Short Reviews: Books

Thirteen brief book reviews

The Big Book of Limericks, by Edward S. Mullins. Platt & Munk, $2.95.
Since this work is intended for children, the limericks are all detergent clean—but then, so were Lear’s. They are also enough to make any old sourpuss chuckle, and are highly recommended for persons required to amuse the young by reading aloud. There is one about a girl dressed in sweet peas which splendidly combines fancy and realism.
American Manners & Morals, by the editors of American Heritage. American Heritage, $14.95.
The pictures in this large book are handsome or interestingly odd or both. The text rambles along, dutifully reporting how our forebears behaved but offering little comment or interpretation. Monotony of tone is, however, mitigated if not entirely removed by quotations from contemporary sources. These display all the humor, temper, ingenuity, and perversity which the editors of American Heritage have neglected to exercise.
Golem, by Myles Eric Ludwig. Weybright & Talley, $6.95.
A first novel, full of the latest jargon and the latest stylistic devices and equipped with that currently indispensable protagonist, the fellow who bangs around the world paying no attention to the rights or preferences of anyone but himself. Both this character—here called Golem (look out for tinkling symbols)—and his chronicler, Mr. Ludwig, seem mournfully surprised that it all leads to no good. The writing is much better than the materials deserve.
Motiveless Malignity, by Louis Auchindoss. Houghton Mifflin, $4.95.
“Shakespeare, at least, has nothing to lose” is Mr. Auchincloss’ disarming apology for short essays on the actions of Hamlet, Iago, and such. His observations are gracefully put and largely unpretentious, and while there is not a surprise in the package, there is not a stupidity to be found there, either.
Vandals Wild, by Joseph W. Bennett. Bennett, $2.95.
Mr. Bennett is to be approached as a concerned citizen rather than a writer. The anecdotes and statistics he has assembled on vandalism in public parks are so outlandish that technical deficiencies of presentation cease to matter.
Westward to Vinland, by Helge Ingstad. St. Martin’s, $10.00.
Mr. Ingstad is the Norwegian explorer-turned-archaeologist who has been excavating what he believes to be the remains of the first Viking camp in North America. His book is less concerned with digging than with the combination of experience and historical study that led him to look for Vinland in now-grapeless Newfoundland and, unless the whole carbon-dating system is a fraud, to find it at L’Anse aux Meadows. The book is embellished with maps, photographs, accounts of travel and scenery, old Newfoundland characters, and quotations from antique documents.
My Year in the White House Dog-House, by Ralph Schoenstein. White, $4.95.
Mr. Schoenstein hoped to make a lot of money by writing a book about Lyndon Johnson’s dogs and selling it to Walt Disney. He is astonished and angry that he was not permitted to do this, although the duties of the American President, while many and sometimes strange, I definitely do not include helping out every fast scribbler who happens to want a fast buck.
The French, by Sanche de Gramont. Putnam, $7.95.
Mr. de Gramont, French by birth, creates his “portrait of a people” out of history, legend, anecdote, speculation, and official statistics. His book is full of unexpected information (like the juice per acre of good vineyard land or what happens if a child is given an old Breton name) and quite devoid of chauvinism, for he writes with the melancholy of a pessimistic patriot. Despite Mr. de Gramont’s suspicion that his countrymen could always have done things better if they had seriously tried, he is generally witty about what they actually did do.
The Birds, by Tarjei Vesaas. Morrow, $4.50.
To maintain variety and interest throughout a book constructed entirely in terms of the consciousness of a man who is not quite bright is not easy. The author’s accomplishment itself becomes, in the end, of more importance than the gently tragic story that he has to tell.
Fat City, by Leonard Gardner. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $5.50.
Mr. Gardner writes well about his seedy, hopeless characters—failed boxers, minor promoters, drunks, bums, and migrant workers—and the dingy world of odd jobs, bars, and cheap hotels which they inhabit. He does no more than that, however, and his novel is a still life rather than a drama.
Thirst for Love, by Yukio Mishima. Knopf, $4.95.
Violence developing beneath a quiet domestic surface is Mr. Mishima’s theme, and he makes of it a story that is believable despite the unfamiliar Japanese background, and interesting for the complications of meaning implied in what is superficially a forthright psychological melodrama.
Quotations From Mayor Daley, by Peter Yessne. Putnam, $2.95.
Mayor Daley’s reputation as a Malaprop has been grossly exaggerated. Aside from two hilarious and well-known bloopers, he talks just like the average politician. He may even believe what he says.
The Nabis and Their Period, by Charles Ghassé. Praeger, $12.50.
Translated by Michael Bullock. Mr. Chassé is primarily interested in the theories of painting formulated (and practiced with highly varied results) by this intellectual and articulate group of artists, which actually functioned as a group for no more than ten years. Minor members of the Nabis get the most attention, on the sensible assumption that the reader already knows something of people like Bonnard. Colorplates good but scanty.