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The Delight Is in the Details of These Essays

July 09, 1998

Please, please read David Foster Wallace's "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" (a decidedly more portable book than his mega-tome "Infinite Jest"). A collection of "essays and arguments" on subjects ranging from television to tennis to state fairs, this is a must-read if only for its final essay, an absolutely hysterical account of a "supposedly fun" vacation aboard a luxury Caribbean cruise ship.

You gotta love a guy who, instead of plunging blithely into such typical cruise activities as sunbathing, is fascinated--and frightened--by the vacuum-suction toilet in his bathroom and the amazing water pressure exerted by his shower head, not to mention the mechanics of "managed fun." Whether you're reading "A Supposedly Fun Thing" on a cruise or safely on the beach, you will literally laugh out loud.

JULIA LEE

West Los Angeles

*

"Misadventures in the 213" by Dennis Hensley could be the funniest book I've read this year. Its hilarious cast of characters and situation-comedy-perfect stories cover a lot of ground.

A favorite story from the book involves a magic carpet ride with Craig (our hero) and Dandy (his hero) to the Pasadena Rose Bowl swap meet and a Disney extravaganza. And don't forget Tina Louise's koi pond. There's even a bit of the Spice Girls, a gay circuit party and a wedding.

Hensley's mad romp through an Alice-in-Wonderland-like Hollywood is a trip I recommend for all. It's laugh-out-loud funny.

JOHN D'AMICO

West Hollywood

*

Christopher Moore's "Blood Sucking Fiends--A Love Story" is a must-read for anyone who enjoys zany humor. Moore knows how to create and interpret interesting characters, from C. Thomas Flood, who relocates to San Francisco from the Midwest to become a writer; to His Majesty a.k.a. the Emperor a.k.a. Your Imperial Highness, a totally unique San Francisco character; to Jody, who becomes a vampire and falls in love with C. Thomas.

Clever dialogue and unexpectedly bizarre situations are Moore trademarks, and this love story will redefine your expectations of love stories. Take it to the beach, to the gym, take it anywhere, but be sure to read it. You won't be able to put it down, and you certainly will want to read Moore's other novels.

SUSAN L. BARRETT

Rossmoor

*

This year, I discovered the incredible country of Hungary, its values and recent history in a 700-page book of fiction by Doris Mortman called "The Wild Rose."

Mortman blends history into the complex lives of a group of fascinating characters, all of whom are involved with the rich musical heritage (both classical and gypsy) of Hungary. This book makes one laugh, weep and learn to hear again the elegant music so richly described through the experiences of performers, conductors, gypsy artists and others. All so deeply touched me that I was saddened when I finally came to the end of this book.

No one but Leonard Bernstein can convey the intricacies of music and the heart and soul of a culture better than Mortman does in this compelling historical novel that succeeds on so many levels. I've since been driven to read her other books covering various cultures and art forms. But "The Wild Rose" is the best evocation of 20th century European culture I have ever read. I will never forget it.

NANCY N. FAUST

San Dimas

*

Ted Berkman is a biographer, screenwriter, teacher, lyricist and jazz pianist, a former ABC network commentator, author of the best-selling "Cast a Giant Shadow" and five other books, with screen credits ranging from "Fear Strikes Out" to "Bedtime for Bonzo."

In his autobiography "Around the World in 80 Years," he combines lyrical descriptions ("Egypt is a tear; a long and hollow wail in the night and a wailing cry at dawning") with detailed reminiscences and sharp observations about the Middle East in the '40s and '50s and Hollywood in its heyday. History whispers from every page.

He vividly describes time spent with his great and good friend Sheilah Graham. He explains how Edward R. Murrow first took over a microphone. He sketches the famous with a few choice words ("Sevareid was a surprise. Icy and remote as a glacier, he made the bookish, reserved Burdett seem fiery by comparison").

Berkman's biographical subjects have included Harry Truman, Col. Mickey Marcus, Patty Hearst and James McNeill Whistler. In his autobiography, he has captured one of his most interesting subjects to date.

SUE SCHWARTZ

Santa Barbara

* What's that book in your beach bag (or carry-on, or on your night table)? Is it any good? Send us a review! We're especially interested in hearing about fiction that you don't find reviewed in The Times, but feel free to send us your opinions of whatever it is you are reading. Keep the reviews short (200 words, tops) and send them (with your phone number) to Readers Reviews, Life & Style, the Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles CA 90053, or fax them to (213) 237-0732. We'll print the most interesting ones every other week. Sorry, but no submissions can be returned.

* Next week: Kevin Baxter reviews books for children and young adults.

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