Monday, May 03, 2004

the jar of peanuts on the mantelpiece

Warning: may contain spoiler-like material

I've read a string of good books lately. I'm probably not going to have a chance to give more than passing props to the two splendid-splendid-splendid memoirs by Augusten Burroughs, Running with Scissors and Dry (both listened to as audiobooks) or to Bobby Fischer Goes To War, about the 1972 World Chess Championship.*

Today I've been reading Eats, Shoots & Leaves, this hilarious British book about, of all things, punctuation. In a passage on commas, the author (Lynne Truss) writes:
[T]here is actual mental cruelty involved, incidentally, in opening up a pair of commans and then neglecting to deliver the closing one. The reader hears the first shoe drop and then strains in agony to hear the second. In dramatic terms, it's like putting a gun on the mantelpiece in Act I and then having the heroine drown herself quietly offstage in the bath during the interval. It's just not cricket.
Which reminded me of this passage in a novel I read last week, The Da Vinci Code (yes! I was the one person left who hadn't read it!) where you knew the author--even though he was trying to be subtle--was introducing a biographical detail onto the mantelpiece that however many pages later was going to be taken off and used to kill off the character:
[Says a detective:] "Prints belong to [name]. Wanted for petty crime. Looks like he got kicked out of university for rewiring phone jacks to get free service... later did some petty theft. Breaking and entering. Skipped out on a hospital bill once for an emergency tracheotomy." He glanced up, chuckling. "Peanut allergy."
*BFG2W has entered the ranks of my four favorite non-fiction books about sport, joining Friday Night Lights, Word Freak, and Moneyball. So, of these four favorite books about sport, two about football and baseball, and the other two are about Scrabble and chess. BFG2W was grueling because it gives a glimpse of how absolutely psychologically/emotionally grueling championship chess is, and you especially get a picture of how mentally tough someone would have to be to compete in this intense and consuming activity against someone as absolutely insane and taxing as Fischer was.

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