Notable books for the week of July 6, 1990 -- A sampling of opening lines from books out this week

By EW Staff
Updated July 06, 1990 at 04:00 AM EDT

A Natural History of the Senses

  • Book

Travels in Arabia, From Tripoli to Tehran
By Christopher Dickey
Atlantic Monthly Press, $18.95

It was hard to sleep in Tripoli. There was too much sugar in the fake Coca-Cola, in the fake Fanta Orange, in the cappuccino made with powdered milk. There was nothing else to drink and nothing safe to eat but the mushy pasta at the hotel buffet. The most common condiments had become treacherous. The butter served with the stale rolls, in its individual Kerry Gold wrappers from Ireland, was mottled green with mold, like Roquefort cheese, having sat for an indeterminate period on a dock somewhere, unrefrigerated, undistributed. This was the Grand Hotel on the waterfront, the best hotel in town. But by 1986 Libya, rich as it was, just wasn’t working very well. Fresh food was hard to nd, and much coveted. In the fall of 1985 riots began at the port when a boatload of bananas arrived from Nicaragua: frenzy over fresh fruit.

By Roy Blount Jr.
Random House, $18.95

The first time I saw her she was naked, except for pearls and the look in her eyes. My thoughts, as best I can reconstruct them, were: ”What? Hm. Well.” It did not occur to me that some day this woman would make me the rst male First Lady of the Land.

Aside from having no clothes on, Clementine was running from dogs at the time. No doubt Abe Lincoln was doing something more indicative of his prospects when Mary Todd rst laid eyes on him, but even so, I doubt Mary’s reaction was, ”My, he’s striking — why do I have the feeling that someday my portrait will hang in the White House looking crazy as a road lizard?”

By Diane Ackerman
Random House, $19.95

Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary, and eeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the Poconos, when wild blueberry bushes teemed with succulent fruit and the opposite sex was as mysterious as space travel; another, hours of passion on a moonlit beach in Florida, while the night-blooming cereus drenched the air with thick curds of perfume and huge sphinx moths visited the cereus in a loud purr of wings; a third, a family dinner of pot roast, noodle pudding, and sweet potatoes, during a myrtle-mad August in a midwestern town, when both of one’s parents were alive. Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines, hidden under the weedy mass of many years and experiences. Hit a tripwire of smell, and memories explode all at once. A complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth.

By Tony Hillerman
Harper & Row, $19.95

Officer Jim Chee was thinking that either his right front tire was a little low or there was something wrong with the shock on that side. On the other hand, maybe the road grader operator hadn’t been watching the adjustment on his blade and he’d tilted the road. Whatever the cause, Chee’s patrol car was pulling just a little to the right. He made the required correction, frowning. He was dog-tired.

A Natural History of the Senses

  • Book
  • Diane Ackerman
  • Random House