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>Book Presents

>Another book birthday in Korea has rolled around, but surprisingly, I didn’t run amok in the bookstore this year. I ran, but not amok. This will be really hard to believe — I emerged from What The Book? with exactly ONE book. I didn’t even pick it out — My Tough & Cool Inner Bookworm did: Lady Audley’s Secret (1862) by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Tuffi loved that 19th century date and I have to concur that it looks like great fun. Although I’m dutifully working my way through The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens right now, Tuffi’s bound to get pissy in these next few weeks about my pre-1900 reading totals for the year. If I don’t get Lady Audley’s Secret read by the end of 2009, it’ll be something to stuff in Tuffi’s cake hole at the dawn of the new decade.

But yeah, weird of me to hit the bookstore in such a restrained manner, right? I confess that I was a bit distracted and I was in such a good mood that I probably would have let Tuffi talk me into Pierre by Herman Melville, a novel that I actively love to despise — it’s my 19th century Atlas Shrugged. Tuffi could have pulled all sorts of classical bull and it wouldn’t have mattered; I was an extremely happy bookworm.

Why so happy? Earlier that afternoon, I had gone to the book swap at my beloved Wolfhound and discovered a whole new author. Todd, the heart and soul of the book swap, had brought a copy of Ask The Dust by John Fante. I’d never heard of Fante, but when I saw that he was an American whose first novel, Wait Until Spring, Bandini was published in 1938, I was instantly captivated. Ask The Dust is part of Fante’s “Bandini Quartet”. How has Fante escaped my notice up to this point? I adore feeling like Magellan, but I’m also appalled and a little worried about what I don’t know and what I haven’t discovered yet — what I may never discover.

My interest in Fante was piqued because of his time frame and also because Charles Bukowski viewed him as a mentor. Bukowski discovered Ask The Dust at the library when he was a young and starving drunk and writer, in that order. He was at the library because he was hiding from his landlady who wanted back rent. He said that finding Ask The Dust was like “”finding gold at the city dump” and that from that moment, Fante became “a lifetime influence” on his writing.

Later, when Bukowski got some acclaim, he urged Black Sparrow Press to bring Fante, long neglected, back into print. I’ve always kind of liked Bukowski, and now I like him even more because of that story. (There’s no way to work this tangent in gracefully, but I feel compelled to mention that the reason I first became interested in Bukowski was because Mickey Rourke played a version of him in Barfly, and when I was young, Mickey Rourke excited my tenderest feelings, not all of them literary — although when he played The Motorcycle Boy in Rumble Fish, that sealed the deal all the way around.)

Anyway, I’m really thrilled about my new discovery. I’m trying to keep myself from peeking at random pages in Ask The Dust, but it’s really difficult. I tried putting it away from me, but somehow it has ended up wedged between my left hip and the La-Z Boy chair I’m sitting in right now. I’ve got to make seriously giant strides with Dickens this week since BOOKLEAVES is meeting on the 20th. What if I put Fante’s novel in the freezer? Just for a few days. In a Baggie. Do you suppose it would be okay?

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