Merle’s Door by Ted Kerasote

April 12th, 2009 at 9:31 am

Merle's Door by Ted Kerasote

I am a dog person.

As mentioned in my review of Marley & Me, being a dog person and a book person, I am methodically reading every book on the topic.

Ted Kerasote’s Merle’s Door was the next dog book that managed to bark loud enough for me to pet it. There’s more to this metaphor. Much as I like the smell of books, I too enjoy the sweet, nutty aroma of my pooch.

Near the end of Merle’s Door, Kerasote quotes philosopher Raymond Gaita: “ ‘we do not write biographies of animals’ because they do not have ‘distinctive identities’ and cannot make or fail ‘to make something of their lives.’ Consequently, they are unable to find in their lives a ‘reason for joy and gratitude.’”

Kerasote mentions this of course to contradict it, which he has been doing, quite entertainingly, for 341 pages. Because Merle’s Door stands as a great biography. Of a dog.

Though filled with cutting-edge canine research and expertise and charming doggy anecdotes, Merle’s Door focuses on the inherently symbiotic dog-human relationship that rebukes the philosophy of popular television personalities and dog trainers who preach an entirely unilateral mandate of “pack leader” dominance over dogs.

Guilty of his own innocent anthropomorphizing, Kerasote’s books stands as a testament to the enormously positive condition of the human-canine relationship at a time when such companionship has been perverted by an ever-changing world that is dominated by man’s technology over the natural world order.

And it stands as a testament to the sheer power, eloquence, and persuasion that can be achieved by writing simply and passionately about what one observes, learns, and feels.



Playing With The Grown-ups by Sophie Dahl

April 8th, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Playing with the Grown-ups

I read this book for two reasons:

1.    Sophie Dahl is hot.
2.    Sophie Dahl is the hot granddaughter of Roald Dahl.

Were it not for her hotness and literary lineage, I would not have read, much less even heard about, Playing with the Grown-ups, Sophie’s first novel.

But despite these irrelevant, verging on sexist, and recklessly inappropriate reasons for reading a book, I enjoyed Playing with the Grown-ups immensely.

Unlike Special Topics in Calamity Physics, whose author is also very hot, Playing with the Grown-ups is actually good.

Sophie Dahl writes with a stylized, imprecise prose where limousines cruise like sharks, people chat like mongooses, the sky is moody, and feet are defenceless piglets. Out of context, such constructed flourishes would drive me up the wall, but Playing with the Grown-ups is tender, warm, girly, and very British (as if you didn’t notice how defenseless was spelled).

British: there are estates, tea, boarding school, and precocious well-to-do characters.

Girly: a large majority of the characters are female, first periods, chastising for small boobs and small butt, armpit hair, clothes, shoes, agonizing over what outfit to wear, agonizing over which boy, adolescence, puberty, shopping, and designer labels.

It’s a coming of age tale with a tragicomic, rock star, art twist. And even though the primary narrative is interrupted with flash-forwards that tease the reader with tiny glimpses of the protagonist’s future, I managed to find it a fresh and charming read.



How to Live by Henry Alford

April 1st, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Whiskey Knows How to Live

Whiskey Knows How to Live

How to Live by Henry Alford is subtitled “A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They Are Still on This Earth).”

Though a noble, worthy pursuit, a quest for wisdom encapsulated in book form by one particular individual is a preposterous and inherently flawed hunt. A quest for wisdom is what an individual would consider life. A writer’s quest for wisdom for the sake of an idea or treatment or assignment or ultimately, to warrant an advance, is destined to fail as singularly biased, limited and deficient.

And so it is for Mr. Henry Alford, who is, from what I can discern from this book, a caring and totally decent, well-meaning person. But How to Live provides in no way an answer to “how to live.” As it shouldn’t. But following the inherent flaws mentioned above, Alford’s work ends with no more significance or poignancy than it begins.

How to Live is simply Alford’s menial and insignificant “quest” for “wisdom.” It is a deeply personal story that reads like a person’s diary: boring. How to Live suffers from unfocused rambling, over-sharing and emerges as a too personal, self-absorbed, indulgent memoir-cum-amateur quest for wisdom. There is too much of the author and the author’s mother; two people I was really sick of hearing way before page 262. And it reminded me WAY too much of The Thing About Life is That One Day You’ll be Dead, a far more engaging and redeeming book.

Alford’s two other books are titled “Big Kiss: One Actor’s Desperate Attempt to Claw His Way to the Top,” and “Municipal Bondage: One Man’s Anxiety-Producing Adventures in the Big City.” Following my consumption of How to Live, I have absolutely no desire to read these other two chronicles. You are writing about life, Mr. Alford, and if you fail to offer anything remotely significant about your foibles, we have no need to read your work. We are too busy living our own eccentric adventures. Except WE are not harassing others with mediocre details chronicling such mundane and normal goings-on.

How to Lives does provide a smattering of truly fascinating sections featuring such luminaries as Albee, Burroughs, Mailer, and Bloom, but such oases are quickly interrupted by the barren imagination of the author, the author’s dry mother, or, more often, both.

Kubrick said it best: “Real is good, interesting is better.”

My favorite aphorism gleamed from this book comes from a 90-year-old named Peg Franks, a volunteer at a senior center:

“Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.”

I will not be so cruel as to suggest that you should not read this book, or to quickly finish it for fear of being found dead with it.

Because the irony alone would make it worth it.

So by all means, read How to Live.