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Summer books: David L. Ulin looks forward to these titles

June 03, 2012|By David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times Book Critic
(Michael Tierney / Metropolitan…)

What am I looking forward to reading this summer? As always, I suppose, books that blur the boundaries, that help us reimagine what we thought we knew.

First, there's Joe Sacco's "Journalism" (Metropolitan: $29, June), a collection of what we might call graphic journalism — dispatches from, among other places, Gaza, the Hague and Abu Ghraib. These pieces combine reportage with Sacco's expressive comics art, reminding us that all journalism is subjective, that every reporter is (or ought to be) an advocate. "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,"H.L. Mencken once declared, and this may well be Sacco's mantra as he seeks to personalize the bigger story, to make it individual and distinct. That, of course, is the source of empathy, and it is also where journalism blurs into art, into literature, casting even the most intractable news story as a narrative.

George Orwell knew something about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable; such intentions reside at the heart of his writing, from the early essays "Shooting an Elephant" and "A Hanging" to the memoir "Down and Out in Paris and London" and the novel "Burmese Days." In August, his "Diaries" (Liveright: $39.95) — which, since 2008, have appeared as blog posts, "70 years to the day after they were written," at orwelldiaries.wordpress.com — will be published for the first time in the United States. They are edited by Peter Davison with an introduction by the late Christopher Hitchens. Orwell is, for a lot of us, the conscience of 20th century literature: piercing, clear-eyed, unparalleled in the precision of his thinking and his prose. "[O]ne can write nothing readable," he noted in his 1946 essay "Why I Write," "unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality. Good prose is like a window pane."

Finally, I have to say I'm a bit awed by the audacity of Ariel S. Winter's "The Twenty-Year Death" (Hard Case Crime: $25.99, August), a debut crime novel in the form of three crime novels, each set a decade apart — 1931, 1941 and 1951 — and written in the style of a master of the genre. Book 1, "Malniveau Prison," takes place in France and pays homage to Georges Simenon; it's followed by the California noir of "The Falling Star," a pastiche of Raymond Chandler, and finally the Jim Thompson-inspired "Police at the Funeral." Does Winter pull it off? I'm eager to find out. Regardless — and in much the same way as Sacco and Orwell — it's the author's ambition that attracts me, his sense of reaching beyond our expectations of what a book like this (or, really, any book) can do.

david.ulin@latimes.com

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