Book Review: “God’s Middle Finger” by Richard Grant

God's Middle FingerFor the western fan, the Sierra Madres – the last hiding place of the free Apaches, the land of Pancho Villa and mexican drug lords – have always had the status of myth. A beautiful, violent, remote, and mysterious place. The last place to let go of the Wild West .

For British writer Richard Grant, a self-described thrill-seeking traveller, the Sierra Madres became an obsession. An obsession that almost gets him killed.

Over the years I have read a number of “travel books” about journeys through remote and dangerous places. Usually it is the land and weather and wildlife that is the source of the danger. In God’s Middle Finger, it is the people.

Grant is an good writer. He begins God’s Middle Finger by “teasing us” with the image of him hiding in dark mountain woods while armed men are searching and calling for him. He then begins to tell the story of how, against all advice, he ended up trying to explore the Sierra Madres on his own.

The result is a Cormac-McCarthyesque travelogue. A story of absurdity and violence. It is a tense journey into the violent heart of Mexico.

I highly recommend it it.


St. Eligius Pray for Us…

In one of my favorite chess quotes, writer Edward Lasker (not to be confused with chess great Emanuel Lasker) once said, “It has been said that man is distinguished from animal in that he buys more books than he can read. I should like to suggest that the inclusion of a few chess books would help to make the distinction unmistakable.”

Anyone who loves books inevitably buys more books than they can possibly read. If you live alone or have unlimited space, that may not be a problem. But if you live with other people (and I do), your valued collection quickly become someone else’s clutter.

At heart I am a collector: sports cards, bookmarks, stamps, but most of all books. If I find an author or sub-genre I like, I soon want to “fill out” my collection: shelves of Cormac McCarthy and Elmer Kelton; a pile of prematurely abandoned and unfinished post-apocalyptic paperbacks in a corner of a room; small blocks of books on fly fishing and chess scattered about the house; the list goes on, and on, and on….

This weekend I am going through books, trying to decide which ones need to find a new home. If you are a fellow collector, you know how painful this process can be.

There is not, I was surprised to learn, a patron saint for book collectors. It seems like a group in obvious need of intercession, if there ever was one. In my investigation, I did find two who may be able to help, though. Saint Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers and booksellers, is an obvious choice. But I am also including Saint Eligius, patron saint of coin collectors, precisely because I am certain that coin collectors share the same mental conditions that book collectors do. So this weekend I am calling on both Saints Francis and Eligius to watch over me and all book collectors. Wish us luck!