Reader's digress: "City Secrets Books"


It's not always easy being a film critic. Okay, you're right -- it is. But some days are not as easy as others, like yesterday morning when I had to slosh through a Nor'easter, destroying my umbrella and soaking myself from head to foot, to join about 100 unamused children and their parents to watch "Planet 51," one of the worst movies of the year. Also: I lost my glasses.

On the bright side, though, I was pleasantly surprised to note that the main character's name was "Lem."


Named after the great Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, author of the novel "Solaris," adapted into one of the strangest sci-fi epics of all time by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972 (and, with less success by, Steven Soderbergh in 2002)?

Probably not. But any reference to Lem is worth noting. He's mentioned, for example, in the new anthology "City Secrets Books: The Essential Insider's Guide" where the screenwriter Buck Henry endorses Lem's 1971 opus "The Futurological Congress,"  describing the author thusly:

"[I]f Jonathan Swift and Franz Kafka had a son (this surely will be possible someday)and he fathered a child with the daughter of François Rabelais and Jorge Luis Borges -- that person might sound like Lem."

I guess my point is that a far better way of spending a rainy weekend than watching "Planet 51" or reading "Twilight: New Moon" (of which I have 400 pages left to go) would be thumbing through this latest "City Secrets" connoisseurs' guide to arts and letters (in the interests of full disclosure, I contributed to the previous one, "The Ultimate Insider's Guide to Cinema's Hidden Gems") It features some two hundred authors, academics and other experts offering essays on their favorite undeservedly obscure books.

In addition to Henry, there's the playwright John Guare on Hungarian novelist Miklos Banffy's "The Transylvanian Trilogy,"  written from 1934-40  ("the fastest 1700 pages you'll ever read"); writer Calvin Trillin on Wayne Johnston's 1999 historical fiction "The Colony of Unrequited Dreams"  ("the great American novel, except it happens to be about Newfoundland");  and the novelist Lore Segal on Kevin Vennemann's 2005 novel "Close to Jedenew" ("Vennemann is taking on that inexplicable phenomenon: what has turned our old neighbor and friend of decades into our sudden murderer?")

 The selections go a far back as Japanese writer Sei Shonagon's sui generis "The Pillow Book,"  (you're on your own with Peter Greenaway's 1996 "adaptation")


published in 1002, which consists in part, as novelist Carole Maso points out, of whimsical lists, including: "Things that fall from the Sky; Pleasing Things; Things that give a pathetic impression...Things worth seeing."

This book provides a list of things worth reading. A list that should include this book as well.

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