The Middle Mind by Curtis White

(HarperSanFrancisco) $23.95

It's likely you've heard about Curtis White even though you don't know his name--he's the guy who took apart Fresh Air's Terry Gross in Harper's. Even if you like Gross, you felt a shiver of pleasure in the way White identified what seems to be her fatuous interest in art and literature and film, her relentless digging after the shred of the autobiographical in the constructed work.

White is all about the constructed work, and its ability to provide meaning and lead us back to questioning and to truth, and the ways in which a large percentage of people fail to understand this, settling again and again for the literal-minded interpretation that warms our hearts but tells us nothing new. The Middle Mind is worth reading, if you can set aside the occasions of weird contempt (at its worst when the author assumes the voice of the middle mind), because White does something quite difficult, something that not many righteous-minded lily-livered supporters of the arts are willing to do: He addresses what art does and why it's important that we take it seriously.

Every smug, complacent Seattleite would do well to read this book--here where we settle for so much that is mediocre but confirms our best feelings about ourselves (such as that art is about personal expression and keeps kids off drugs). The Middle Mind is cranky, intellectual, and elitist--in the best, most useful way possible.

Curtis White reads at Elliott Bay Book Company (101 S Main St, 624-6600) on Fri Nov 28 at 7:30 pm.