Monday, September 04, 2006

Oranging of America and Other Stories by Max Apple

My memory serves me well. It has been over twenty years since I read The Oranging of America and Other Stories by Max Apple, and it is almost as good as I remember.

I first learned about the book in 1976 when it was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. When the Austin Public Library got a copy, I read it, laughing at the funny stories and enjoying Apple's unconventional views. I recommended the book to friends, but I do not think any enjoyed it as much as I did. It was too bizarre for them.

I bought a copy of my own from the remainder table at a bookstore in Columbia, Missouri in the late 1970s, and I donated it to a library in suburan Chicago in the early 1980s when I was trying to reduce my possessions. Why hold onto a book when others could be reading it?

After reading a couple of short story collections last month, I started to think about my favorite short stories with the idea of making a list for the blog. I thought of The Oranging of America right away and looked at our shared library catalog. I was shocked to find that in the seventy plus libraries there was only one copy of the book. When I tried to reserve it, I found that copy was missing. Using the rules that we weed what is not borrowed, it had been removed from many collections. I understand why as I share the belief that small and medium-sized public libraries can only keep what is read. Still, I found it sad that one of my favorite books had disappeared from public remembering. I borrowed the book from an area college.

The gem of the collection is the first story, "The Oranging of America," a bit of fantasy posed as American folk legend. In this story, Apple tells about the aging Howard Johnson who tours the continental United States looking for locations for his orange-roofed restaurants and motels. For six months of the year, HJ is in his stretch Cadillac with his driver Otis and his secretary Millie driving the roads with vacationing families. When they need food and rest, they stop. If they find no services, they call New York and have HJ's son buy land. There is a refrigerator run off the car battery with a back-up generator filled with ice cream samples. No flavor is ever put into production unless Otis approves. The system has worked well, but the board of directors wants a change.

The second story is "Selling Out." Get-rich-quick investors studying stocks at the library may think this is an instructional story, but it is satire.

"Vegetable Love" tells about giving up meat for love, losing lots of weight, obsession, and the practice of law.

"Inside Norman Mailer" is the first of two stories set in the Astrodome. If you are going to duke it out with Mailer, you had better know literary trash talk.

It helps to read a bit of science to read "The Yogurt of Vasirin Kefirovsky." You do learn that yogurt = milk + time + heat. The astronomer wants to change the way we eat. You do not need teeth.

"Understanding Alvarado" is the first story I ever read with Fidel Castro on the baseball diamond. Can Fidel strike out the former major leaguer?

In "Gas Stations" a young man longs to have a station of his own but the old owner says that OPEC is ruining the deal.

"My Real Estate" is the second of the Astrodome stories. Whole communities could live in air-conditioned comfort if condos were built in the dome. (Apple did not foresee Hurricane Katrina.)

"Noon" is the time when daytime game shows get really dangerous.

In "Patty-Cake, Patty-Cake ... A Memoir," the new president wants donuts, really good donuts, so he turns to an old friend.

Can you believe that a book with stories like these is hard to find?

Max Apple has written a variety of books since The Oranging of America. The two I most enjoyed are memoirs I Love Gootie: My Grandmother's Story and Roommates: My Grandfather's Story. Apple now teaches at the University of Pennsylvania after years at Rice University.

Apple, Max. The Oranging of America and Other Stories. New York: Grossman Publishers, 1976. ISBN 0670528013


Yam Erez said...

First off, I attended Mizzou in 1978-80! Second, if you're a librarian, how come you spell that round, fried pastry "donut"? Third, search for "Oranging of America" and you'll find several places selling used copies, including Amazon.

ricklibrarian said...

We were in Columbia at the same time. I was working at the public library at the time. Spelling is not my strong point, but many people do spell the round things "donuts."

I realize that you can find almost any book for sale now over the Internet. My point is that Max Apple has nearly disappeared from the public eye. His latest book The Jew of Home Depot and Other Stories was published by a university press and is not widely available either.

Anonymous said...

You may be gratified to hear...
I was recently introduced to Max Apple via his latest book, The Jew of Home Depot---which I came across at the Brooklyn Public Library. (that's how I came to be reading this review).

Yes, he's original and enjoyable.