Monday, July 31, 2006

Taylor's A Summons to Memphis a finely drawn tale of upper crust manners and mores

71. A Summons to Memphis, Peter Taylor. Fiction, 7-27, p. 209

Violent emotions seethe beneath a veneer of manners and mores in Peter Taylor’s A Summons to Memphis. The 1986 novel of a proper, but perverse Memphis family won Taylor the Pulitzer Prize and was the capstone of a lengthy literary career.

Echoes of Edith Wharton reverberate throughout Taylor’s work. Both authors bring a surgeon’s skill, an artist’s sensitivity and a sociologist’s remove to their writing as they peel back the customs of the upper class to reveal the passions that lurk below the surface.

Wharton explored the mannered cruelties of Old New York. Taylor dissects the honeyed machinations of the Old South. In particular, he explores and exposes the conventions of the Memphis upper crust, whose traditions, manner of dress and speech display subtle, but important, variations from that of their counterparts in Nashville or Richmond, Lexington or Louisville.

A Summons to Memphis is the story of the Carver family; the father, George, and his three adult children, two daughters and a son. The children nurse unspoken hurts and resentments against their father – a needy despot whose rigid, unbending control over his family seems to extend from cradle to grave and which is always portrayed as well-meaning and in the children’s interest.

Their resentment begins in childhood when the family is uprooted from a comfortable life in Nashville and reluctantly relocated to Memphis because of the father’s need for a fresh start in business. As the children age, resentment turns to anger as prospective engagements and budding romances are quietly, but cruelly, ended.

The anger lies buried, surfacing only in the most passive of expressions, until, soon after their mother’s death, the father, now quite elderly, contemplates a second marriage. Faced with the loss of their inheritance, alongside their empty, unfulfilled lives, the children take action.

It is not giving too much away to say that the marriage never takes place. The story is not about the aborted marriage, but in how the grown children use the conventions of Memphis high society to take revenge on their self-absorbed father. Ultimately, there are no winners in this finely drawn novel, only survivors.

A Summons to Memphis was Taylor’s penultimate book. A final collection of short stories appeared in 1993. Taylor died a year later in Charlottesville, Virginia.

72. A Death In Belmont, Sebastian Junger. Non-Fiction, 7-28, p. 260

It would have made a fine magazine article.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Fantasyland a dream read

70. Fantasyland, Sam Walker. Baseball, 7-25p. 344

Books on baseball are generally reserved for deepest winter as a vital aid in recalling sun-drenched fields, an expanse of the greenest grass and the bluest sky. Intrigued by the premise of Sam Walker’s Fantasyland, I slipped the book onto the top of my reading list in July rather than January. It was the right thing to do. Fantasyland, a season in the trenches of the arcane world of Rotisserie League Baseball, would have been of no assistance whatsoever in summoning images of summer in the bleak mid-winter. Instead, this account of a game within the game proved a delightful distraction from baseball’s current off-field mischief and misdeeds.

Walker, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, competes in Tout Wars – an annual competition among the so-called experts of fantasy baseball. Walker doesn’t simply want to write about the experience, he wants to win. He also views the opportunity as “a noble experiment. A chance to determine, once and for all, which device was better at predicting a ballplayer’s performance: the laptop or the human eye, cold, hard data or gut hunches and intuition.”

To assist him in the process, Walker hires a NASA biomathematician, who has a master’s degrees in mathematical modeling and human-factors engineering, and an employee in a produce warehouse, who is given to researching obscure biographical details about major league ballplayers. He recruits a woman who specializes in horoscopes for ballplayers and shamelessly enlists a sexy actress friend to play the role of a photographer at the annual league draft. Her mission, in which she succeeds admirably, is to distract the other team owners, while Walker executes his pre-draft game plan.

Is Walker’s game plan a success? Is soulless number-crunching or seat-of-the-pants intuition a better device for building a baseball team? The answers to these questions, which are answered to varying degrees in Fantasyland, are less important than the journey. Walker’s behind-the-curtains view of the fantasy leagues is always fascinating and often laugh-out-loud funny. It’s an excellent, and unusual, addition to the canon of baseball literature.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Peter Robinson's Piece of My Heart a perfect summer read

68. Piece of My Heart, Peter Robinson. Thriller, 7-23, p. 436

The best of today’s thrillers succeed because the recurring characters are like old friends. We’ve been with them through up and downs, shootings and near death, divorce, marriage, love affairs, problems with their spouse, children and co-workers. This is never more true than with Peter Robinson’s fully realized character, Chief Inspector Alan Banks.

In Playing With Fire, Robinson’s 2004 novel, Banks lost his lovely cottage in the Dales to fire. In the 2005 novel Strange Affair, Banks’ brother was murdered. In Robinson’s most recent work, Piece of My Heart, the most traumatic events confronting the Chief Inspector are mundane in comparison -- a run-in with his new superior and his son and his girl friend move in for an indefinite period of time.

Instead, we have parallel stories –a violent murder of a young woman at a rock concert in 1969 and, almost 40 years later, the bludgeoning death of a young rock journalist – that ultimately converge around a popular, local band that’s achieved international fame, the Mad Hatters.

It’s an ideal story for Robinson. Music has always played a part in his novels. We understand a great deal about Banks through the music he enjoys and his son is the member of a successful rock band. Robinson, along with Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin, George Pelecanos and Robert Crais, is one of our best writers in the genre today.

Piece of My Heart is the perfect summer read.

69. Manhattan Noir, ed. Lawrence Block. Short stories, 7-24, p. 257

This is the third book in Akashic Books’ City Noir series that I’ve read. I didn’t like this collection nearly as well as I did D.C. Noir or Baltimore Noir. This was true largely, not because of the stories I liked, and there were several, but because of the stories I didn’t like. In particular, I didn’t think the story, The Organ Grinder, by the husband and wife team, Maan Meyers, really belonged in this collection.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

James A. Garfield: The slow and unnecessary death of an American president

67. James A. Garfield, Ira Rutkow. Biography, 7-18, p. 139

The most recent entry in Times Books’ American Presidents Series, Ira Rutkow’s biography of James A. Garfield, is a petite volume, even by the standards of this series. It weighs in at a tidy 139 pages.

The brevity of Rutkow’s biography is understandable considering the all-to-brief arc of Garfield’s presidency. Elected in 1880, the Ohioan was inaugurated on March 4, 1881, shot on July 2 and died two and one-half months later on September 19.

Rutkow neatly summarizes Garfield’s early years, Civil War experience and Congressional career in the first 40 pages. It takes only another 40 pages to portray the “private” Garfield and to recount the machinations that led to his nomination on the 36th ballot of the Republican convention, his subsequent election and the early days of his administration.

Nearly half the book is given over to the assassination attempt, the dismal state of Nineteenth Century American medicine and the cruel 80 days of suffering Garfield experienced before he succumbed. Rutkow makes a convincing argument that Garfield’s wound need not have been fatal, rather it was the inadequate and improper treatment he received that led to his death.

Charles Guiteau, the frustrated office-seeker who shot Garfield, even used this argument in his legal defense. “Guiteau relentlessly rehashed the case for medical mistreatment,” Rutkow writes. Guiteau admitted shooting the president, but noted that weeks after the assassination attempt a team of physicians concluded the president would recover. “Therefore, according to Guiteau’s rationale, ‘The doctors who mistreated him ought to bear the odium of his death, and not his assailant.’”

In a fascinating summation, Rutkow notes that almost 100 years later, in 1981, President Ronald Reagan suffered far more serious wounds at the hands of an would-be assassin. Yet because of the advances in medical care, Reagan was on his feet within 24 hours and returned to the White House, “fully able to conduct the nation’s business,” within 11 days.

In addition to being a published author, Rutkow is a clinical professor of surgery at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. His professional insight into Garfield’s treatment and into the state of American medicine in 1881 makes this an intriguing and exceptional read.

It is impossible to accurately appraise Garfield’s standing among American presidents; his tenure was all to brief. Rutkow observes that the 1883 passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act is a fitting memorial to Garfield, but acknowledges his accomplishments as president were few. “James Abram Garfield’s presidency,” Rutkow writes, “is reduced to a tantalizing ‘what if.’”

Sunday, July 16, 2006

By A Slow River a novel of rare insight and beauty

“Life is strange. It doesn’t give you warnings. It jumbles everything so you can’t pick and choose, and bloody moments follow moments of grace, just like that. It can make you wonder if man isn’t like one of those pebbles that lie on the road, lying in the same place for entire days until someone kicks it and sends it sailing through the air for no reason. And what can a pebble do?”

--By A Slow River (p. 115), Philippe Claudel

66. By A Slow River, Philippe Claudel. Fiction, 7-15, p. 194

By A Slow River, by French writer Philippe Claudel, is a haunting and lyrical novel. Set in an obscure French village during World War I, it is a story of loss and regret.

The war rages nearby, at once remote and immediate. Remote because of a hill that separates the village from the front line. “But for the hill, we would have had the war right in our faces . . . By the grace of the hill we managed to dodge it . . .” The distant explosions of the battles arrive “deadened and decanted.”

The village is further insulated from the war by the town factory. “Our men kept the factory going and the factory kept them. An order was handed down from on high . . . all workers were reserved for essential civilian service. And so at least eight hundred strapping local lads would escape the raging guns . . . Eight hundred who in the eyes of some were never men at all . . . “

And so the war does make its way into the village. It arrives with a steady two-way stream of men; it is seen in the eyes of the healthy soldiers who march forlornly to the front and it is felt most keenly in the silence of the wounded as they are carted, like so much detritus, to the rear.

Along with the soldiers’ cruel judgment, death also enters the village. A lovely schoolteacher is founded hanged with no explanation for her suicide. A 10-year-old beauty is found strangled, her body discarded in a canal that winds alongside the factory.

These two deaths are enveloped in mystery. As he labors to uncover the secrets behind the mysteries, the local policeman finds himself probing the mysteries of the human heart, including his own: “Despaiux was waiting for my answer. He stood before me, his contempt growing as I sat there, looking back at him—and beyond him—into the emptiness where I alone could see ClĂ©mence. He pulled his hat down and turned his back on me without saying good-bye. He walked off. He went home to his regrets and left me to mine. No doubt he knew—as I do—that you can live in regrets as in a country.”

Few novels contain the clarity and penetrating power of By A Slow River. It is an exquisite novel of rare beauty – in its prose and in its insight.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A visit to Des Moines book sale prep site

Business trips often contain unexpected pleasures.

Usually, for me, that means a side trip to a local bookstore. This week, in Des Moines, it was something totally different. I received a behind-the-scenes tour of preparations for Planned Parenthood’s annual book sale.

It’s easily the largest book sale in the Midwest. The tables are filled with more than 500,000 books, which are moved from the prep site to the sale site in six semi trucks.

This year the sale is September 14-18 at the 4-H State Fairgrounds.

Preparation for the sale, now held twice a year, goes on throughout the year. It all takes place in a building that was once a warehouse. It’s air conditioned; a previous building wasn’t.

Donations are received at the same building where the books are processed. It’s set up so that books can be left 24/7.

Donated books are sorted by volunteers, tossed into shopping carts and trundled off to other volunteers who evaluate and price the books. Volunteers have established areas of expertise; the woman who processes and prices romance books has gone so far as to identify about a dozen popular authors and, as much as possible, she puts all the books by each of these authors together. Her efforts have vastly increased sales in this category.

Once books have been priced, they are boxed by category. There’s a designation on the exterior of each box that indicates the exact table at the sale site where the box belongs. This expedites the process of setting up the sale site--organizers indicated that what once took 10 days now takes two.

In addition to the books there are magazines, records, DVDs and video tapes and puzzles. Other items are also donated, leading organizers to establish a garage sale of sorts in addition to the sale of books and related material.

An interesting feature at the sale itself is a storage area. Anyone buying large quantities of book can drop off their boxes and have those books processed for sale, while they continue to shop. In the past, organizers said they would often be tallying up a dealer’s purchases into the morning hours. Now, both purchaser and volunteer, get to go home at a more reasonable hour.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Four Reads, Four Recommendations

  • 62. The Night Gardener, George Pelecanos. Thriller, 7-5, p. 371
  • 63. The Places In Between, Rory Stewart. Non-Fiction, 7-8, p. 297
  • 64. No Good Deeds, Laura Lippman. Thriller, 7-10, p. 343
  • 65. Heat, Bill Buford. Cooking, 7-13, p. 315

Four books, four recommendations.

Pelecanos’ The Night Gardener will be available in early August. It’s worth the wait. It’s vintage Pelecanos with many of his familiar themes.

The central story has to do with a cop, a retired cop and a former cop who are all trying to solve the murder of young man whose body is found in a community garden. To all appearances, the crime is connected with three murders that occurred 10 years earlier.

There’s complications, and that’s what makes the story so entertaining. The cop, Gus Ramone, knows the young man who was murdered and his family. The former cop left the force to evade a morals charge as a result of an investigation launched by Ramone.

This could be predictable stuff in a lot of writers hands, but not with Pelecanos who forces the men to closely examine their own lives, with surprising, but satisfying results.

There’s are a couple of secondary stories that briefly intersect with the main story of Ramone and the murder in the community garden.

It’s a taut, well-told thriller. If you have not read Pelecanos he should be at the top of your reading pile. He belongs with Michael Connelly, Robert Crais and Ian Rankin on the short-list of the genre’s best.


The Places In Between is Rory Stewart’s account of his walk across Afghanistan in 2002. It falls somewhere between a travelogue, a political analysis, a religious analysis and cultural anthropology.

In many respects, it is a simple book. Stewart walks, stays the night with locals and walks again. But, of course, it’s Afghanistan and nothing is simple. It is a blighted, impoverished land. The people are poor (Stewart is grateful if an evening meal includes an egg or scraps of meat), and illiterate, wary, but not unwelcoming. The medieval landscape is littered with landmines and Kalashnikov-carrying Afghanis.

The book’s power is in Stewart’s ability to show and not to judge. He furnishes us with a insightful and sensitive portrayal of Afghanistan and its people, helps us to understand its religious conflicts and shares pieces of its ancient history. It is a remarkable work of literature and courage.


My first introduction to Laura Lippman, which came in April, was Every Secret Thing. I wasn’t swept away, but that book was a one-off, not featuring her trademark P.I. Tess Monaghan. I've since read two books featuring Monaghan and she's won me. Rather, they-- Lippman and Monaghan -- have won me over.

Lippman’s newest book, No Good Deeds, is just a fun read. There’s a subset of the thriller in which the author piles so much adversity, trouble and woe upon her main character that you wonder how shey will ever extract herself from her misfortune. That’s what happens to Tess in No Good Deeds.

You know, Monaghan will turn things around, but you never know exactly how until it happens. Lippman does a superb job of keeping the surprises hidden until she springs them on the reader. It’s the perfect summer book.


Heat is Bill Buford’s second book. His first, Among the Thugs, is a classic among books on soccer. Heat may well become a classic of the cooking school of literature.

The book is comparable on many levels to Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. Buford, an editor for The New Yorker, takes a job in the kitchen of Mario Batali’s three-star New York restaurant, Babbo. He undergoes an array of indignities and mistreatment, but keeps coming back, improving his skills as a cook.

While reading Heat you alternate between never wanting to dine out again and not being able to wait to dine out again, preferrably at Babbo. The book's ultimate success may be that Buford leaves you pondering a foray into the kitchen to fire up some elusive recipe for yourself.

Authors announced for National Book Festival

The 2006 National Book Festival, organized and sponsored by the Library of Congress and hosted by Mrs. Laura Bush, will befrom 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 30, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., between 7th and 14th streets (rain or shine). The festival is free and open to the public.

“Each year, tens of thousands book lovers attend this national event to meet their favorite authors and celebrate lifelong literacy, which we are also highlighting in a partnership with the Ad Council” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. “Now in its sixth year, the National Book Festival presents a wonderful opportunity to see firsthand how reading changes lives and how our country, its citizens and its libraries promote reading in imaginative and inspiring ways."

“The National Book Festival is a great way for families and friends to share in the joys of reading and discover the works of some of America’s most-loved authors,” Mrs. Bush said. “Readers of all ages can listen to and meet their favorite writers and enjoy a day on the National Mall.”

At the 2006 National Book Festival, more than 70 well-known authors, illustrators and poets will discuss their work in various pavilions, including “Children,” “Teens & Children,” “Fiction & Fantasy,” “Mysteries & Thrillers,” “History & Biography,” “Home & Family” and “Poetry.”

Festival goers can have books signed by their favorite authors, and children can meet ever-popular storybook and television characters, such as Arthur The Aardvark, Maya and Clifford the Big Red Dog, who will appear on the festival grounds throughout the day.

Participating authors include best-selling novelists Khaled Hosseini, author of the “Kite Runner” and Geraldine Brooks, winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for her book “March”; novelist and essayist Joan Didion; historians John Hope Franklin and Doris Kearns Goodwin; biographer Taylor Branch (“Martin Luther King”); Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin, winners of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for their biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer; authors of books for children and teens, including Andrew Clements, Stephenie Meyer, Richard Peck, and Louis Sachar; award-winning illustrators Bryan Collier, Betsy Lewin and Mark Teague; Donald Hall, the recently named 14th Poet Laureate of the United States; and poet Dana Gioia, the director the National Endowment for the Arts; best-selling mystery and thriller authors, including Michael Connelly, Lisa Scottoline, Kathy Reichs and Alexander McCall Smith; science fiction award-winner Spider Robinson; and Elmer Kelton, author of more than 40 novels and voted “the best Western author of all time” by the Western Writers of America.

Popular personalities in the “Home & Family” pavilion include television celebrity chefs and authors G. Garvin and Marcus Samuelsson; CNBC economics and investments commentator Jim Cramer and popular linguistics expert Deborah Tannen, whose new best-seller is titled “You’re Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation.”

Beyond meeting their favorite authors, festival visitors will have the opportunity to learn about the reading programs and resources in libraries across the country. The “Pavilion of the States” will highlight the book, reading, literacy and library promotion activities of all 50 states, the District of Columbia and several American trusts and territories. Representatives from every state and territory will welcome families and children interested in that state's writers and reading programs. In addition, the “Let’s Read America” pavilion will feature reading promotion activities developed by select festival sponsors.

The Library of Congress Pavilion will feature a variety of interactive family-centered activities about the importance of lifelong literacy, cultural preservation, and preserving digital culture. Computers will be available for children and adults to explore the Library’s acclaimed Web site at

The Library’s myriad online resources contain examples of American creativity in all forms such as music, poetry, films, photographs, maps, and sound recordings. The Library’s new National Audiovisual Conservation Center will introduce the latest technologies in film and audio preservation.

The Veterans History Project will also feature a teacher and her students who use VHP material in the classroom. Two students will interview Ezra Hill, a Tuskegee Airman. VHP historian Tom Weiner will interview Darlene Iskra, the first woman to command a ship in the U.S. Navy and serve during the Persian Gulf War.

In the “Teens and Children” pavilion, the national student winners of the Letters About Literature contest will read their personal letters to authors who inspired them. Sponsored by the Library’s Center for the Book with support from distinguished benefactor Target, Letters About Literature invites young readers in grades 4-12 to write personal letters to authors, past or present, who have changed their views of the world or of themselves. Each year, winners are selected at the state and national levels. As the project’s corporate sponsor, Target awards the six national winners and their parents with a trip to the National Book Festival in Washington, to share their winning letters with a national audience.

“It is inspiring to see the number of young people whose lives have been positively affected by a particular author or book,” said Laysha Ward, vice president, community relations, Target. “Through its comprehensive support of early childhood reading, including the Letters About Literature program and the National Book Festival, Target is helping to instill a love of reading in kids as the foundation for lifelong learning.”

In addition to planning a range of activities for this year’s festival on the National Mall, the Library is offering a variety of ways for people around the country to participate in the event online. New this year will be downloadable podcasts of interviews with popular participating authors. The Library will also present same-day webcasts of selected authors’ presentations from the “Teens & Children,” “Mysteries & Thrillers” and “Fiction & Fantasy” pavilions. Both the webcasts and the podcasts will be available on the Library’s Web site at

During the week leading up to the festival, will host a series of online chats with authors appearing at the National Book Festival. These text-based discussions can be viewed daily, starting on Monday, Sept. 25, on the site at The schedule of chats and authors’ names will be posted on the site and the Library’s site at Participants can submit questions in advance or during the live discussion. Authors’ responses will post while the program is airing or at a later date on’s online discussion archive.

In addition to live webcasts, the Library will again collaborate with Book TV on C-SPAN2 to televise the National Book Festival “History & Biography” pavilion events live on Sept. 30. The C-SPAN2 Book TV Bus, a mobile Book TV studio with a multimedia demonstration center for the public, will also be on the National Mall. Festival coverage will be streamed live on C-SPAN’s website

The artist for this year’s festival is award-winning Russian illustrator Gennady Spirin, whose lush contemporary technique brings a rich, imaginative depiction to the 2006 National Book Festival poster. Spirin combines a modern aesthetic with the great traditions of the Renaissance. He has illustrated 30 storybooks for children and has won four gold medals from the Society of Illustrators. Four of his books, including “The Sea King’s Daughter” (1997), were named the best illustrated book of the year by The New York Times. Posters featuring the illustration painting will be available free of charge at the festival.

The 2006 National Book Festival is made possible with generous support from Distinguished Benefactor Target; Charter Sponsors AT&T, The Amend Group and The Washington Post; Patrons AARP, the James Madison Council and the National Endowment for the Arts; and a myriad of contributors. The Junior League of Washington will again contribute hundreds of volunteers to help with the National Book Festival.

A preliminary list of participating authors, illustrators and poets follows. For more information about them and the festival, visit

Friday, July 07, 2006

Pearl's The Poe Shadow an entertaining tribute

61. The Poe Shadow, Matthew Pearl. Fiction, 7-2, p. 367

The Poe Shadow, Matthew Pearl’s second book, is aptly named. Edgar Allan Poe isn’t a character in this novel—it begins soon after his mysterious death in Baltimore—but his life and literature cast a large shadow on every page.

Pearl’s first book, The Dante Club, was a New York Times bestseller.

Narrator Quentin Clark, a wealthy Baltimore attorney, is obsessed with Poe’s death and with protecting and preserving the writer’s reputation, which is unsavory at best. “His life was a regrettable failure,” writes Clark, summarizing newspaper accounts of the day. “He was a gifted mind who squandered all his potential. Whose fantastical and affected poems and weird tales were too frequently tainted by the fatal, miserable fact of his life. He lived as a drunkard. Died a drunkard, a disgrace and a blackguard who injured sound morals through his writings.”

While investigating Poe’s death in 1849 at the age of 40 (check the historical note at the end of the novel), Clark also sets out to establish the identity of Poe’s brilliant fictional detective, C. Auguste Dupin. Was there a real-life model for Dupin or was he the product of Poe’s fertile imagination? It isn’t long before Clark has two candidates for the role; one who is helping him solve the circumstances behind Poe’s death, the other, also trying to solve the mystery, but who working at odds with Clark and Clark’s favorite as the contender for Poe’s role model.

The Poe Shadow is also concerned with what it means to pursue a passion--when does passion slip into irrationality or madness? Clark’s pursuit of a solution to Poe’s death threatens his engagement, his legal practice and his personal fortune. “But this story is not about me,” asserts Clark in the novel’s opening paragraphs. “It never about me . . . It was about something greater than I am, greater than all this, about a man by whom time will remember us though you had forgotten him before the earth settled. Somebody had to do it. We could not just keep still. I could not keep still.”

In a not-to-be-missed historical note, Pearl writes, “The Poe Shadow features the details about Poe’s death determined to be the most authentic, combined with original discoveries that have never before been published.” It's the passion for Poe that Pearl shares with his fictional narrator, and not the novel's mysteries, that makes The Poe Shadow come alive.

Sadly, the mysteries at the heart of The Poe Shadow are not to be solved in the novel, if ever. Although it is predictable at times, The Poe Shadow is an entertaining read and a fitting tribute to Edgar A. Poe.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Chris Matthews on The Washington Read

The Outlook (Editorial) section of today’s Washington Post has an amusing article on “The Washington Read” by Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s Hardball and NBC’s The Chris Matthews Show.

In its purest version, the Washington Read is when you turn to the index of book, see if you’re mentioned and, if you are, read only those pages where your name appears.

“Here, in our busy, ambitious city, many people ravage books like Wild West hunters once attacked the buffalo. Unlike the Plains Indians who harvested the entire animal . . . we buy a book simply to cut out its tongue – the one tasty tidbit that justifies the read,” Matthews writes.

He indicates that Washingtonians have a few basic reading styles:

  1. Read the entire book.

  2. “Go through it,” meaning jumping from page to page looking for the good stuff. “Going through a book, I insist, deserves a special place between “I read that book” and a bookstore scan,” Matthews said.

  3. Start at the beginning and then put the book aside. “The most honest claims for such one-night stands is: ‘I started it.’”

Matthews also writes about Washingtonians penchant for extravagantly displaying their books in their living rooms, dens and other sitting areas. Those books on such prominent display are non-fiction.

“We Washingtonians,” Matthews writes, “restrict fiction to our bedrooms.”


Although this blog is subtitled “My Reading Life,” I rarely mention my reading habits beyond books. In the interest of full disclosure, there are few events that I look forward to quite as much as a leisurely Sunday morning, coffee cup at hand, poring over the Post.


Matthews’ complete article can be found at The Post requires a log-in and password, so you may wish to visit,, before stopping by the Post’s website.