Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I mostly decline to give book recommendations. (I explained why here.)

But just in case you are looking for something to read, something new and perhaps unlike what you've read before, something that isn't just another novel or memoir, something that doesn't require a big commitment, something contemporary yet tested—

Just in case you actually would like a book recommendation, here's mine:


And here's why:

1. Each of these books is chock full of contemporary literature, but neither forces you to run the normal risk associated with new writing. You know what I'm talking about: you're browsing at the bookstore and you find yourself enchanted by the very very clever graphic art covering the latest by Ian McEwan or Jonathan Safran Foer or whatever, but besides the congratulatory blurbs on the back of the book you have no independent confirmation that this book isn't going to be a huge let down. You stroke the cover a bit and look around and find yourself drawn in deeper, towards the depths of the store, to the [Proven] Literature section, where old classics like Jane Eyre and Moby Dick are sporting similarly clever graphic updates on their old covers along with a century or so of success to justify their purchase. You're torn. You want to be hip, to be aware of the newest books on the block, but you don't want to wind up buying garbage.

With the Best American Series you need not worry. Every entry in this yearly anthology is triple-checked for awesomeness—once by its original publisher, again by the series editor, and again again by the guest editor for any given year. And it came out today—you can't get any more modern than that.

2. Even if, despite the fine taste of three editors, something in one of these books doesn't appeal to you, that doesn't mean the whole book was a waste. With essays, all you have to do is wait for half a dozen pages—or skip half a dozen pages—and you've got a new essay with a new author.

3. You probably haven't read many essays since high school and college ruined them for you by imposing deadlines and minimum page requirements. So if you've been steadily reading novels or memoirs and want a change, here's twenty or more short changes in one book.

4. I haven't actually read either book yet, so I won't be offended if you don't like it after all. (Somehow, recommending something I haven't read seems right. I recently sent E-style two CDs for her birthday that I had never even heard before.) I've never yet been disappointed with a Best American Travel Writing. On the one hand, every essay in it is loaded with heaps of fantastic knowledge about the world: it's the best kind of education. I've learned about eating whale meat in Iceland, the disappearing Aral Sea, the Pope's favorite ski lodges, and even Wilmington, Delaware, the credit card capital of the world. But even if I don't happen to be particularly interested in the place or topic of a particular essay, there's still the other hand: every essay is the account of someone's crazy adventure someplace. You can't lose.

The Best American Essays isn't as foolproof (since essay is a term widely interpretable) but it has the added advantage of being wide open for length and topic and style. I'm not out of the roman numeral pages yet, but I'm excited by the introductory remarks of this year's guest editor, Adam Gopnik. He seems to share my opinions of what an essay is.

6. They are self-perpetuating. Meaning (1) they come out every October, (2) if you like a particular piece you can look up the magazine or journal that originally printed it and perhaps find a whole treasure trove of reading you never knew you were looking for, and (3) they each contain a list of "notables" that were considered but not selected for the book, which you can look up on your own time if you still haven't gotten enough.

5. They're beautiful outside and in. Just look at that blue. And for those of you with an eye for typography, they have nice fonts, kerning, leading, gutters, and all that. Quite nice on the eyes. They have a nice heft too. My only concern is that they seem to be using a noticeably cheaper paper this year, thinner and grayer but by no means lousy.

So there it is. And in case you were interested, they also publish the Best American Comics, Short Stories, Mystery Stories, Nonrequired Reading, Science and Nature Writing, Spiritual Writing, and Sports Writing.

Read or die.

Monday, September 29, 2008


So on Saturday I went sailing for the first time in my life. It. Was. Awesome.

It all came about when I told JSK that I was planning on sailing to Antarctica as soon as I could save up the money. She basically said, "That's nice. My dad sails," to which I responded, "Can he take me sailing?"

See, the problem with saving all my money to sail to Antarctica is that it is a big commitment for something I know nothing about. I might not even like sailing. I might have irreconcilable seasickness. I might be opposed to so much cussing. Before last Saturday all I knew for sure is that I loved the idea of sailing, as evidenced by the list of books to the left here (at least 13 of which star the sea, not to mention all the ones currently next to my bed).

But now I'm sure. JSK, her husband Tim, and I drove up to Columbus to meet her dad at Hoover Reservoir where we saddled up his dinghy and hit the water. Mr. Schomberg manned the tiller while Tim and I acted as ballast. We sailed up the lake for an hour or so, zigzagging against the wind; Tim manned the jib on the port tack and I got it on the starboard one. It felt like flying a kite. The weather man had predicted rain but it was clear and sunny and windy: just perfect weather for sailing.

Click to see larger photos; see more at my facebook profile.


Huge thanks to JSK for making this salty sea dog's dream come true. Next stop: penguins.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Triumphant Return

I think this picture pretty much sums up the sort of entrance I'd like to make as I power my way back into the blogosphere:

"The Last Unicorn" ©1981
purchased for $1 from Goodwill by David Grover, also ©1981