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Reading, watching, traveling

I typically wait to post when I’ve read three books to recommend. I’ve read four in the past month and can recommend two. Aside from that, I’ve been enjoying gorgeous weather with walks in beautiful Lincoln Park, watching TV series, and traveling. Here goes:

James, by Percival Everett

This is a retelling of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, from the view point of Jim, the slave. James is on the run, wanted for Huck’s murder. The thing is, Huck is very much alive and hiding out with James on an island in the Mississippi River. If you’ve read the Twain, you’ll recognize Huck’s fear of his abusive father and Huck’s dressing like a girl so he can sneak into town. You’ll delight in this pair running into and traveling with two scoundrels, the Duke and the King. 

Ernest Hemingway said that all modern American literature comes from Twain’s Huck, published in 1884. It’s often banned, for its vernacular. 

You don’t need to read the Twain to appreciate Everett’s sophisticated masterpiece. It contains the Huck story and so much more, and reads like a thriller. I found myself gripping the book because I was so afraid for them. Their journey is full of peril — a near drowning, the company of scalawags, and folks out to capture James. 

I won’t give away the ending: it’s violent and satisfying and perfectly played.

 

Valentino and Sagittarius, by Natalia Ginzburg

My friend Jennifer says the best book you can recommend to certain readers is a short but deeply satisfying book, such as Rachel Ingall’s Mrs. Caliban, which clocks in at 128 pages. 

Ginzburg’s Valentino is 49 pages but feels much longer because of its drama, introduced on its first page. (This is drama of the everyday, one of my favorite genres.) Valentino is the prized son of a poor family in an unnamed city in northern Italy. To the detriment of all, the parents shower Valentino with books and clothes and money so he can move up in the world, and become a doctor. Instead, handsome Valentino marries Maddalena, a rich ugly woman. The story is narrated by Caterina, the youngest daughter, who is taken in by Maddalena. There, Caterina witnesses the strained marriage. More drama! The man who loves Valentino promises himself to Caterina. Got it? Less than 50 pages, and I felt like I’d watched a six-part mini-series. If you’ve never read Ginzburg, this is a place to start. It’s paired in one volume with Sagittarius (81 pages). It’s as densely entertaining as Valentino. This volume was suggested to me by my son Evan Dent, who writes about books and literature on Substack.

Speaking of sons who write, here’s one by Mason Dent. His is a unique American voice.

Harry’s O.K. Used Cars by HMDIV 

On TV,  I’m watching Hacks and Bridgerton, depending on my mood. They’re both good. Better is The New Look, streaming on Apple TV. It’s set in Paris during the Nazi occupation. Christian Dior (Ben Mendelson) is a young designer in a workshop headed by Lucien Lelong (John Malkovich). Dior’s sister Catherine (Maisie Williams) works for the Resistance and is caught, tortured and sent to a concentration camp. This series is also the story of Coco Chanel (Juliette Binoche) and her fashion empire, which she struggles to maintain as she’s used by the Germans and suspected by the French. Coco’s story — while grave — is comic relief, because Dior must build a collection of his own as he tries to find his sister. Their story is heartbreaking. 

One more suggestion. Nicole Eisenman’s What Happened at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, through September 22. I’ve been twice. Eisenman draws from art history to create new work that makes you think about feminism, power, community, loneliness. Her work is beautifully wrought, unforgettable, and a little disturbing. Watch the short film outside the exhibit. In it, the artist says, “I’m not depressed…the world is a depressing place.”  

Finally, a shout out to beautiful Vermont and its friendly people. Green mountains, lake lake lake, good food sourced locally. 

Also in the blog

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Does it matter where you read a book? A “beach read” on a city bus? A retelling of “The Iliad” on a Southwest flight? The story of 9-11 lakeside in Quebec? A good read, by definition, transports. But sometimes it’s just plain fun to read a book where it’s set. That’s why I’ve read each

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The last warm, sun-filled Sunday in September and I was heading to the underground Harris Theater to see Baryshnikov dance. When I mentioned my indoor plans for the afternoon, my neighbor snickered. I worried, too: would the great male dancer embarrass himself? Pas de tout. I’d seen Baryshnikov dance many times, in the mid-to-late 1970s,

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