"Los Angeles, give me some of you! Los Angeles, come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets, you pretty town I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you pretty town." So intones Arturo Bandini, the hero of John Fante's "Ask the Dust." Holed up in his cheap room, subsisting on oranges and stubborn determination, he is the quintessential starving artist, his base not a romantic garret in Paris, or even a drafty loft in Manhattan, but a rooming house on Bunker Hill, Los Angeles. He has come, like his creator, from a poor Italian family in Colorado, left his religion and his family to become that great thing, a writer. Arturo's success seems both imminent and highly unlikely. But succeed he does. Fante's fame, however, was transitory. Only a few years after publication, "Ask the Dust," the book many call the Los Angeles novel, was out of print. It stayed out of print (except for a cheap paperback version issued in 1954) until Charles Bukowski alerted his publisher to the man he called "a lifetime influence." Black Sparrow Press reprinted "Ask the Dust" in 1980, only three years before John Fante died of complications caused by diabetes. Fante continues to be appreciated as one of the most influential L.A. writers. Now, finally, the publication of a full-length biography is testimony to his renewed popularity. "Full of Life" offers a large share of fascinating material by and about Fante, and by bringing together his life and work for the first time with such clarity of purpose, Stephen Cooper presents a remarkable gift to innumerable fans of Fante's work.
THE GENESIS OF JUSTICE
Ten Stories of Biblical Injustice That Led to the Ten Commandments and Modern Law
By Alan M. Dershowitz
Warner Books: 274 pp., $25.95
"Would you give a young person a book whose heroes cheat, lie, steal, murder--and get away with it?" asks Alan M. Dershowitz in his provocative book of modern biblical exegesis, "The Genesis of Justice." "Chances are you have. The book, of course, is Genesis." Ever the controversialist, Dershowitz dares to speak out loud about one of the uncomfortable truths of the Judeo-Christian tradition--unlike the New Testament or the Koran, where God is always great and his prophets are always perfect, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible are crowded with men and women whose behavior is shocking and scandalous. What makes "The Genesis of Justice" so refreshing is Dershowitz's insistence on looking beneath and beyond the passages of Holy Writ where biblical law is presented in all of its abundance, complexity and density. All of Leviticus, for example, and much of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are law codes. Genesis, by contrast, is a storybook. And yet it is in the most compelling tales of the Bible that Dershowitz looks for and finds not only the roots of Western jurisprudence but the very spark that ignites the passion for justice that is the burning heart of the Bible.
Duchess of Devonshire
by Amanda Foreman
Random House: 464 pp., $29.95
Born in 1757, Lady Georgiana Spencer was a great-great-great-great aunt of the late Princess Diana. Like her collateral descendant, she made a very impressive match early on, marrying the duke of Devonshire when she was just 17. A tall, good-looking blond with a flair for fashion and publicity, Georgiana too had broad popular appeal in an era in which it was far more unusual for an aristocrat to have the common touch. Like Diana, she was an affectionate and devoted mother, an impulsive woman in many ways who was temperamentally unsuited to her phlegmatic husband. And Georgiana's impulsive nature got her into serious trouble, as she became what we might now call "addicted" to gambling.
But there was a lot more to Georgiana's character. The "amiable" duchess, as the newspapers were wont to call her, was an amateur musician, poet and scientist, and one of the most astute, dynamic and hard-working supporters of the Whig cause in politics. At a time when women could not vote, Georgiana campaigned for Whig candidates and worked behind the scenes to influence the men who sought and held power. Her willingness to hobnob with the common folk to win their support made her a target of the Tory press, which ran cartoons of the duchess kissing a butcher in exchange for his vote.