Before reading That Old Ace in the Hole, one should read the first sentence. “In late March Bob Dollar, a young, curly-headed man of twenty-five with...moreBefore reading That Old Ace in the Hole, one should read the first sentence. “In late March Bob Dollar, a young, curly-headed man of twenty-five with the broad face of a cat, pale innocent eyes fringed with sooty lashes, drove east along Texas State Highway 15 in the panhandle, down from Denver the day before, over the Raton Pass and through the dead volcano country of northeast New Mexico to the Oklahoma pistol barrel, then a wrong turn north and wasted hours before he regained the way,” it reads.
Much like Bob Dollar, Annie Proulx steers her vehicle all over the place, often getting lost, and not regaining the way for quite some time. But she realizes this, and I can tell from the crafty glimmer in her eye in the Peggy Hill-looking picture on the back cover that she meant this meandering first sentence as a joke that you will only get after you have finished reading the book and go back to glance at the first page.
It’s certainly possible to grow impatient with Proulx’s slow, winding navigation of the trials and travails of young Bob Dollar as a hapless pork farm land scout in the Texas panhandle. She takes many detours. We peer deeply into the life of Sheriff Hugh Dough, a minor character, plot-wise. But the trick is to shut up and let her drive. You’re going to get there eventually, and when you do, you won’t care so much about arriving, but you’ll be glad you paid attention on the drive.
Some of the sharpest and ultimately most amusing detours are those through time. In 1878, for example, Martin Merton Fronk, the son of a German immigrant watchmaker, came to the town of Woolybucket in the high plains of Texas on the advice of Doctor Jick to ameliorate a respiratory affliction. Later, in the 1930’s, local cowboy Rope Butt employed a teenage Ace Crouch to help Dutchman Habakuk van Melkebeek fix windmills on his property.
The character names in the book might lose buoyancy at some point if they weren’t kept afloat by equally whimsical and dynamic characters. Francis Scott Keister is a jerk who cheats on his homicidal wife. Freda Beautyrooms is an elderly Methodist who owns some prime land. Richard Head is a rancher. Jim Bob Bill Skin. Advance Slauter. Sheriff Hugh Dough. They all live here, and you’ll get to know them pretty well.
What is Bob Dollar doing in Woolybucket, anyway? He’s putting off figuring out what to do with his life by doing a job that he accidentally slipped into, just like everyone else. He’ll figure it all out someday. When Bob was young, his parents left him with his Uncle Tam, went to Alaska, and were never heard from again. He’s since developed an understandably conflicted sense of adventure and just enough social grace to make him ineffective as a sneaky bastard.
The great thing about Proulx’s severely roundabout storytelling is that she enjoys doing it, and the joke’s on you until you realize it is, at which point you see the little smile curling the corner of her lip, and you fully embrace the panhandle, which is not as desolate or lonely a place as you thought it was.
Right-ho! At first, I was pretty disappointed when I realized that P.G. Wodehouse had written a book that was not about the inimitable Jeeves and Bert...moreRight-ho! At first, I was pretty disappointed when I realized that P.G. Wodehouse had written a book that was not about the inimitable Jeeves and Bertie Wooster, and that I was reading it. That lasted for about a page until a wave of good cheer came over me.
Mulliner Nights is a series of stories told by a loquacious regular at the Angler's Rest by the name of Mulliner. There are no recurring characters between stories, although the theme of matrimonial difficulty between young lovers permeates pretty much every yarn that Mr Mulliner spins. This is a marked difference from the Jeeves stories, in which Bertie does his best not to get married.
Stephen Crane died at the turn of the century in his late 20's, making him a rock star. I bet all of the college kids in the 1910's and 20's had poste...moreStephen Crane died at the turn of the century in his late 20's, making him a rock star. I bet all of the college kids in the 1910's and 20's had posters of him on their walls. Or maybe portraits.
There isn't that much time in The Red Badge of Courage for you to get too attached to any characters, not even our hero The Youth, Henry Fleming. But you can totally empathize with his Desire to do Something Grand, his fear, his sense of accomplishment, and generally fickle human nature. Plus, Stephen Crane can totally turn a wicked awesome phrase, like, whenever he wants. You can't teach that. It's a gift. Nurture your gifts, kids. (less)
If you've seen "No Reservations," Anthony Bourdain's show on the Travel Channel, you may have been intrigued and entertained by the globe-trotting sam...moreIf you've seen "No Reservations," Anthony Bourdain's show on the Travel Channel, you may have been intrigued and entertained by the globe-trotting sampling of exotic (and not-so-exotic) cuisines, and by Bourdain's rough-edged wit and constant cameraderie with fellow foodies. But unless you've read "Kitchen Confidential," Bourdain's part-memoir, part insider manifesto, part faux-chef's-manual, you might not be aware of his credentials as a professional food taster and pedigreed smart-aleck.
A long-time but reformed drug addict, Anthony Bourdain has had more cooking jobs than Italy has had governments since World War II (which is a lot.) The accounts of his many shenanigans are quite juicy and border on unbelievable at times, and Bourdain himself admits that the whole story of his youth may be tinted with a potent dose of nostalgia. But in any case, you end up rooting for him; He may have moved around a lot and been a junkie at times, but he certainly worked his ass off and knew when to give a middle finger, which makes you respect him in a crazy-uncle kind of way.
Towards the end, as Bourdain begins to wrap up the manic recuont of his culinary past, he reminds us that doing things like writing a book is easy, and that doing things like being a cook or a chef in a restaurant is hard. The latter is certainly true, and although you might disagree with the former, the statement sheds light on what kind of book this is. Bourdain is not a great writer, to be sure, but he has great stories, and just the right mix of bravado and self-deprication to make them worth reading. (less)