I'm what's been called "easy." I've fallen hard many times. For books, that is. But I find I'm not attracted to the same qualities that once held me in their thrall. Where I once was seduced by torrid melodramas of the 19th century, I find myself attracted to works where the object of the writer's affection isn't another human being but a passion for words, an affair of the mind or even an obsession with the eternal.
The Making of Americans
The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family's Progress, by Gertrude Stein, paperback, 925 pages, Dalkey Archive Press, list price: $16.95
Gertrude Stein's dadaist masterpiece The Making of Americans has a narrative thread. From the very start it's clear to the reader that the words themselves are the main attraction. The best way to experience this book is aloud, savoring each word, letting the sound and beauty of the sentence construction wash over you. Stein's repetition of phrases takes on the quality of an incantation. To speak her language is as addictive as the temptation to whisper your beloved's name over and over when in the throes of a new love. Here's a radical thought: Instead of a game of charades, serve up The Making of Americans, recently published in paperback, as after-dinner entertainment — but eat lightly because "words have weight" — at least, that's what Shalom Auslander says in Foreskin's Lament.
Foreskin's Lament, by Shalom Auslander, hardcover 302 pages, Riverhead, list price: $24.95
Shalom Auslander's hilarious attempts to break up with God resemble nothing so much as the effort to extricate oneself from under the thumb of a demanding and jealous lover in Foreskin's Lament. Auslander's "just not that into" God. But by virtue of being born into an orthodox Jewish family, he finds himself in an arranged marriage with the Almighty. He steps out on the Supreme Being not with a lover but with ham sandwiches and pornography, and by failing to recite the correct blessing for Fruity Pebbles. It's the funniest rejection scenario since Diane Keaton tried to shed herself of Woody Allen in Love and Death. His misery rivals the pathos of any of the Russians — he's a Vaudevillian Anna Karenina with peyis!
I Am a Strange Loop
I Am a Strange Loop, by Douglas Hofstadter, paperback 436 pages, Basic Books, list price: $16.95
Of course, making analogous comparisons between books is an ability that is unique to human consciousness. This is the elusive and mysterious mistress that scientist and author Douglas Hofstadter pursues in his book, I Am a Strange Loop.
Hofstadter claims to have been seduced at an early age by the beauty of high level perception. Reading even one paragraph demands a focus I once devoted solely to pursuit of sex, but I know if I can make it through even one elegant paragraph at a time, I might resuscitate even the tiniest bit of my brain that atrophied when I got suckered into a marathon of Flip This House episodes. His excitement about creative cognition never fails to turn me on.
All three of these titles are less fattening, less expensive and provide more lasting satisfaction than a box of gourmet chocolates. They offer more than fleeting romance; their timelessness and depth make them books you'll want "to have and to hold".
Annabelle Gurwitch is the co-author with her husband Jeff Kahn of the marital memoir You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up: A Love Story.
Three Books ... is produced and edited by Ellen Silva and Bridget Bentz.