Wednesday, February 09, 2011

What I am reading now

Music for Chameleons, Truman Capote.

I loved In Cold Blood, once I got over the poetic license it contains. It's solidly written, sympathetic and chilling, and gives a prosaic, almost banal view to a sensational crime. Music for Chameleons is shorter pieces, almost always non-fiction, that read more like anecdotes than stories. But Capote was a master of anecdotes, and since I don't like his speaking voice very much, this is a fair place to find them. Reminds me of Patricia Highsmith.

The Gangs of Chicago, Herbert Asbury

This book, originally published as Gem of the Prairie, is a notional sequel to Asbury's previous Gangs of New York, now a major motion picture (the cover advises). As such, it's more an informal history of crime and chaos in Chicago, right down to the first permanent resident (bootlegger) and the first prisoner (a white loafer purchased by a black man). It's full of glittering detail, with hilarious asides rendered in the arch manner of early 20th century journalism. It's somehow comforting to know that where the Wrigley and Tribune buildings now stand was The Sands, America's biggest ever, and one of the worst, red light district.

From Afar to Zulu: A Dictionary of African Cultures, Jim Haskins and Joann Biondi

Like most Americans, I'm woefully ignorant about the cultures of Africa, and Africa's so damn huge that it's easy to get lost. So I'm reading a book aimed at smart middle schoolers or dull high schoolers, which gives basic descriptions (along with maps and pictures) of about 30 different ethnic groups within Africa. It's fun reading, light and it's helpfully contemporary — a lot of African history gets bogged down in the fact that there's 10,000 years of it, but seeing people as they live now is nice.

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