One thing I always look out for at charity book sales: classics I should already have. Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is a good example. I knew I should have a copy, but could never fork out $20 for a new one at the store (or even $10 for a used one).
This one cost $3, which is just about right, and I’m a sucker for retro paperbacks.
“The teacher spanked a boy, though,” Laurie said, addressing his bread and butter. “For being fresh,” he added, with his mouth full.
Around eight years ago I was dutifully reading my way through an anthology called The Art of the Short Story, edited by Dana Gioia. I sometimes forget it now, but this book was a great supplementary education, even for somebody who had ostensibly begun to study literature. I’d recommend it to anyone. It was here that I first encountered “The Overcoat” by Gogol, “The Dead” by Joyce, and “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gillman, to name some. Among all of the gems in this collection, slotted between Zora Neale Hurston and Henry James, was a story by an author I had not heard of until then. The editor’s introduction noted that, after this story was first published in The New Yorker in 1948, the magazine received more letters from readers—most of them puzzled or upset—than they had received for anything else they had ever printed. That alone is an intoxicating fact to carry into a story, and like seemingly everyone else who reads “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, I was horrified and delighted, and probably uncomfortable about the ancient tribal reflex that it stirred faintly within me. Continue reading “9. The Lottery and Other Stories”→
Proverbs for Paranoids, 3: If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.
You’re confused, and you’re supposed to be. You’re lost, but not for lack of information: if anything there’s too much, covering more abstruse topics in more detail than you ever wanted. No, it’s something else: the shrouded logic, the elusive plot, the expansive setting over which the action spreads like a Poisson distribution across the maddening globe. There’s nothing to guide you. Yet a few signals make it through the chaos, and they all point to a single image that unites everything, the central enigma of Gravity’s Rainbow: the Rocket. Continue reading “8. Gravity’s Rainbow”→
I wish I had seen this before I published my last review. For one thing, I was mistaken to suggest that Silent Spring was the breakthrough work of an unknown civil servant. Her previous book, The Sea Around Us, from 1951, was a bestseller. By the time Silent Spring was published over ten years later, Rachel Carson was already a known and beloved chronicler of the natural world. Continue reading “More on Rachel Carson, and blog updates”→
The question is whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself, and without losing the right to be called civilized.
Fifty-five years ago a voice emerged to report on a little known and unromantic cause: environmental destruction due to chemical pesticide use. Rachel Carson wrote a steady and meticulous essay, calling for environmental protection with a keen feeling for the damage being wrought on the world’s ecosystems, and confidence that her readers would share in her outrage. Her book Silent Spring was not only a well-researched polemic—it was also an ode to the natural world as she saw it: a wonder of complexity, a system of checks and balances in which every piece was necessary to the health of the whole. Carson’s descriptions of environment and biology broke new ground in popular writing on science and are still some of the finest examples of the genre. She shows us nature as a delicate machine, which, if tampered with, can run itself into grotesque and alarming shapes. Recklessly transforming the natural world, she wrote, would have effects on humanity that could last generations. With its enormous popularity, Silent Spring kick-started the environmental consciousness of a nation and, along with the ensuing denials and smears from the chemical industry, sparked a new phase of the never-ending battle between commerce and the defenders of a clean and hospitable planet. Continue reading “7. Silent Spring”→
When I was a teenager I got my first Leonard Cohen CD on a whim: Songs of Love and Hate. This album, as you’ll recall, is not exactly inviting. The first line of the first song is “I stepped into an avalanche / It covered up my soul.” The most accessible number is Diamonds in the Mine, where he sings as though he has just swallowed a mouthful of steel wool. It was so intoxicatingly bleak that I could only listen for small stretches at a time, but I kept returning because it was all unlike anything I had heard before. Continue reading “Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen”→