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September 07, 2003|Susan Salter Reynolds

Book Lust

Recommended Reading for Every

Mood, Moment and Reason

Nancy Pearl

Sasquatch Books:

304 pp., $16.95

From the time she was 10, Nancy Pearl wanted to be a librarian. Since then, she's lived her dream and then some, and read more books than it seems possible to read in a lifetime. Give a book 50 pages, she advises. If you still don't like it, move on to the next one. As you get older, subtract your age from 100 to find the number of pages you must read before, as the surfers say, "clipping it." It doesn't look like she clips all that many. Categories range from Gardening to Western Fiction to Families in Trouble to Balkan Specters. Pearl admits to not liking short stories all that much, so they get short shrift. Some of my favorites are her "Too Good to Miss'" lists of the works of her favorite authors, some well known, like Ward Just and Iris Murdoch, and some not, like Frederick Busch, Hamilton Basso, Eleanor Lipman and Lewis Nordan. In a tour de force that would thrill any list maker, Pearl chooses 10 best books from each decade of the 20th century. You can quibble all you like, but they all should be read by any self-respecting hedonist. This is one lusty librarian.

*

Bring Me Your

Saddest Arizona

Ryan Harty

University of Iowa Press:

172 pp., $15.95

This collection of stories won the University of Iowa's John Simmons Short Fiction Award for 2003, which, coming from the heaviest writing school in the U.S., should give us some idea of what's going on in those classrooms and cafes. Or maybe not. What you see in Ryan Harty's stories of suburban Arizona is a very steady-paced writing; the reader seems to be driving past those anonymous houses sprinkled and clustered along the highways in that stunning landscape, looking briefly into the living rooms and bedrooms. Harty's main characters are mostly men in trouble, which he handles calmly, showing how easily the habit of living continues even when your brother, just home from the Marines, kills a neighbor's dog with a screwdriver or when a "recovered" addict and drug dealer walks out on his wife and son. Depression is more like a weather pattern than a set of moods, as though one could look to the sky for confirmations of instinct. There are some sad fathers who drink too much, kids who inexplicably love them, and one or two characters who are capable of transforming their own bad luck. It's fiction blanketed in a sadness that has no one to blame. Hence the one-foot-after-the-other pace of the plots. After decades of having everything spelled out and analyzed for us in our fiction, this book has the ring of freedom to it.

*

September 11th

Families for

Peaceful

Tomorrows

Turning Grief Into Action for Peace

David Potori

with Peaceful Tomorrows

RDV Books/New York:

246 pp., $14.95

Shortly after Sept. 11, explains David Potori in his introduction, many members of victims' families were appalled to hear politicians using their loved ones' names and stories to increase the support for war. Families for Peaceful Tomorrows was born from this frustration. The group set up a Web site and used the Internet to spread its message. "We refuse to believe in an us-versus-them world," Potori, who lost a brother that day, writes. "If September 11 united them in loss, it was the bombing of Afghanistan that united them in their desire to attain justice without killing more innocent people." The group walked from Washington to New York, wrote a manifesto, got a Ford Foundation grant and help from the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Global Exchange, went to Afghanistan, set up vigils and marches, and began speaking here and abroad. They call what they have lived through "restorative nonviolence." "What have we accomplished?" Potori asks himself. "What changes? The answer in most cases is me. I change. And in doing so, I begin to achieve the change I want to see in the world."

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