletide Spirit, Santa, Zombies and one of the great dogs in literature. Hilarious.)

Anyway thats a couple of books I've read in the last few weeks.

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