This Week's Reads

Mark Kurlansky, Leslie Miller, and John Pollack.


By Mark Kurlansky (Ballantine, $26.95) I seldom wish I were older, but Mark Kurlansky's new book about 1968 did the trick. Having been 13 then, I just missed participating in, say, the brief, tear-gas- dispersed conquest of the UW's west entrance in the name of "the People's Republic of Leschi." Kurlansky brings back not only America's astounding upheavals in that pivotal year, but the global cultural tumult we helped triggerwhat he terms "a spontaneous combustion of rebellious spirits around the world." It was anything but unified: Kurlansky quotes revolutionary-for-the-hell-of-it Abbie Hoffman's incredulity that he and the Chicago Seven were being tried for conspiracy, considering that "we couldn't agree on lunch." So went the world. "Where there was communism they rebelled against communism," writes Kurlansky. "Where there was capitalism they turned against that." What did unite these boomer rebels was the new power of mass media, chiefly television. In Gdansk, Kraków, Wroclaw, and Lodz, Polish demonstrators were so poorly informed that "at first many students did not understand that they had to actually sit down in a sit-in." Kurlansky credits these sit-niks with initiating the collapse of communism decades later. Similarly, it only took about a dozen suicide bombers to fill the world's TV sets with images of the U.S. Embassy under fire during the Tet Offensive to turn the tide of American opinion and ensure North Vietnam's eventual triumph. No matter that the Viet Cong's losses were vastly greater; a handful of peasants had just won the war, and television was their chief weapon. (On CBS, Walter Cronkite gravely intoned the beginning of the end.) Kurlansky races all over that watershed year, from the Cannes Film Festival to Mexico City's Kent State-like massacre; from the feminist-assaulted Miss America Pageant to the barricades of Paris. We get the usual catalog of names and profiles: Mark Rudd, Alexander Dubcek, Dany Cohn-Bendit, de Gaulle, and a shell-shocked LBJ. I don't think this book will win the kind of devoted cult following inspired by Kurlansky's Salt: A World History and Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, because his scattershot technique works best with a strong unifying theme, and 1968 has none. Still, it's a vivid stab from the past. If you were too young to sit in while Allen Ginsberg played "Sunshine Superman" and "Eleanor Rigby" to Ezra Pound (who happily tapped his cane in time to the tunes), just read this book and you can be thereno matter what your age. TIM APPELO Mark Kurlansky will appear at Elliott Bay Book Co. (101 S. Main St., 206-624-6600), 7:30 p.m. Thurs., Jan. 22. WOMEN WHO EAT: A NEW GENERATION ON THE GLORY OF FOOD

Edited by Leslie Miller (Seal Press, $15.95) Contrary to popular belief, not all women diet. And not all women have capital-I Issues with food. The only potentially pathological feelings that the contributors to this nonfiction anthology have toward food are feelings of love. Local writer-editor Leslie Miller has collected 29 essays by women who appreciate good food for good reasons. These include its ability to inspire moods (from calming to arousing), its social function in bringing people together, and its family role in bonding different generations among foodie clans. Miller divulges her own lack of cooking skillsshe can't even cook rice. New York Times food critic Amanda Hesser reveals her fondness for simple foods. Ayun Halliday fondly remembers her days as an overqualified, inadequate food server at an Italian dive. Victoria, B.C., writer Alisa Gordaneer writes of the time when, after giving birth, she and her husband cooked her placenta with onions and garlic, and then she ate it! Her account is both disgusting and fascinating. In one of the sweetest essays, New York writer Pooja Makhijani recalls a childhood spent swapping the traditional Indian lunches her mother packed for the processed school lunches other, "luckier" kids bought. The essays are mostly personal; some are overwritten, yet others are as scrumptious as their subjects. Dieters beware: If you aren't hungry when you pick up this book, you will be soon after you begin reading. The writers' own culinary cravings have a tendency to tiptoe off the page and into the readers' psyche. Have good, rich cheeses, pastas, or chocolates on hand when you settle in with this collection. KATIE MILLBAUER Leslie Miller will appear at University Book Store (4326 University Way N.E., 206-634-3400), 7 p.m. Mon., Jan. 26; and, with contributors Kate Chynoweth and Alisa Gordaneer, at Elliott Bay Book Co. (101 S. Main St., 206-624-6600), 3 p.m. Sat., Jan. 31. CORK BOAT

By John Pollack (Pantheon, $21) If not a good book, it's a good story: John Pollack, who worked as a Capitol Hill speechwriter (including a stint with Clinton in the waning days of his administration), drops out of professional life to fulfill a boyhood dream of building a boat entirely out of wine corks. With the sponsorship of a cork manufacturer and the aid of a team of masochistic volunteers, Pollack and his partner, Garth Goldstein, assemble hexagonal cork "logs" that are lashed together and topped with a wooden deck. Pollack and his small crew ultimately succeed in sailing and rowing their 22-foot-long craft some 130 miles down the Douro River in Portugal over 17 days. You would need a strong sense of self to pull off such a quixotic project, but Pollack's all-consuming self-absorption drains the book of any color. We hear a lot about Pollack himselfhis speechwriting triumphs, the women who are attracted to him, his facility with foreign languageswhile others in the story fade into a generic group shot of friends and family. There are scattered sparks among the pages (of an enormous dam lock: "It was as if we had entered some industrial cathedral, its mechanical chorus asserting man's dominance over wind and waters"), but they're generally drowned in a relentless tide of banality. Is it the speechwriter in Pollack that insists on seeing a trite little lesson in every episode? "The Cork Boat had proven that age is just a state of mind," he tells us. And later, "If there was one thing the river had taught us, it was respect for Mother Nature." (Or is that respect for clichés?) Of his moment of triumph, speaking before the media and a crowd of supporters at the end of his journey, Pollack writes that the crowd laughs and also gets choked up: "Somehow, they were all with me, emotionally." Somehow, I am not, emotionally. DAVID STOESZ John Pollack will appear at Elliott Bay Book Co. (101 S. Main St., 206-624-6600), 7:30 p.m. Tues., Jan. 27.

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