A lovely book, selected from Dickinson's trove of poems, lines, drafts of letters (perhaps never sent), and beginnings, all written on the envelopes sA lovely book, selected from Dickinson's trove of poems, lines, drafts of letters (perhaps never sent), and beginnings, all written on the envelopes she saved for re-use. These poems, in her handwriting, set in type on facing pages, show like no other book how ED married form with function. Working within constricted space, defined by the angles and corners of the backs and flaps of small envelopes, she shaped the greatest ambition into extreme brevity. An example:
One note from one Bird is better than a million words a scabbard holds but one sword
A gift that endlessly rewards, for anyone who writes or reads poetry.
A strong collection with a number of standout poems that reflect a varied life experience, ranging from the author's parents' lives during WWII to hisA strong collection with a number of standout poems that reflect a varied life experience, ranging from the author's parents' lives during WWII to his own Vietnam service aboard an aircraft carrier, as well as clear-eyed poems about nature and creatures, aging, marriage and love, home and displacement, the day-to-day of working for a living, and other subjects. These are formal poems, but not formalist: they are sturdy, memorable, well-made, with a sure sense of line and structure and very little flab. One senses here a voice that has developed on its own, over time and under the radar, outside the academic path that so many poets follow. ...more
As he did in his wonderful book Seven Pleasures, Willard Spiegelman offers wit, wide learning worn lightly, a keen eye and ear for surprising encounteAs he did in his wonderful book Seven Pleasures, Willard Spiegelman offers wit, wide learning worn lightly, a keen eye and ear for surprising encounters with the world, and the most companionable guidance through the subject at hand: aging. In his hands, this third-rail of a conversation stopper is transformed into something one looks forward to, rather than dreading or deferring with intense gym sessions and other tactics of camouflage. Touching on poetry, art and architecture, street food, dinner conversation, family history, and much more, Senior Moments is a line-by-line delight to read and provides welcome respite from the din of daily controversy....more
Many have read Chatwin's In Patagonia and Songlines, two of the most beautiful and transporting books I have encountered. I came across this novel onMany have read Chatwin's In Patagonia and Songlines, two of the most beautiful and transporting books I have encountered. I came across this novel on my shelves, where it had been languishing unnoticed, somehow, for fifteen years. Set in rural Wales, it tells the story of twin bachelor brothers and their long, uneventful, secret lives and life together from the late 19th through World War I and beyond. If you are looking for a dramatic plot, this novel isn't for you. But the book unfolds like a form of quiet magic, line by line, introducing characters whose modest lives conceal deep wells of sexual desire and repression, ambition and frustration, love and all-consuming hatred, generosity and greed, faith and profound doubt, joy and grief. If you read with a highlighter you will run out of yellow because there are so many sentences to mark, in particular the evocations of Wales itself: the weather, sun breaking through clouds, the names of flowers, the precise nature of rainfall, the touch and taste and sound and smell of the world surrounding these people, which some notice and others neglect. This novel feels more real than most novels because it seems effortless, and doesn't concern itself with the mechanics of plot, of "what's going to happen," but instead seeks to reveal through small, exacting detail a portrait of enduring life. ...more
An intimate epic, an extraordinarily deep dive into the daily lives, ambitions realized and failed, emotions, sexual and familial histories, and workiAn intimate epic, an extraordinarily deep dive into the daily lives, ambitions realized and failed, emotions, sexual and familial histories, and working days of a group of friends over several decades, trying to make it in New York's intersecting worlds of art, architecture, acting, and--the outlier--corporate law. These friends are not everymen; all are products of expensive educations, whose college years were formative in ways that both enable and limit how they think and where they go, and all have access to different kinds of wealth: money outright, or talent, or real estate, or nice vacation/holiday places of departure and arrival, or simply the assumption that things will work out, even if they don't. Most interestingly, the book is almost completely absent of female characters, except as names or companions or (in one important case) a quiet and quickly extinguished voice of sanity in a brutal world of men. And, at the novel's center, is a slowly unpacked body of one man's terrible childhood secrets, which drive the plot and around which all the characters revolve.
Why four stars and not five? I loved A Little Life for three-quarters of the book, but the last quarter (it's a long book, so 200 pages) wore out my considerable patience. As the momentum generated by the secrets' gradual revelation ran its course, I found myself stranded in what seemed to me repetitive scene after scene: event, followed by grief (often involving crying--the many, many scenes of weeping leach power away), followed by recrimination, followed by apology and regret, and then another scene that follows roughly that same course. The novel is almost completely lacking in humor, and the few smiles to be had are rueful. And, as the book progressed, I began to notice sentences and paragraphs that bugged me, where I sensed the author's hidden hand emerging and steering the characters' responses to each other and mine to the book itself.
And yet: I kept reading. A Little Life may well be too "depressing" for some readers, and it requires close attention--you cannot blast through it, the novel is densely written and constructed and in my opinion is best read in moderate but steady doses, not in great gulps. What's first-rate in this book--the writing, the sheer weight of perceptive detail, the profound closeness to men's secret lives and an emotional core that is deeply affecting--outweighs what I've noted above. I will not be able to forget A Little Life; it will stay with me as other novels fade. ...more
Reading Lee Smith is like encountering an old friend you haven't seen for a while, at a reunion or just downtown somewhere, and picking up right whereReading Lee Smith is like encountering an old friend you haven't seen for a while, at a reunion or just downtown somewhere, and picking up right where you left off years ago. Her voice--warm, familiar, intimate without being "confessional," good-humored but not professionally Southern--is such a pleasure to hear and read again. Dimestore isn't really a memoir proper; it's a collection of essays that together comprise a sort-of memoir, one that circles around certain crucial people and times in her life, especially childhood in her small Appalachian town, dips in and out of other decades of life, and digresses to include what seem to be occasional essays, written not for this book but as introductions to other books or speeches about writing or for some other purpose. What's most striking is how differently than other writers she treats what must have been difficult, even traumatic and long-lasting griefs: the mental illnesses of both her parents, which required them at various times to be hospitalized and her to live with relatives, and later the severe mental illness and early death of one of her two sons. She does not make light of these events, nor does she wallow in them or make them the central driving narratives of this book, as other memoirists have done with similar material. Instead, she treats them with grace, honesty, a touch of humor where warranted, as parts of life rather than all of life, and she does not put herself at the center of those stories.
I've read several of her books--Oral History, Fair and Tender Ladies, Fancy Strut, and others--but admittedly had lost track in the face of so much other reading to be done. Dimestore left me wanting to catch up with her more recent novels, which I'll look forward to doing....more
A Goodreads friend recommended this book to me after finishing it for her book club. It's one of those novels you head about, corner of your ear, in dA Goodreads friend recommended this book to me after finishing it for her book club. It's one of those novels you head about, corner of your ear, in different contexts--booksellers talk about it, lists of Great American Novels and novels about the West include it, and writers mention it. Somehow it had escaped my attention and I regret all the years that I missed its presence in my mind and memory. What a novel: I can't say enough about how wonderfully written it is, dramatic and filled with characters who are fully realized as people, yet seem to stand for something larger, something about America and its aspirations as they play out over generations, and also just so much meticulously-observed and beautifully-rendered detail. Light rising (or falling) on dusty plains and remote mountains. The raw, newly-cut, harsh and vulgar and corrupt but also bracing and heroic ambition embodied in a place like Deadville or other mining towns. How stuff works: the digging of canals, the structure of mines, the labor of a thousand things, almost unimaginably difficult and complex, as settlers and speculators raised enormous enterprises in the West from desert and rock. And through it all the marriage, love, betrayal, and secrets kept between a smart and talented New England woman and the man she chose--decent, trusting, but never quite able to realize his own gifts. Angle of Repose is an immersive read, not for the impatient, but fully rewarding in every way a great novel can be. ...more