This is killing me. It's killing me! I hate throwing out books. Especially my favorites. And they're all my favorites. But some of the stacks are so high they're threatening to topple and literally (as well as literarily) kill me. So something has to go. Here are the books I've culled so far. (Only 23,645 to toss):
Comes a Fateful Popping, by Embry Snuggings Jr. Shoddily researched and clumsily written, true, yet this fascinating work recounts the extraordinary and little-known history of popcorn, from its lowly beginnings as a peasant staple in 18th-century Saudi Arabia to its rise as the basis of most contemporary European cuisines. Though many of Snuggings' claims (such as those summarized in the previous sentence) are frankly hard to believe, his colorful descriptions of corn kernels making their characteristic popping sound in millions of frying pans and microwave ovens around the world convey that phenomenon with an immediacy and intensity that would make any reader sit up and belch.
The Peccaries of Summer, by Maura Conklin Sprigley. In this, Sprigley's 47th novel, her hard-won mastery of the form finally evidences itself with an exquisitely wrought gothic romance of almost unbearable melancholy. Set in a provincial Flemish town in the plague years of the 1980s, it limns the troubled relationship of a middle-class innkeeper, his narcoleptic spouse and the repressed West Indian accountant who comes to their home once a year for 24 frenzied hours of filling out tax forms and passionate sex with both husband and wife. In the hands of a lesser artist, the material could easily turn pedantic and fetid, but Sprigley illuminates her characters through a series of conflicts that lay bare their nervous pasts and at the same time expose the fault lines of a flawed society teetering on the brink of dyspepsia.
Years of Crisis, Days of Indecision, by J. Arthur Ratliffe. What was it like to be commerce secretary during the tumultuous administration of President Gerald R. Ford? No one is better situated to tell the story than Ratliffe, the stepson of the late Spencer Ratliffe, the cabinet member in question. The author's spirited account of the meetings at which administration officials and Congressmen hammered out tariff legislation to protect the manufacturer of Post-It notes from an aggressive Nigerian competitor is surprisingly suspenseful and his description of his father's years in prison on bribery and kickback charges related to the Post-It episode achieves a poignancy that most biographers cannot hope to equal in their wildest dreams.
War and Peace and Glenn Beck, by Glenn Beck. This clever mash-up daringly injects today's hottest political talk-show host into Tolstoy's towering 19th-century novel with results both hilarious and tragic. Beck is horsewhipped by Prince Andre after calling Natasha a neurotic socialist slut, he advises the Russian high command to ignore the invading French army and attack Finland and he calls Napoleon a gay Islamofascist, infuriating the short French emperor, who orders him buried upside down in an anthill. Whether Beck is scathingly parodying his own inanity or is simply a gibbering idiot is left to the reader to decide.
Qu'est-ce Que C'est l'Amerique?, by Alain-Luc Fresnais. In this thoughtful and boldly contrarian work, Fresnais, a professor of abstract semantics at the Sorbonne, argues convincingly that "America" does not really exist but is a concept invented hundreds of years ago by jaded European intellectuals to amuse themselves at dinner parties. "There is no real proof that a large, highly populated landmass resides in the ocean where America is supposedly located," he writes. "It is an intriguing fiction but a fiction nonetheless."
Hot, by Lanford Grimes. When veteran adventure-writer Grimes decided to spend a year living inside Manakanakata, the third most active volcano in the Solomon Islands, he little realized that he was putting his life on the line. "As I rappelled into the crater, it seemed like the start of a carefree frolic," he writes, "but rather quickly, things turned dark." His tiny pup-tent buffeted by lava, magma, toxic gases, suffocating ash and red-hot cinders the size of toaster ovens, Grimes spent his days dictating his book to his secretary via cellphone and his nights drinking rum and sobbing. The final chapter, as intense as any I have ever read, was completed by well-known ghost writer Bob Troob following the tragic eruption that is believed to have blown Grimes 1,800 feet into the sky.
Jesus Was My Skipper: A Sea Warrior's Lonely Crusade to Restore Traditional Christian Values to the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, by Lt. Commander (ret.) Ransome F. Tonely. Arguing that air-sea rescue personnel operate most efficiently after intense prayer sessions, Ransome recounts his battles with agnostic superiors during his distinguished career as a much-decorated Coast Guard Reserve supply officer. For his innovative campaign to have helicopter pilots drop Bibles on shipwreck victims, Ransome was awarded the Meritorious Service Cross, the third highest honor bestowed by the Salvation Army.
Case Sensitive, by Hunter Baldrick. In this fast-paced, intricately plotted, (virtual) sex and violence-drenched crime thriller, the prolific but obscure Baldrick once again throws his burnt-out antihero, 14-year-old middle-school student Jimmy Pincus, into the scarily dangerous world of mob kingpins, rogue CIA agents, hollow-eyed zombies and Somalian pirates, all of them intent on kidnapping the President of the United States and stealing his MasterCharge card. I don't believe I am spoiling the ending for anyone by revealing that Jimmy, that nerdy though jaded brainiac, cracks the case using only rogue apps he's invented for his iPhone without ever leaving his advanced calculus class in suburban Milwaukee.
Low and Outside: Vernon (Hothead) Clanton and the Pitch of a Lifetime, by Len Skolnik. A hard-throwing right-hander, Vernon Clanton put together an above-average career pitching for five American League teams in the 1940s and '50s. Some critics questioned the author's decision to devote an entire book to one pitch thrown by Clanton as a Detroit Tiger in a not particularly memorable game against the St. Louis Browns yet Skolnik, a well-known Wyoming sportswriter, manages to sustain a high degree of suspense in the early chapters, describing Clanton's shaking off several signs from his catcher, his peculiar windup and his glance toward first base to check on a runner. Unfortunately, things grow rather anticlimactic in the middle chapters when Clanton releases the ball and it sails wide of the plate, raising the count against batter Jim Cinboski to 2-0, but avid baseball fans will find much fascinating marginalia here to pique their interest.
Eat Nothing After Midnight, by Nedra Nadler. You might think a roundup of celebrities talking about their first colonoscopy would prove less than rewarding. You wouldn't be too far off the mark.
So what should I toss next? Any suggestions?