Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Hersheypark is a fun theme park, and very family-friendly -- it doesn't have the feral throngs of teenagers you find in similar parks, for example -- with lots of good roller coasters and a pretty good water section called "The Boardwalk." The only serious criticisms I have is that it expanded haphazardly, so the park is basically a long fat L (it's not quite all in a line, but it feels that way), and that it's quite hilly, so your calves ache the next day. The Hornswoggler family has been going there for ages -- The Wife's family has had it as a summer tradition since she was a girl, and our sons have been every year probably since they were toddlers -- so it's a very familiar, homey place for us.
But that's not what I set out to write about today...
We arrived in our hotel Sunday afternoon, and went to the pool while we were waiting to go over to the park -- and, on the way there, I grabbed a flyer for Midtown Scholar, a used-book store in nearby Harrisburg. (By the way, did you know it's a long way to heaven, but it's closer to Harrisburg?) And The Wife offered to stop there on the way home, so of course we did.
She stayed in the car -- she'd rather play Harbor Master on one of the iPads than shop for books -- but the two boys came with me into the store, which is centered on a gorgeous space that was once a theater. Thing 1 peeled off quickly -- we found him later, upstairs in a comfy chair, and he picked up two books from himself (a big collection of "best-loved American poems," I think this one from Dover, and a book of contemporary Japanese diaries, which may be this one).
Thing 2 stuck with me -- I think still somewhat dazed from all the roller coasters the day before -- as I poked through the theater space, down into the basement annex, and then through a wonderfully convoluted series of passageways (through the print room into a whole 'nother sequence of rooms with humor and graphic novels -- the things I was vaguely looking for -- far, far off at the end). And these are the books I found:
The Bride Stripped Bare by "Anonymous" -- I think I vaguely remembered the publishing-industry foo-fa-raw surrounding this novel-in-diary-form, which was originally published in 2003. (It was meant to be a very frank look at contemporary female sexuality, with some literary pretensions -- it's all in second person -- to keep it from being too downmarket.) The real author was unmasked by the ferocious British press (she's British) soon after publication, of course -- the only way things like this stay secret is if they don't work, because then nobody cares enough to find out -- but, since the copy I have lists her as anonymous, and that was her original intention, I'll leave it that way here.
Family, a memoir of a couple of hundred years of history by the dependably good Ian Frazier. He's written both funny stuff -- his classic essay collection Coyote v. Acme and Dating Your Mom, and the more recent Lamentations of the Father -- and more serious books like Travels in Siberia, as well as somewhere-in-the-middle books like Gone to New York, which is almost a memoir itself.
No Touch Monkey! is one of those my-weird-travel-adventures books, a genre that amuses and attracts me, since other people's travails are always more entertaining. Interestingly, it's by Ayun Halliday, the scripter of the graphic novel Peanut, which I recently read and reviewed. If I can find two reasons to be interested in a book, I'll probably buy it: that's the lesson here.
Lulu Incognito is a minor book from the early days of Vintage Contemporaries -- no offense to Raymond Kennedy, but it's true -- and I think I really am going to try to collect that series. I haven't found any good lists of them online, so I might have to do it the old shoe-leather way. These are the books that were exciting-looking and hip when I was young and just jumping into adult fiction, so it will be an interesting experiment to gather a bunch of them (new to me and re-reads) and see what they look like twenty-plus years on.
The Child That Books Built is a memoir of childhood reading -- as the title implies -- by Francis Spufford, whose Red Plenty I've also heard a lot of good things about. And I'm definitely a sucker for books about books, which this definitely is.
And what got me started on my stack of books -- I assume other people have a similar used-book-store pattern to mine, with semi-distracted browsing until you find something that you definitely want to buy and start paying more attention to the shelves in front of you -- was a bunch of those nice recent University of Chicago editions of "Richard Stark's" books. (Do I need to explain here that Stark was a pseudonym of Donald E. Westlake, used primarily for the hard-boiled series of novels about a professional thief called Parker?) I found The Black Ice Score, Comeback, Backflash, Flashfire, and The Damsel, which was entirely spiffy. I may be diving into a big Stark re-read soon, so watch this space.
And last was a re-buy: Mark Martin's The Ultimate Gnatrat, a collection of parody comics mostly from the late '80s and aimed at Frank Miller and the post-Miller Batman. I wish Martin was still doing funny comics regularly -- he has a great gonzo style (or did, in those days) married to a great facility for quick, quippy dialogue and utterly bizarre situations. I'm sure he's doing something that pays better than humor comics these days, and I'll try not to begrudge that -- but he's another one of the great humor cartoonists of my day (along with Evan Dorkin, Scott Saavedra, and Bob Burden) who I wish could keep doing stuff like that and make millions of bucks.