An interesting mixed fork full – literature picks for May

When I was a student nurse many moons ago and being instructed on the feeding of patients incapable of carrying out this task for themselves, the dietician recommended “interesting mixed fork fulls”. The idea was that you did not work your way through the potato, veggies, meat and gravy individually but mixed them up so the patient received a variety of tastes and textures with each mouthful of food. This phrase has stuck with me and seems apposite for many other experiences in life — travel, reading, friendship. theatre and movie-going among them.

This month’s literature picks would qualify for this description. The books selected are very different but together make for a most interesting mélange!

Syndetics book coverFaulks on fiction : great British characters and the secret life of the novel / Sebastian Faulks.
“Ever since Robinson Crusoe in 1719, the novel has introduced British readers to truly unforgettable characters – people in whom we can find deeper understanding of our own lives. In this engaging and personal book, Sebastian Faulks examines and celebrates the most famous and best-loved of these dazzling fictional creations and their wider impact on British culture as a whole. From Sherlock Holmes and Mr Darcy to Emma Woodhouse and James Bond – this is the story of the heroes, lovers, snobs and villains in all of us.” (Summary from

Syndetics book coverHolidays in heck / P.J. O’Rourke.
“Two decades after Holidays in Hell (1988), the travelogue of a former war correspondent in search of fun in some of the world’s most desperate areas, O’Rourke follows up with the travel adventures of a writer, husband, and father, which are thrilling and humbling in their own way. To venues ranging from China to Kyrgyzstan to Disneyland, O’Rourke offers the fresh perspective of a neophyte civilian and family traveler along with his own acerbic wit about politics, recreation, economics, and family life. There’s skiing in relatively flat Ohio, which exposes the id of winter sports, and there’s reading the European Union Constitution on a beach in Guadeloupe in 2005 while pondering French and Caribbean politics and economics. Political humorist O’Rourke discusses animal-cruelty issues and the class tensions underlying stag hunting in Exmoor in England and the love of birds and bird hunting in the Galapagos Islands with a bunch of Republicans, and in Brays Island Plantation, South Carolina, with his newly rifle-educated wife. The essays are as humorous and charmingly meandering as his travels.” (Summary adapted from Booklist)

Syndetics book coverThe 50 funniest American writers : an anthology of humor from Mark Twain to the Onion / according to Andy Borowitz.
“Ever wondered who makes a very funny person laugh? Wonder no more. Brought together in this Library of America collection are America’s fifty funniest writers — according to acclaimed writer and comedian Andy Borowitz. Reaching back to Mark Twain and forward to contemporary masters such as David Sedaris, Roy Blount Jr., Ian Frazier, Bernie Mac, Wanda Sykes, and George Saunders, The 50 Funniest American Writers* is an exclusive Who’s Who of the very best American comic writing. Here are Thurber and Perelman, Lenny Bruce and Bruce Jay Friedman, Garrison Keillor and Dave Barry and Veronica Geng, plus hilarious lesser known pieces from The New Yorker, Esquire, The Atlantic, National Lampoon, Salon, and The Onion. Who does one of the funniest people in America (CBS Sunday Morning) read when he needs a laugh? Here’s Andy Borowitz to tell you.”–Publisher’s description.

Syndetics book coverMorning, noon & night : finding the meaning of life’s stages through books / Arnold Weinstein.Morning, Noon, and Night: Finding the Meaning of Life’s Stages Through Books
“From Homer and Shakespeare to Toni Morrison and Jonathan Safran Foer, major works of literature have a great deal to teach us about two of life’s most significant stages — growing up and growing old. Distinguised scholar Arnold Weinstein’s provocative and engaging new book, “Morning, Noon, and Night”, explores classic writing insights into coming-of-age and surrendering to time, and considers the impact of these revelations upon our lives. With wisdom, humor, and moving personal observations, Weinstein leads us to look deep inside ourselves and these great books, to see how we can use art as both mirror and guide. He offers incisive readings of seminal novels about childhood — Huck Finn’s empathy for the runaway slave Jim illuminates a child’s moral education; Catherine and Heathcliff’s struggle with obsessive passion in Wuthering Heights is hauntingly familiar to many young lovers; Dickens’ Pip, in Great Expectations, must grapple with a world that wishes him harm; and in Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical Persepolis,little Marjane faces a different kind of struggle — growing into adolescence as her country moves through the pain of the Iranian Revolution. In turn, great writers also ponder the lessons learned in life’s twilight years: both King Lear and Willy Loman suffer as their patriarchal authority collapses and death creeps up.” (Summary from

Syndetics book coverPlays 2 : London calling / Ken Duncum.
“Music hits the shores of New Zealand and reverberates through three different eras in these plays by award-winning playwright Ken Duncum. BLUE SKY BOYS: Wellington, 1964, The Beatles rock the Town Hall while the down-on-their-luck Everly Brothers, Don and Phil, thrash out their artistic and personal differences, using a trio of New Zealand teens as cannon fodder. JOHN, I’M ONLY DANCING: Glam gatecrashes an early seventies boys’ high as a subversive music teacher turns macho school culture on its head via a staging of David Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’. WATERLOO SUNSET: 1980, a Wellington southerly batters a converted waterfront boatshed where safety-pinned Punks clash with older ex-pat English Mods, each fighting to find a future as their youth runs out.” (Summary from

Syndetics book cover“House of exile : war, love and literature, from Berlin to Los Angeles / Evelyn Juers.
“Evelyn Juers’ extraordinary book is a unique imagining of the unconventional love affair between the writer and political activist Heinrich Mann and Nelly Kroeger – a tall, blonde ex-barmaid twenty-seven years his junior – recounting their flight from Nazi Germany in 1933, to France and then to Los Angeles.”(Summary from

Syndetics book coverHaiku for the single girl / Beth Griffenhagen ; illustrations by Cynthia Vehslage Meyers.
“A celebration of the single girl’s life told in uproarious and uplifting haiku and illustrations guaranteed to make any woman of any age, single or otherwise, laugh out loud and forget her troubles. Unsolicited relationship advice from relatives, disastrous dates, men who wear thumb rings, and the moments of deep satisfaction when you realise that you can do whatever you want with your time – it’s all here in a collection of incisive haiku and deliciously cheeky drawings that superbly and charmingly capture the life and times of being a single woman.” (Summary from

Syndetics book coverThank you notes / Jimmy Fallon, with the writers of Late night.
“Fallon addresses some 200 subjects in need of his undying “gratitude.” Each page will feature one note and a photograph of its recipient. From Hilary Clinton to a light bulb he is too lazy to replace, these are the moments and memories that make his life a little bit fuller.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWrite more good : an absolutely phony guide / The Bureau Chiefs.
“In the grand tradition of “The Onion” and “The Daily Show,” the media satirists behind the popular Twitter feed @FakeAPStyleBook have produced the definitive guide on how (not) to write, tuned to the precise frequency of the Internet age.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverEminent outlaws : the gay writers who changed America / Christopher Bram.
“This book is a history, literary critique, and collective biography in one. Novelist Bram (Gods and Monsters), himself an essential gay writer, discusses gay men (no women here, with no explanation) from Gore Vidal in the early postwar years up through the 1990s and close to the present. His main thesis, that “good art can lay the groundwork for social change,” is demonstrated and contextualized in dozens of examples of how literature can be not just a reflection of the times but also a catalyst for change; for example, Mart Crowley’s 1968 play (made into a 1970 movie), The Boys in the Band, is shown to have produced conflicting reactions that spurred the debate of what gay culture should look like.” (Library Journal)