Wednesday Books

The Picture of Dorian Gray altered the way Victorians understood the world they inhabited. It heralded the end of a repressive Victorianism, and after its publication, literature had—in the words of biographer Richard Ellmann—“a different look.” Yet the Dorian Gray that Victorians never knew was even more daring than the novel the British press condemned as “vulgar,” “unclean,” “poisonous,” “discreditable,” and “a sham.” Now, more than 120 years after Wilde handed it over to his publisher, J. B. Lippincott & Company, Wilde’s uncensored typescript is published for the first time, in an annotated, extensively illustrated edition.

The novel’s first editor, J. M. Stoddart, excised material—especially homosexual content—he thought would offend his readers’ sensibilities. When Wilde enlarged the novel for the 1891 edition, he responded to his critics by further toning down its “immoral” elements. The differences between the text Wilde submitted to Lippincott and published versions of the novel have until now been evident to only the handful of scholars who have examined Wilde's typescript.

Wilde famously said that Dorian Gray “contains much of me”: Basil Hallward is “what I think I am,” Lord Henry “what the world thinks me,” and “Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.” Wilde’s comment suggests a backward glance to a Greek or Dorian Age, but also a forward-looking view to a more permissive time than his own, which saw Wilde sentenced to two years’ hard labor for gross indecency. The appearance of Wilde’s uncensored text is cause for celebration.

The Pumpkin Eater is a surreal black comedy about the wages of adulthood and the pitfalls of parenthood. A nameless woman speaks, at first from the precarious perch of a therapist’s couch, and her smart, wry, confiding, immensely sympathetic voice immediately captures and holds our attention. She is the mother of a vast, swelling brood of children, also nameless, and the wife of a successful screenwriter, Jake Armitage. The Armitages live in the city, but they are building a great glass tower in the country in which to settle down and live happily ever after. But could that dream be nothing more than a sentimental delusion? At the edges of vision the spectral children come and go, while our heroine, alert to the countless gradations of depression and the innumerable forms of betrayal, tries to make sense of it all: doctors, husbands, movie stars, bodies, grocery lists, nursery rhymes, messes, aging parents, memories, dreams, and breakdowns. How to pull it all together? Perhaps you start by falling apart.

A major bilingual anthology of twentieth-century Latin American poetry

During a century of extraordinary change, poets became the chroniclers of deep polarizations. From Rubén Darío’s quest to renew the Spanish language to César Vallejo’s linking of religion and politics, from Jorge Luis Borges’s cosmopolitanism to Pablo Neruda’s placement of poetry as uncompromising speaker for the downtrodden, and from Alejandra Pizarnik’s agonies of the self to Humberto Ak’Abal's examination of all things indigenous, it is through verse that the hemisphere’s cantankerous collective soul in an age of overhaul might best be understood.

A brilliant, moving, and thought-provoking summation of these forking paths, The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry invites us to look at an illustrious literary tradition with fresh eyes. Ilan Stavans, one of the foremost scholars of Hispanic culture and a distinguished translator, goes beyond easy geographical and linguistic categorizations in gathering these works. This bilingual anthology features eighty-four authors from sixteen different countries writing in Spanish, Portuguese, Mapuche, Nahuatl, Quechua, Mazatec, Zapotec, Ladino, and Spanglish. The poems are rendered into English in inspired fashion by first-rate translators such as Elizabeth Bishop, Galway Kinnell, W. S. Merwin, Alastair Reid, Mark Strand, and Richard Wilbur.

In these pages the reader will experience the power of poetry to account for a hundred years in the life of a restless continent.

Translated into English at last, Fiasco joins its companion volumes Fatelessness and Kaddish for an Unborn Child in telling an epic story of the author's return from the Nazi death camps, only to find his country taken over by another totalitarian government.

Fiasco as Imre Kertesz himself has said, "is fiction founded on reality"--a Kafka-like account that is surprisingly funny in its unrelentingly pessimistic clarity, of the Communist takeover of his homeland. Forced into the army and assigned to escort military prisoners, the protagonist decides to feign insanity to be released from duty. But meanwhile, life under the new regime is portrayed almost as an uninterrupted continuation of life in the Nazi concentration camps-which in turn, is depicted as a continuation of the patriarchal dictatorship of joyless childhood. It is, in short, a searing extension of Kertesz' fundamental theme: the totalitarian experience seen as trauma not only for an individual but for the whole civilization-ours-that made Auschwitz possible.

In this revelatory, bittersweet investigation into the state of commercial beekeeping in the 21st century, Nordhaus follows the migratory life of a commercial beekeeper, John Miller, as he trucks his bees between California and North Dakota, pollinating almond orchards, defending his territory of "bee yards" (flowering pastures), collecting honey, and, against all odds, keeping his bees and his business alive. It turns out that colony collapse disorder, which recently brought awareness of bees and their essential agricultural function to an oblivious public, is only the most recent of numerous threats to bee health, from 19th-century plagues of wax moth comb invasion to more recent infestations of tracheal and varroa mites that "killed nearly every single one of the continent's feral colonies, obliterating the wild bees that once did much of the work pollinating the nations crops and flowers." According to Nordhaus, hives survive now only with drugs administered by their keepers, who, in a profession where disaster is commonplace and profit elusive, are becoming nearly as exotic and endangered as their bees. Miller, smart, antisocial with humans, but tender toward bees and prone to writing ironic free-verse e-mails, keeps the narrative lively despite its often grim content. (Publishers Weekly)

Writing for the beginner, English takes proper care to explain what is involved in the raising of chickens for egg production. She also makes sure readers define their own goals and abilities before embarking on chicken husbandry. Scattered throughout her guide are several portraits that share poignant personal experiences. While the useful information here is also covered in Jennifer Megyesi's The Joy of Keeping Chickens, English does include more advice on diseases and ailments and a detailed look at shelter options, including coop designs and checklists of materials and supplies needed; however, she does not provide as many specifics about raising chickens for meat production. VERDICT An excellent, straightforward how-to book for those who wish to have a solid understanding of what it takes to raise chickens successfully for egg production. With degrees in both holistic nutrition and sociology, English is a member of Slow Food USA and writes a regular column for the blog Design*Sponge. (Library Journal)

A talking closet and a landlord who's "a bit of a nut" herald the beginning of the end of human civilization in Martinez's lighthearted tale. When Diana moves into apartment 5, she accidentally becomes the caretaker of monstrous, ancient Vom the Hungering. It doesn't seem all bad at first: the fridge is never empty, and she meets interesting neighbors. But she also acquires the startling ability to straddle "multiple floors of reality" and see that the world is suddenly full of bizarre creatures and their squabbling cliques: "It's like high school, except instead of jocks versus nerds, it's the things who eat civilizations versus things who eat galaxies." When Diana learns that Calvin, one of her monstrous new buddies, is planning to destroy the world, she must persuade her other bizarre friends to help head him off. Martinez (Divine Misfortune) excels at off-the-wall storytelling that perfectly suits this cheerful apocalyptic fantasy. (Publishers Weekly)

Nearly one million weekly listeners trust NPR's Brooke Gladstone to guide them through the distortions and complexities of the modern media. This brilliant radio personality now bursts onto the page as an illustrated character in vivid comics drawn by acclaimed artist Josh Neufeld. The cartoon of Brooke conducts the reader through two millennia of history-from the newspapers in Caesar's Rome to the penny press of the American Revolution and the manipulations of contemporary journalism. Gladstone's manifesto debunks the notion that "The Media" is an external force, outside of our control, since we've begun directly constructing, filtering, and responding to what we watch and read. With fascinating digressions, sobering anecdotes, and brave analytical wit, The Influencing Machine equips us to be smart, savvy, informed consumers and shapers of the media. It shows that we have met the media and it is us. So now what?

In 1968, the New Yorker hired Ellen Willis as its first popular music critic. Her column, Rock, Etc., ran for seven years and established Willis as a leader in cultural commentary and a pioneer in the nascent and otherwise male-dominated field of rock criticism. As a writer for a magazine with a circulation of nearly half a million, Willis was also the country’s most widely read rock critic. With a voice at once sharp, thoughtful, and ecstatic, she covered a wide range of artists—Bob Dylan, The Who, Van Morrison, Elvis Presley, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joni Mitchell, the Velvet Underground, Sam and Dave, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Wonder—assessing their albums and performances not only on their originality, musicianship, and cultural impact but also in terms of how they made her feel.

Because Willis stopped writing about music in the early 1980s—when, she felt, rock ’n’ roll had lost its political edge—her significant contribution to the history and reception of rock music has been overshadowed by contemporary music critics like Robert Christgau, Lester Bangs, and Dave Marsh. Out of the Vinyl Deeps collects for the first time Willis’s Rock, Etc. columns and her other writings about popular music from this period (includingliner notes for works by Lou Reed and Janis Joplin) and reasserts her rightful place in rock music criticism.

More than simply setting the record straight, Out of the Vinyl Deeps reintroduces Willis’s singular approach and style—her use of music to comment on broader social and political issues, critical acuity, vivid prose, against-the-grain opinions, and distinctly female (and feminist) perspective—to a new generation of readers. Featuring essays by the New Yorker’s current popular music critic, Sasha Frere-Jones, and cultural critics Daphne Carr and Evie Nagy, this volume also provides a lively and still relevant account of rock music during, arguably, its most innovative period.

Following 2007's The Dog Said Bow-Wow, Swanwick sends his postapocalyptic con artists Darger and Surplus to ferry seven genetically enhanced brides from the caliph of Byzantium to the duke of Muscovy. Unfortunately, the plot requires Darger and Surplus to separate for much of the book, depriving readers of their entertaining banter. Moving among both the highest and lowest members of Russian society, including Pushkin in liquid form and aristocrats in self-cloned leather clothing, Darger and Surplus uncover a coup plot that involves political climbers, religious zealots, and the vengeful revenants of the ancient Internet, leading to a climactic battle in the streets around the Kremlin. Swanwick doesn't stint the whimsy while touching on the sadness and joy at the core of a story about losing the past to gain the future. (Publishers Weekly)


I just saw a 2009 movie adaptation of DG, it was very well done.

More great books to add to my list...

Writer said…
I've neither seen a movie version nor have I ever actually read it. Yes, I know. <---- bad gay literary type. =/
DeepBlue said…
Oh! no! I'm gonna have to read Dorian again? I must have been living on the moon cause it never occured to me that I was reading a censored version of the book. Well, at least this time I'll read it in english!
GOD, I hope they won't play the same trick with Marcel Proust. I started "À la recherche du temps perdu" some 20 years ago and I'm barely at the middle of it! If they come to find an uncensored manuscript in some old box somewhere...
Writer said…
LOL, DeepBlue. We'll all be in trouble. :)
becca said…
stopping by at David's request and i have to say as soon as i saw the book reviews i was hooked. totally going to hang out if that's okay.

Everyday Life
Writer said…
becca, that's totally okay! :)
Kyle said…
Well Jp I have the picture, bees, and chickens covered. Will have to work on the rest.
Writer said…
Kyle, we'll have the JP Memorial Library at your place in no time. ;)

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