America: A Prophecy: The Sparrow Reader
One of the best things about collections of short essays is that they can be read on the can. This particular collection, by an old-school New York hippie called Sparrow, contains pieces that can even be read in the time it takes a healthy person to pee. “Sparrow,” as you can imagine, is a nickname, gifted to Michael Gorelick in the 1960s. The name stuck, along with the era’s idealism and mores, which are clearly reflected in his work.
Sparrow’s prose is stylistically similar to “Without Feathers”-era Woody Allen (minus most of the neuroses), or the musings of Steve Martin when he’s wearing his Shouts and Murmurs hat (complete with the occasional stumble into preciousness). While funny, it is not quite as funny as the works of those men, nor that of James Thurber, to whom he is compared to on the back of the book. Perhaps it’s his idealism that gets in the way—Sparrow does truly live his ideals, making do with very little money, eschewing full-time employment to leave more time for . . . watching clouds go by, among other things. His idealism and honesty of spirit temper his sense of humor and rob it of its teeth somewhat. This is not to say the book falls flat—the piece about his stint as a telemarketer is hilarious—but it’s pretty gentle.
However, there’s a good bit of clarity in some of the nonfiction pieces. His rumination on Fahrenheit 9/11, while short (pee-and-a-half, maybe), contains some very insightful revelations. His essay on bathing is a pleasure to read. There’s poetry here, too, though largely of the absurdist kind. He also does us the favor of translating New Yorker poems into English in a piece where he notes that such poems “convince the reader that they’re reading poetry, because they own a magazine which contains poetry, and they move their eyes past these poems as they turn the pages.” It might have been nice to see a bit more of this kind of semicaustic wit, but if that were in the man’s nature, he wouldn’t have let himself be called something like Sparrow. By letting go of expectations of the big laughs, you can better appreciate the humor in the book—a little crunchy, a little absurd, but comfortable and friendly. It also works pretty well in the bathtub.