Books – the longer, the better

Seen in a Chelsea gallery: sculpture by artist Teun Hocks

(Click on photo to see it larger)

I love peering into the cloistral swirl of a snow globe in much the way I love burying myself in a book. And, the longer the book, the better.

I’ve just finished reading, back-to-back, two semi-tomes (at 500+ pages each). One, non-fiction; the other fiction:

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand is the true story of Louie Zamperini, a nervy, contentious prankster as a kid-turned record-setting Olympic runner-turned fearless bombardier, whose plane is shot down over the Pacific in WWII.

For 47 harrowing days and nights, Louie and two fellow crew members drift on a small raft in the shark-infested Pacific Ocean. Withstanding machine gunfire from a Japanese fighter jet, a fierce typhoon, intense thirst and starvation that reduce them to near-skeletons, on day 47, they finally spot land. But little do they know they are paddling toward the most brutal prisoner of war camp in Japan.

Hillenbrand, a marvelous writer and scrupulous researcher, has written another thrilling page-turner (if you’ve read the unforgettable Seabiscuit, you’ll know what I mean). I admit, reading about the brutality inside that prison camp was difficult at times but those terrible scenes were outweighed by the stunning resilience of Zamperini — who, by the way, is still alive and kicking at 93 years old — and his honor and allegiance to his comrades.

Not long ago, I read the magnificent Mattahorn by Karl Marlantes, a novel about the Vietnam War. It’s not that I’m on a war kick, per se; but I am interested in reading a really fantastic book about the Civil War (recommendations, anyone?). I’d also like to read War and Peace (Anna Karenina more than sold me on the brilliance of Tolstoy).

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. I’m a Franzen fan and I really enjoyed this book. I was amazed, after reading some of the reviews on Amazon, at how many readers hated this book. I had to wonder if they’d read it all the way through.

Yes, there were a few slightly draggy parts, as when Franzen spent a little too many paragraphs describing one of the main characters grassroots movement to save the Cerulean Warbler, or some such bird (not sure if it’s even a real bird) vs. promoting MTR – Mountain Top Removal in West Virginia to mine coal (hence, creating an inner conflict in this character).

But — those sections were punctuated with enough wit and irony, human insight, and funny description to keep me reading. For instance, I loved it when this particular character referred to cats as the “sociopaths of the animal world” because of their wanton penchant for killing birds.

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy reading Franzen. Familiarity with his essays enhanced my reading experience because I could “sense” parts of Franzen in the characters and felt I’d learned a real lesson on shaping characters in fiction.

Why not put a little piece of yourself in each different character you create? In other words, it’s possible to create five characters from five different aspects of yourself. I loved discovering that.

At any rate, this novel is about “freedom” on many levels. Freedom to live your life with integrity, freedom of self-expression, freedom to not do what you do not want to do, how to find freedom, the meaning of freedom with respect to the war in Iraq…

If you like Franzen’s writing, then please read this book. If you don’t know Franzen, try reading his essay collection: How To Be Alone. Even if you read just one essay, try Books in Bed. It’s so good!

The next book I will read was an actual purchase (as opposed my usual habit of taking it from the library): Modigliani: A Life by Meryle Secrest.

I thumbed through it at Rizzoli’s bookstore on 57th St. and bought it on the spot. After the purchase, I discovered on Amazon the book has been highly praised by critics as being (finally) a true account of his incredible life and what led to his premature death at 35.

Amedeo Modigliani was one of my favorite painters during high school. I can’t wait to read it. Besides, I’ve been doing a lot of painting, myself (when I’m not reading or working at my soul-sucking day job). Art is what saves me.

Which seems a good time to mention, my website has been redesigned, with many thanks to J.C.

My newest paintings have been added and I hope to be adding more work soon.

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