Save These Books!, from Salon.com

August 24th, 2007

“Save These Books!”, from Salon.com, December 1997

Way back in its early days, Salon.com asked some of its contributors and other writers to share their thoughts about a favorite book that has fallen out of print. The feature included over twenty short essays on a hodge-podge of volumes ranging from The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones (now back in print) to The Cooking of Vienna’s Empire, Joseph Wechberg’s contribution to a Time-Life cookbook series from the late 1960s. Of her selection, Diane Johnson writes,

People did not seem to like Nigel Dennis’s A House in Order as much as his earlier Cards of Identity, a novel much admired in the ’60s but now, perhaps, nearly as obscure as the strange little parable that followed, which I have loved since I read it when it came out, in 1966, but have lived without, unable until now to find a copy in libraries or second-hand bookshops. I had even begun to think I had invented this novel in the ensuing 30 years.

My remembered novel is a soothing allegory of order and serenity, concerning a man who isolates himself from the chaos and terror of the actual world when he is confined during a war to a greenhouse, and occupies himself with cleaning it up and growing a garden of flourishing plants. I understand now what attracted me then — it was the making of order out of chaos that, as the mother of young children, I envied. At the time, I saw no way out of personal household chaos, no way to achieve the single-minded and solitary pleasures of a grand project.

Luc Sante celebrates David Maurer’s The Big Con (also now back in print with an introduction by Sante), which he described as “a small masterpiece of the American language, veined with grifter lingo and populated by such characters as the High Ass Kid, the Seldom Seen Kid and the Narrow Gage Kid, whose ‘height was just the distance between the rails of a narrow gage railway.'”

Perhaps the most idiosyncratic suggestion comes from Jane and Michael Stern, who propose the Sears Catalog, a “vast syntagma of American stuff” in which you could find “a hunting rifle, a love seat, a diamond engagement ring or a tractor axle.” It might not qualify as literature, but can anyone who grew up with the Wish Book disagree that it’s a nonpareil sampler of middle American culture of the 20th century?

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