In case you’re wondering, two kids is not two times one. I’ve checked the math. It’s more like three times one. Maybe even four times one. I know this for a fact because my time is gone. I’d sorrow over it, like the chalked outline of a departed corpse, but that takes three seconds too many. Instead let me tell you about the books I’ve read while I’ve been away, tending to a new job, a new squalling mouth, and a great big burly two-and-a-half year old boy who has become positively artistic in acting out in new creative ways. Enough. Books, books… The Leopard is a single-hit wonder by the gorgeously named Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. It’s a fine piece of writing about the political and cultural changes in Sicily during the late 1800s. It should be read through the nose rather than with the eyes: ”The garden … was exhaling scents that were cloying, fleshy, and slightly putrid, like the aromatic liquids distilled from the relics of certain saints; the carnations superimposed their pungence on the formal fragrance of roses and the oily emanations of magnolias drooping in corners; and somewhere beneath it all was a faint smell of mint mingling with a nursery whiff of acacia and the jammy one of the myrtle….” Next is The Ox-Box Incident by the Walter Van Tilburg Clark. Its action centers on two drifters. One is thoughtful; the other, not so much. Both participate to a greater or lesser degree in lynching three innocent men. Clark knows how to pace a story, creating tension and pressure. There are only four or five incidents in the whole novel, depending on how you count them. Clark draws them out, slowly, patiently. Sweet agony! If there’s one book that aspiring novelists should read, Ox-Bow is the one. Bel Canto. True, it’s a little mawkish. A little implausible. But so many fine things make their appearance in Ann Patchett’s novel, things like food, music, and love. Mostly love. Especially as it pertains to the closing scene. Love as a kind of music shared by two people bound by a common pain. Read this novel. If you don’t like it, something is wrong with you — morally speaking. While we’re on the topic of love, I can’t quit Charles Portis. I’ve made short work of Norwood, True Grit, The Dog of the South, and Gringos. All of these novels are winners, but Portis achieves something really special in The Dog of the South, a novel about a crazy-ass oddball named Ray whose wife Norma runs off with Ray’s best friend. In a comic-bizarre odyssey, Ray chases them across the country and deep into the heart of Belize, where he has every intention of winning back his true love, a beat up old car the love-birds snatched for a joyride. That is all.