Picks and Pans Review: As Far as You Can Go Without a Passport
Just when some of us had been mourning the shortage of down-home humor, a quartet of good-ole-boy books has shown up, each trying to outfun everybody else. Doing a good job of it too. McClanahan(Farrar Straus Giroux, $13.95), who lives in Kentucky and knocked off a few socks with his 1983 novel, The Natural Man, has written essays that deal mostly with life as a college student and teacher in California and elsewhere. McClanahan would have us believe that he was a friend of author Ken Kesey, guitarist Little Enis and assorted raunchy flower children. He writes about them in a curious combination of raw four-letter explicitness and high literary style. The combination is exhilarating. Blount Jr. (Atlantic, $14.95) plays the role of a Georgia boy lost in the big time, and he's after President Reagan's scalp every chance he gets. Blount also offers advice on how to get past a snooty headwaiter (wear one glove and pretend you're Michael Jackson) and how to reduce the federal deficit (buy postage stamps and don't use them). In an otherwise hilarious piece on Bill Murray, Blount explains that the comic turned down cover stories on three national magazines because, Murray says, "It sucks the soul out of you." Blount mixes top-flight reporting with his humor, and the world's a better place for it. Like Blount, Grizzard (Peachtree, $13.95) is a Georgian, but he's mostly stayed home, upsetting women almost every time he puts fingers to typewriter. Both Blount and Grizzard think manhood in this country suffered a near fatal blow when John Wayne died. Indeed, Grizzard has subtitled his book of comic essays "In Search of True Grit," and he often invokes the image of Wayne's Rooster Cogburn to suggest what a man's ideal role model ought to be. An Atlanta newspaper columnist, Grizzard observes, "Not everyone in America can write a column for a newspaper or be a television or radio commentator. There are even a couple of people left in the country who have never spoken to a Rotary Club. For those Americans, graffiti can be an invaluable source of expression." In these wimpy days when a fellow hardly knows which way to jump, Grizzard is full of strong, often unreasonable convictions. Bodett (Addison-Wesley, $11.95) lives in Homer, Alaska "where machismo is an epidemic and hating every poet but Robert Service is considered an Arctic survival skill." His brief essays are far less frantic than those of these other gentlemen. His subject matter is familiar—sleeping late, lost socks, shopping for groceries, what comes in the mail and growing a beard ("a humiliating experience"). Bodett claims he "should try to get riled about something," but he can't, and it's lucky for us. His observations about fatherhood, husbandhood and other homey subjects are genial and even sweet—the humor is unforced and seems almost accidental.
A PERSONAL VIEW: PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE COLLECTION OF PAUL F. WALTER
Walter, 50, head of a New Jersey electronics firm, began buying photographs in 1975 and quickly amassed a significant collection. He and the Museum of Modern Art have selected 70 prints, dated 1843 to 1956, for this volume. One of the things that makes his view of photographic history personal is his eye for the less celebrated work of great photographers and the great work of less celebrated, sometimes anonymous photographers. Typical of the first category is a breathtaking and complex view of the Yosemite Valley—dark trees and bone-white deadwood surrounding a reflecting pool, with ghostly peaks looming in the background—made on a cumbersome glass negative in 1872. The photographer was Eadweard Muybridge, best known for his revolutionary motion studies, which later would show that painters from time immemorial had been drawing galloping horses all wrong. An example of a lesser known photographer's work: the murky interior of a Munich beer hall in 1931. A woman and a tall, teetering man on a table or bench appear to dance before a harsh shaft of window light as the shadowed patrons around them nurse their steins, hardly noticing. The shot, a demonstration of what could be done with the then new 35 mm hand camera, is attributed to Tim Gidal, a pioneering photojournalist. His is a vertiginous, mysterious and, in retrospect, chilling image. Throughout, Walter's taste seems personal without being eccentric. His sensitivity to the contemplative vision of 19th-century photographers is particularly keen. His book is not a history of photography but rather an intriguing journey through that history. (The Museum of Modern Art, $40/paper, $18.50)
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