Perhaps National Public Radio should desist from recommending books and music, because the preferences indicated, for the most part, lack any sense ofPerhaps National Public Radio should desist from recommending books and music, because the preferences indicated, for the most part, lack any sense of taste. The story of Julie-Émilie d’Aubigny, known as Mademoiselle de Maupin, sounded interesting, but the writer is totally incompetent. Although I am a firm supporter of the First Amendment and would never countenance the censorship of any idea or subject, the prose through which such may be conveyed is another matter entirely. There are those who should never set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard); Kelly Gardiner is one. This is truly dreadful, and it will take me some time to recover from the most purple prose I have ever had the misfortune to encounter. Beware! ...more
Whereas Heaven and Hell, the first volume of the author's trilogy examining the relationship between the living and the dead in late nineteenth-centurWhereas Heaven and Hell, the first volume of the author's trilogy examining the relationship between the living and the dead in late nineteenth-century Iceland, focused on the ways in which the cold, deep, and unpredictable sea can turn the living into the dead, Stefánsson's second volume, The Sorrow of Angels, describes how the stark and unforgiving landscape of snowfields, glaciers, and mountains swept by storms can perform the same transformation. The saga of "the boy" is also a Bildungsroman that examines how one becomes a man and how far an individual may go in defining the concept of manhood within his particular culture. It is also a paean to the power of words, exemplified in the gloriously beautiful, yet simple prose of Stefánsson, expertly rendered by his translator, Philip Roughton. A classic existentialist novel, The Sorrow of Angels performs the most difficult task of bridging a trilogy with style, ending in a cliffhanger that forces the reader to count the days until the appearance of the concluding volume.
There are books that entertain you but don’t stir your deepest thoughts. Then there are others that cause you to question, that give you hope, broaden the world and possibly introduce you to precipices.
This book is in the latter category.
For some people love never breaks, it never tarnishes no matter what storms rage in life, and the pettiness that can so easily undermine one in everyday life appears not to touch them. Those who have the privilege of crossing the paths of such people momentarily perceive the purpose behind everything.
Love, life, death, and the purpose (if such there is) of it all fill the spaces between the snowflakes ("the sorrow of angels") in this wonderfully meditative adventure.
Life, in any case, is rather simple. Those who put one foot in front of the other, and then vice-versa, and repeat it often enough, finally reach their destination— if they have a destination at all. This is one of the facts of this world.
On the one hand, this is true, but there are certain complications.
He who dies never returns, we’ve lost him, no power in the universe is able to bring us the warmth of a vanished life, the sound of a voice, the hand movements, the touch of humor. All the details that comprise life and give it validity have vanished into eternity, vanished only to leave an open wound in the heart that time gradually transforms into a swollen scar. Yet he who dies never leaves us completely, which is a paradox that comforts and torments at once; he who dies is both near and far.
The question that both "the boy" and we must answer is "Does one betray the dead by continuing to live?"
Depending on our answer, we will either lie down in the soft and welcoming snow and slip into a dreamless and eternal sleep or rise to our feet once more in the face of the blinding blizzard and accomplish the impossible task of living in the face of certain death. ...more
A gentle and humane book, Haruf's last novel uses simple language to tell the story of two old people who find in an unconventional friendship a solutA gentle and humane book, Haruf's last novel uses simple language to tell the story of two old people who find in an unconventional friendship a solution to the loneliness of old age. In the process of getting to know each other, they fill in the details of their separate lives for the reader and demonstrate the power of forgiveness. Uncharacteristically, Haruf engages in a bit of intertextuality by alluding to the theatrical performance of one of his previous works and having his characters comment on both the characters and the setting of the previous work in comparison to their own experience of Holt, Colorado, where both novels are set. Although the allusion isn't essential to the plot, it does serve as the author's valedictory to his works, to his readers, and to life. He was dying as he wrote this and knew that this would be his last chance to visit Holt. It is a fine legacy for a fine author....more
Kerr has struck gold again with his tenth Bernard Gunther novel. Set in Germany, Yugoslavia, and Switzerland during World War II, the tale recounts thKerr has struck gold again with his tenth Bernard Gunther novel. Set in Germany, Yugoslavia, and Switzerland during World War II, the tale recounts the adventures of Gunther, the cynical Berlin police detective whose life under the Nazis becomes the definition of Weltmüdigkeit, as he runs errands for Joseph Goebbels and solves crimes along the way. Gunther owes much of his sardonic wit to the models Kerr used for his character (i.a., Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe), but Kerr gives his protagonist a metafictional dimension that adds interest to the novel for aficionados of crime fiction. Boldly stealing a subplot from Chandler's 1943 novel, The Lady in the Lake, Kerr acknowledges his theft by giving the case Gunther investigates the title of the novel from which it was appropriated. Or consider the following nod to a famous film: "She’s going to forget all about you, Gunther. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but as time goes by, I can absolutely guarantee it." Gunther sprinkles his dialogues with paraphrases of Nietzsche and Goethe and sometimes delivers a glimpse of his own Weltanschauung with no trace of irony: "Good people are never as good as you probably think they are, and the bad ones aren’t as bad. Not half as bad. On different days we’re all good. And on other days, we’re evil. That’s the story of my life. That’s the story of everyone’s life.” Kerr delights in commenting on the present through the lens of the past and never fails to deliver an education on some of the more obscure aspects of the period about which he writes. Education and entertainment delivered by a delightful character who, in a film adaptation of the novel, would just have to be played by Bogart. Who could ask for more? Gunther has his own opinion about why people read this kind of fiction: "So what was it about murder mysteries that made them so fascinating to people like Meyer? Maybe in the end it was because, in fiction, justice is always served. Which is the very essence of fiction, of course, and nothing at all to do with real life. Life doesn’t have neatly tied-up endings." I suspect he is right. ...more
Who would not have jumped at the chance to read to the blind genius Borges and to engage him in literary conversations? The chance came to the young AWho would not have jumped at the chance to read to the blind genius Borges and to engage him in literary conversations? The chance came to the young Alberto Manguel, a sixteen-year-old bookstore employee in Buenos Aires, and he seized the opportunity. It changed the direction of his life and made him the advocate of the reader for our times. Despite his aunt's urging that he take notes, he didn't, because he "felt too contented." He found in Borges one like himself who lived for books, and whose conversations were "about books, and about the clockwork of books, and about the discovery of writers I had not read before, and about ideas that had not occurred to me, or which I had glimpsed only in a hesitant, half-intuited way that, in Borges's voice, glittered and dazzled in all their rich and somehow obvious splendour." And so we are left with Manguel's "memories of memories of memories," but what memories they are! This is essential reading for all who love Borges and for those who love Manguel. It is a glimpse into the mind of a genius by one who loved him well but who could also regard him critically as a man of his time, a man with imperfections but a genius nonetheless. Manguel read for Borges from 1964-68 and knew him for the rest of the great man's life. Even today he sings the praises of his mentor, one who honored the reader and who made a profound mark on the field of literature....more
Beautiful beyond belief, as stark as Iceland's shores, as full of life, as full of death as Ocean when it roars. A telling worth the hearing by a bardBeautiful beyond belief, as stark as Iceland's shores, as full of life, as full of death as Ocean when it roars. A telling worth the hearing by a bard who knows the sea and the land and the men who dwell theron, singing the truth in magic words. Who could improve upon
"Words vary. Some are bright, others dark; April, for instance, is a bright word. The days grow longer, their brightness comes like a spear-thrust into the darkness. One morning we wake and the plover has arrived, the sun has come closer, the grass appears from beneath the snow and turns green, the fishing boats are launched after having slept through the long winter and dreamt of the sea. The word April is composed of light, birdsong, and eager anticipation. April is the most hopeful of months."
And who could deny the truth of "Hell Is Not Knowing Whether We Are Alive or Dead." The novel is a meditation on the knife's edge that separates life and death, those who are alive and those who no longer are. For those who have experienced the loss of one who defined the meaning of life and who have wandered in that shadowland between life and death, Heaven and Hell, not knowing in which domain they should reside, this is an affirmation of the decision not to sleep in the snowdrift, not to slip into the sea. "Nothing is sweet to me, without thee," wrote Milton, and yet we are all called to live in the face of the death of those we love. Darkness gives way to light, and death guides the living to Life in this brilliant novel. Highly recommended. ...more
Five academic essays plus a preface and introduction comprise this intriguing look at the ethnobotanical, archaeological, historical, and cultural useFive academic essays plus a preface and introduction comprise this intriguing look at the ethnobotanical, archaeological, historical, and cultural uses of Ilex vomitoria, a native North American evergreen holly commonly known as "yaupon." Yaupon is the only North American native plant that contains caffeine. Historically it was used by Native Americans in the southeastern part of the country, where it naturally occurs, as a medicinal tea with both ritual and social importance. The leaves of the plant were widely traded, and there is archaeological evidence for its use in paleo-Indian cultures far north of its natural range. It was also adopted by European colonists and exported to Europe as early as the sixteenth century. With the exception of enclaves on the coast and coastal islands of North Carolina, the use of yaupon tea ended in the nineteenth century. Recently two sisters in Cat Spring, Texas, have begun harvesting and preparing yaupon tea for sale (catspringtea.com). They offer both a green and black variety of the tea. Native American preparers of the tea appear to have used a decoction rather than an infusion of the leaves (and sometimes twigs} to produce the black drink, as yaupon tea was known. The usual preparation was to roast and then boil the plant material before serving. A seven-minute infusion produces a pleasant tisane, but I am interested in trying a ten-minute decoction, which should more closely approximate the beverage used by the Creeks. The book is well structured, contains helpful notes and a bibliography, as well as useful illustrations. I would be interested in a revised edition, since the book was published in 1979. I am sure that there have been advances in pollen science and archaeology since the publication of the current edition that would enhance our understanding of the importance of Ilex vomitoria in the prehistory of North America. The emergence of a new marketing of the black drink through Cat Spring Yaupon Tea opens a new chapter in the history of a centuries-old North American caffeinated beverage. ...more
There are two sets of people who love the Earth in all of its diversity and grandeur. The first set includes those who would keep it as it is and exclThere are two sets of people who love the Earth in all of its diversity and grandeur. The first set includes those who would keep it as it is and exclude the novel ecosystems established through the immigration of alien species. The second includes those who acknowledge that life is a process, ever changing, and acknowledge that it is through change that evolution happens. The two sets of people are at war with each other, and the environment suffers as a result of the disagreement. Invasion biologists champion the plants and animals that are native to a particular region and advocate the exclusion or extirpation of non-native species. The inclusionists understand that we are all immigrants. Native Americans came to North America between 30,000 and 16,000 years ago. Between 85,000 and 11,000 years ago, continental ice sheets covered much of North America, with the glacial maximum occurring between 26,000 and 21,000 years ago during the Late Wisconsin glaciation. There were no plants or animals under the ice. Nativism champions the view that there are native ecosystems that have co-evolved to produce the optimal association of plants and animals for a particular region. This is the view of the invasion biologists who see every alien immigrant as a threat to the ideal native ecology. Inclusionists ask what is the point at which an immigrant becomes a naturalized native. Darwin did not acknowledge the existence of native ecosystems that represent the culmination of evolutionary progress. For him, the evolutionary process, driven by survival of the fittest, was eternal change. There is no pristine steady-state ecology, no Garden of Eden to which we can return. There is only change, relentless to species that cannot adapt, and welcoming to those that can. The author asks, "Should we not welcome immigrants, since we were once in their position, strangers in a strange land?" Native plants and animals do not represent the optimal inhabitants of a particular region. They are rather "good enough" to survive -- until something better adapted comes along. The author argues that ecosystems are in perpetual flux with new arrivals variously coexisting with and supplanting native species. There is nothing wrong with this. We enjoy the blooms of chicory and Queen Anne's lace without thinking that they are alien invasive species. We enjoy the ecological services of the European honey bee without reflecting that the Native Americans called them "white men's flies." The author argues in favor of acceptance of alien immigrants and acknowledgement of their places in the natural order and opposes the xenophobic and sclerotic tendencies of the invasion biologists. He does not say that we cannot choose our landscapes, but he makes it clear that in doing so we are accommodating human desires rather than natural laws. Highly recommended. ...more
The first anthropology text I was required to read as an undergraduate was a delightful and instructive satire by Horace Miner, "Body Ritual among theThe first anthropology text I was required to read as an undergraduate was a delightful and instructive satire by Horace Miner, "Body Ritual among the Nacirema," which originally appeared in The American Anthropologist, vol. 58 (1956), pp. 503-507, and which has been reproduced many times since. The point was to warn aspiring anthropologists against the dangers of interpreting other cultures based on inadequate information or lack cultural understanding. It was both instructive and humorous. When I was in my first year of graduate school, my adviser shared with me a cartoon with two panels. On the left was depicted a nondescript shard of pottery labeled "Archaeological Find." On the right was a drawing of a triumphal procession of chariots down a street lined with elaborate columns surmounted with intricate friezes in bas-relief while trumpets blared and crowds in elaborate costumes cheered. It was labeled "Archaeologist's Reconstruction." Motel of the Mysteries is an illustrated and humorous look at the excavation and (mis)interpretation of a twentieth-century North American motel, "TOOT 'N' C'MON," and its associated artifacts by a forty-first century archaeologist, bow-tie-wearing Howard Carson. And if you don't get the angle Macaulay is going for, just consider that the discovery happens in 4022, 2100 years after another famous discovery by an archaeologist working in Egypt with the financial backing of Lord Carnarvon. Carson's faithful assistant, Harriet, wears some of the recovered artifacts in a sly reference to Sophia Schliemann, who was fond of wearing ancient jewelry discovered at Hisarlik. The book also skewers museums and their gift shops and reenactments of ancient cultures. It is cleverly executed, even if it is a bit of a one-trick pony. ...more