Ambrose, like many biographers before him, is a man enamored of his subject. To him, Meriwether Lewis is the paramount, curious, bootstrapped Renaissance man of the early 19th century; this bosom buddy of Thomas Jefferson is the bold Yin to William Clark’s relevant but slightly duller Yang. His biographic sweep of Lewis primarily concerns the exhilarating rawness of the journey of the Corps of Discovery during 1804-1806, but it is at its core a story about the man, not merely the events for which he is yet championed.
I read five-ish books in January, 2011, and reviewed none of them. I’m going to give you a vapid grin now. My mind is empty. I have nothing to say. I name my hard drives after the muses (Clio, Euterpe, Thalia, Urania) but it’s as if that made them shun me. Bah. The devil with it. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading so many technical blogs. I also read this stuff.
I read Nabokov’s fourth novel this past weekend (and quite quickly—it’s a novella) and the connective tissue bonding his Russian works is starting to become manifest. In Mary we were introduced to the Russian emigré crowd; in King, Queen, Knave: grotesque love and the faulty sense of self-worth; in The Luzhin Defense the obsessive swapping of reality with dream-state. The Eye pulls in pieces of all these themes and toys around with a few more, not the least of which is the nature of our existence and a personality as refractive of the perceptions of those around it.
That is, can we ever know ourselves—can we ever exist?—as, really, all we are all, as Luzhin contemplates in The Defense: “…as in two mirrors reflecting a candle…only a vista of converging lights…” Luzhin here, too, realizes to some degree that we may all just be the incomplete sum of all of our own reflections off of others’ beliefs of us.
Unlovable, flabby Luzhin has lost his mind, unfortunately right in the middle of a paramount chess match against another reigning international champion. Leaving the game at a cliffhanger, the forename-less Russian prodigy waddles off into the Berlin night, where he will ultimately collapse on a curb in an emotional fugue and, for some time, cease to exist.
Nabokov’s third novel, a Russian-German mash of European humanity between the wars, is a heavy tale of fate and obsession. Here Nabokov sheds most of the charming, naive elements of his earlier books, instead giving glimpses of the headstrong and flawlessly self-confident literary powerhouse that he would continue to display for the next half century.
This book is too good for me and I think I’m okay with that. I’m going through a phase of admitting, even flaunting personal weakness, such that I can, with any luck, recognize patterns of things in myself that aren’t lame. To that effect, yeah, Tom McCarthy is probably a little bit more smarty pants than I am capable of internalizing, at least in terms of post-modernist literature that reads like a light delirium.
I don’t exactly know what happened.
Jacobsen’s American Terroir is a book that extols the concept of terroir, the specific complexities of edibles produced in a very specific place. Historically the term has been associated with winemaking, but Jacobsen urges Americans to wrest it from the hoity-toity grasp of wine snobs. It applies, he argues, vastly beyond vines and oenophiles.
Part travelogue, part wine journal, part economic-environmental manifesto, American Terroir delivers vignettes, little episodes in Jacobsen’s vision of North American terroirism.
You know what the best thing about this book is?
The editors and publishers left it alone. Instead of a neutered, American English variant (ahem, Harry Potter, ugh), the bucolic Britishness of Blood Harvest’s weird (fictional) town of Heptonclough, Lancashire, has been left intact, and it is that very slight cultural shift that makes S.J. Bolton’s novel stand out in a crowded genre of quasi-paranormal suspense stories.
Squirreled around the bedside and my library desk, scraps of paper—some crumpled upon subsequent realization of their inaccuracies—are covered with lines and arrows, webs and dates, as I attempted to flowchart the real, temporal lives of the emotionally-related characters in Krauss’ new novel, Great House. Krauss gives her psychological all here, with characters so resonating with loneliness, misery and guilt that reading it almost hurts the reader back. It leaves one with a residual psychical hangover not unlike that groggy confusion after waking from a lossful dream. She leaves it to you—a compelling task, if you are caught up in the aura of the book—to search for clues, to unwind the complexity of the ways these sad lives touch each other: reality is your job, meaning is hers.
Lucy Bergmann has a problem. Her astrophysicist husband has just been killed, crushed to death by a grand piano while walking around in Amsterdam. His Wile E Coyote-inspired exit leaves Lucy in possession of of his just-clinched proof of extraterrestrial life (as evidenced by pulsing red dots in a computer program, naturally) on a flash drive (no backups, but of course). Lucy adopts the weird obsession of wearing this ‘memory stick’ like a talismanic necklace. Ah. And this is just the first chapter.
In this quiet and personal historical coming of age tale, Sally Gunning shows us New England on the brink of revolution through the eyes of a young and slightly rebellious woman. Protagonist Jane Clarke’s domestic issues of justice and truth mirror those making a loud entrance onto the international stage.
From the archive, a few random posts that you might not have seen before.