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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Alda, Alan, Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself | Main | Smith, Scott: A Simple Plan »

Geng, Steve: Thick as Thieves

  

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Henry Holt © 2007, 292 pages [amazon]
4 stars

Steve Geng's wasted future may have been written in his DNA. Geng grew up in Philadelphia in the 1940's and early 50's. Before he was ten he was stealing and smoking and quaffing beers on the sly and setting things on fire. He spent his adolescence whoring and sliming around jazz clubs in Paris. (Geng's father, a colonel in the Quartermaster Corps, was stationed in Europe for six years beginning in the mid-50's.) With adulthood came addictions to heroin and alcohol, numerous arrests for shoplifting and stints in prison, estrangement from his family, an AIDS diagnosis, and relationships that ended with him being attacked with a claw hammer and set on fire.

[INSET TEXT: With adulthood came addictions to heroin and alcohol, numerous arrests for shoplifting and stints in prison, estrangement from his family, an AIDS diagnosis, and relationships that ended with him being attacked with a claw hammer and set on fire.] There were a couple bright spots in Geng's life: a period in the 80's during which he was drug-free and enjoyed some success as an actor; a relationship with a woman who might have saved him from himself if his health hadn't got in the way. But throughout his life, Geng nearly always made the wrong choices, opting for the easy fix, easy women, and easy money. What's incredible about his story is that he lived long enough to tell it. Clean now since the late 90's and living in New York, Geng has discovered a purpose in helping other addicts in recovery.

Geng isn't the only author in his family. His older sister was Veronica Geng, a longtime writer and editor for the New Yorker, who died of a brain tumor in 1997. Geng's book is in part a love letter to Veronica, whom he'd put on a pedestal since they were children. In following the trajectory of his own life, he always brings the story around to her--what she was doing at the time, how he craved her approval--though very often, given the long periods they spent apart, he is unable to tell us much. Geng watched his sister's success in life from the outside, wondering always how she could excel in normal society while he couldn't get through the day without a fix.

Geng's idolization of his sister at times borders on the incestuous. Veronica "looked angelic in her Sunday dress," he tells us, when they went to church together as children. She was attractive in college as well: "I'd always been fond of her delicate features. Now there was a sharper arch to her eyebrows and a wry downward tug at the corners of her mouth, a new haughtiness that pushed out at the space around her and made for a protective cocoon." Elsewhere he describes a "longing" he feels for her, or perhaps for the sort of life she represents, from which he is excluded:

"A hundred things flashed through my head that I wanted to say to her, but the sudden intimacy had made us both very uncomfortable. I sat there stupidly rereading the damned story, hoping she wouldn't see in me the terrible mixture of pride and longing I felt for her as I read it again and compared her life with mine."

Geng writes well. He is good at evoking the feel and look of a place, though he is sometimes overly descriptive. The story is slowed by passages detailing musical performances, for example, or describing characters in the background of events he's narrating:

"All the way in the back of the dining area, four somber Africans sat silently at one of the tables. They were all dressed alike--black suits of some shiny fabric like sharkskin, with high, white celluloid collars and black knit ties. They had all their forearms braced on the table showing several inches of snow white cuff, and their eyes gleamed white out of round, ebony faces. They sat so still I first thought it was a painting or some sort of freestanding sculpture. Spooky."

Though over-heavy in detail, Geng's account is worth the read. Finishing it one feels some of the weight of his existence. And if it is difficult to like the author because of his lifetime of selfish hedonism, our antipathy is in fact a tribute to the honesty of his account. In the end, one can't help but respect him for that, and for finally managing to beat back his demons. Hopefully for good.

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.