Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Two more book reviews

Whoo hoo. My Amazon rating broke through a million. I'm now ranked 612,093 and have 11 of 14 positive reviews.

"Dago Red" by John Fante

Good woodcut drawings, stories of Catholic youth
June 14, 2006
Greg A. Locascio (DeKalb, IL USA) - See all my reviews

This is my first John Fante book. Little did I know the copy I checked out from Northern Illinois University is a rare first edition. One of the five copies available through Amazon is signed by Fante and sells for $2,000. The cheapest copy is $180. No matter. I don't collect books.

The woodcut drawings by Valenti Angelo are beautiful, as is the feel of the thick pages. The 13 short stories revolve around a Catholic Italian family living in or near Denver. Fante's style is very simple and direct. Some of his phrasings -- "Oh, boy!" -- have a dated 1930s charm.

The childhood stories, like "The Road to Hell" (which describes the spiritual battle of a good Catholic boy who steals a $5 baseball glove) are pithy, a little too aw-shucks and sincere, but well-written.

The last few stories feature adults and are the best in the book -- "Odyssey of a Wop," "Home, Sweet Home," "The Wrath of God," and "Hail Mary" all give a glimpse into Italian-American family and community life and into the consciousness of a fiery young man, good at sports, angry at his father, and struggling to make a name for himself.

I have no doubt I'll read more of Fante. I doubt my next selection will be a rare first edition.

I first heard about Fante through Charles Bukowski, who was a fan and even wrote a poem about Fante meeting William Faulkner. I met my friend George the other day and he asked me what I was reading. When I told him Fante he said Fante introduced him to Bukowski.

That's kind of nice when two authors of two generations, mutual friends nonetheless, steer their fans to each other.

"One Life at a Time, Please," by Edward Abbey

Hit and miss collection of Abbey essays
June 14, 2006
Greg A. Locascio (DeKalb, IL USA) - See all my reviews

Edward Abbey's curmudgeonly persona permeates this collection of essays organized by topic (politics, travel, books and art and nature love). This is one of Abbey's later books, a mish-mash of essays, magazine articles and book prefaces, and it has a disjointed feel.

When Abbey describes a journey, like his description of a houseboat trip on Lake Powell, he is magical. When he decides to be political or critical, when the desert rat Abbey comes to fore, he just comes off as too ranting, too artful, trying to hard to be clever and angry at the same time. This is always Abbey, or, I could argue, any artist, at their worst -- when they become so self conscious of their persona that they have to pander to it to maintain the illusion of it. That's at least how Abbey comes off to me in the rantings in this book.

His article about a trip to San Francisco shines when it describes his visit to Robinson Jeffers house, but could do without the pithy descriptions of his daughter and meeting with the magazine editor.

Read "One Life..." one story at a time. If you don't like one, skip it and move on. There are enough pleasing nuggets to satisfy both avid fan and neophyte alike.

No comments: