In the Empire of Ice

Gretel Ehrlich, one of the far north's most prismatic eulogists, rubs woefully close to threnody in these latest dispatches from the Arctic reaches. "This is a book about genocide…This is a book about terricide." It is a book about ice -- "womb, home, and hearse for every Arctic species" -- and what happens when it melts, taking with it into the thin polar air the ecological imagination and ethnographic landscapes of entire Arctic societies, hunting societies that co-evolved with the ice, surely as they will co-evaporate with it as the climate warms. Ehrlich has found much to admire in these people -- four groups of them are portrayed here, from the Bering Sea to the Barents Sea to Baffin Bay -- including the lightness and fluidity they bring to living on the thin edge of the wedge, their generosity and fortitude and humor, their ingenious cosmologies and modesty of needs, not to forget their tailoring: emperor goose shirts, polar bear pants, bird-skin underwear.

 Now the ice is disappearing, glaciers receding, forests drunkenly tottering as the permafrost liquefies, coastal villages falling into the sea -- "a whole frozen world going soft in faint light." Ehrlich is, of course, aghast that so little is being done to counter the man-made pollution that is accelerating the destruction of these lands (the greenhouse defrosting, but radioactive lichen and oil-washed beaches, too). Though there are pockets of despair -- "I'm trying to take in the losses, but I can't. I'm filled with rage." -- more so are there feisty engagements with the forces of darkness: the polluters, the crushing demands of sovereignty and capitalism, cold war and proselytization. She also makes manifest that much of the beauty of this strange, hard place -- where the sun sometimes rises and sometimes sets, its impermanence tamed by circularity, and the cold will freeze the jelly in your eyeballs -- paradoxically lies in its fragility.

April 21: " 'Pull' includes 'invitations to tea' at which one hears smiling reminders that a better life is available to people who stop talking about massacres..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.