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The buzz on new books

Conway author's 'Bees' book is a keeper.

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These are some new books that might be of special interest to Arkansas readers as the summer winds down.

Perhaps most notable of them is “A Keeper of Bees: Notes on Hive and Home,” by Allison Wallace of Conway. It’s from Random House, hardcover, $23.95.

It’s a small book about bees and keeping bees, but it’s more than that. Some of the best books of recent times are small books of natural history written in the personal essay style. That style permits such authors as Oliver Sacks and Lewis Thomas and Joseph Wood Krutch and John McPhee and Loren Eiseley, to name a few of the prominent ones, to view the hard science of their chosen topic from a broader literary and philosophical perspective. This makes the material more accessible, more fun and more useful to those of us untrained to appreciate the ordinary technical presentations of it.
Allison Wallace is professor of American studies at the Honors College of the University of Central Arkansas at Conway, and while this is her first book, it is written so deftly and comfortably as to earn her a place among those science writers aforenamed.

It’s immediately accessible, it’s fun, there are things here that might be handy to know one of these days when you least expect it, and you have to like a book that gets started with a Walt Whitman salute to his fellow different-species critters in the animal kingdom:

“…They do not sweat and whine about their condition,

They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,

They do not make me sick discussing their duty go God,

Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,

Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,

Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.”

n Surely the grittiest book yet to come out of the Iraq War is “Cindy in Iraq: A Civilian’s Year in the War Zone,” by Cynthia I. Morgan, which is from the Free Press, a $25 hardcover. Cindy Morgan did two tours of duty as a civilian truck driver in Iraq, working for a Halliburton subsidiary delivering supplies to American soldiers along some of the most dangerous routes that a delivery truck ever negotiated. She is one tough cookie, and her harrowing experiences are related here in a raw, compelling prose style. Her take on the war is much more persuasive than that of the politicians because it is totally naive, artless and honest. Either one of the political parties would be well advised to sign her up.

Cindy spent much of her early married life in Arkansas, and she had an unbelievably tough time of it. She worked as a chicken plucker, among other miserable jobs, and saw her three children taken away because she couldn’t keep them fed. In and out of abusive relationships, she finally doggedly made a 13-year career for herself as a long-haul trucker.

Her book isn’t literature, and it won’t affect the war dialogue. But it’s a winner. And finally she is too.

n Here’s the premise of a new novel from G.P. Putnam’s Sons: The women in one of those ditzy ladies’ social clubs in small-town Second Creek, Miss., plot an ingenious way to save the beloved local Piggly Wiggly supermarket from being run out of business by a heartless invader chain discount superstore that’s obviously a Wal-Mart, only with a fictional name. The book is “Waltzing at the Piggly Wiggly,” by Robert Dalby, a hardcover at $21.95. It’s a first novel, and there’s abundant evidence of that, but it has a winning whimsical spirit about it, and it shows the better, often overlooked side of life in the small-town South.

n Favorite book of the month is an old-fashioned coloring book titled “Let’s Paint the ’90s: An Activity Book with Paint Set and Brush.” It’s from Quirk Books of Philadelphia, softcover, $12.95, with paint set and brush attached to the front cover, by Jason Rekulak, with illustrations by Brie Spangler. You might think this is an ordinary coloring book for kids, with the conventional games and puzzles, until you review the pictures. They are pictures of some of the more forgettable events of the 1990s. The first is “Let’s Paint Roseanne Barr,” showing the comedian screeching the National Anthem at a National League ballgame in 1990, ending the performance by grabbing her crotch and spitting on the ground. Then there’s “Let’s Paint George H.W. Bush and Kiichi Miyazawa,” featuring the 1992 banquet in which the former president vomits on the Japanese prime minister. There’s Marion Berry going to jail and Dan Quayle misspelling potato. There’s Bill Clinton in the Oval Office showing Monica Lewinsky his cigar. There’s a maze game with O. J. Simpson in the Ford Bronco. There’s a word search in which many of the lousiest movies of the ’90s are hidden. Maybe the best of the coloring pictures is the one showing Bro. Jerry Falwell squinting at the TV as he scrutinizes the Teletubbies for signs that one or more of them might be homosexual.

n Also recommended: “Jesus Rode a Donkey: Why Republicans Don’t Have the Corner on Christ,” by Linda Seger, from Adams Media, of Avon, Mass., hardcover, $24.95. The author is a Missouri-born Quaker theologian. Did Jesus tell his followers to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted, or to be sanctimonious and hate those with different ideas? The sad thing here, the people who most need to read this book wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole. Those most likely to read it will find it preaching to the choir.

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