The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Move Over, Larry King

Time this morning to try something new to the blog: its first notes column. Gone the usual carefully developed arguments, the lovingly re-created site visits. In their stead, a grab bag of ideas, observations, three-dot items, IOUs for longer posts, and generally whatever crosses my mind. Serve me right if a couple-three quick takes, rather than another indigestible embolus of bloviation, gets more hits than anything in weeks?

For example, there are officially no shipping days left till Christmas -- or at least, not for any out-of-town friends or relatives. That shopping ship has sailed, replaced by guilt, recriminations, and pledges to do better next year. Unless, that is, you take my new-minted advice and call a well-stocked independent bookstore near those last far-flung names on your shopping list. Browse around at your local store or online first, but then ring up long-distance and charge a book or two right around the corner from the recipient in question. Then get in touch with the giftee and tell them where their present awaits.

This obliges them to leave the house, of course, but it?s also easier than tracking down the shipping address in question, and it?s good for their local indie. Might even inspire your pal to polish off some last-minute shopping of their own in the same establishment. Mind you, I haven?t actually tried this myself yet, but I can?t see why it wouldn?t work. I don?t know about you -- I sure wouldn?t mind a holiday call from kith or kin telling me there?s a paid-for, maybe even gift-wrapped something waiting on that ever-enticing shelf behind the counter?

And didja notice, as Herb Caen or Jack Smith might?ve said on a slow day, that Joyce Carol Oates has just edited Best American Essays of the Century? (Insert obligatory hardest-working-woman-in-literature joke here.) Christina Nehring over at truthdig.com pointed this collection out, and I?m grateful for it. A logical follow-up to Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike a few years back, this one contains work by everybody from John Muir to Joan Didion, plus no fewer than four Big Read authors.

The latter pieces in question are ?A Drugstore in Winter,? Cynthia Ozick?s reminiscence of her family?s apothecary shop in the Bronx; ?The Crack-Up,? F. Scott Fitzgerald?s account of his nervous breakdown; ?Pamplona in July,? Ernest Hemingway on the running of the bulls, a subject he wrote about much more famously in The Sun Also Rises; ?Corn-pone Opinions,? yet another in Mark Twain?s seemingly inexhaustible supply of brilliant toss-offs we?ve never even heard of; Zora Neale Hurston?s ?How It Feels to Be Colored Me,? a mainstay of our Big Read materials; plus Alice Walker?s canon-exploding essay about Hurston, ?Looking for Zora,? just for lagniappe. (By the way, following Updike?s lead, Oates has included one of her own pieces in her collection. If I am not for myself, quoth Rabbi Hillel, who will be for me?) There are also century collections of sports and mystery writing out by now, but so far no 100-year floods for the same publisher?s spiritual and travel writing collections, and certainly none yet for Dave Eggers? comparatively overnight perennial chrestomathy, Best American Nonrequired Reading. And Best American Book Reviews? Keep waiting?

I could go on, but word limit and deadline are creeping up on me in their uncanny perpetual tango. Did this disorganized impromptu grab bag (or, considering there?s only two items, coinflip?) pass the time agreeably? Or should I go back to my wonted one-hobbyhorse-per-blog format when post time rolls around again next Tuesday? Answers to kipend@arts.gov, and may your holiday be filled with rectangular packages?

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