Monday, February 11, 2008

Power of Three

Things are piling up in threes for yours truly.

The triple play of my dad's birthday, St. Valentine's Day, and my bride's birth anniversary all fall within six days of each other.

As I write this, three inches of snow surround us.

And I have three books, all nearly completed, in progress. As I told Ann, they're all pretty darn good. I can recommend them all, though you'll have to write them down for later (or preorder them now).

The first started is Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill. I'm only 30 pages from the end of this novel from Pantheon Books. It's hard to convey just how good the book is by describing it, but I'll try. The main character is Hans, a Dutch-born, British-employed investment analyst who has found himself in New York before and after Sept. 11, 2001. Ultimately, wife and child return to England, leaving the affluent Hans at loose ends. Thusly, he renews his acquaintance with the game of cricket and thereby discovers a hidden world of Empire in the five boroughs. Sounds weird, but the plot, with its hint of a mysterious underworld, shady characters, and a transition to responsible manhood makes the book well worth reading.

Next up was A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World, by Tony Horwitz. I'm about halfway through this exploration of the forgotten explorers of North and South America between Columbus and the Pilgrims. Horwitz, who brought us Confederates in the Attic, found himself, a history major, no less, embarrassed at his dearth of knowledge about the dozen or so decades between the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria and the Mayflower. The coolness starts with the cover itself, which gives us a 9-question true-false quiz. Here's a sample:

3. America is named for a ship's chandler from Seville who wrote that native women are "taller kneeling than I am standing" and "very desirous to copulate with us Christians."

6. A black slave crossed the U.S. continent more than 160 years befor Lewis & Clark.

8. Sir Walter Raleigh planted tobacco at his colony in Roanoke and wrote that "smoking this foul weed" was bad for health but good for profits.

The third book is By Hook or By Crook: A Journey in Search of English, by David Crystal, who also wrote How Language Works and The Story of English. Mark at the store finished it first and we both found ourselves liking it but growing tired of the "Welshness" of the book. Many of the references went over our heads because we simply don't know enough about England and Wales. Still, I know that several of you are going to enjoy this one. It's filled with pleasing word origins and discussions of dialect and regional speech. And it's all done with a light touch. Shakespeare-lovers will find it particularly fascinating.

Don't mistake the fact that I have three books going as a bad reflection on any of them. I've read a couple more since I started them. Since I began walking to work a couple of years ago, I've been able to add quite a few minutes to my daily reading list by reading while I walk down Spring Street. Some think it queer, but it's actually something I've done since first grade. I recommend it.

Oh, yes. There's another 3 occupying my time. Tim Dorsey's newest Serge Storms novel, Atomic Lobster is a treat unto itself. The addition of a personal visit from the author (Tuesday, Feb. 26, at 5 p.m.) makes it doubly good. And Tim's desire for a less-formal gathering afterward makes it a three-fold pleasure.

We still have a few spots left for the after-party at Rich O's that evening. But you must reserve your space if you want to spend some extended time with this amazingly talented creator.

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