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Frank Bures's Picks

 

Frank Bures was part of the late twentieth century Minnesota-Oregon Migration. As his father told him, "Oregon is just Minnesota without lakes and weather. Now git." But "Pappy," who by this time regretted agreeing to that fancy education, neglected to tell little Frank that Oregon already has its share of writers, thank you very much – ever hear of Jean Auel? For ever since arriving in Portland, Frank's been working, without a hint of chagrin, to gain entry into the exclusive local community of Paid Writers. Oh, he hasn't exactly let Pappy down. Yet. So far Frank has seen his articles published in such publications as Salon, The Oregonian, and Poets and Writers (the cover story, no less). Frank has lived in Africa, Italy, and New Zealand, so his articles and stories tend to be set in exotic locales. But don't go thinking he's terribly cosmopolitan. Frank is, after all, from Minnesota. That's practically Canada!

 

 
African Adventures (and Misadventures)

North of SouthNorth of South
by Shiva Naipaul

When Shiva Naipaul (younger brother of V.S. Naipaul) went to East Africa in the 1970s to investigate the inflated rhetoric of the newly independent nations – to see whether the promises of the new leaders had been kept – what he found was both disheartening and very funny. It is the younger Naipaul's special gift to make the tragic so comic, and North of South is one of the best travel books out there.
 

The Soccer WarThe Soccer War
by Ryszard Kapuscinski

Ryszard Kapuscinski is one of the greatest journalists alive and one of the greatest writers, too. The titles don't always fit together easily, but what Kapuscinski does is far more than just journalism. His writing has been part of what he calls the "New Literature," of which Kapuscinski was one of the first and is still one of the best. The Soccer War is by far his best book, made up of dispatches from his years as a foreign correspondent in the Third World, with real-life adventures like you'll find in few journalists' writing today.
 
Eating the Flowers of ParadiseEating the Flowers of Paradise
by Kevin Rushby

For some reason, when this book came out a few years ago, it was almost completely ignored. But with the glut of bad travel books (and of even worse books on Africa) I can't figure out why. Rushby's account of his travels through Ethiopia and Yemen tracing the story of the enigmatic drug called "qat" is so vivid and engaging and enlightening that it should have gotten far more attention. Or at least it should have gotten some. Rushby recounts amazing tales and fascinating history while also following the paths of other writers who traveled in the region before him, like Sir Richard Burton and Arthur Rimbaud.

 

Hispaniola Fiction

DrownDrown
by Junot Diaz

The world in Junot Diaz's short story collection Drown is gritty, sad, and hilarious, and the pictures he paints of life in the Dominican Republic, and of Dominican immigrants in America, is rich with pathos. When Drown came out in 1996, Diaz was hailed as one of the "new voices" – and already, the highest praise for a young writer is to be called the "next Junot Diaz."
 
Krik? Krak!Krik? Krak!
by Edwidge Danticat

From the other side of the island comes Edwidge Danticat (pronounced "Dan-ti-cah"), another young writer who has been dubbed (and who resents being dubbed) the voice of her country (Haiti) and generation (early 30's, like Diaz). In 1996 she was named one of Granta's best American novelists, and in 1995 her short story collection Krik? Krak! was nominated for the National Book Award. Danticat's writing is as spare as Diaz's, and a little more lyrical. And she gives a no less moving portrait of life in her new and old countries, which is always hard and beautiful, devastating and uplifting, all at the same time.

 

Photography

Holding OnHolding On
by David Isay (Photos by Harvey Wang)

I've bought Holding On for at least five people, one of whom read a chapter each night before she went to bed. She called it a book of common prayer, which it is. It's a collection of short pieces by David Isay (of Sound Portraits Productions, www.soundportraits.org) on people across the country who are holding on to old ways of life, crazy dreams, and dying traditions. It isn't sad, but it is deeply moving. There is no way to explain the cumulative effect these stories have, but you will miss these people dearly when you finish.

 

 
Shorts I Like

PilgrimsPilgrims
by Elizabeth Gilbert

When Elizabeth Gilbert published the title story of this collection in Esquire at age 24, it was a good indicator of things to come. In the next few years, she won several awards with the stories that make up Pilgrims – stories with characters so real, and painted with such compassion and complexity, that you really do feel you know them. As a writer for GQ, Gilbert traffics in the stories of odd characters across the country. But she makes these characters her own creations, gives them a palpable reality, as much through what she doesn't say as through what she does.

 

Classic Vonnegut

Breakfast of ChampionsBreakfast of Champions
by Kurt Vonnegut

After Slaughterhouse Five came out in 1969, Kurt Vonnegut entered a long period of depression and swore he would never write another novel. Fortunately he was lying, and in 1973, out came Breakfast of Champions; or, Goodbye Blue Monday (the subtitle alluding to his fog lifting). Four years of pent-up Vonnegut humor spilled out onto the page. Breakfast of Champions is Vonnegut's scathing satire and brilliant doodling at their peak. (If you've ever wondered what an asshole looks like up close, this is the book for you.) It is, as the author notes, in no way intended to disparage General Mills or its fine products.

 

A Little Something to Help Reconnect

Mindfulness in Plain EnglishMindfulness in Plain English
by Henepola Gunaratana

If you can't go on a walk without your cell phone; if being away from your desk causes serious e-mail anxiety; if you can't go more than a few hours without checking your messages, then you might need this book. Despite the marvels of technology, being constantly connected with others means being less connected with yourself. We are often overwhelmed with so much data about how to live life that we forget we're living it right now. This is a book about how to remember and internalize that. The information age has made the "monkey mind" an 800 lb. gorilla, and Henepola Gunaratana offers the key to its cage. It is a book to help you cut the ties pulling you in all directions, so you can just be where your are and remember that you're alive, something that's oddly easy to forget.


 

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