This Month's Articles
When All the World Is Old: Poems
By John Rybicki
Reviewed by Sally Cobau
I’ve read other collections of poetry about death. In fact, I’ve read other poetry collections about a poet/husband who memorializes his fellow wife/poet after death in a series of elegies. One of the most famous of this mini-genre are the poems written by former poet laureate Donald Hall about his wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, who succumbed to leukemia at the age of 47.
His collection Without is heart wrenching. Raw, precise, and confessional, the poems are narratives of grief. I read the book and tears streamed down my face. For him. For her. For their dog, Gus. Coincidentally enough, a dog (but he seems to be a spunkier sort of dog) also appears in When All the World Is Old, a new collection by John Rybicki about the death of his wife, the poet Julie Moulds.
And even though by topic the collections have similarities, the poems themselves are quite different. Like Without, the poems contain domestic scenes and hard-to-witness hospital stays, but the poems are ecstatic and highly charged, as if the prospect of death makes living all the more precariously glorious.
“When you are in danger, the adrenaline quickens; your senses are heightened. You realize, I am not dead yet, but I could be soon. And each.....Read More
By Jodi Kantor
Reviewed by Herb Boyd
News junkies, particularly those afflicted with Obamamania, will be very disappointed in Jodi Kantor’s The Obamas. On the other hand, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Six Pack or ordinary Americans who love the kind of good gossip that obtains in People magazine, for example, will love how Kantor dishes the dirt, airs the White House dirty laundry, and discloses the day-to-day happenings that early on disillusioned Barack and Michelle about being the most powerful Black man and Black woman in the world.
Long before the book hit the shelves, a number of reviewers had chewed on and stewed over Kantor’s conclusions, and most of them settled on the turmoil between Michelle and her husband’s chief advisors.
The nasty spats and rancor between her and.....Read More
The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories
By Don DeLillo
An essay by Emily Rosen
Literary icon that he is, Don DeLillo is not everyone’s – pardon the cliché – cup of tea. A DeLillo experience is beyond a mere read. It’s an immersion in the melding of exquisite language and the illumination of being that culminates into a unique creative entity. If that sounds excessively opaque, that’s what happens when you try to synthesize the DeLillo oeuvre.
He is a serious commentator on the world as it is, and in that pursuit, an observer of the minutiae of life. And how opaque can that be!
“ ‘What do you really see? What do you really hear?’ DeLillo ponders when I ask how he stays tuned into the dream waves of American life.” (from an interview with John Freeman in 2006) “That’s what in theory differentiates a writer from .....Read More
Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan
By Ahmed Rashid
Reviewed by Fred Beauford
Pakistan on the Brink is a book that bills itself as being about the future fate of two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, when all is said and done, it is really an interesting, and sometimes scary account of some of the inner workings of present day Pakistan.
Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist based in Lapore, presents “a litany of problems” facing Pakistan; most famously, the failure since the partition with India in 1947, to establish a “coherent national identity. Is it not a democracy as envisioned by its founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah? Are its people Muslim first, Sindhis or Punjabis second, and Pakistanis third? Or are they Pakistanis first and foremost?“ Rashid asks, without giving us an answer, and leaving us to wonder that maybe they are all of the above.
That, for me, more than anything, is a good reason for Rashid to focus his main attention on that troubled country. The Pakistan that the world has come to know, and now fears deeply, was discovered to be a hodge-podge of competing tribes, poverty, corruption, violent Islamic militants, clueless leaders, and a country with ”close to one hundred nuclear weapons.”
Yet, as Rashid points out, this did not have to be.
…”Pakistan’s location gives it enormous.....Read More
Ragnarok: The End of the Gods
By A. S. Byatt
Reviewed by Sarah Vogelsong
When the novelist Philip Hensher interviewed A. S. Byatt for the Paris Review a little more than a decade ago, he asked her opinion of the idea that the personal is the political. Given that this feminist doctrine gave women a way to justify the value of their own experiences to their male peers, and led to an explosion of woman-authored, and woman-centric literature, Byatt might have been expected to embrace it wholeheartedly.
But the distinguished English author, ever the free thinker, did not.
“The personal is not the political,” she responded “…The kitchen is not a paradigm for everything.”
It is a refreshing sentiment, particularly in light of the conventions that still dominate women’s literature (whatever that actually means) today. In the “kitchen paradigm,” because the personal is the political, there is no reason to discuss the traditionally political. As a result, the public has been confronted with a deluge of novels about women who appear to live in a vacuum, assuming no place within the social fabric and showing no concern for the currents of the world beyond their doorstep.
We need fear no such thing from Byatt, whose newest work, Ragnarok: The End of the Gods, completely turns its back on the kitchen paradigm. In this masterful retelling of the Norse Armageddon myth, Byatt digs beneath the surface of “quotidian” concerns to get at the most basic themes of existence. Beginning with the creation of Yggdrasil, the World Ash that holds the earth together, the narrative rushes on inexorably to the final clash of the gods when all is annihilated and the world reduced to a “flat surface of black liquid.”
In between these points march a parade of stories unfamiliar.....Read More
Portfolio: David Wallace Crotty does it all
by Kara Fox
The road to Palm Springs is paved with beauty, a mecca for the creative. As you enter the city, having been awed by miles of graceful windmill farms dancing in the wind and driving alongside the textured San Jacinto mountain range as it spreads its dramatic peaks beneath the crystal blue sky, you sense you are in a uniquely wonderful little part of this massive world.
While attending a book signing at Just Fabulous, a marvelous gift store, for Barbara Sinatra's new book, Lady Blue Eyes, I was greeted by a lovely man, camera in hand, ready to take our photo as we entered a lively group of well-wishers.
”Do you mind if I take your photo? Could you stand a little to the left? Another one, please.”
All of this was done in such a lovely way by this consummate professional, as he coaxed us into the perfect pose so as to see Barbara Sinatra in the background, and the books, and art,.....Read More
By Cristina Alger
Reviewed by Janet Garber
A Little Birdie Told Me
This funny looking bird in Central Park the other day landed in the lunch spread in my lap and proceeded to hint strongly that The Darlings is a roman a clef! (The bird was wearing a small beret and had baguette crumbs around his mouth and on his chest.)
Not moving in the legal, financial or socialite circles so lovingly described in this book, I could not verify this one way or another, but it may provide an extra tingle to those more in the know and inclined to reach for this very topical thriller.
Cristina Alger gives us a gripping tale of Masters of the Universe (and their lawyers) on top of the world one minute and sliding precipitously down a one-way chute the next. Only a few pages into the text and you’re whispering to yourself,,.....Read More
The African Gentlemen
…and The Plot to Re-establish The New World Order
A Novel by Fred Beauford
I hope I have not made a big mistake, but I was on my way to a much more interesting time at the office. Ron had put my new desk in a roomy cubicle facing the conference room. I once had one of the few cubicles on the second floor, though not quite as nice as my present one.
Downstairs the workers were lined up, row after row in a large work place, with two large screens in front of them. That was how they were able to pack over a hundred and fifty people on one floor.
As I looked around my new digs, a quick thought, which I quickly dismissed, said no wonder everyone is revolting.
Having a cubicle like the one I once had was a cushy luxury, indeed.
Not on the third floor, however. I can see now that I would have never made it as a novelist, and was thanking myself for turning down Count Eric’s more than generous offer for me to write a novel he had already entitled The African Gentleman, and the Plot to Re-establish the New World Order.
Great title, and I guess, without being a know-it-all, that I was “The African Gentleman,” although I have never stepped foot on the soil of that .....Read More
Golden Empire—Spain, Charles V, and the Creation of America
By Hugh Thomas
Reviewed by Jane M McCabe
When I was in the fourth or fifth grade (in Billings, Montana) I became excited when the teacher charted on a map of the world Columbus’s voyages to the New World beginning in 1492, Cortez’s defeat of Montezuma and conquest of Mexico, Pizarro’s of Peru, and Magellan’s voyage around the world. Ponce de Leon and Coronado were names that were music to my ears as I envisioned what it must have been like to be a Conquistador!
Many years later when I was in Spain it occurred to me that the Spanish have had a huge impact on the world—its customs, language, architecture, and religion spread throughout Mexico and South America. Its influence is rivaled only by that of the British.
My love of history is, I suppose, born out of a lifetime curiosity about the world, its peoples and their stories. But sometimes my knowledge is very simplistic—I only know the outline of what occurred. Such was the case with the Spanish conquest of the new world.
Hugh Thomas is a consummate British historian ,.....Read More
A WRITER'S WORLD
A Writer's World
by Molly Moynahan
“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is lettinggo.” — Herman Hesse.
Nearly twenty years ago I dated an unhappy man whose sadness came from the loss of his mother as a child and other painful memories he carried. I ended up writing a film with a protagonist based on him and a theme that echoed Kate Chopin’s exquisite novel, The Awakening. In brief, the idea of a woman leaving her family to survive was transferred into contemporary New York and the main character was a shrink.
The movie was submitted to a number of competitions and was kindly rejected, once winning something, possibly third prize. We split up; I married and had a baby, moved to London and packed up the script to be shipped to the next destination. We briefly met again in Dallas where I was living, not very happily, but loving being a mother and in love with my then husband.
He came to see me and smoked a huge amount of cigarettes.....Read More
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
By Stephen Greenblatt
Reviewed by Steven Paul Leiva
TThe history of the intellectual growth of humankind has not always been a calm, steady, and progressive one. There have been golden ages, dark ages and renaissances. It has been a thoughtful melodrama full of heroes, villains, and cliffhangers; deep thoughts, knee-jerk reactions, creative insights, and destructive willfulness. If you don't know this story, then you don't know much about humankind at all
An important chapter in this story has been beautifully written by Stephen Greenblatt in The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, Winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Non-Fiction. The hero of this chapter is Poggio Bracciolini, a 15th century book hunter; apostolic secretary to eight popes (many of them corrupt and less than truly holy); a scribe whose script, or penmanship, was an art as well as a craft.
A devout Christian, a participant in chatter and jokes, often.....Read More
Mending: New and Selected Stories
By Sallie Bingham
Reviewed by Loretta H. Campbell
Hope may or may not change the quality of your life, but it will keep you alive if nothing else will. This is the testament of author and playwright, Sallie Bingham (After Such Knowledge [novel] and In the Presence [play] in her newest collection of short stories.
Yet, the characters don’t have big hopes and/or dreams. They just want to get through life with some joy and some comfort. In the title story, “Mending,” a woman has a crush on her therapist but doesn’t like examining her life during the therapy sessions. Bingham’s imagery here and throughout the book is so forceful that it stops your breath. In one passage, the woman describes therapy: “It was a question of opening my mind to the terrible thoughts that flashed through it like barracuda through muddy water.”
The woman slips into a depression and stops bathing and caring for herself. The author has given us snapshots of this young woman’s past. She may or may not.....Read More
Brothels, Depravity, and Abandoned Women: Illegal Sex in Antebellum New Orleans
By Judith Kelleher Schafer
Reviewed by Owen Brown
Erica Jong, an American author and feminist, is credited with writing “Women are the only exploited group in history to have been idealized into powerlessness.” While the veracity of Jong’s statement is unquestionable, the reasons for its longevity and relevancy to Western Civilization, in general, and its applicability to antebellum New Orleans, in particular, are inextricably linked to the financial profits associated with the sins of the flesh.
Dr. Judith Kelleher Schafer’s book titled Brothels, Depravity, and Abandoned Women: Illegal Sex in Antebellum New Orleans invites its readers into a world peopled by public women---a.k.a prostitutes---who illustrate the enduring relevance of Jong’s statement. Historically, the tenacious staying power of this reality, captured by Jong’s statement and their resistance to transcending it, may be attributable to the attitudes/proclivities of men and our collective inability to give up an advantage, in spite of the fact that it truncates the potential of their grandmothers, mothers, sisters, and daughters.
Schafer’s book represents....Read More
The Thirteen Hallows
By Michael Scott and Colette Freedman
Read by Kate Reading
Reviewed by Michael Carey
Picture this: an authority on Celtic folklore and best-selling author meets an internationally produced and up-and-coming playwright. What do you get? Besides the start of a terrible joke, the result would be, and is in fact, the new novel and the first book in a new saga, The Thirteen Hallows, by Michael Scott and Colette Freedman.
The story, which takes place in the UK, starts with a brutal murder. This crime sets the stage for an adventure, which joins the commonplace Sarah Miller with the attractive American, Owen Walker, as they try to stop the release of a great and ancient evil. Sarah starts out as a bystander observing what she thinks is a simple mugging. When she decides to intervene and rescue the old lady, Judith Walker, from an assault by a skinhead and his partner, she puts everyone she has ever known at risk. The dark forces rising will stop at nothing to get a hold of Judith and her prized possession, one of the thirteen hallows.
Sarah is hurtled into this adventure for being a Good Samaritan, which makes her an interesting protagonist. The old woman turns out to have an American nephew, Owen Walker, her next of kin. She charges Sarah with delivering an old, rusty broken sword to him. With the cops on their tail and the bad guys closing in, the pair begin....Read More