Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Read Zeitoun

I just finished Dave Egger’s latest, a nonfiction book called Zeitoun. I usually don’t get so into the nonfiction books (which may be weird because I read tons and tons of nonfiction magazine articles, but there you go), but it looked lonely there at the Crescent City library with no date stamps on it (yes, they still do things the old fashioned way here—hand-stamping the date). So to break in the book, I picked it up and carted it off.

But since I was driving home, my wife started perusing it. Two days later when she had finished it, I was finally able to read it. And I too read it in two days. Zeitoun tells the story of the Zeitoun family living in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina is about to hit. While his wife Kathy flees with their four kids, Syrian-born Abdulrahman stays behind to keep an eye on their home and business. He begins helping others where he can, feeding dogs and picking up the elderly in the canoe he uses to traverse the city streets. All the way, calling his wife each day to say how he is safe and well. Until the day when the phone calls stop and she has no idea where he is or what happened to him. It doesn't lesson the heartbreak for the reader to know that he was arrested for looting his own home and accused of being part of Al Qaeda. And things get worse.

Eggers’ style is pretty spare. Not much in the way of flowery passages or any of the literary hijinks he’s known for. He gets to the point, detailing Zeitoun’s story in a straightforward manner. But the story is the thing. On one level it's about a man working hard and trying to do his best yet beat up by the injustice of a broken system. But on another level it's an indictment of the Bush administration and "Heckuva Job" Brownie and all that went wrong in New Orleans. Though I should note that Eggers rightfully lets their actions and/or inactions speak for themselves.  This is no polemic.

Zeitoun is an important work, and should be read by anyone who thinks the problems of Katrina are all behind us now.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Big Book Sale

Well, I missed the Big Book Sale in San Francisco for the first time in 5 years or so, but I had a good excuse. Each year around the last weekend in September, the San Fran Public Library holds a book sale at Fort Mason, and even though it’s a 7 hour drive, I try to be there. What other library book sale can say they have over 200,000 books for sale?  Yes, you read that right—it has to be the biggest library book sale in the country. And on Sunday, everything is $1 or less. So for an avid reader such as moi, this is an event (especially considering the dearth of quality book stores in Del Norte county--it ends up being roughly a year's worth of book browsing for me, unfortunately).

A few years ago, I went down with about $60 in hostel petty cash, with plans to start a book exchange (I believe the slick venture kids call that “seed money”). And I came back with about 50 great books. Or at least ones that I think are great. I don’t know if it says something about my tastes that many of them are still here, three years later. Right next to our Laundry area is the sign for “Need a Book, Take a Book; Have a Book, Leave a Book."  And right below the sign are the books.

Sure, I came home from that trip with some of the stuff the popular kids are reading—Grisham and Harry Potter and so forth. And they disappeared pretty quick. But each time I pass by the book swap, I see those books that I know are great—The Contortionist’s Handbook and The Tetherballs of Bougainville and others. Ones that I had read and loved and couldn’t pass up for a mere $1 and bought figuring sure, maybe no one has heard of the authors, but if they at least open to the first page and start reading, then they’d be hooked. They would “take a book.” And they do take a book. But it’ the latest Sue Grafton, Y is for Why are these other strange books here?

Oh—my excuse for missing this year? My wife and I were in the middle of giving birth. But hey—there’s always next year.