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Dave Wood's Book Report, July 16, 2008

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In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

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Down to a sunless sea.

Thus begins Samuel Taylor Coleridge's haunting fragment, "Kubla Khan." There are all manner of theories about why Coleridge never finished the poem, one of which avers that Coleridge wrote it while in an opium-induced haze. Just when he was writing

For he on honeydew hath fed,

And drunk the milk of Paradise.

a bill collector knocked on his door. Coleridge supposedly answered and argued so long with the bill collector that his opium fix wore off and he was unable to complete the poem.

Years later, a biologist named John Livingston Lowes had a different idea. He sat down and read every book Coleridge ever read, examined Coleridge's marginalia and came up with a detailed explanation of every image in "Kubla Khan," and how it came into being from Coleridge's lifetime of reading. Lowes published his study in 1930 and called it "The Road to Xanadu.

Which brings us to this week's serious book. Historian Kevin J. Hayess

has written a remarkable book about the intellectual development of our third U.S. president, Thomas Jefferson. There have been lots of books about Jefferson, but none like Hayes's. For Hayes examined the personal libraries of Jefferson, from childhood on, recorded his marginalia and come to several conclusions about why Jefferson thought the way he did.

Hayes published his book this month and entitled it "The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson" (Oxford University Press, $34.95).

Let's move on to the lighter side now with three books you can take to the beach. The first is "Rogue," by Danielle Steel (Delacorte, $27). To date Steel has sold 570 million copies of her 75 novels. In "Rogue" her heroine is psychiatrist Maxine Williams. She's amicably divorced from Blake her roguish husband, a successful businessman who was never home and enjoyed the fun life.

Maxine falls for a new lover, a medical doctor who is the flip side of her former husband. Mature and stay at home. But then Blake experiences a sea change when an earthquake devastates an area near one of his palatial estates in a foreign land. He wants to help the poor children in the area and he asks to be taken back by Maxine who can help him help them. Will she do it? Go to the beach and find out.

"Last Kiss," by Luann Rice (Bantam, $25) brings the Rice fan back to Hubbard's Point, Conn., where singer songwriter Sheridan Rosslare is plunged into depression by the murder of her only son, Charlie. How will she cope? Will her old boyfriend Gavin Lawson come to her rescue? Go to the beach and find out.

Much sassier and less conventional than the books just mentioned is by a Wisconsin author, Kris Radish. Her new book is "Searching for Paradise," (Bantam, $22), which tells the story of Addy Lipton, a frustrated Pennsylvania housewife, who's sick to death of her husband Lucky and al the junk that he's piling up in their garage. But then Lucky wins a trip to Costa Rica, which cheers Addy until Lucky gets unlucky and unlucky and fractures his back and cancels the trip. How Addy copes with this domestic mess will remind you of books like "Steel Magnolias."

Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. E-mail him at wood8722@sbcglobal.net.

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