& New Favorites
by Professor Dale Cosper, French
Try re-reading the works of Albert Camus now that the Soviet bloc
has self-destructed (The Rebel),
the rats of terrorism have visited a new plague upon us (The
Plague), and our nihilism metastasizes each day with
new virulence (The Myth of Sisyphus).
When you ponder the enigmatic American Taliban John Walker, read
The Renegade from The Exile
and the Kingdom. Never has Camus seemed more cogent,
topical, even prophetic. You might want to start with the long awaited
new translation of The Plague
by Robin Buss (Penguin, 2000).
* Many discovered the works
of Cormac McCarthy when he won the National Book Award in 1993 for
All the Pretty Horses. Maybe
you saw the film and read the other two volumes of the The
Border Trilogy (The Crossing
and Cities of the Plain, Knopf). Cormacs best work
was written much earlier, beginning in 1965 with The
Orchard Keeper. His masterpiece, and, I believe, a masterpiece
of the American novel, is Suttree
(1979), situated, as are his early works, in his native Tennessee.
Texas and Mexico became the scenes of his novels beginning with
(1985), my second favorite Cormac novel. You should be forewarned
that Cormacs worldview is at best penumbral. In Child
of God he actually succeeds in getting us to feel compassion
for a necrophiliac!
Lastly, consider two more recent works. If one judges a book by
its first sentence, which I occasionally (too hastily) do, youve
got to like this one: If I could tell you only one thing about
my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman
ran over my head. Brady Udalls The
Miracle Life of Edgar Mint (Norton,
2001) is a wonderful picaresque, Dickensian page-turner. Aphasiac
due to his encounter with the mailmans Jeep, Edgar finds his
way back to words by means of an old Hermes Jubilee typewriter on
which he composes the story we read. His journey away from the San
Carlos Apache Reservation and his alcoholic mother and toward the
secrets of his non-historic being makes absorbing reading. You will
care deeply about this tough, resil-ient little guy and his improbable
friends and foes. This is Udalls first novel. His earlier
collection of short stories, Letting Loose
the Hounds (Norton, 1997), is also first rate.
Much of the best contemporary American literature is being written,
I would argue, in and about the American West (Stegners arid
West). The very best is written by those who have their roots there
(some things you just cant fake!) Mark Spraggs collection
of essays Where Rivers Change Direction
(University of Utah Press, 1999) is the real deal. Spragg
writes of his youth on the oldest dude and guiding ranch in Wyoming
on the Shoshone National Forest much as Norman MacLean wrote of
his adolescence and young manhood in the big timber of western Montana.
My favorite is My Sisters Boots, but In
Praise of Horses is a close second. These stories are for
those who know the difference.
Dale Cosper, Professor of Foreign Languages and Literatures