Shooting from the Mouth

WHEN was the last time you heard some Plain Speaking? I recommend this book by Merle Miller, an oral autobiography of one of the most underrated presidents, Harry S Truman. Truman often went against the grain of public opinion, unafraid of controversy. When questioned on his firing of General Douglas Macarthur, he responded bluntly, "I fired him because he wouldn't respect the authority of the President. That's the answer to that. I didn't fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that's not against the law for Generals." Another controversial issue during Truman's presidency was the dropping of the A-bomb. His sentiment: "The bomb stopped the war."

Discover the mind of this remarkable man in Plain Speaking (Berkley paperback). EMILY O'BRIEN Vienna, Va.

Baroque Nocturne

A PERSON accustomed to steamed broccoli and skinless chicken breasts might get sick on a triple-scoop hot fudge sundae topped with whipped cream. Similarly, readers weaned on the lean cuisine of modern literature may gag on William Hope Hodgson. In 1918, a German shell blew him to fragments at the age of 40, just six years after the publication of his bizarre fantasy, The Night Land (available in hardcover from Hyperion Press).

Do not expect plausible science fiction. This is a nightmarish world, the inspiration for many more realistic end-of-civilization novels by later writers. In Hodgson's imagined future, "the Sun's slow ceasing" has left the earth a cold cinder where the last humans cower in a cavernous metal pyramid, remnant of a long-forgotten technology, surrounded by the menace of a mutant ecology. The narrator, driven into an out-of-body state by the death of his wife, envisages himself as an explorer in this wilderness.

Here's a taste of Hodgson's quasi-biblical style: "And there came a mighty chasm, so deep that none might see the bottom thereof; and there rushed therein an ocean, and the earth did burst afresh with a sound that did shake all the cities of the world; and a great mist lay upon the earth for many days, and there was a mighty rain." By modern standards this is dreadful writing, easy to mock. But prose so rich in rhythm and alliteration seduces as surely as chocolate. Read The Night Land aloud by firelight on a winter night. You may begin to find contemporary novels dry toast indeed. LELIA LOBAN LEE Falls Church

IN reference to Charles P. Blahous's recommendation of The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book (Book World, Oct. 21), I would like to point out that although it is indeed out of print at the moment, Ticknor & Fields is publishing a paperback edition for the spring 1991 season. JOHN HERMAN Editorial Director Ticknor & Fields

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