In view of his recent health problems, I was drawn once again to the wonder that is the story of Nelson Mandela’s life, but instead of reading his autobiography I decided on a new release that is perhaps even more personal. Consciously titled Conversations With Myself, is a book made solely of Mandela’s letters and recordings. Reading it feels a bit like spying on someone’s private diary, full of moments that differ on importance but end up providing a truthful portrait of a man who refuses to be viewed as a legend.
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Everybody’s got a novel or screenplay or sheaf of poems stuck in their desk drawer or hard drive somewhere; and if not, they’ve got it all written out in their head. Many things keep those works from ever seeing the light of day, most particularly publisher or agent indifference, and sometimes reluctance to part with the work until it’s in perfect shape.
Bestselling authors don’t have that problem. If you’re the New York Times bestseller-list haunters like Stephen King or Malcolm Gladwell, one imagines that with few exceptions you could find a house to publish anything you damn well please. If Tom Clancy wanted to write a book of children’s verse, eventually he’d find somebody to put that one out, likely with a big bold “From the author of The Hunt for Red October” slug on the front cover, just above the watercolor picture of a kitten and puppy frolicking together.
Given the many American servicemen and women who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan disfigured, Marc Dugain’s The Officer’s Ward is painfully relevant in these times. Dugain has written an excellent, thought-provoking novella that will appeal to any sensitive audience, but especially to those involved with injured and mutilated veterans or in the field of disability studies.
While reading How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, I grew to enjoy Lenny’s stream of conscience style, which becomes clear and concise by the end of the book (where he rants on about sex, religion and politics). Just when you think he has completely gone off subject, and maybe when you yourself have forgotten what he was originally writing about, he finds his way back. Chapter 27 on morality clauses come to mind; I might have to read it again:
“Recently I was offered a writing gig on a TV series (…). But after two days, negotiations went right into the can. The company’s legal department killed it. Because of the morality clause.
This is the case with Peter Trachtenberg’s beautiful and disturbing The Book of Calamities, which makes greater demands on your emotional capital than on your economic capital. Trachtenberg takes the reader from Ground Zero to Rwanda, from upstate New York hospitals to New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina.
Still, if the stories—testimonies, really—that make up a great part of the book are poignant and horrifying, they are also inspiring.