Displaying articles for: August 2010

My Hollywood

An evergreen recipe for engrossing domestic drama: take one white mother and child; add a trusted and beloved servant of lower class and variant ethnicity (accompanying and contrasting servant's child optional); fold in romance, money, careers, remorse, prejudice, empathy and cultural conflicts. Season with both tears and laughter. Bond at high emotional temperatures for a lengthy period of years. Voila! Bourgeois-proletariat heartache soufflé!


The Wild Humorist & The Human Angel

The central event of Mark Twain's life was his 1870 marriage to Olivia Langdon. When the two began courting thirteen months earlier, Livy had been a twenty-three-year-old semi-invalid with waning hope of finding full health or a suitable husband. Twain was ten years older and a rising star, his fame built upon his popular travel book The Innocents Abroad, just published, and his self-promotion as the "Wild Humorist of the Pacific Slope."


The Fever

I chuckle ruefully at the sight of moviegoers flocking to the latest Predator or Alien or Korean horror movie, seeking to be frightened out of their wits by imaginary deadly and vicious beasties with convoluted lifecycles. If only they picked up The Fever, Sonia Shah's engrossing and terrifying study of "how malaria has ruled humankind for 500,000 years," the average person would soon be reduced to a pile of quivering, sentient jelly at the grim toll this incredibly bizarre parasite levies on our species.


Georgette Heyer's Regency World

I confess herewith to a miserable lacuna in my otherwise generally comprehensive literacy: I have never read a single one of Georgette Heyer's twenty-six Regency novels, published from 1935 to 1972, and forming what is surely one of the more beloved and impressive oeuvres in modern literature. So I embarked upon my survey of Georgette Heyer's Regency World—an explication, exploration, loving tribute to, and erudite partial concordance of those sacred texts and the historical soil from which they sprung—with a timorous yet bold humility akin to that of a penniless suitor approaching the rich and landed gruff male guardian of the beautiful young heiress whom he dared to worship.


Chasing Colonel Sellers

If the 1880s represent Mark Twain's best years, they also reflect his worst habits as a writer, and his dizzying capacity to spend time on everything but writing. When not socializing, Twain was preparing and giving speeches—on presidential politics, copyright law, foreign critics, war veterans, women, phrenology, billiards, or "What is Happiness?" According to this snapshot provided by Twain on January 14, 1884, even a quiet night's reading was a whistle-stop tour.


The Lost Cyclist

The time-drowned lads look out at us from the old black-and-white photographs, their faces shining, hearty, and exuberant—or pensive, weary, and distraught. One of the posers—they are all amateur bicycle fanatics from the Victorian era—shows a mild resemblance to the young Paul Newman. He is Frank Lenz, twenty-four-years-old, and he has conceived of the grand and bold notion of cycling alone entirely around the globe. He will never succeed, meeting a mysterious death in Turkey: a death that will induce further heroics from one of his peers. This in a nutshell is the nigh-forgotten saga, now welcomely brought back to light, which David Herlihy briskly and grippingly recounts in The Lost Cyclist.


Who Do You Reckon it Was?

Mark Twain started Huckleberry Finn in 1876, but it was soon in drydock at his "literary shipyard." "I like it only tolerably well," he wrote William Dean Howells, "and may possibly pigeonhole or burn the MS when it is done." Bouts of writing and pigeonholing went on for the next six years. Then, in the spring of 1882 and after decades away, he made a nostalgic trip home in order to gather research for Life on the Mississippi. Read more...


Three years after her award-winning debut graphic novel, Percy Gloom, Cathy Malkasian delivers her stunning followup, Temperance. This solidly grounded parable—rich with contemporary resonance for Fortress America— artfully and modestly flaunts all the same whimsicality, brutality, quiet heroics, worldbuilding, melancholy, weirdness and surrealism of its earlier cousin, but with ratios altered. Whereas Percy Gloom—protagonist and book alike—never lost a certain innocent joie-de-vivre, facing villains and challenges more Lewis Carroll than George Orwell, the new volume shifts its focus to a fable of tyranny and cultish behavior in a world where despair and futility are the rule. But the thick mordant substance of the problems and the exemplary excruciations of the characters end up delivering a more resonant payoff than even Percy's climax.


April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."