Ten of Our
Most Popular

Since 1994 we have offered readings
from books that we have come to favor
or from new books under review.
Here are ten elected by our readers ---
those titles that receive
the most hits
each month.

Bill Bryson
either is a word that causes endless problems not only for writers but also sometimes for those who wish to guide them. The style manual for the London Times, for instance, states flatly that "neither takes a singular verb, e.g., 'Neither Bert nor Fred has any idea.'" That is true enough, to be sure, for examples involving Bert and Fred or any other two singular items, but what if the items are plural?

According to the Times guide, we would have to write, "Neither the men nor the women is dressed yet," which would be irregular, to say the very least. And what if there is a mixture of singular and plural? Again, according to the strictures of the Times Guide to English Style and Usage, as it is formally known, we would have to write, "Neither the farmer nor his fifty cows was in the field," and again we would be grammatically eccentric.

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Finding a Lion
In Your Bedroom

Lt. Colonel J. H. Patterson, D.S.O.
Towards the end of my stay in British East Africa, I dined one evening with Mr. Ryall, the Superintendent of the Police, in his inspection carriage on the railway. Poor Ryall! I little thought then what a terrible fate was to overtake him only a few months later in that very carriage in which we dined.

A man-eating lion had taken up his quarters at a little roadside station called Kimaa, and had developed an extraordinary taste for the members of the railway staff. He was a most daring brute, quite indifferent as to whether he carried off the station master, the signalman, or the pointsman; and one night, in his efforts to obtain a meal, he actually climbed up on to the roof of the station buildings and tried to tear off the corrugated-iron sheets. At this the terrified baboo in charge of the telegraph instrument below sent the following laconic message to the Traffic Manager:

    Lion fighting with station. Send urgent succour.
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Nudism, Multiple Personality Disorder
And the Hi-Rise Novel

Paul Magee
There are at least 100,000 nudists where I live, 0.7 percent of the Australian population, according to the author of Nudism in Australia, spread across a continent. The total figure, he continues, may amount to the population of a sizable city.

The anonymity of this image --- a city of nudists, abstracted from multiple networks of place and circumstance, hovering as it were in thin air --- is appropriate, given the anonymity of nudism itself. This is apparent in the ground-level experiences Magnus Clarke, the author in question, proceeds to describe: "As nudists themselves observe, when they take off their clothes they shed external existence in both practical and symbolic forms."

External existence involves, among other things, differences of status and wealth, differences marked by one's clothing as much as anything else. The relative anonymity of class among social nudists lends a certain democracy to their gatherings, while the first-name only rule in operation at most clubs helps to maintain it. Yet the homogeneity of nudist affiliation does not stop here; in such a state of collective undress, a more meaningful egalitarianism becomes possible: one without even regard to age or sex.

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The Birth of the
Unknown Soldier

James J. Sheehan
The names of the dead were listed on tens of thousands of monuments built throughout Europe --- with the notable exception of Russia --- after the war. Every one of France's thirty-six thousand communes had a monument recording the sacrifice of each of its fallen sons. Plaques and monuments could also be found in parish churches, college chapels, and places of work; in London's Liverpool Street Station, for instance, a handsome stone tablet lists in eleven long columns the names of the employees of the Great Eastern Railway killed in the war. Such monuments perfectly captured the individual and collective aspirations of the war's commemoration:

On most of them, every name is equally important, and all are carved in the same size, usually arranged without regard to rank; at the same time, the list affirms that each individual belongs to a community --- a village, neighborhood, parish, school, workplace --- whose surviving members must be responsible for remembering his sacrifice. Seen together, these thousands of communities represent the institutional threads from which the nation's common life is woven.

In the 1920s and 1930S, Europeans remembered the war in ceremonies that emphasized sacrifice, grief, and mourning. Soldiers still paraded on national holidays, and guardsmen still stood before public buildings in colorful tunics. Statues of heroes were erected and streets named to recall major victories. But these monuments and rituals were all infused with the knowledge of what war was really like. As in the past, the war's great battles --- Somme, Verdun, Passchendaele --- evoked memories of courage and survival, but unlike Trafalgar or Waterloo, they also evoked the cost of courage and the suffering that survival had required.

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Any Boys Want

Old-Fashioned Discipline
In the Schools

James Joyce
He banged his pandybat down on the desk and cried:

— Up, Fleming! Up, my boy! Fleming stood up slowly.

— Hold out! cried the prefect of studies. Fleming held out his hand. The pandybat came down on it with a loud smacking sound: one, two, three, four, five, six.

— Other hand!

The pandybat came down again in six loud quick smacks.

— Kneel down! cried the prefect of studies.

Fleming knelt down squeezing his hands under his armpits, his face contorted with pain, but Stephen knew how hard his hands were because Fleming was always rubbing rosin into them. But perhaps he was in great pain for the noise of the pandies was terrible. Stephen's heart was beating and fluttering.

— At your work, all of you! shouted the prefect of studies. We want no lazy idle loafers here, lazy idle little schemers. At your work, I tell you. Father Dolan will be in to see you every day. Father Dolan will be in tomorrow.

He poked one of the boys in the side with the pandybat, saying:

— You, boy! When will Father Dolan be in again?

— Tomorrow, sir, said Tom Furlong's voice.

— Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, said the prefect of studies. Make up your minds for that. Every day Father Dolan. Write away.

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Sybille Bedford
A well-grown sow lies heaving in the aisle. My neighbour has a live turkey hen on her lap and the bird simply cannot help it, she must partly sit on my lap too. This is very hot. Also she keeps fluffing out her surprisingly harsh feathers. From time to time, probably to ease her own discomfort, the bird stands up. Supported on six pointed claws, one set of them on my knee, she digs her weight into us and shakes herself. Dust and lice emerge.

On my other side, in the aisle, stands a little boy with a rod on which dangles a dead, though no doubt freshly caught, fish. With every lurch of the conveyance, and it is all lurches, the fish, moist but not cool, touches my bare arm and sometimes my averted cheek.

E. has found a seat in the back where, she being of the build of Don Quixote, her knees touch her chin. On one of her feet sits a little old man, obviously very tight. He has a stone crock standing next to him on the floor, which from time to time he lifts to his lips, an operation which pervades the entire vehicle with strong alcoholic vapours.

Sometimes he bumps the crock back on to the floor, and sometimes on E.'s free foot. She winces and twitches, but hasn't got the room to extricate herself. He seems a kind old man. He crawls out at the stops and returns with the crown of his hat dripping with muddy water which he takes around to the children on the bus to drink, and when poor E. lets out a small squeak of pain as the crock is once more slammed down on her exposed foot, the old man with an angelic smile lifts it and presses it against her mouth. She takes a polite gulp. It was very strong, she said afterwards, and quite sweet. Then the old fellow scrambled up, tumbled over the sow, hugged the driver and began addressing the air. He was making rather a nuisance of himself. Nobody paid the slightest attention.

Then two men got up, seized him, opened the door of the moving bus and with the driver stepping on the gas hurled the old man out into the road. Someone threw the crock after him; everybody craned to get a receding glimpse of a man lying bent double in a pool of blood. Then the whole bus burst into laughter.

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The Bardo of

Robert Nairn
Sipa is the last of the death bardos, and it may not be until this bardo that we begin to realize that we have died. Apparently some people don't realize it even here and may go on for a long time thinking they are still alive.

In the beginning days there will be a strong tendency in the mind to return to the former life. The world we have left is visible and audible. We may try to communicate with people, but they can neither see nor hear us because the body we now have is mental, not physical. It is a thought body. Much of the personality we had in the last life has disintegrated and fallen away with the dissolution of the elements. We go where we think: "This mental body can move at the speed of thought and in an instant reach out anywhere in the universe."

In this bardo we continue to experience powerful phenomena that arise from within our minds. In this instance they actually reflect the five elements and therefore manifest as elemental forces --- sounds of earth-quakes, crashing waves and great floods, tornadoes and infernos. The nature of these appearances depends upon our karma.

During this bardo the conditioning of our former life begins to fade away, largely because of the overwhelming experiences the mind undergoes. It is here that we begin losing memory of the former life.

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Love for Sale
José Sarney
Saraminda came out onto the platform with a firm stride and the air of someone acting in a play. She was something beyond imagination. She stood out from between the other two girls, a French redhead and another pretty Creole. Everyone took notice of her unfettered breasts, her fleshy hips and legs, her smooth and shiny straight hair, and that touch of emerald green in her eyes that contrasted with her dark skin.

She didn't wait for any bids. Bonfim was surrounded by companions, people he trusted, hired thugs and friends. They were men of different types, long-haired and short, all with a steady gaze, armed, and glasses in their hands. As was his custom, Cleto Bonfim had two pounds of gold hanging around his neck, the nuggets stretched out on a thick cord that went down his hairy chest, exposed so that all could see what he always liked to show off. It contrasted with his thin body and the expression from a face where random hairs grew. He was wearing a faded military jacket.

Saraminda, with no thought of past loves, resolute and uninhibited, stepped forward toward the audience and raised her right hand, her forefinger pointing upward, and proclaimed:

"I'm not part of the auction. I belong to Cleto Bonfim. I'm going with him and I want to belong to him. I know where he is and, as far as I'm concerned, the auction is over."

Marie Turiu looked at her, shocked. At his table Cleto was taken by a great surprise. He didn't know that woman and he didn't have any close connections in the city or acquaintances who could tell him anything about her, nor did he consider himself a fellow who was an apt target for seduction. Even with his head all dizzy, he tried to put his ideas in order and make some sense out of what was going on. Was it a coup on the part of Marie Turiu or a prank by one of his friends?

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Husbands Eaten
By Ferocious

Ananya Roy
And so I began to pose my litany of questions: about her village, about her work in Calcutta, about her family. To each she replied with a continuing narrative of widowhood. In fact, she elaborately detailed her husband's moment of death at the hands of a ferocious man-eating tiger that restlessly roamed the boundaries of their village.

I had heard similar stories from other commuter women, and once again I was puzzled by this description of primeval forests and prowling tigers. I pondered the gravity of villages teeming with widows whose husbands had thus lost their lives: what a dangerous place the Sunderbans must be.

But amidst the talk of death and dying I noticed that she wore all the traditional symbols of a married Hindu woman: the sindur, the bangles. Why did her narrative of Hindu widowhood not match up with her social emblems? She was, in Shah's imaginary, marked territory. As I turned to ask her this, her train rolled in. Through the push of the crowds, she shouted to me:

"I have to get home and cook for my husband and children."

"Oh, you remarried!" I proclaimed, relieved at the simple explanation. She laughed, and while boarding the train, said:

    No memsahib, I have to cook for my only husband, the one who gets eaten every day by a man-eating tiger while I wait at this station, parched and dusty, while I lose my breath on the trains, and walk through the muddy fields. He dies every day as I traverse this space. It is a terrible death for the tiger is always so hungry.

Since then, on hot afternoons in breathless South Calcutta stations, I often allow myself to mistake the frenzy of the local trains and the cacophony of its public for the roar of a majestic Bengal tiger --- not one that is on display as the last stalwart of an endangered species in zoos around the world, but instead one that restlessly roams the imaginary of an unnamed woman.

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To Read

Amos Oz
Within a week or two my hunger had turned into a feeding frenzy. My parents were unable to separate me from books, from morning till evening and beyond. They were the ones who had pushed me to read, and now they were the sorcerer's apprentice: I was the water that couldn't be stopped.

Just come and look, your son is sitting half naked on the floor in the middle of the corridor, if you please, reading. The child is hiding under the table, reading. That crazy child has locked himself in the bathroom again and he's sitting on the toilet reading, if he hasn't fallen in, book and all, and drowned himself. The child was only pretending to fall asleep, he was actually waiting for me to leave, and after I left the room, he waited a few moments, then switched the light on without permission, and now he seems to be sitting with his back against the door so that you and I can't get in, and guess what he's doing.

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The Day I Saw
Everything Twice

Richard Timothy Conroy
About this time, I suffered an attack of double vision. I don't know whether it has ever happened to you. If not, I can assure you it is very disconcerting. I awoke one morning to find that everything had doubled during the night. Two wives, four children, that sort of thing. I did the best I could shaving around both of my noses. You can get something of the same effect by the children's trick of closing your eyes, crossing the forefinger and middle finger of one hand, and then, fingers crossed, touching the end of your nose. See? Or perhaps I should say, feel? You've got two noses. Eyes open, I stared in the bathroom mirror at my eyes, all four of them. I almost expected to see that they had compounded, like those of an insect, but they looked like people eyes except of course for there being too many of them.

Made it through breakfast by closing all four, and using my fork very carefully. Then I asked my wife to drive me to work. Easily the most frightening ride of my life. Each intersection was made up of six streets not counting the two we were on. Other cars seemed to come at us from all directions at once. I closed my eyes again.

Made it into my office somehow, a bit late, but there on the same day as expected. Sat in my chairs, thanked the Lord the chairs had arms and thus it was not easy to fall out. Designed for sleeping bureaucrats, doubtless. My helpful Austrian staff helped me dial the phone for an ophthalmologist. A sign I had not yet lost my optimism. Otherwise, I might have started with a neurologist or even a psychiatrist, this after all being Vienna. The Herr Professor Doktor could see me day after tomorrow if I survived that long. I would grow a beard, I decided, and maybe take up polygamy. Didn't know what to do about the extra children, however. No way to accommodate four of them in a two-bedroom apartment. Forgot to count the bedrooms. Maybe there are more of them, too.

I did pretty well up until she came in. That belly dancer. Blond and somewhat skinnier than the ones you see in the movies. She was, or maybe they were, American, or so she (they?) said. I tried to get Miss Brand --- oops, sorry, the Misses Brand twins --- to deal with them, but she --- they --- said, no way, the belly dancer insisted on seeing the consul. Even then it might have been all right if only she had been willing to sit still and just talk. But she kept moving around, all the time moving around. An occupational problem, I decided in retrospect, when I was able to think dearly again.

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