Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles

Benjamin R. Ford--Bennie--is stuck at O'Hare trying desperately to get to the West Coast to attend the commitment ceremony of his long estranged daughter, Stella. Bennie has been many things--a drunk, a poet, an academic, a husband. He pushed his world away from him but there's a small chance it can come around to him again if he can just get out of the g-ddamn airport. With his flight canceled and time ticking away, he angrily starts writing a letter to American Airlines demanding his money back for the tremendous inconvenience, the extent of which, they'll never know. The whole book, a slight novel clocking in at only 180 pages, is his ongoing, self-revealing pissed-off missive to American.

Miles writes about alcohol as a "drinks" writer for the New York Times but if he only has one novel in him (though I hope not), he has acquitted himself most admirably. In describing his parents tortured relationship, he says "They were less parents than cellmates." When his father dies when Bennie was 15, he recalls it this way: "He was only forty-eight but his death felt like that of a nursing home patient who'd been bedridden and cancer-racked for years: an act of mercy, a gift rather than a theft." I kept re-reading these little bits and sucking on them like a hard candy I love to eat but rarely have. Dear American Airlines is rich, it is funny, it is quotable and it is heartbreaking.

Just Say Nu by Michael Wex

Simply, Michael Wex rocks. I gushed over Born to Kvetch (which was actually the first booked I blogged about when I started this mess in August of 2006) and I'll gush over this one. Now you'll say to yourself, "Reed Next? Doesn't sound Jewish." Well, it was Nechtbergowitz when we lived in Old Neighborhood but became Next when we moved the suburbs. I digress. Just Say Nu is a wonderful examination of a very rich language and not in a textbook kind of way but, in this case, a practical way. Wex is teaching you phrases that can be of use like small talk, words and terms for greetings, family, food and drink and the like even if you don't plan on speaking Yiddish. He also highlights 5 words that'll get you through any Yiddish conversation and shows the amazing range and versatility of words like "Nu".

But like the kid who starts looking up terms for sex in the dictionary and encyclopedia at that certain age (c,mon, you did it, too), Wex shares this information, as well. Nu? Need to know eleven Yiddish words for 'breasts'? See chapter 8. A variety of ways to tell people to shut up? Chapter 4 is loaded. How about a Yiddish version of "Hot Stuff" by Donna Summer? See page 61 and get ready to sing along.

Even if you speak NO Yiddish, I'm going to bet you can figure this one out:

Haysn hays ikh Maurice, nor rifn rift men mikh "the space cowboy".

Useful, funny, sweet, and informative beyond expectation, this book is an absolute mekheiyeh. You should enjoy.

Monday, May 05, 2008

J. K. Rowling missing

Saw this in today's Shelf Awareness:

"Poof. For the first time since 1998, there are no Harry Potter titles on the New York Times (Times) noted. The Harry pileup on the hardcover fiction list led to several changes of the paper's bestsellers, including the creation of a separate children's list.

Amazing! For 10 years, there has been a Potter presence on the List. Say what you will about Harry but that's quite a literary and cultural achievement.