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Summer Car Reading

Standing next to the fuel island on a cloudless August evening

By Novella Carpenter

It's high summer--time for light car-related reading, and I've got some recommendations:

The Little White Car by Danuta De Rhodes. Actually, this doesn't come out until September, but I couldn't resist talking about this naughty Parisian trash novel. Remember when Princess Di died? The limo clipped a white Fiat Uno, which caused it to spin out of control in Paris' Pont L'Alma tunnel, killing Diana, her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, and the driver, Henri Paul (who had been drinking). Though most Americans wouldn't think much about this as a plotline, in Europe it is positively scandalous that the heroine, Veronique, confesses that she caused the accident. The Brits don't take their princesses lightly.

The book is supposedly written by De Rhodes--a young woman who, we are told, had a screenplay produced and composed music for the Jerusalem Ballet, all at the age of 14--but it is in fact authored by Dan Rhodes, one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists in 2003. The novel is a sendup of "chick lit," that genre full of heroines who excel at shopping but can never land a good boyfriend. Once I found out about the fake authorship, I actually liked the book more. Veronique and pals wind up cutting her car into bits and distributing the pieces throughout Paris--a light summer read.

Not so light is Ode to Certain Interstates and Other Poems by Howard W. Robertson. This is the first book from a new publisher, Clear Cut Press (www.clearcutpress.com), out of Astoria, Ore. A retired research librarian-turned-long-haul trucker, Robertson poeticizes his experiences racing through 11 Western states. In part six of Ode, he writes:

The best buffet in the West was out at the Pilot /
truck stop along Interstate 84 in Mountain
Home / Idaho, at the very center of an arid rolling
expanse / rimmed by distant and therefore low-lying montane / eyelids that never blinked, where standing next to / the fuel island on a cloudless August evening with / a full belly after supper I relaxed and felt the earth / gazing up continuously into heaven, overwhelming / me with a strong and strange desire to be an angel / of the earth and sky, not a dangerous undisguised / angel but the sort, say, who helped Tobias find a / wife and his father's money, the kind of mystical / messenger whose words perpetually sounded best / if heard outdoors.

It's all just gorgeous, an intoxicating blend of the lowest low with the highest highbrow.

Even though From a Buick 8 by Stephen King was published in 2002, I rediscovered it as perfect summer reading. The setting is Amish country. The story follows some gee-whiz-type cops, but what makes it interesting is the backstory about what inspired King. He had been driving through Pennsylvania, almost died falling down a hill and wrote the whole thing in his head while driving back to Maine.

The novel tells the story of a downed highway police officer, Curtis Wilcox, who, upon impact, had his watch torn from his wrist and coins stripped from his pockets. There is also a mysterious Buick that sits near the cop shop and belches out weird stuff from another dimension. It's average King fare, with a big huge grill on the front. In his afterword, King notes: "What bothers me, especially when it's late and I can't sleep, is that sneermouth grille. Looks almost ready to gobble someone up, doesn't it? Maybe me. Or maybe you, my dear Constant Reader. Maybe you." Stop, Steve, I'm getting goose bumps, you creepazoid!

In the nonfiction end of things, where I find myself most often, you might want to check out The Gold-Plated Porsche: How I Sank a Small Fortune Into a Used Car and Other Misadventures. It's written by a former automotive editor at Condé Nast Traveler, Stephan Wilkinson, who has learned that when life hands you lemons, try to make fudge. Wilkinson spent $60,000 to cherry out his 1983 Porsche 911, and after two years' time was left with a car worth about $15,000. The good thing is, he can laugh about this folly--and he also has some great insights on German engineering.

Novella wants to read her novels on the beaches of Croatia; email her at [email protected]

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From the August 11-18, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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