Friday, May 7, 2010

Vowell, Rumpole and Vegas, and Other Parts of Speech and Writing

One of the things that's so nice about the written word is the accoutrements that go with it. You know how David Sedaris goes on and on about how one of the attractions of learning to smoke as a young man was the actions and gestures and accessories that went with? the lighters and cases and ashtrays and so on. Reading has similar things, but much better.

One of them is the bookmark, of which I am the proud possessor of a number of handmade varieties, by artist friends. A new one arrived today, with a hand tied tassel, the bookmark painted, drawn on, and with words on it created by the artist, perfectly lovely.

One of the things I like to do for HP who continues to read, albeit more in the intent than the execution, is to make him bookmarks, often from special postage stamps that arrive from furrin countries, such as Canada, and need to be kept and enjoyed somehow, aside from framing. Or strips from failed paintings, of which every artist has quite a few, or stray sections of needlepoint which ended up not working out as planned but working finely as bookmarks.

And you will see from the Sarah Vowell book left lying open face down that I had been reading that before the mail came bringing with it the new bookmark which is now peacefully marking my place, thank you MC for saving me!

So, the moment's reading, out of a lot of other reading: if you have not encountered the brilliant and funny Sarah Vowell, just do it! she is a terrific researcher, but is a very funny and sardonic writer, never changes the facts to make a joke better, because the facts are often quite funny enough to let alone.

But she knows how to write a simple declarative sentence then walk away. She has a musician's touch. In fact she does play recorder, enthusiastically if not finely, and was on This American Life celebrating that fact a while ago, playing a wobbly solo. I loved her for this, since she wasn't too proud to play knowing she wasn't Michaela Petrie standard (note to non recorder fans, Petrie is the worldclass recorderist everyone wishes they were, the Heifetz of recorder playing, unless you want to say Marion von Bruggen is better).

Anyway, Vowell's writing is very fine. She also does commentary on This American Life and her strange little hooting voice kind of undercuts the sheer horsepower of her intelligence but you get the impression she doesn't mind that, either.

Her latest book, on the Puritans and their times, is hugely worth reading, for the history of it, and the depth of her knowledge as well as the readability. No reason historical discussion can't be entertaining as well as accurate. And she scoots back and forth showing examples of similar human actions and reactions, all the way from Magna Carta to 9.11 and back, to illustrate her points.

You don't have to be American or a fan of American history, to appreciate Vowell.

Then at the other end of the scale, there's Speed Decorating by Vegas, which is a be sure to miss this one, unless you like pictures, which I often do.

Not too much new or inventive here, but here and there are nice ideas for color schemes. Decorators even ones who claim this is simple and quick, have much greater ambitions for their surroundings than I have, so I tend to go, well, will you look at that, rather than hm, MUST do that immediately.

Now and then there's a great idea. Like in a tiny bathroom of which I have two, where to store toilet paper within reach, which I do by slipping three extra rolls onto the toilet plunger! with the parlous plumbing of this house, the tp, plunger that is, is a necessary accoutrement of the bathrooms all of them, and the tp, paper that is, slips nicely over there, doesn't roll away or attract playful kitties to yank and roll it away, and covers up the blatant function of the plunger. That idea was not in the Vegas book, but I probably got it from a magazine in the doctor's office or something, among the seven year old Sports Illustrateds.

And then finally, great bedtime reading, unimportant, totally entertaining, very literate, very funny, a collection of Rumpole of the Bailey, that tearaway old barrister who still believes in the presumption of innocence and the belief that judges ought to be made to earn their living in court when he's there.

It's a Christmas based collection but I figured there's no law against reading it in May. Highly recommended.

So there you go, a small sampling of the deadtree material that has passed under review recently chez Liz!

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