Ten Great Books
For The Spring

By The Editors of

Between Silk
And Cyanide
A Codemaker's War
1941 - 1945

Leo Marks
(Free Press)
It's ostensibly about the world of secret codes and coding. In reality, it is about the coming of age of a slightly damaged, slightly neurotic, very funny, very insightful genius of code. It's one of those books that won't let go --- that sweeps us up to such a degree that we don't want it to, we beg it not to end. Marks' writing style lies half-way between J. D. Salinger, S. J. Perelman and Mark Twain (with the Marx Brothers thrown in for comic relief) --- but underneath the frolicking we find a deadly serious world, for his is a country fighting for its life. He cared (and cares) --- but that caring doesn't stop him from being very human --- even, at times, falling in love with those he is supposed to be tutoring in a very dangerous game --- and then watching them disappear into a war from which they will never return.

The Underside of
The Nixon Years

J. Anthony Lukas
(University of Ohio)
Lukas, now, alas, dead of self-inflicted wounds, went on to write other historical classics, like Common Ground and Big Trouble. But nothing, we suspect, has the draw as this one, at least for those of us who were there. How does he do it? First of all he has a carefully contained subject --- the five years of disruptive malfeasances under Nixon, all of which came together under the sobriquet of "Watergate." Secondly, Lukas knows how to tell a story --- with flow, pacing, and balance. Third, the story has its own dynamic: Richard Nixon --- part effective politician and administrator, part sentimentalist, part Borgia, and --- as always --- the worst enemy Richard Nixon could ever have.

A History
Martin Booth
(St. Martins Press)
Booth goes into the history of this, still the most favored narcotic, East and West. Our addiction to it started centuries ago, and now it has ended up on the streets of every major city in the western world. Booth manages to show the all-too-important economic determinism of this and all drugs. Far better than Avon, Amway or Tupperware --- drugs turn users into an aggressive sales force: "Many poor youths turn to the drug trade to make a living for heroin, whilst it will not make a street dealer rich, it will bring him in more than many a legitimate wage packet might."

By Heart
American Poetry
About School

Maggie Anderson,
David Hassler, Editors
(University of Iowa Press)
This one's a honey. Almost two hundred poems by over a hundred poets, some famous (Philip Levine, Donald Hall, Gary Soto, Richard Brautigan), some unknown. But it's not the quantity --- it's the quality. Whoever did the picking knows what they are doing, for there are few losers here. This, by Frank Kooistra, "School Buses," comes very close to being American haiku:
    Six of them: great orange, great golden carp
    Lined up at the railroad crossing, red stop fins fanning
    Each waits, each listens, and crosses in turn
    Headed for the lily shoals of children.

The Winner of the
Slow Bicycle Race
Paul Krassner
(Seven Stories)
We have here the compleat writings of Paul Krassner, presented, in keeping with his acute sense of time, in reverse order. The first essay is dated 1995; the last is 1958. In between we find Lenny Bruce, Joseph McCarthy, Lyndon Johnson (in coitus interruptus), the Pope, Jack Kennedy, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, John Hinckley, Donald Duck (in coitus interruptus), Thomas Eagleton Seagull, Kitty Litter --- and all those others who made acid trips seem so unnecessary because these characters, and their deeds, were so unreal.

A Woman
Of Rome
Alberto Moravia
Translated by
Lydia Holland

(Steerforth Italia)
Moravia knows the heart of women as acutely as a Flaubert or Tolstoi. As with Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, or Memoirs of a Geisha, one wonders how a man --- we almost said "a mere man" --- can penetrate with such wisdom the very being of woman. To write this, we suspect he had to somehow invade the heart of woman --- and in this transformation, he makes the heroine Adriana such that we, too, become her. Moravia as a chess master, one who not only carves his words beautifully, but works the various pieces, small and large, as well: Gino the small-time thief and chauffeur, Sonzogno the hood, with his "muscles of steel," Giacomo the intellectual student revolutionary, Astarita the police official. All of them are swept up by this whore, all reacting to her in a different way, all smitten by her, all destroyed by her.

Stories from
The Street
Lee Stringer
(Washington Square Press)
Stringer lived on the streets of New York for years. He was into crack cocaine. He stole, got arrested, slept in stinky rooms, ran from the police. He has wonderful stories to tell: of being strung out in furtherest paranoia with a friend; of fighting a junkie who is out to kill him with a razor blade in a junkie apartment; of a street punk that wants to do him in when they are in a rehab work project. And just as he is coming to sound more and more like a reporter for Rolling Stone, he reminds us that he has to stop writing and go out and get his fix.

The Autobiography of
Joseph Stalin
A Novel
Richard Lourie
It is difficult, sometimes impossible, to figure out why the Stalins and Pol Pots and Hitlers and Tamerlaines are so obsessed with ruining whole peoples with such absurd cruelty. (They say that the wailing of newly-widowed wives and mothers was music to Tamerlain's ears.) Lourie tries to figure it out --- and almost succeeds, as much as one can when faced with such unmitigated, startling evil. It is a hell of a good novel --- disguised as pure autobiography.

A Compendium of
History and Lore

Richard Schweid
(Four Walls Eight Windows)
The Cockroach Papers is chock-a-block full of all sorts of ghoulish information. It is also mixed with tales of Schweid's personal journeys, here and there, with and without roaches. He has researched his subject well, and while he didn't make these miserable pests more loveable, at least he is making them more interesting.

Beatus of Liebana
Codex of the Monastery
Of San Andres de Arroyo

(M. Moleiro, Aptdo F. D. 179,
08080 Barcelona SPAIN)
Well, it may cost an arm and a leg, may even break your arm when you pick it up, but it is so glorious, printed with such care and affection that you will want to remove and frame the different pages, line the walls with them. The paper by the way, is handmade, and Editor M. Moleiro says it is "designed to match the same thickness, touch and smell of the original...using the same techniques as those used in the 13th Century." Limited edition of 987 copies. It arrives packaged in its own carefully wrought heavy wooden box. Wow.

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