Picks and Pans Review: One Fell Soup

updated 11/22/1982 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/22/1982 01:00AM

by Roy Blount Jr.

These volumes are collections of pieces by two men who do extraordinary jobs of explaining what's going on in America. Tom Wolfe's first stuff was so new...the italics...the really weird POP! words...the breathless tri-dots...it was so right for our era. Wolfe arrived during the last incarnation of the New York Herald Tribune, a newspaper desperate to survive and be talked about. And everyone did talk about Wolfe. Young reporters ran amok in imitation, while salty old editors cried out for the sanctity of the English language. This fat new book contains selections from Wolfe's earlier books, including his first, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, and last year's From Bauhaus to Our House. There is one glaring omission. Where is "Tiny Mummies," the notorious profile of the New Yorker and its editor, William Shawn? Early in Wolfe's career, he wrote a piece on the shy Shawn that was so personal, so vicious and...accurate?...that famous people (J.D. Salinger among them) wrote scathing letters, and Wolfe learned that it's okay to be funny and truthful about cars and buildings and all sorts of socio-pop phenomena, but don't ever pick on anyone who counts in the New York literary world. The last 20 years would have been much duller without Wolfe—sometimes it seems they wouldn't have taken place as they did without him to define them. A more traditional kind of journalist, Roy Blount, is also a good old Southern boy (Wolfe is from Virginia; Blount from Georgia). Blount's storytelling roots are basic, instinctive. Just try some of the opening lines from any of these more than 50 short articles: "I think there is more to the chicken than it gets credit for." "Jim! Me! Calling from the big leagues! You know, them leagues Ty Cobb and Warren Spahn was in! Woooo!" "Thank God I am married, is all I can say." In a piece called "Reagan, Begin and God," Blount begins, "Don't get me wrong. I think the world of God." The author himself says that he feels these essays are about "genius, nude grandmothers, cricket-fighting, pigs, wigs, dogs, lentils, a man willing to dye himself green to wrestle, grits, nuclear holocaust, Eugene Delacroix, black holes, socks, pork bellies and flesh wounds." Hardly a person alive could read this collection without getting at least one stupid, delighted grin on his face. (Wolfe: Farrar Straus Giroux, $17.50; Blount: Little, Brown, $13.95)

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