what i'm reading: the sweeter the juice, high cotton, what's eating gilbert grape

I'm really enjoying my plan to tidy up my reading list - to either read or delete books that have been on this list, unread, for umpteen years. Sometimes it's only coincidence that kept me from a particular book: it was never in a certain library branch when I happened to be there, and I wasn't moved enough to request it. Now that the New York Public Library has made it so easy to request titles online, I'm on it.

I didn't get very far with the first two books, The Sweeter The Juice by Shirlee Taylor Haizlip and High Cotton by Darryl Pinckney, despite my recommendation of Haizlip's memoirs. They were both interesting - up to a point. But when it comes to what I read, my standards are ridiculously high. There are just too many books, and too little time, to spend my time reading something I don't love, and neither of these made the cut.

At the moment I'm really enjoying What's Eating Gilbert Grape, a comic novel by Peter Hedges. It's funny and sweet, occasionally profound, and very entertaining. Despite being populated by eccentric characters, it's still very credible, which is difficult to pull off. I'm very sensitive to books or movies full of what I call "purposely wacky" characters that don't feel believable to me. I feel like I can see the writer working too hard to make the characters as nutty as possible, like when you see a comedian work too hard for a laugh. The movie "Garden State" was a recent example of that. If you've read John Irving, some of his lesser work felt that way to me.

Gilbert Grape was made into a movie with Johnny Depp and Juliette Lewis. I didn't see it, because I wanted to read the book, but the story would lend itself to that kind of wacky-character treatment. The book, however, feels very authentic. (That's what I always do when a book I want to read is made into a movie - book first, movie later. I must read without the movie in my mind.)

I'm still reading Chain of Command, because I read it on my iPAQ and generally only on the subway. It's a fascinating book, and if you're interested in how and why the US got into Iraq, it's truly a must-read. Among the many insights is just how much blame can be laid at the feet of Donald Rumsfeld. He is an evil, evil man. I knew that, but I didn't know the half of it.

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