Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Unsinkable Zeal Strikes Again

Around this time of year I always get antsy. I get tired of grading papers or writing papers or otherwise working my ass off, and I inevitably turn to books. Thus, the influx of book-related posts over the past few days. I find that shirking responsibility in favor of a book is a great deal of comfort for me, and as the holidays (and three weeks off) draw nearer, I get continually more excited about reading fun stuff.

This morning, on my drive to work, I was listening to the NPR: Books podcast, and I heard about no less than three books that I feel I must have. Good thing Mom sent that $50 B&N gift card for Christmas!

The book I found most intriguing of the three I fell vicariously in love with this morning is The Fires, by Alan Cheuse. It's two novellas about grief and death. Upbeat, eh? But listening to him answer questions about the book and read passages was so extremely involving. I want to run out and pick it up right now.

A short blurb from Publisher's Weekly:

In these two novellas, Cheuse (The Grandmothers' Club; Lost and Old Rivers; etc.) dissects the aftermath of two very different deaths: one, of an American businessman traveling in Russia; the other, a mother, jazz pianist and drug addict. In the first novella, The Fires a museum worker named Gina learns that her husband, Paul, died in a car accident while en route to Uzbekistan. Gina travels to Russia to ensure her husband gets cremated, per his wishes, and the foreign, surreal and familiar collide when Gina takes Paul's body to a Hindu ceremony to be cremated. The Exorcism applies much more overt dark humor to similar feelings in a substantially different character. An unnamed baby boomer discusses his sadness following the sudden death of his first wife, renowned jazz pianist Billie Benjamin, who fatally overdosed on heroin. Billie's death hits her daughter, Ceely, hard (she lashes out postcremation by torching a piano at her college), and the narrator's fond recollections of courting Billie are not received warmly by his new wife. Misery is in greater supply than comfort throughout, and Cheuse approaches his subjects from interesting angles, making these novellas of grief strangely compelling.

The second was a book about cleanliness. I enjoy offbeat non-fiction as much as the next girl--maybe more. I quite enjoyed Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (Mary Roach), Death's Acre (Dr. Bill Bass), and who can forget The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures (Louis Theroux). It's no surprise that The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History (Katherine Ashenburg) struck my fancy. What could be more fascinating and "eewww" inducing than a chronicle of hygiene habits through ages? INCLUDING the 17th century which Ashenburg describes as "the dirtiest time in human history."

Finally, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain is a non-fiction book about, you guessed it, music and the brain. Author and neurologist, Oliver Sacks, wrote the book that was eventually made into the film, Awakenings and heaven knows how many books he's written between then and now (I'm far too lazy to look it up). This morning was my first opportunity to hear Dr. Sacks speak, and it was so entertaining! The way he described the neurological reactions of the brain to music were so freakin' cool. I'll definitely be adding this one to the "quirky but intimidating" non-fiction stack, right alongside Life Everywhere: The Maverick Science of Astrobiology (which is actually an amazing book if only I'd force myself to finish it).

So that's the latest "lust list" (that should be a category). It grows continually, so check back often for more adventures in Andi's ailing bank account.


  1. please let me know how the Fires is. That is so my kind of book. I always say, I hate sad books, blah, blah, blah and I always seem to steer towards these books because they are just interesting, no matter how sad! Have fun reading and with all your upcoming time off! I know how great it is and mine is slowly but surely coming to an end :O(

  2. I like that, lust list. Must remember that.

    That last book, by Sacks, does sound amazingly interesting. As do the other two, but especially that one.

    And while we're on the subject of quirky nonfiction, I really need to read Spook by Mary Roach.

  3. This is completely unrelated, but how in the heck did you do that awesome thing with your profile picture?! I'm in the process of working nights to train myself in Photoshop, and it's been slow - let me tell ya. But for a project I'm working on, I have to add color to a black and white photo, and I can't get it to look natural :(

  4. oh, I have heard of the Music and the Brain one. I heard the author on NPR with Terry Gross talk about the book. sounded interesting.

  5. Sarah (loose baggy monster)12/06/2007 9:07 AM

    I have Musicophilia on my list too--and I'm with you on the antsiness. I'm so ready for this semester to be finished that I'm already getting ready for next semester's reading...

  6. "The Dirt on Clean" sounds interesting. Last year I had to read quite extensively about 18th century London for a research project, and the bits about hygiene habits and the sewage system were unforgettable to say the least.

  7. The Fires does sound intriguing. Oh and I totally understand what you mean about picking up a book and shirking responsibility. I tend to do that when I'm overwhelmed :)


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