Bedside booksPosted: June 9, 2011
Jan Reid’s Comanche Sundown is a beautifully imagined novel with two real-life quintessential Americans at its core, the Comanche half-blood chief Quanah Parker and a half-blood black named Bose Ikard, the son of his slave-owning father. This book should be a contender for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. It’s in the ranks of Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man, E.L. Doctorow’s Welcome to Hard Times and Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. Quanah and Bose are blood brothers engaged in living their lives as men at a pivotal moment in history when Whites are turning the Comanche ranging ground into cattle country. The story is also an intoxicating tale of the Indian women who shared their lives. The novel puts flesh on two real-life figures and their time, not so long ago. Reid’s re-imagining of the Comanche way of life and Quanah’s shamanistic aura and fearlessness is a masterful feat of story-telling. His recent biography of Doug Sahm, the Texas Tex-Mex rocker, is also a good one for the road. His The Bullet Meant for Me defies easy description. It’s an autobiography of a writer who took a pistol shot in the stomach that passed on to lodge against his spine––paralyzing him for months until he regained the partial use of his legs: bracingly tough-minded, inspiring, beautifully written, a portrait of an artist in mid-flight who refused to go down for the count. In Comanche Sundown, he’s written a masterpiece on the richness and tragedy of frontier life.
Clive James’s Cultural Amnesia is encyclopedic in scope, his summing up of a lifetime of reviewing, 851 pages that cover a daunting range of literature with a particular nod to European writers, historical and modern. The more I read James the more I’m reminded of his rare qualities, the mind of a poet blended naturally with the hard-earned wisdom of someone at home on the streets, who can’t and doesn’t want to put literature behind academic walls but keeps it rooted at the forefront of lived life, as it was when it was created by writers struggling with the temper of their time. He writes with the assurance of someone who knows that literature, poetry and the lives of writers can teach truths far beyond the esthetic sublime.
Harold Bloom’s The Anatomy of Influence just came in the mail. What can I say. I love what his critics find irritating about his prose, the quick-wrapped lightning illuminations that fearlessly strike at the quick of a writer’s essence. If they would only accept that Bloom is a Jewish mystic writing not so much from a historical view but from a point of revelation, they wouldn’t be so vexed by his approach. He’s the most inspired, broadly visionary critic in American history, and his books will rest on a shelf reserved for uniquely American writers, close beside the three mentors who gave him the courage to be himself––Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman.
Larry McMurtry’s Hollywood and Literary Life. I always fall for McMurtry’s quirky nonfiction voice. What I like about these two memoirs, the first was Books, is their lack of personal or literary pretension, his tendency to dodge any serious discussion in mid-course and go off to eat a burger and fries or some such ordinary undertaking. I know underneath it all is a reader and storyteller of the first magnitude, but taking himself too seriously in these memoirs isn’t in his nature. At any rate, the memoirs feel honest. They have a diary feel by a diarist who knows pretension is the kiss of death.