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June 7th, 2006 Karla Starr | Books
 

Literary Threesome

A triple threat against the usual, boring beach book.

     
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Samuel Beckett: Grove Centenary Edition, edited by Paul Auster (Grove Press, 4 vols., $100)

With 2006 marking Beckett's 100th birthday, a slew of so-so biographies and humdrum critical works on the 1969 Nobel laureate's canon are hitting stores. But the only place to re-energize your Beckett expertise is by reading the man and revisiting his absurd, disturbingly funny works. Typically described with the blanket oversimplification "minimalist," each of Beckett's adjective-barren sentences is stripped down to reveal the despair in the mundane and the humor in that despair—the essence of his famous quote, "When you are in the ditch, there's nothing left to do but sing." Though you need not buy the entire set, you should. In the words of Salman Rushdie's foreword, "This is Samuel Beckett. This is his great work. It is the thing that speaks. Surrender."

The Nimrod Flipout, by Etgar Keret (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 167 pages, $12)

Keret has alternately worn the labels "hippest" and "most famous" writer in Israel. While the former is irrelevant, the latter may be true: In his homeland of 5 million readers, he has sold more than 200,000 books. His latest collection demonstrates a writer at the peak of his surreal, fabulist powers in each story—all short little sprints, most four to six pages. His style alternately evokes Murakami and Kafka writing for Seinfeld: The stories seem misleadingly banal and event-free, but when something does happen—a man discovers that his girlfriend turns into a hairy man at night—Keret's insights and charming characters make the weird and unsettling quite beautiful.

Stumbling on Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert (Knopf, 304 pages, $24.95)

Stumbling on Happiness is neither a self-help book nor an inaccessibly jargon-laden excuse to trumpet his own research; like The Tipping Point or Freakonomics, reading Stumbling on Happiness will make it difficult to see a subject in the same light—but in this case, the subject is you. The Harvard professor hypothesizes, in part, that our shortcomings in remembering the past are partly responsible for our errors in judging what will make us happy in the future. His surprisingly lively, hilarious style informs without preaching, and Stumbling is a must-read for anyone curious about happiness or the future.

 
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