Monday, November 4, 2013

This week at the library: airborne hell, David Sedaris, and coffee with evil



Last week I broke off from The City in History to do some light reading, beginning with Phillip Kerr's Hitler's Peace, a bit of speculative historical fiction which will be getting full comments tonight. The novel features an Office of Strategic Services agent accompanying President Roosevelt to the Big Three conference at Tehran in 1943, where he keeps getting arrested after insisting there are German spies at work. Considering the string of murders and catastrophes that follow him and Roosevelt,  he might be on to something.  It's a fun WW2 thriller, but the big attraction is how often the lead character rubs shoulders with titanic personalities --  and not just the Big Three.

After that I read through Elliot Hester's Plane Insanity, which collects outrageous tales taken from his years of service as an airline steward. Most of the stories concern the bad behavior of passengers --who break into fist fights and sneak pythons aboard -- though there are some involving the airline crew's own flubs, like the time the author opened an emergency door and witnessed the jump chute (the inflatable tube that allows passengers to escape).   It's an entertaining enough read, though it certainly makes the life of airline service unappealing: Hester's experience reveals  nothing but fourteen-hour days filled with the worst experiences in customer service, with air turbulence thrown into the mix, and a life lived in hotel rooms and buses sometimes enlivened by raucous parties and meaningless sex. Neither Hester nor any of his coworkers seem to take much pleasure, let alone fulfillment, from their jobs.

After that I enjoyed thoroughly David Sedaris' Lets Explore Diabetes with Owls, a curious collection of essays and short pieces of fiction. The fiction defies classification;  the only stories told are presented as true tales from Sedaris' life (delivered in his dry, inappropriate, and pathos-inspiring way) , but mixed in with them are oddities like a letter written from a lady to her sister, chiding her for giving a pizza coupon as a wedding gift. (Nevermind that  the lady's driving led to her sister being crippled and dumped by her boyfriend, and that said boyfriend just happened to be the man the lady was marrying..) A few of the pieces can be tenatively tied together under the heading travel, but it's largely a collection of miscllenaeous pieces. Sedaris writes on the usual topics: his dyfunctional family, the oddities of life, and the ocassional animal fixation. It's a second-tier Sedaris book, I think; far better than Holidays on Ice, which I read for the Santaland Diaries and nothing else,  but not quite as funny as say, Me Talk Pretty One Day

This week, I am engaged in Sharpe's Siege, where the good rifleman is once again running around doing the impossible with thrilling heroics and not a few one-liners from his compatriots. This one mixes in naval action with the land engagment, and features an American privateer.  So far, so good. Once that's finished I''ll return to The City in History. I think if I can make it to the medieval epoch, I'll be all right.  Waiting in the wings is Wendell Berry's Nathan Coulter, which is not at all as spellbinding as Jayber Crow and Hannah Coulter were.

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