From Ken Kalfus' audacious A Disorder Peculiar to the Country:
"At the corner, chewing a frankfurter, whose oily, gamy texture he barely noticed, Marshall reflected on this promiscuity that threatened the society on which it thrived. He could be killed. His children--. Somebody was at work right now. Bacterial grains were being milled and coated with silica to minimize their electrostatic properties. Pentaerythritol tetranitrate was being molded into the bottoms of running shoes. Turbaned men were even now double-clicking obscure, awesome icons."
Can you believe the above comes from a comedy? The blackest of black comedies. Now that we are finding the words to work September 11 into American art, to integrate it into our lives rather than have it sit like a stone on our hearts - are we ready to use it to laugh? Are you ready for a scene where an attempted suicide bombing becomes absurd, then nearly domestic and cozy?
The New Kings of Nonfiction is not new (half the essays are 20th century) nor written by kings (Susan Orlean and Coco Henson Scales make enjoyable contributions. I won't try to make a lame joke about Dan Savage.)
I won't review The New Kings of Nonfiction. I can't review a book I have not finished and probably will not finish. David Foster Wallace's hyper-essay, "Host," was written and designed to be read on-line; in print, it is unwieldy and irritating to wade through. Most of James McManus' essay about high-stakes Vegas poker games is written in obscure terms - reading it is like trying to eat a bowl of thick soup filled with unidentifiable chunks. I will say the rest is pretty great - Mark Bowden's "Tales of the Tyrant" explains the person of Saddam Hussein to you. And Dan Savage always makes me happy, especially here, where he tries to join the Republican Party.
Here's an excerpt from Lee Sandlin's amazing essay "Losing the War." Sandlin's essay, along with Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, should be required reading by every American high school student.
"But it seems somehow paltry and wrong to call what happened at Midway a 'battle.' It had nothing to do with battles the way they were pictured in the popular imagination. There were no last-gasp gestures of transcendent heroism, no brilliant counterstrategies that saved the day. It was more like an industrial accident. It was a clash not between armies, but between TNT and ignited petroleum and drop-forged steel. The thousands who died there weren't warriors but bystanders--the workers at the factory who happened to draw the shift when the boiler exploded."
The Kings (and Queens!) book gives an edited version of "Losing the War." The entire piece is here.