Saturday, December 15, 2007

New books by Harrison, Ellis and Chabon are not to be missed

Books now read in ’07: 116
Title: Returning to Earth
Author: Jim Harrison
Genre: Fiction
Date Completed: 12-12
Pages: 280

Books now read in ’07: 117
Title: American Creation
Author: Joseph Ellis
Genre: History
Date Completed: 12-12
Pages: 243

Books now read in ’07: 118
Title: Gentlemen of the Road
Author: Michael Chabon
Genre: Fiction
Date Completed: 12-14
Pages: 204

Three books. All highly recommended.

Returning to Earth is Jim Harrison’s newest book, and one wonders if it will not be his last. It certainly reads as if it is Harrison’s effort to come to terms with his own mortality.

It is the story of Donald, a middle-aged man of Chippewa and Finnish descent, who is dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Much in tune with his Indian ancestry, Donald determines to end his life.

In the four sections, Harrison tells us Donald’s story, that of his wife and other family members as they come to terms with his death. It is a powerful and insightful book – with echoes of Louise Erdrich – and certainly must rank among Harrison’s best.

American Creation examines key historical moments in the founding of America – beginning with Washington’s decision to engage the British in protracted struggle rather than a conventional clash of armies and concluding with Jefferson’s decision to set aside his opposition to an imperial presidency and purchase the Louisiana territory from Napoleon.

Ellis’ strength is two-fold. He is an engaging writer who avoids a plodding academic style sometimes adopted by historians. He is also balanced and fair-minded; crediting Jefferson, for example, with boldness in concluding the Louisiana purchase, but in being blind to the opportunities the purchase offered to abolish slavery in America.

It’s an intelligent and provocative work.

Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road is the most enjoyable of the lot. Chabon dedicates the book to British writer Michael Moorcock and, indeed, his character Zelikman owes much to Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone.

Gentlemen of the Road is a delightful adventure yarn. Chabon tosses in sword play, elephants, a bit of artful thievery and a foul-mouthed youth of royal blood trying to regain his rightful throne. It’s irresistible.

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