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his parents into various doomed ventures, including a laundromat, campground and trout farm. All of the stories in Here We Are in Paradise are told in a deceptively simple style that at its best is straightforward, often haunting, and executed with an effortless grace that slowly accumulates quiet power. At other times, the self-conscious Southernness of the stories— the "supernatural naturalism" and the benumbed, simple prose and quirky non sequiturs of the various narrators—seem merely obligatory and all too typical of current fiction from the South. Nonetheless, the last three stories, the best of this collection, provide a cumulative insight that the earlier stories sometimes lack. AU three concern a young Jim Glass, his widowed mother and his three bachelor uncles, living together in Aliceville, North Carolina. The stories end with a poetic (and classically Southern) meditation on family, the names of ancestors, the power of names and, finally, words. 0DF) Mister Sandman by Barbara Gowdy Steerforth Press, 1996, 268 pp., $24 Barbara Gowdy's third novel centers on the lives of the Canaries, an eccentric family whose quirks Gowdy establishes early on. Gordon , the father, and Doris, the mother, are both leading secret homosexual lives. The eldest daughter, Sonja, gets pregnant out of wedlock, and to save both her reputation and that of the family, Gordon and Doris decide to raise her child as their own. However, Joan, the baby, arrives with some peculiarities: she is dwarfish, extremely sensitive to light, and does not speak, disadvantages compensated for by her uncanny musical ability. Gowdy does an excellent job at the beginning of this book of pulling the reader into the bizarre world that her characters inhabit. The narrative , while by no means totally free of rough spots, is wickedly clever and has some hilarious moments . The reader quickly learns to suspend disbelief, for Mister Sandman 's entire story depends on ridiculous coincidences, which somehow, by the end, don't seem quite so coincidental . Her method, while a bit self-conscious, makes for a fun read. The problem with Mister Sandman is that Gowdy uses her characters as two-dimensional puppets, then suddenly wants the reader to care about them when they are in trouble. And though the eccentricities of the Canary family are interesting, sometimes even endearing, the characters fall short of lovable. The one exception is Marcy, the middle daughter, who manages to ascend from caricature . Gowdy has an obvious flair for humor, and the sheer amount of imagination and silliness that went into Mister Sandman is impressive. However the book aims to do more. It aims to touch the reader, and it is this effort which unfortunately fails in the end. (SB) A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel, Viking, 1996, 372 pp., $26.95 In the late fourth century A.D., when Augustine watched the formidable scholar-monk Ambrose 220 · The Missouri Review reading, he was puzzled by the fact that Ambrose read silently, without saying or mouthing the words in the text; in his Confessions, Augustine remarked Ambrose's extraordinary ability, and this became one of the first documented examples of silent reading. To Augustine, as to everyone else in the ancient world, letters were signs of sounds, meant to be pronounced aloud. For Muslims and Jews, full comprehension of the word of god required not only the eyes and voice but the rest of the body, swaying to the cadence of god's words. The busy scriptoriums of Europe, in fact, remained very noisy places for centuries after Augustine , as scribes read aloud what they copied. The first rules requiring scribes to be silent while working date from the ninth century. Today, we often chafe at the seeming rigidities of punctuation, when in fact punctuation was and remains an evolving convenience for readers. Early writing was hard to read because it lacked any form of punctuation ; there was nothing at all to help the reader—not even spaces between words. This put such a high premium on the skill of reading that writing, well into the Common Era, was done by specialist scribes either reporting an oral tradition, as with the documents of the great religions, or by scribes hired by authors...


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