The latest batch! Riches and ruin on Wall Street and 19th century Paris, plus a vengeful bear, a bookish cab-driver, and more in Newsweek / The Daily Beast.
Check out my reviews of Ru Freeman’s On Sal Mal Lane, The Watch Tower by Elizabeth Harrower and Fools by Joan Silber at The Daily Beast.
From a lovestruck bird-chasing ecologist to the forgotten Gothic literature of 20th cent Russia: This week’s reviews are up. Read more at Newsweek / The Daily Beast.
Thomas Day was wealthy and educated and ran in influential circles. But there was one problem. The 18th-century British philosopher’s lack of interest in polite manners and fashion—and, more important, personal hygiene—made it difficult for him to attract a suitable mate.
Day liked to quote a line from a poem titled “Advice to the Ladies”: “Wit like wine intoxicates the brain/Too strong for feeble women to sustain.”
You can find my full review of Wendy Moore’s utterly creepy and completely factual biography of Day, How to Create the Perfect Wife over at The Daily Beast / Newsweek.
This week’s Hot Reads feature a pink hotel, a red planet, a bright abyss, and a giant burning triangle. Also, men in very short shorts. Splendid books all around. Visit The Daily Beast for the full reviews.
If an enterprising reader were to map the through-lines linking the quiet, twisted (and subtly interconnected) tales of eccentric strangers and mysterious deaths in Yoko Ogawa’s new collection, Revenge, the resulting diagram would likely look something like a spider-web: Delicate, spindled, and perfectly designed for entrapment. The experience of reading Revenge is like getting caught in a beautiful, lethal web—or maybe, like wandering through a labyrinthine haunted mansion. These stories’ charm lies in their treacherous unpredictability. In each tale, it’s impossible to anticipate just what particular nightmarish turn the plot will take, or to guess what shadowy character or tiny detail from an entirely separate tale will reappear (a dead hamster left in a trashcan, a brace designed to make the wearer taller, a three-digit number used in a report). There is a spooky fun-house quality to this collection.
This week’s Hot Reads feature Japanese tsunami flotsam, “the ‘two-ness’ of Southerners,” an honor killing in 1970s London, and gorillas.
The book that really got to me from this week’s Daily Beast/Newsweek Hot Reads was She Matters. It’s a memoir of an unusual variety. It’s also a real heart-breaker. Every woman has befriended (or been) a Susanna somewhere along the way.
Reading The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought by Susan Jacoby, I came across this elegant bit of rhetoric from Ingersoll describing his vision for the future:
The popes and priests and kings are gone– the altar and the thrones have mingled with the dust– the aristocracy of land and cloud have perished from the earth and air, and all the gods are dead. A new religions sheds its glory on mankind. It is the gospel of this world, the religion of the body, of the heart and brain, the evangel of health and joy. I see a world at peace, where labor reaps its true reward, a world without prisons, without workhouses, without asylums for the insane, a world where the poor girl, trying to win bread with the needle, the needle that has been called “the asp for the breas of the poor,” is not driven to the desperate choice of crime or death, of suicide or shame. I see a world without the beggar’s outstretched palm, the miser’s stony stare, the piteous wail of want, the pallid face of crime, the livid lips of lies, the cruel eyes of scorn. I see a race without disease of flesh or brain, shapely and fair, the married harmony of form and use, and as I look life lengthens, fear dies, joy deepens, love intensifies. The world is free. This shall be.
As they say in Sanskrit: “tathastu.”
Three days, fourteen authors. That’s the rough itinerary for this weekend in Miami, where it’s 70 degrees and sunny and I have a suitcase full of books. Takeaway host John Hockenberry and I flew into town for the Miami Book Fair International yesterday; we leave tomorrow. Yesterday, John spoke with New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik about what makes a family dinner table come alive; tomorrow, he’ll be talking to graphic novelist Derf Backderf on what it was like to be high school classmates with serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. All of those conversations — as well as two “big-think” author discussions on love and death — will be airing the week after next (about the time when it dawns on me once again just how cold New York winters really are).