Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tuesday Books

Yeah, so can anyone provide me a job in which I do nothing but read, all day, everyday!

The stories in Donoghue’s new collection all come, to varying degrees, from historical records; the author of Room, who studied 18th-century literature at Cambridge, has a gift for reading historical documents and picking out the odd, telling detail. There’s the Plymouth Plantation man who accuses his neighbors of indecency, in “The Lost Seed”; the woman who gives her daughter up for adoption, then writes the Children’s Aid Society demanding her return, in “The Gift”; the Tammany Hall bigwig found to be a woman, in “Daddy’s Girl”; all outlines begging to be filled in. The 14 stories are all short (many too short), and by the time they’ve set up the circumstances and the era, they’re almost done, and we’re leaving characters we know as creatures of a time and place rather than individuals. When Donoghue establishes a distinct voice and person, the stories are vivid, curious, and honest: we’ll remember the serial Puritan accuser and the young German soldier in revolutionary America long after we’ve forgotten other characters—like Jumbo the Victorian elephant and his keeper or the men who tried to hold Abraham Lincoln’s body for ransom—in stories that are notable more for the historical moments they reconstruct than for the people who inhabit them. (Publishers Weekly)

The updating of a literary classic is always fraught with peril—which could be why so many authors prefer to create their own offshoots (Sena Naslund’s Ahab’s Wife). But Hayes’s startlingly fresh and innovative take on Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” could be studied as an example of how to modernize a classic without pretending to supplant the original. Hayes turns Coleridge’s 1797 apocalyptic epic into an ecological warning, wherein a careless litterbug of a businessman is accosted by a sailor with burning eyes and a tale of woe. Part of the story mirrors Coleridge’s (a carelessly murdered bird brings damnation upon the crusty mariner’s vessal), but the atmospherics are more charged with the dangers of modernity. This mariner’s boat is trapped in a floating archipelago of fouled plastic garbage (much like the real one, the size of a country, which swirls today in the Pacific), which mutely rebukes the viewpoint of the businessman and his “world detached of consequence.” Hayes is a political cartoonist, and his writing isn’t nearly as memorable as his illustrations, which convey the beauty of the world and the pity of its destruction with a gorgeous brand of vehemence. His panels, awash in light blues, swoop and flow like aquatic woodcuts of an earlier era. (Publishers Weekly)

To see some of the work, check out Book Atlas.

Love and loss are as one in Levy's series of short stories, which weave a tapestry of overlapping vignettes from the lives of various couples. Separately, the stories chronicle a point in time for a cast of characters of varying ages, sexual orientations, faiths—but each story deals with love in some form. Together, small details and familiar personalities blur the edges of the stories to form a multifaceted view of one set of circumstances. A master of his form, Levy gradually reveals the consonance in his stories until it becomes clear that the abandonment Renee feels when her lover leaves her for an ashram in "Theory of Enlightenment" is replicated in "Theory of Transportation," in which the narrator's lover leaves to become a monk, and throughout every story. Mirroring the many personas of an individual in love, the collection — both implicitly in its overall structure and explicitly in one of the stories, pays homage to Roland Barthe's A Lover's Discourse. This melancholy collection's multitude of literary references becomes old, though they facilitate a deeper understanding of the characters. Levy is skilled at bringing his characters to life, each story searingly made real through his subtlety and fastidious attention to detail. (Publishers Weekly)

Set during the first half of the twentieth century, this is the story of the Brunis, a family of farmers from the Italian Padan Plain who have worked the land since time immemorial. And it is a story about the homeless multitudes, travelers, and tinkers, roaming Europe during the hardscrabble nineteen-twenties and thirties. In this expansive novel, reminiscent of Bertolucci’s masterpiece 1900 in its scope and subject matter, these two worlds meet when the Brunis open their great barn and offer it as a refuge for those in need of a warm, dry, and safe place to sleep and eat.

The barn becomes font and inspiration for a series of vivid stories involving sundry strangers, the Bruni parents themselves, and their nine children — seven boys and two girls — who will grow into young men and women during World War I and its aftermath. Told in the tradition of country folktales and framed by the devastating years of strife — two world wars and the years of fascism — these stories will delight readers from the first page to the last. Manfredi’s A Winter’s Night provides a timely reminder that simple values and a sense of solidarity with our fellow human beings remain of vital importance, above all in a world undergoing momentous and rapid change.

The latest collection of America's best essays includes Mark Doty's discussion of Walt Whitman's influence on Bram Stoker's Dracula.

A creature from an alternative universe arriving in the United States in 2012 wanting to understand what is on the American mind should rush to the nearest bookstore and buy a copy of this distinguished anthology, now in its 27th year. The 24 selected by New York Times columnist Brooks arrive after publication in a wide range of journals and magazines. Highlights include Lauren Slater’s “Killing My Body to Save My Mind,” a brave and disquieting discussion about the extreme side-effects of various psychopharmaceuticals on her body. The volume’s range of styles include the sharp and coolly intellectual (Alan Lightman’s “The Accidental Universe”) and the acutely personal (David J. Lawless’s “My Father/My Husband.” From Wesley Yang’s fascinating exploration of racial identity, “Paper Tigers,” to Francine Prose’s critical reminiscence of her experience during the emergence of second wave feminism in the 1970s, “Other Women,” there is not a dud in the bunch. As Mark Edmunson writes in one of the two essays about the plight of education, “Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here?”: “In reading, I continue to look for one thing — to be influenced, to learn something new, to be thrown off my course and onto another, better way.” This year’s exhilarating collection is just that reading experience. (Publishers Weekly)

Visit Slate for a review of Only Skin.

Sharing books he loved with his savvy New Yorker mom had always been a great pleasure for both mother and son, becoming especially poignant when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007, at age 73. Schwalbe, founder of Cookstr.com and former editor-in-chief of Hyperion, along with his father and siblings, was blindsided by the news; his mother, Mary Ann Schwalbe, had been an indomitable crusader for human rights, once the director of admissions at Harvard, and a person of enormous energy and management skills. Could a book club be run by only two people? Schwalbe and his mother wondered as they waited together over many chemotherapy sessions at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. It didn’t matter: “Books showed us that we didn’t need to retreat or cocoon,” he writes; they provided “much-needed ballast” during an emotionally tumultuous time when fear and uncertainty gripped them both as the dreaded disease (“not curable but treatable”) progressed rapidly. From Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach to Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, William Trevor’s Felicia’s Journey to Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar, Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book to John Updike’s My Father’s Tears: the books they shared allowed them to speak honestly and thoughtfully, to get to know each other, ask big questions, and especially talk about death. With a refreshing forthrightness, and an excellent list of books included, this is an astonishing, pertinent, and wonderfully welcome work. (Publishers Weekly)

Brimming with wit and humor, Lazarus Is Dead transcends genres as it recounts the story of a great friendship lost and re-found.

In the gospels Jesus is described as having only one friend, and when this friend dies, Jesus does something that he does nowhere else in the Bible. He weeps. Novelist Richard Beard begins here. Mixing Biblical sources, historical detail, fascinating references to music, art, and writers as diverse as Kahlil Gibran and Norman Mailor, and abundant reserves of creative invention, Beard gives us his astonishing and amusing take on the greatest story ever told about second chances.

As children, Lazarus and Jesus were thick as thieves. But following a mysterious event, their friendship dwindled in early adulthood. One man struck out and became a flamboyant and successful businessman, the other stayed behind to learn a trade, and ultimately to find his calling in an unprecedented mix of spirituality and revolutionary zeal. Lazarus Is Dead is set during the final period in each man’s life — or, to be more precise, each man’s first life. Both know the end is near and, though they’re loath to admit it, they long for reconciliation. For that to happen they will need to find reasons to believe in each other before time runs out.

Exploration of the increase in global economic inequality. You don't need a CPA to know which way the wind blows. Unless you're one of the rich or superrich, the 1 percent or the 1 percent of the 1 percent, then you won't be comforted to know that it blows against you: The rich are getting richer, and the rest of us…well, not so much. Thus the overarching theme of Thomson Reuters digital editor Freeland's (Sale of the Century: The Inside Story of the Second Russian Revolution, 2000) latest book, much of which, at least superficially, isn't really news. Dig deeper, though, and the author offers fresh takes on many key points. Are the rich happy? You'd think that all that money would take some of the burden off, but income inequality is an uncomfortable subject even for them. "That's because even - or perhaps particularly - in the view of its most ardent supporters," she writes, "global capitalism wasn't supposed to work quite this way." Level playing field? No way: The playing field is landscaped so that money rolls toward those who already have it. Equal opportunity? See the preceding point. Yet, Freeland continues, the switcheroo that robbed the middle class of its gains in the transition to "the America of the 1 Percent" is so new that our ways of talking and thinking about capitalism haven't caught up to reality, so that "when it comes to income inequality, Americans think they live in Sweden - or in the late 1950s." Smart, talking-point-friendly and full of magazine-style human-interest anecdotes, Freeland's account serves up other news, including the grim thought that recovery may never come for those outside the favored zone, as well as some provocative insights on how the superaffluent (don't say rich, say affluent - it avoids making the rich feel uncomfortable) view the rest of us. Not exactly the Communist Manifesto, but Freeland's book ought to make news of its own as she makes the rounds - well worth reading. (Kirkus Reviews)

2 comments:

becca said...

when you find a job like that let me know

Writer said...

Only if there's more than one position. LOL ;)