I Review Books Based on One Random Sentence
THE DREAM SONGS
by John Berryman
“He published his girl’s bottom in staid pages / of an old weekly.”
The Dream Songs is an undeniably witty and exciting romp, despite an overly familiar plot: a pornographer rattles the publishing world when he takes over a fusty old magazine and remakes it in the image of swinging modern times.
Berryman seems to have drawn his inspiration from the films of Don Knotts, particularly 1969’s The Love God?, in which Knotts portrays a hapless bird-watcher who becomes unwittingly embroiled in the sexy office antics of a racy publication.
THE CITY OF GOD
by St. Augustine (tr. Marcus Dods, D.D.)
“There is, then, nothing to hinder the gods from mingling in a bodily form with men, from seeing and being seen, from speaking and hearing.”
What happens when a humble grocery store clerk gets a special message… from the Man Upstairs himself?
This question is hilariously answered in St. Augustine’s rollicking City of God.
Augustine has dashed off the kind of page-turner that has the reader automatically casting the movie in his or her head. To play God, may this reviewer humbly suggest Whoopi Goldberg or Danny DeVito? Either performer would bring a rare humanity and sly wit to what otherwise might be a daunting role.
by William Faulkner
“‘And so it was the Aunt Rosa that came back to town inside the ambulance,’ Shreve said.”
There’s no getting rid of Aunt Rosa. She’s a feisty old gal with a quick tongue, and she can use today’s modern slang as easily as any teenager.
Aunt Rosa is, of course, the memorably wacky central character of William Faulkner’s delightfully dark comedy, Absalom, Absalom!
The whole family is waiting for Aunt Rosa to die so they can inherit her vast fortune, but the stubborn old battle-ax just won’t comply. Every time it looks like the end, Aunt Rosa pulls off another miraculous recovery.
How long will it be before the oddball cast of nieces and nephews decides to take matters into their own hands?
Fans of classic British comedy from the Ealing Studio will appreciate the decidedly morbid—and hilarious—twists and turns.
THE SHORTER COLUMBIA ANTHOLOGY OF TRADITIONAL CHINESE LITERATURE
Victor H. Mair, editor
“And murder, needless to say, is the concern of Heaven, not to be taken lightly.”
When ace private eye Johnny Fontaine is killed in the line of duty, he’s mighty surprised to find himself at the pearly gates. After all, he’s been known to hit the bottle and make eyes at the ladies. It turns out that Johnny’s trepidation is well founded: there’s one little catch before he can get into Paradise.
Johnny must return to earth for two weeks and perform one completely selfless deed. So far, so good. But nobody warned him about his new incarnation: a lovable if scruffy pooch!
Can Johnny (or “Rover,” as he’s now known) do his good deed—and catch his killer—in time? The Shorter Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature is a pleasing mixture of action-adventure and old-fashioned screwball antics. If this reviewer has one complaint, it is that the plot is uncomfortably similar to that of the 1980 classic Oh Heavenly Dog!, starring Chevy Chase.
MOBY-DICK OR THE WHALE
by Herman Melville
“‘Am I a cannon-ball, Stubb,” said Ahab, ‘that thou wouldst wad me in that fashion?’”
People who enjoy witty banter will love this tale of two unlikely friends, Ahab and Stubb. One of them is very neat and the other is something of a slob. They are constantly making funny remarks to one another on account of their humorously contrasting approaches to life.
One word of caution: you’ll want to invest in a dictionary. Our comical heroes just happen to live in the time of Jesus, and Melville’s deft ear faithfully renders their old-timey lingo—though never at the expense of the comedy.