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JULY 20, 1998: 

Meditations From a Movable Chair
by Andre Dubus (Knopf, cloth, $23)

"Who knows where it comes from?" Andre Dubus says of literary inspiration. Reading his latest book, you suspect that it might come from a number of awful things: raw pain, hardship, a spooky kind of divinity. Dubus has known all of these. Twelve years ago, he was hit by a car and lost the use of his legs. What followed was years of grief, self-pity and memory, each visiting him like relatives filing in from the hospital lobby. His record of those visitations is Meditations From a Movable Chair, Dubus' first work of nonfiction in six years. An accomplished writer of novels and short fiction, Dubus was clearly moved to write these essays as a kind of therapy, but none of them are too self-indulgent. Whether he's remembering his first job as a ditch digger in Louisiana or outlining his thoughts on Hemingway, Dubus is always writing less about himself than a terrifying kind of power that seems to surround him. It manifests itself in the discrimination that he experiences on the train, the passion he feels for the written word and the deeply felt religious faith that remains cornered in his heart. In all, this may be the most discomforting book you read all summer. And there's a lot to be said for that. (BdeP)

Prospero's Mirror: A Translators' Portfolio of Latin American Fiction
edited by Ivan Stavans (Curbstone, paper, $17.95)

Once I took a class where we read five different translations of Dante's Inferno. I came away with an understanding of the subjective nature of translation, but I was bored stiff. This collection is nowhere near that repetitive, but it fails anyway. Sixteen stories from Latin America are compiled, preceded by minibios of the translators. Some translators work meticulously with the author, while others only work with authors who either know no English or are dead. One says that writers "lie like fiends" about the meaning of their work. The stories in the original language are opposite the translation, so bilingual readers can read along and compare. Conniving women, spying government helicopters, pulsing jungles and Kafkaesque mazes stand out, but not plots. The real problem is that the stories, with rare exceptions, are too damn forgettable. They float by cleanly, inoffensively and then end. It lacks a connecting thread, except that several have a dream-state style that is so dreamy you think you're asleep. (IH)

Searching for Robert Johnson
by Peter Guralnick (Plume, paper, $9.95)

In 1990, when I bought The Complete Recordings of Robert Johnson, I thought I had it all. This definitive box set offered every song by the blues giant, including alternate takes, as well as his life story, rare photos and essays by Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. After all that, what more could be said about a life where so little is known? The fine print on the bottom of the box said it all: "For more about the life and world of Robert Johnson, see Peter Guralnick's ... Searching for Robert Johnson." Eight years later, the 85-page essay is in paperback for all the disciples of blues who missed it the first time. Guralnick's ethnopoetic narrative often takes on a religious fervor that seems to invoke the demonic Delta ghosts, making it a fitting tribute to a simple but legendary man who lived and died with hellhounds on his trail. With this Testament of Bob and his other books, Guralnick may do for blues writing what Johnson did for the blues. (SA)

Real Power: Business Lessons from the Tao Te Ching
by James A. Autry & Stephen Mitchell (Riverhead, cloth, $23.95)

"The Tao never does anything, yet through it all, things are done." Applying the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching to run a business sounds very intriguing, and I would love to be able to say that this book will change your life. Each small chapter begins with an excerpt from the Tao followed by advice on how to relate it to your position in the workplace. Its intelligent guidance is something that any employee would want their boss to live by. Here's my problem: I doubt that many employers would read this book. Managers rarely seek out rules to live by; they want to make the rules. Only an open-minded individual would pick up the Tao Te Ching as it is. If you're fortunate enough to have a manager of that character, then by all means hand over this book. The teachings within are undoubtedly the most sagacious words I've read pertaining not only to running a business, but to life itself. (JLXS)

--Blake de Pastino, Isak Howell, Stephen Ausherman and Jennifer L.X. Scharn

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