Seek truth from literature

Niels Strandskov

Now that all the anti-Bush and anti-Kerry books are safely on their way to the pulping plant and all the textbooks are headed that way soon, there is a chance to catch up on some pleasure reading.

It can be somewhat flabbergasting to realize just how many new titles are published every year in the United States, given the persistent complaints from academics and intellectuals that their fellow citizens do not read enough. But these worthies often discount popular and genre fiction from their calculuses. Not to mention those forms, like the graphic novel, which are almost universally considered beyond the pale. It is true that much of what people in this country read consists of bad writing, with bad values behind it. This year might be a particularly good time to make that case.

While 2004 might not have been a banner year for the U.S. literary scene, a few islands of intellect poked their way through the ocean of filth.

David Sedaris continued his ascent up the cultural hierarchy with “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim,” putting him in line to be one of the most disturbing (yet popular) men of letters since William S. Burroughs.

Nabat/AK Press released another in its series of outlaw autobiographies called “Out of the Night: The Memoir of Richard Julius Herman Krebs, Alias Jan Valtin.” Krebs’ story records the revolutionary period before World War II with swashbuckling excitement.

Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles, Vol. 1” gave us unprecedented insights into a master songsmith’s ideas and emotions.

Howard Zinn’s classic “A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present” got a companion volume in the form of “Voices of A People’s History of the United States,” a collection of speeches, songs, letters and poems made by the luminaries of U.S. history from a left-wing perspective.

The selections in A&E’s Winter Books issue are neither comprehensive nor necessarily the choicest morsels of writing from 2004. Hopefully, however, they represent an interesting cross-section of the recent works available.

Likewise, the Winter Book issue is not intended as a holiday gift guide. The A&E staff members did not want to limit ourselves to simply fawning over our favorite authors or works. We have serious criticisms of some of the books we’ve chosen to review, and we hope that you, the reader, will take the time to think critically about each of our selections, regardless of whether you wind up reading the books themselves.

Some of the authors we’ve picked are familiar denizens of best-seller lists; others are more obscure. Please take the time to look beyond the tried-and-true and encounter ideas with which you might not already be familiar. All of us at A&E encourage you to read heartily and widely, if you are lucky enough to have the leisure to do so this winter break.