January 2011



Photo of Mexico City by Matthew Tichenor used under a Creative Commons license.

Javier Marías, Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico (New Directions, 2010).
On a short break from filming in Acapulco, The King and a few of his entourage take his private plane for a night on the town in Mexico City, where they run into trouble with a host of “whitewashed gangsters.” The narrator of this short novella is Elvis’ narrator, a Spaniard. To be honest, there’s not a lot of Mexico here, but if you like Marías you will like this, and if you don’t you should.

Here is Marías’ site. Here are profiles of him in the Guardian, The New Yorker and The Nation. M.A. Orthofer says it’s a nicely rounded little thriller, as well as an amusing piece of Marías’ larger and often interconnected œuvre. Eli S. Evans calls it a distillation of Marías’ personal literary universe. 1streading calls it a gem of a story. Wythe Marschall describes it as a work of alternating gravid humor and steak-thick terror. Owen Roberts says Marías apparently is obsessed with Elvis. Charles R. Larson (Counterpunch) sees quite a flight of the imagination. ElvisNews.com calls it well researched. Rise calls it a bad bad book, in the wild west sense. Lincoln Michel calls it a dark and humorous tale.

Buy it at Half.com.


Photo by NatalieTracy used under a Creative Commons license.

Jan Morris, Sydney (Random House, 1992).
If you were to want to read one book to get an overview of the history, character and culture of Sydney, you could do worse than to turn to this one. There is only a smattering of her own experiences here; instead, the greater part of it is her synthesis of other people’s histories.  As one reviewer below says, it is as if Morris rented an apartment with a view of Sydney Harbor, visited the local library and read up on the city, and then dutifully compiled that work into a book. The result is solid enough, if not particularly sweet or filling.

Here is Wikipedia on Jan Morris. Don George profiled her for Salon in 1999. More recently, she remarried. Carolyn See (Los Angeles Times) calls the book a competent, chronological, amusing, mannerly, dutiful account of one of the most beautiful and enchanting cities in the world. Brett is truly and madly in love with the book. Morris says she detested Sydney when she first went there in the early 1960s. In an interview with Leo Lerman in The Paris Review in 1997, Morris talked about why she wrote the book. In an interesting exchange, she also suggests that she didn’t quite get to the bottom of the city. Another essay about Sydney appears in her 2005 collection, The World. Footless Crow interviewed Morris a few months ago.

Buy it at Half.com.


Photo of a painting by Colleen Wallace and posted by Ben Lawson used under a Creative Commons license.

Howard Morphy, Aboriginal Art (Phaidon, 1998).
A lovely and comprehensive survey of Australian aboriginal art, replete with many and terrific color plates.  From ancient rock art to post-modern art (including a reworking of Van Gogh’s room in Arles), Morphy, whose own focus has been on the people and art of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territories, explains the significance and context of different tradition, old and new, from around the continent. An excellent introduction to the subject.

Here is Morphy’s page at the Australian National University. David Cossey says the books is thoroughly researched, authoritative, and written with elegance, an essential reference work for scholars and lay readers alike. David Betz calls it the best read on the ideas behind Aboriginal art practice (and has other interesting links). This site calls it the best single book on the topic of Aboriginal art and culture. Answers.com calls it an authoritative survey. It was one of Alex Dally MacFarlane’s favorite books of 2010. Will Owen saw the painting Karrku Jukurrpa this summer at the Australian Embassy in Washington, D.C.; he has a picture and quotes Morphy’s explanation, and more. This essay echoes some of the book (but is not representative of it). Here is Morphy on the Yolngu art of Charlie Matjuwi Burarrwanga and Peter Datjin Burarrwanga. Felicia R. Lee (The New York Times) writes about a discovery Morphy made in Hamilton, New York. Not enough time to read Morphy’s book? Try this introduction to the subject by Mick Steele.

Buy it a Half.com (I did).