May 18, 2009

Garth's Picks for June


Passion exists on many planes, so here are four classic selections which deftly engage the reader's senses in wonderfully exotic settings. Opportunities for great meals exist with each, though some dishes would probably be best eaten at home...

Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller (318 pages)
"No punches are pulled in Henry Miller's most famous work. Still pretty rough going for even our jaded sensibilities, but Tropic of Cancer is an unforgettable novel of self-confession. Maybe the most honest book ever written, this autobiographical fiction about Miller's life as an expatriate American in Paris was deemed obscene and banned from publication in this country for years. When you read this, you see immediately how much modern writers owe Miller."

Delta of Venus, Anais Nin (320 pages)
"In Delta of Venus Anaïs Nin penned a lush, magical world where the characters of her imagination possess the most universal of desires and exceptional of talents. Among these provocative stories, a Hungarian adventurer seduces wealthy women then vanishes with their money; a veiled woman selects strangers from a chic restaurant for private trysts; and a Parisian hatmaker named Mathilde leaves her husband for the opium dens of Peru. Delta of Venus is an extraordinarily rich and exotic collection from the master of erotic writing."

Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses, Isabelle Allende (320 pages)
"Sex and food, once celebrated as two of life's great joys, suffer a lot of bad press these days. Genuine epidemics, coupled with monthly findings of new things that are bad for us, have pushed otherwise happy souls into programs of agonizing denial and, in severe instances, abstinence. Thankfully, in this sophisticated defense of pleasure, novelist Allende (The House of the Spirits) puts the joy back into eating and loving with all the panache that marks the best of her fiction. Though passionate about her subject, she remains consistently whimsical with this mix of anecdotes, recipes and advice designed to enhance any romantic encounter. As always, her secret weapon is honesty: "Some [aphrodisiacs] have a scientific basis, but most are activated by the imagination." Allende's vivacity and wit are in full bloom as she makes her pronouncements: "There are few virtues a man can possess more erotic than culinary skill"; "When you make an omelet, as when you make love, affection counts for more than technique." Her book is filled with succinct wisdom and big laughs. Despite sections titled "The Orgy" and "Supreme Stimulus for Lechery," Allende comes down emphatically for romance over sex and for ritual over flavor in a work that succeeds in being what it intends to be: fun from the first nibble to the last."

Shibumi, Trevanian (496 pages)
"When this novel was first published in 1979, the leading critics had a difficult time classifying the work. It wasn't exactly an espionage thriller or an epic, but it seemed to touch upon many genres and themes. Shibumi is a fictional biography more than anything else, for its central character, Nicholai Hel, is the tale's main concern. A minor character in the story sums up the protagonist superbly at the end of the book by calling him half saintly ascetic, half Vandal marauder - a medieval anti-hero. Nicholai Hel is your vintage 'man-against-the establishment' with a mind like a steel trap and the tastes and lifestyle of an 18th century aristocrat. His pedigree is a throw back to the German/Russian elite, where generations of breeding and culture have contributed to his unusual character. Nicholai is a man without a country, a natural mystic, philosopher, linguist, master of Go, a complex Japanese board game of high strategy, and most importantly, a self trained assassin for hire who is expert in the arts of naked/kill. More than this, he is a seeker of spiritual perfection, his ultimate goal being that hard to define state or condition known as Shibumi."

Garth

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