In mid-October I attended the second lecture of three at my local library on the Italian artist Caravaggio (1571-1610). A visit to Rome the previous year had sparked my interest in him and his work, and the lecture sent me to the library “Holds” desk where, as the speaker had informed us, he had placed on reserve several books on the painter. Despite having missed the first lecture, and despite the crowd of 70 some attendees at the lecture, I found to my astonishment that no one had checked out any of the books.
Visit any bookshop or library and you will find loads of books telling you how to live a better life, how to take care of those around you, how to do everything from fighting drug addiction to getting accepted by the right college, from winning your fortune at the blackjack table to making out your last will and testament.
Fifty years ago this past spring, on Easter Sunday, Evelyn Waugh died of a heart attack in his home in Combe Florey, England.
Both during his lifetime and in the years following his death, Waugh’s literary reputation underwent several transfigurations. Though Waugh was regarded in mid-life as one of the greatest writers in the English language of his time, his later work was attacked by many critics as being out of step with the times. In the 1980s, with the BBC production of Brideshead Revisited, Waugh’s star once again began an ascent to place him rightfully among the literary geniuses of the twentieth century. Decline And Fall, A Handful of Dust, Brideshead Revisited, his World War II trilogy, Sword Of Honour: these and most of Waugh’s other writings have not only stood the test of time, but are well worth a visit from readers unfamiliar with his work.
This is a delightful book and I am confident that it will be judged one of the best books of this year. All aspects of its release have been shrewdly designed to make it a seasonal favorite. It is a work of “popular fiction,” and its parts (plot, character, etc.) are skillfully woven to make it a best seller in the upcoming holidays.
Of course, we’re intended to read from cover to cover many books — novels, histories, biographies, and more. It would make little sense to begin Mark Helprin’s novel A Soldier of the Great War on page 340 of its 860 pages. We might open and commence reading Paul Hendrickson’s Hemingway’s Boat, on page 241, but we’d miss some of the main points of this fine biography.
In My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers Inc., 2012, 378 pages, $23.95), 84 writers tout their favorite bookshops. The stores beloved by these writers range from Manhattan’s enormous Strand Book Store to our own City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, reviewed here by novelist and poet Ron Rash.
One of the great joys of reading occurs when we bump into a book by an author we’ve never heard of, idly turn the pages, and then find ourselves becoming entranced by the words, the story, and the characters. We take the book home from the library or bookstore, read it as if under a spell, and leave the last word of the last sentence feeling ourselves changed by the encounter, as if we have added some new component to our personality.
Nearly 20 years ago, while browsing the shelves of the Haywood Country Public Library, I came across a collection of videos about Richard Sharpe, a British soldier fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. My sons and I were already fans of Sean Bean, who plays the lead in this remarkable BBC television series of 16 films, each of them 100 minutes long. I knew the films were based on the novels by Bernard Cornwell, and occasionally glanced at one of the books but never read Cornwell.
Among Americans the two most egregious social stigma are smoking and obesity. We relegate smokers to sidewalks and rooftops when they wish to indulge their habit, and some communities have declared vast swatches of public spaces tobacco-free zones, as if blowing smoke in a park will drive men, women, and children to early graves.
Recently, I attended “Coffee With the Poets” at City Lights Bookstore and heard the poet, Newton Smith, read and discuss his new collection, Camino Poems: Reflections on the Way. Smith told his audience that he and his wife, June, had completed the famous 500-mile pilgrimage which runs from the village of St. Jean-Ped-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.