Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:
* “A Diary of the Century” by Edward Robb Ellis. Ellis was a reporter who kept a diary nearly his entire life, and this reprint of a Kodansha volume a few years back, at nearly 600 pages, represents about 1/100th of the diary. How is it? Mixed. “America’s Greatest Diarist” (as it brags on the cover) he ain’t. Ellis isn’t a very interesting person. His insights are shallow and his personal life dull (unlike, say, Pepys, who describes his affairs in some detail). Although Ellis was a reporter in Chicago and New York, his encounters with the great are on the level you’d expect of a reporter sent to interview them and write it up for the next day’s paper. But every once in awhile, you catch something interesting. Details of how much he was paid during the Depression. Coverage of a fire in 1958 at a factory in New York. His loneliness after his wife died. His description of covering a plane crash thrives on its details — converting $20 into change for pay phones, hitching rides with the cops, the ambulances and the Red Cross, cadging the phone from neighbors to feed details to the rewrite man — that reporters don’t encounter today. (Hmmm, looks like Amazon’s selling the old hardcover version for $4.99)
* “Drawing Words and Writing Pictures” by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden. An instruction book on how to draw comics. This is full of detailed advice, and while it won’t tell you how to draw, apart from some basics, it will teach you how to string your drawing together and make comic books.
* “A Voyage Long and Strange” by Tony Horwitz. The author of “Confederates in the Attic” travels through the United States, Mexico and the Domician Republic, following the paths of the Pilgrims, Columbus, Coronado and other explorers. He describes what exploration was like back then — generally a lot of hiking, killing and starving — and what he finds on those routes today (tourist traps). While he’s down on our approach to history, which is to either sugar-coat it or ignore it, Horwitz unintentionally makes a solid case for ignoring our past. Which would you rather be: someone who spends his life mourning the slaughter, rapine and disease that cleared away the native peoples (who, by the way, were not exactly neighborly to each other; we were just more successful at it), or a tourist, fat and happy, enjoying happy days and eating ice cream at the Jamestown Starving Time Cafe?
A few tabs to close:
Good thing her book wasn’t longer: Atticus Finch says, I Would Say ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ Captured The Most Interesting Part Of Our Lives
Stephen King speaks and makes a hash out of encouraging folks to read by implying that if you don’t, you’ll be sent to Iraq. Then he makes it worse by saying he supports the troops, and asks his fans to e-mail one of his critics! Laurell Hamilton isn’t pleased.
Outside the lines At b3ta, Photoshoppers explore what went on outside the borders of well-known record albums.