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February 22nd, 2006 Karla Starr | Books
 

Literary Threesome

Read what all the cool kids are reading. You want to be cool, don't you?

     
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The Brief History of the Dead, by Kevin Brockmeier (Pantheon, 252 pages, $22.95). African mythology holds that, after death, people become one of the sasha, the living-dead who still exist in the memories of the living. When the last person on earth to have known one of the sasha dies, that spirit leaves for the next level of the afterlife. In Kevin Brockmeier's moving, plot-twisting, completely un-put-downable novel The Brief History of the Dead, chapters alternate between the world of the sasha, known as the City, and the life of Laura Byrd, a researcher living on Antarctica when a contagious disease wipes out much of the earth's population. The two plots mingle and affect each other, displaying Brockmeier's near-Borges or -Calvino creativity, lyrically sparse writing style and formidable intelligence. The Brief History of the Dead is a haunting, must-read meditation on memory that you won't forget.

U.S.!, by Chris Bachelder (Bloomsbury, 304 pages, $14.95). Chris Bachelder, author of the underappreciated Bear v. Shark, is back with another wildly inventive satire, U.S.!, which answers these questions in the format of a novel: "What if every few years, the author of The Jungle, Upton Sinclair, were resurrected from the dead by activists, wrote another muckraking novel about a different social cause, but was soon assassinated? And what if this whole process kept repeating itself, all while Sinclair tried to avoid meeting his folksinger son? And what if it were hysterical and crazy and hilarious and had already earned praises from the likes of George Saunders and Michael Chabon?"

What Good Are the Arts?, by John Carey (Oxford University Press, 286 pages, $26). The author bio in What Good Are the Arts? states that Carey, chief book reviewer for London's Sunday Times, has also been a beekeeper and a bartender. It's the first clue that Carey is an unexpectedly likable, readable critic. His latest book argues against the artificial division between "high" and "low" art, asserts that criticism ought to examine the actual impact of art, and claims that literature is the superior art form. (Boo-ya!) With a friendly, erudite tone throughout, What Good Are the Arts? is like the aesthetics class taught by the jolly, patient grandpa/former Oxford professor we all wanted but never had—until now.

 
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