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Good Books

The Independent's editorial staff couldn't bear to be omitted from the I-list of personal bedtime favorites. Therefore we offer some of our favorites, pulled--dust bunnies and all--from our own bedsides.

Greg Cahill, editor

America loves mobsters. Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic, Alexander Stille's newly released paperback, plumbs the dark gloom of the mob's power base in Palermo, Italy. This meticulous crime reporter dissects the recent fatal hits on Judge Giovanni Falcone and prosecutor Paolo Borsellino, two boyhood friends who went after Costra Nostra bosses who infiltrated every level of Italian industry and government, killing 10,000 people in mob-related violence during the 1980s--three times more than in Northern Ireland's unrest.

Gretchen Giles, arts editor

The paintings of Henri Matisse provide the springboard for the three works in A. S. Byatt's The Matisse Stories, each taking a portion of painting, execution, or style and manifesting them in the written word. . . . Guerrilla writer Will Self's The Quantity Theory of Insanity is not sweet bedtime fare, but better for sitting up late slightly nauseous-- streamlined and as infectious as giardia. . . . And making most sense of all is East Bay writer Meredith Maran's What It's Like to Live Now, a non-fiction muse on raising urban kids, keeping family, and keeping cool.

Liesel Hofmann, copy editor

Physicist Alan Lightman's exquisite tiny novel, Einstein's Dreams, conjures up 30 dreams Einstein might have had shortly before he stunned the scientific word with his theory of relativity, catching one up in a whirl of possibilities about the nature of time. . . . The hearty reminiscences of former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee are gratifyingly candid, free of braggadocio, and irreverently enlightening about the fourth estate in The Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures. . . Achingly beautiful, Elizabeth Arthur's Antarctic Navigation is a sizzling novel about a frozen continent, telling the story of a woman so enthralled by the Antarctic and by Scott's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole that she undertakes a harrowing adventure to retrace his steps.

Sara Peyton, correspondent

Talk Before Sleep by Elizabeth Berg, a sad, poignant novel about a woman with breast cancer and the friends who love and care for her. . . . Selected Poems by Emily Dickinson, a lovely gift from a dear friend. . . Word Perfect for Windows, a reference book that weighs about 100 pounds and is almost incomprehensible. . . . Paula by Isabel Allende.

Bruce Robinson, correspondent

SRT's Huck Finn musical, Big River, inspired me to revisit Mark Twain. Huck also narrates Twain's Tom Sawyer, Detective with delightful understated wit, but the mystery, such as it is, takes a back seat to his lively depiction of life along the Mississippi more than a century ago. . . Of contemporary mystery writers, only Robert B. Parker shares the capacity to make me laugh along the way, but Thin Air is not one of his best. . . . Ticket to Ride is Barry Tashain's diary of the last Beatles tour, for which his band, the Remains, was the first opening act. Although it's a little thin, it's well-illustrated and benefits from the extra-cultural context provided. . . . Finally, Martin Cruz Smith's Rose, in which the well-plotted mystery is secondary to his remarkable re-creation of life in a gritty coal-mining town in 1870s north England.

Zack Stentz, managing editor

Philip Kenan isn't a loser. Sure, he lost his father and first wife to suicide, his ex-girlfriend thinks he's nuts, no one will publish his novel, and he's drifted through a series of dead-end corporate jobs. But it's not his fault--it's those damned alien monsters that keep messing things up. So goes the devilishly funny story of Résumé with Monsters, wherein author William Browning Spencer takes the eldritch terrors of H. P. Lovecraft out of their original jazz-age New England settings and plops them down in the contemporary milieu of high-tech wage slavery, corporate downsizing, and psychoanalysis, where fax machines and copiers are incorporated into unholy rites and fiendish intelligences secretly manipulate companies for their own sinister purposes. On second thought, maybe poor Philip isn't so cracked after all.

David Templeton, correspondent

By the Shores of Gichee Gumee by Tama Janowitz is the story of a white-trash family that revels in its own lower-rung societal status. It's "welfare chic," goofy and unsettling, twisted and often hilarious.

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From the September 12-18, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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