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Vacation reading

July 18, 2007 |  4:42 pm

I’m the kind of person who can’t go away for the weekend without bringing half a dozen books. So when I take a vacation, I stockpile books for weeks beforehand: books I’ve read, books I’ve meant to read or books I never knew I wanted to read until they came across my desk.

Vacation is still a month away for me, but here are a few titles I’ve already set aside:

“The Violent Bear It Away” by Flannery O’Connor (Farrar, Straus & Giroux: 244 pp., $14 paper). O’Connor’s second novel, originally published in 1960, is the story of two cousins adrift in a world of faith and false hope. I read it in my early 20s, as part of an extended O’Connor binge, and it changed the way I thought about belief and illusion, the stories we tell ourselves in order to live. I’m a bit wary, I must admit, about returning to the novel; this past winter, I re-visited O’Connor’s 1952 debut novel, “Wise Blood,” and liked it less than I remembered, finding it contrived in places and (although it pains me to admit it) very, very young. This is one of the risks of re-reading — that the books that moved us once might not do so any longer, that we may discover just how distant we have grown from our younger selves.

“The Way Some People Die” by Ross Macdonald (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard: 246 pp., $12.95 paper). Macdonald represents a hole in my reading — a Southern California noirist I’ve somehow overlooked. This early novel (it first appeared in 1951) looks like a good place to make his acquaintance; it’s a missing-persons caper that takes Macdonald’s hard-boiled detective Lew Archer from Santa Monica to San Francisco on the trail of a young woman who doesn’t want to be found. If I like it, I’m going to try a second early Macdonald, 1952’s “The Ivory Grin” (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard: 240 pp., $12.95 paper), the story of a theft that leads not just to murder but also to corruption. This is, of course, nothing if not the ideal trajectory of noir.

“John O’Hara’s Hollywood” by John O’Hara, edited and with an introduction by Matthew J. Bruccoli (Carroll & Graf: 384 pp., $17.95 paper). My favorite O’Hara novel is “Hope of Heaven,” the 1938 story of a relationship between a screenwriter and a local girl. It’s not a Hollywood novel per se, but it does get the ins and outs of life in Southern California as deftly as any piece of fiction that I know. That’s why I’m looking forward to this collection of O’Hara’s Hollywood stories, which span 40-plus years, beginning with 1932’s “Mr. Sidney Gainsborough: Quality Pictures” and running through “Malibu fFrom the Sky.” O’Hara is one of the few novelists of his generation who really understood Hollywood, seeing it as not just a place to cash in but as a template for a larger set of stories — stories that have everything to do with the nature of American life.

David L. Ulin

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