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Bookish Delights 2010: The Fiction Edition

Top Ten-ish anyone? Well, that was the plan when I thought I could curtail my longwinded wordiness enough to encompass both my fiction and nonfiction choices all into one article. Alas and alack, I am unable to crank up the 10 to 11 today without the excess verbiage — but I will be back to address the rest, a few days into ’11. 

Don Delillo, Point Omega

In a finely-honed and harrowing novel, the desert landscape “unravels and reveals” for a reclusive and retired war official, to the point that he finds he doesn’t crave the solitary life as much as he thought he would. He finds himself expounding on his pet theories with a visiting photographer, intensely and with singular purpose. Especially hard-hitting is Elster’s contention that the world’s closing in on the omega point, a concept proposing an eventual “leap out of our biology,” as Elster puts it, a “sublime transformation of mind and soul or some worldly convulsion.”

Do we have to be human forever? Elbert asks. “Consciousness is exhausted. Back now to inorganic matter. This is what we want. We want to be stones in a field.”

But it could be that the reader is being set up for a fall when a didn’t-see-it-coming incident occurs, devastating and mystifying, one that alters the direction and dynamics of the narrative and characterizations. The enigmatic Point Omega, conspicuous for its slimness, ultimately comes away as skillfully interconnected and coherent. Indeed, whether the book clicks in right away or continues to be an open-ended works in progress, it really is, in the end, the most thought-provoking of works, the seamless kind that sticks with you like a vexing memory.

Robert C. Benchley, Ed. by Thomas J. Saunders, The Athletic Benchley, 105 Exercises from the Detroit Athletic Club News 

“Every boy should have a dog, for a dog teaches a boy three valuable traits: fidelity, perseverance and to turn around three times before lying down.”

Is The Athletic Benchley a contradiction in titular terms? No matter how out of shape Robert Benchley may have appeared, the well-regarded humorist and writer — who once said, “It took me 15 years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous” — wasn’t about to quit not giving up when it came to his stint as a favored contributor, from 1920 to 1932, to The Detroit Athletic Club News, the monthly house organ for members of that legendary auto and advertising club.

Though the Algonquin Round Table’s Master of Nonsense, also a drama critic and author, had success as an actor in movies and in many of his own film shorts, the best way he can be appreciated is in print. Whether you flip through for one-liners, or immerse yourself headfirst, Benchley, went on to inspire and influence such comic folk like S.J. Perleman, Bob Newhart, Dave Barry, and many more. There’s a lot to savor in this unique gathering of timeless wit, especially now as The Athletic Benchley offers articles in their original presentation and with the original artwork.

Furthermore, not only will you feel like you picked up a Vanity Fair or New Yorker from the 1920s or ‘30s, you’ll get such articles as “Bringing Back the Morris Dance,” which attempts to instill much in the way of gosh-darn modern day practicality: “It seems a shame,” notes Benchley, “to be devoting ourselves to golf and tennis and drinking when we might be out of doors prancing around a pole and falling down every few feet.”

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