Too many books are forgotten as soon as they're published—that doesn't mean they're not worth reading, writing, or talking about. My reading list is generated by interest, whim, and chance—and by what's available at the Brooklyn Public Library.
When writing my reviews, I don’t Google anything about the book or author. To draw my impressions, I rely only on the book itself.
Lessons from the Great Gardeners: Forty Gardening Icons & What They Teach Uspopped up, unbidden, in the Brooklyn Public Library’s online catalogue during a search for one of the gardeners profiled in its pages. It’s not the cheesy “lifestyle” book I was expecting, but a terrific primer on who matters in the gardening world, and why. The expertise of author Matthew Biggs comes through in his interesting, carefully chosen selections, and in his sensitive and intelligent writing.
No Time Like the Present values responding over reacting, creating space to understand and contextualize feelings. Its tone is wondering, compassionate, encouraging, and kind. It is also slyly political. Kornfield writes, “Politicians and media feed our fears…Yes, there are big problems…If you only worry, you’ll feel overwhelmed. What is indisputable is that you are here, now, and you can contribute…You are free to contribute to this world—every moment, every day.” This call to action is the charge that all the drumbeats of the book seem to herald. Yet as Kornfield points out, “hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed.”
“To choose to live with a dog,” Mark Doty writes at the start of Dog Years: A Memoir, “is to agree to participate in a long process of interpretation—a mutual agreement, though the human being holds most of the cards.” In moving but restrained prose, Doty reveals the cards held closest to his chest: his feelings about loving and losing his canine companions, Arden and Beau.
By offering an informed, rigorous, sensitive, nuanced, and compassionate evaluation of Bernstein’s creative output, Shawn, a teacher of composition and music history at Bennington College, achieves a remarkable feat: he gives a master class in biography as music appreciation.
Part of the pleasure for me in discovering and reading this book was remembering a world of the “armchair traveler,” when imagination made the only pictures the mind saw of a trip. This book was published in 1999, pre-European Union. This was before the heyday of the internet, and the age of global tourism, when for many people Paris wasn’t a place, but an idea.
I was watching a lot of the old Hammer Horror Dracula movies at the same time I was reading this, and I think there are a lot of similarities. Facing something scary and possibly unknown, you want to arm yourself with knowledge and weapons, however regressive they may be. Vampires hate sunlight, garlic, the sign of the cross, and holy water. Guys like a girl who looks “hot, hot, hot. Not slutty—sexy!” Guys like a chase.
Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark examines the personal life and career of Kael, who established herself, largely through her writing at The New Yorker, as the preeminent voice of 20th Century movie criticism. The book is well-written, well-researched, and Kellow does a good job of staying out of the way. What comes through is Kael’s voice.