December 2009


Horse Back
Photo by notashamed used under a Creative Commons license.

Charles Portis, True Grit (Overlook, 2007).
Mattie Ross is only fourteen years old, but when a hired hand named Tom Chaney kills her father near Fort Smith, Arkansas, she sets out on his trial.  In Fort Smith, Ross hears that Chaney has joined up with a band of outlaws in the Indian Territory, the Oklahoma of yesteryear, and she finds help of her own in Rooster Cogburn, a federal marshal, and a Texas Ranger named Le Bouef.  They head west, each with their own agenda.  It wouldn’t be right to say more of the plot, but the way that Portis narrates the tale in Mattie’s voice should not be missed.  Perhaps this book is overlooked because John Wayne played Cogburn in the movie?

The novel’s Wikipedia page is relatively lengthy and thoughtful. NPR offers an excerpt. Vered Kleinberger put together this page on Portis. Alex T. Moore’s unofficial Portis site has all sorts of content. Ed Park’s piece on Portis for The Believer is a must-read. Orrin calls it one of the funniest, most under appreciated novels in all of American literature; he also collects worthwhile Portis links. Mark Garvey says it feels archetypal, and so well done that it seems to have been written much nearer to the era it portrays (1873) than to our own time. Brian Garfield (Saturday Review) calls it a straightforward tale with endless nuances. Richard Rhodes (The New York Times) calls it skillfully constructed, a comic tour de force. Charles Taylor (Newsday) says it flirts with myth and tall tale, but reading it is like encountering a voice speaking to us directly from America’s past. Cassandra Cleghorn (Tin House) hears Mark Twain in it. Allen Barra (Salon) celebrated when it was put back into print. Rocky Barker says it transcends genre fiction. Steve Zipp calls it an anti-western. Resolute Reader says it has all of the excitement of the movie. Eileen Contreras calls it a great adventure tale. Shane enjoyed it less than he thought he would. Benjamin Potter calls it a real shoot ‘em up.  Donna Tartt believes it’s a masterpiece. Maggie identifies with Mattie. Julie has the movie trailer. Bec says if you don’t like it there’s something wrong with you. Andy calls it pleasantly conciseVariety says the Coen brothers will make it into another movie. Roy Reed interviewed Portis in 2001. Chris Lehman talked about Portis and the novel with George Pelecanos in 2006. Here is the first edition’s cover. And Scott McLemee reports from the Charles Portis Appreciation Society.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

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Hellas merda no. 1
Photo by the bbp used under a Creative Commons license.

Tim Parks, A Season With Verona (Arcade, 2003).
Parks, an English writer, had lived in Verona for two decades when he decided to spend a season following Hellas Verona, the city’s team in Serie A, the top flight of Italian professional soccer (or football, as you prefer).  Previously a serious fan, Parks heightened his commitment by joining the small crew of zealots who follow the team to all of its away games.  A sharp observer of Italy, Parks uses football as a window on many facets of Italian life — cultural, economic, political.  Those who care less for soccer will enjoy this book less than I did, but I liked it quite a bit.

Here is Parks’s website. Here is a brief bio. The New York Times provides the first chapter, albeit with some coding glitches. Google Books lets you take a look. Parks incorporated the material in this 2001 column into the book. Chris Rose (Spike) says it is consistently provocative, intelligent and funny. Chris Maume (The Independent) says Parks tackles the Italian dichotomies between peity and profanity, right and left, fat-cat north and yokel south. Martin Matusiak, clearly a soccer fan, recommends it only for fans of Serie A.  Harry particularly liked Parks’ account of a bus-ride to Bari for an away game. Jesse Berrett says it gives you a truly deep sense of how Italianness intertwines with soccer culture, particularly the regional rivalries and endless fatalism of the people. Inge lauds its insight into the intricacies of Italian football and its place in the Italian psyche. Robert MacFarlane (The Observer) calls it addictive reading, for its acute cultural criticism, for Parks’s ability to evoke the ‘choral pandemonium’ of live football, and for its brilliant narrative rhythm. Leslie Myers says it is part travelogue and part psychological study of the culture of being a fan of Serie A. Via Myers, here is the transcript of an interview of Parks by ABC’s Amanda Smith. Robert Winder (The New Statesman) thinks Parks balances the literary and the football adroitly. Vera Marie Badertscher says Parks captures the ferocity of soccer fans and provides a vocabulary lesson you won’t get at a school. Russell Davies (The Telegraph) thinks Parks has gone native. Michael Veseth liked Parks’s descriptions of political and economic facets of soccer (scroll down). Mando recommends it, as does Vadim. Dr Zen read it and would like to live in Italy.

Buy it at Amazon.com.