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- July 17, 2006
- Vol. 66
- No. 3
Picks and Pans: Books
Having a Moment: Harper Lee
REVIEWED BY NATALIE DANFORD
Sullivan, author of a fascinating chronicle of rodent life called Rats and the self-described "least spontaneous person you could ever know," takes a rambling approach to coast-to-coast car trips in this quirky combination of memoir, history and trivia. His narrative hangs on a 2004 automotive odyssey from the East Coast to Portland, Ore., and back with his wife and children, but he artfully works in details of the thirty or so times he's crisscrossed the country. This deadpan-humorous pastiche incorporates family journal entries (Sullivan's daughter Louise, then 8: "The instant oatmeal this morning were really good"), the travels of explorers Lewis and Clark and a discussion of types of lids for take-out coffee cups. Sullivan, whose sense of absurdity is finely honed, also offers biographies of unsung American road warriors including Kemmons Wilson, who founded the Holiday Inn chain, and Carl Fisher, the bicycle maker behind the first trans-American roadway. Occasionally, the author's tangents stray too far, but he gets a lot of mileage out of unexpected information. "Interstate driving is akin to driving in a dream," Sullivan says; reading this discursive book, too, often has the pleasantly hypnotic and surreal feel of a long ride in the backseat at night.
By Aurelie Sheehan
REVIEWED BY EMILY CHENOWETH
In this poignant coming-of-age novel, Sheehan (The Anxiety of Everyday Objects) describes the brief, bright friendship between misfit Alison Glass and a sassy, troubled beauty, Kate Hamilton—eighth-graders in a wealthy Connecticut town who bond over their horses and their weirdo parents. Distracted by cocaine and faith healers, their elders fail the girls. Tragedy looms, as Sheehan reminds her readers that heartbreak is a requisite part of growing up.
How to Travel Practically Anywhere by Susan Stellin: From rating guidebooks and travel-info Web sites to offering this-minute info on renting houses overseas, Stellin (a New York Times contributor) serves up smart advice in a reader-friendly format.
It's Not About the Tapas by Polly Evans: A fast-paced but reflective memoir about Evans's six-week bike pilgrimage across Spain, complete with sherry binges, mongrel-dodging and watching Lois y Clark in dumpy motels.
Route 66 Adventure Handbook by Drew Knowles: Christened "The Mother Road" by John Steinbeck, the 80-year-old highway reaching from Chicago to L.A. is a festival of vintage Americana lovingly documented in this photo-illustrated guide.
Haunted Hikes by Andrea Lankford: The former National Park Service Ranger digs up a wealth of spooky lore about National Parks in North America, throwing in trail maps for the intrepid. Particularly rewarding for history lovers.
Monroeville, Ala., native Lee, 80, has long played Boo Radley with reporters: At a rare appearance in January, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird joked that if she had a form letter for answering interview requests, it would read, "Hell, no." But the first biography of Lee is just out, and July's O magazine features a short essay on reading by Lee—one of the very few times her voice has been heard since her 1960 novel. "I still plod along with books," she wrote, "[among] people [who] have laptops, cell phones ... and minds like empty rooms." More on the elusive Lee from Charles Shields, author of the unauthorized bio Mockingbird.
HOW DID YOU RESEARCH YOUR BOOK? I tried to curry favor with her and her older sister Alice, who handles her affairs. Alice answered my questions, but I never heard from Nelle [Lee's first name]. I interviewed several hundred people who had known her.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN? She was a nonconformist who called teachers by their first names. When corrected, she said, "I call my father by his first name"—like Scout did. And she's never been given her due for her role in creating In Cold Blood. In Truman Capote's papers are 150 pages of her notes.
HOW DOES SHE LIVE NOW? She has a home in Manhattan, but she spends most of her time in Monroeville. If you see her in New York, you'll see a white-haired woman in a running suit with a canvas bag for throwing second-hand books into.
HAS SHE READ YOUR BOOK? I sent it to her, but she has remained silent.
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