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A few good books

One reason I haven't posted much here over the past few weeks (months?) is that I've been using my all-too-rare free time for reading, and not for blogging. So even though my blog has suffered, I've been doing OK, mostly because the books I've been reading have been good ones. Lucky me.

The first one I'd recommend is Look Homeward, America by Bill Kauffman. A friend of mine recommended it because it's got a good chapter about Wendell Berry. I read the Berry chapter and then read the rest. Ever heard of Dorothy Day or Carolyn Chute? Well, after you read Kauffman's book you'll be big fans of both. Especially if your political tastes are anything like mine. Despite his opposition to modern mass entertainment, Kauffman is a master of the pop-culture reference. I managed to catch a few of them and thought they were funny as hell, but I'm sure I missed the majority of them entirely.

Speaking of Wendell Berry, I can also recommend Andy Catlett: Early Travels. It's the first novel from Berry that I've read, and it's one of the simplest novels ever. As an old man, Andy Catlett narrates the story of his trip on a bus when he was only nine from his home to a small town about ten miles away where some of his relatives live. You can't get any more simple than that. A typical passage goes like this:

"On the kitchen table were two quart jars of green beans, a quart jar of applesauce, and pint jar of what I knew to be the wild black raspberries that abounded in the thickets and woods edges of that time. I thought, "Pie!"
"Are you going to make a pie?" I asked.
"Hmh!" she said. "Maybe. Would you like to have a pie?"
And I said, with my best manners, "Yes, mam."
This book is full of the joy of a nine-year-old, but it's also full of more complex reflections by the elderly narrator about thorny issues like race and about what we've gained and lost since 1943. It's simple, not simplistic.

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