Sunday, May 26, 2013

Non-fiction reading includes a memoir, literary criticism and natural history

Recent reading includes three works of non-fiction -- a memoir, literary criticism and natural history.

Book 68: The Books of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon

Aleksandar Hemon's memoir -- his first work of non-fiction -- ranges from Sarajevo to Chicago. Surprisingly, the book doesn't become truly interesting until Hemon reaches America.

Hemon led a pleasant and largely uneventful life in Sarajevo. He left that city before the outbreak of war -- a war that ultimately led his parents and sister to flee to safety in Canada.

Hemon recounts his struggle to adjust to America and to Chicago, a uniquely Midwestern city. He slowly assimilates by engaging in chess matches in Rogers Park, pickup socceer games filled with immigrants all attracted to the pitch by the taste of home it offers and by walking through Chicago's many neighborhoods.

The most powerful passages are found in the book's final section in which Hemon recounts his youngest daughter's death due to a rare and virulent form of cancer.  The family's struggle is both heroic and heartbreaking.

The Book of My Lives is an interesting read, but feels premature. Hemon is a relatively young man -- still in the early stages of his writing career -- with many more lives to live.

Book: 58: Eminent Outlaws, The Gay Writers Who Changed America by Christopher Bram

In Eminent Outlaws, Bram contends that the gay revolution was first a literary revolution.  He believes that the outpouring of literature from writers such as Gore Vidal, Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote led the current status quo -- increased acceptance of homosexuality and single-sex marriage.

Bram overstates the case for a literary influence over current societal norms. Some of the works cited were never particuarly perceived as gay literature nor in the time period that some of these writers were best known was there a general awareness that they were homosexuals.

And there is always the sad truth that most literature is more talked about than read.

Bram's theory aside, Eminent Outlaws is an intriguing, but incomplete survey of more than a half-century of gay literature.

Book 64: Cooked by Michael Pollan

Cooked is a disappointing offering from Michael Poll, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma.

The Omnivore's Dilemma was a groundbreaking work with wise guidance, and the rationale behind that guidance, on better, healthier eating.

Cooked is nothing more than an author exercising the luxury of his indulgences -- and getting paid for it.

Pollan's interest in roasting whole hogs, baking bread and brewing beer are the meager ingredients in a thin serving of personal journalism, science and philosophical musings on natural history.

Keeping the methaphor in the kitchen, Cooked is a bland and insubstanial dish.

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