I tell friends not to keep books in their front rooms, if they have the choice, because there is no telling who might try to connect the spines with suspicions about the private workings of their character. It's terribly faulty deductive reasoning, but it is fun to think of someone with "Homewrecker An Adultery Reader" (Soft Skull Press, $13) on his or her shelf, snuggled between a plumbing manual and the essays of Jonathan Edwards. This is not some field guide for hunting the other woman, nor is it an instructional tome on philandering. This is how human obsession with deception brings itself out into the cold light of day, perhaps, as the statistics imply, from a closet bigger than the house itself.
This book is a collection of fiction and poetry that, according to editor Daphne Gottlieb's introduction, examines "how we really love." Sure, it's got sex, but as you will find, sex is not the point. The overwhelming message is not about cheating, but realizing why we cheat, or according to Maggie Greene's story "The Sixteen Parts," "All the thoughts that go into an affair: the truth that it's unjustifiable, the fear of opportunities lost, the understanding that sometimes the best thing isn't right." In all, "Homewrecker" is very diverse in its approach, and though it may at times wear its heart too prominently on its sleeve, it could very well find a connection with any reader, whether engaged in an affair or not. Darren Morris
Andrei Codrescu's new book, "New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writings From the City," (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $14), is an unapologetic love letter to the Romanian immigrant's adopted hometown. Codrescu, who has also gained notoriety as a poet, novelist and travel writer, covers two decades in this collection of essays that ends with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He creates a richly layered portrait of the city defined by a roguish past, improbable geography and a weakness for all things sensual.
By turns languorous and laconic, Codrescu writes about history, food, Mardi Gras, floods, hurricanes, corruption and the double-edged sword of tourism. He returns again and again to pieces that evoke New Orleans' steamy, slow, hedonistic culture. The reader will find himself transported from the banks of the Mississippi redolent with the smell of muddy water to the spangled chaos of a Mardi Gras parade to cups of earthy coffee shared in the companionable quiet of Lafayette Cemetery. Along the way, Codrescu dispenses witty observations about his beloved city and the human condition.
"New Orleans, Mon Amour" imbues the mind and senses with a deep understanding of the city and with sorrow for its recent devastation. Sampling random essays also gives a satisfying and often amusing taste of the place. Readers who listen to Codrescu's regular commentary on National Public Radio will enjoy the lilt of his Romanian-accented drawl in the cadence of his writing. Mary Mullins
Reading "Utterly Monkey" (Harper Perennial, $13.95), the debut novel by Nick Laird, husband of literary dream girl Zadie Smith, makes it hard to get the relentless cuteness of their lives in a London house, typing away on different floors, out of the mind. Because there's some of that cuteness in Laird's book, something not quite smug but definitely not the kind of suffering to be expected, perhaps, from an award-winning poet (for his first book, "To a Fault"). The Irish native puts together a story that requires him, in interviews, to clarify that, no, this isn't his real life.
Danny, a lawyer in a prominent London firm (as was Laird), is visited by Geordie, an old pal from their scrappy younger days in Ireland. He's running away from trouble at home just as Danny's falling for Ellen, a beautiful black woman at his firm (and who hasn't swooned over lovely Zadie smiling impishly from the jacket of her bestseller "White Teeth" or one of her other books?). Meanwhile, large sums of money dance around a small-scale revolution planned by Irish Unionists.
It's charming to read, brisk and built around a constellation of Irish street slang. Laird bears down on the language now and then, approaching a scene or a moment with the tongue of a poet but without the bite of one. He toys with ideas of exotic attraction, the visceral nature of male friendships and even the sway of national loyalties; but these are only toys, and you never get the impression that these characters are in danger or are willing to suffer. It's done up with the ease of a talented writer who ain't worried because he's got a Zadie upstairs, doing the work. Brandon Reynolds
"Branwell: A Novel of the Bront‰ Brother" (Soft Skull Press, $13.95) by Virginia native Douglas A. Martin reads like a very long and drunken dream about the scandalous life of Charlotte, Emily and Anne's only brother. The language is poetic, at times bordering on the surreal, which appropriately showcases the recurring themes of alcoholism, death, writing and sexual ambiguity. Martin's outright refusal to use the question mark at the end of his many rhetorical questions is the only element in the text that creates a truly annoying stumbling block. The omniscient yet intimate narrative voice that alternates tenses and points of view flashes through the Bront‰ family's thoughts and scenes, in the beautiful, shadowy way one remembers a long night the morning after. Using a blend of his own conjecture, historical fact and the Bront‰s' own epistolary words, Martin patches together a biographical fiction that renders a fluid stream of images and ideas, beginning with the early days of Branwell's fanciful childhood.
Dancing in tight circles around Branwell's implied homosexuality, Martin whirls through the early losses, expectations and denied passions that drove Branwell to insanity, alcoholism and death by the untimely age of 31. Perhaps the greatest strength of "Branwell" is the insight it provides into the emotional lives of Charlotte and Emily, laying the foundation of the ardent and timeless characters that populate both "Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights." Valley Haggard
The Book Span bus, launched in September 2005 and featured on C-SPAN2's Book TV, will soon park itself in our own back yard. On Wednesday, March 22, from noon to 2:30 p.m., Richmonders are invited to gather in front of the main library at 101 E. Franklin St. to support 10 local nonfiction authors who have published books focusing on biography, history or public affairs. Book Span will interview supporters and offer tours of the bus, including an interactive demonstration about Book TV programming. V.H.
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