Readers of this column know I am a sucker for books about books. Novels like The Little Paris Bookshop, collections of reviews by such notables as Michael Dirda and Nick Hornsby, books touting other books like Book Lust, memoirs like The Reading Promise: My Father And The Books We Shared, all reach out from the shelves of bookstores or libraries, grab me by the shirt collar, and demand to be taken home, read, and reviewed.
For some, that name evokes a city in Morocco, an urban center of four million people quartering one of the more important economies in all of Africa.
In True Stories At The Smoky View (She Writes Press, 2016, 325 pages, $16.95), Vrai Stevens Lynde — the “Vrai” is short for Vraiment — finds herself and a 10-year-old runaway boy trapped in a room at the Smoky View Motel near Bristol, Tennessee, during the great blizzard of 1993. Snowbound for several days — the monster storm has completely closed I-81, and the motel desk clerk delivers food to the stranded travelers on a tractor — Vrai and Jonathan begin comparing notes and sharing stories from their life, an exchange of information resulting in a lifelong friendship and a mutual decision to embark on a crusade to right an injustice.
Some authors and critics sniff at best-sellers. I suppose the idea is that a novel appealing to so many thousands may contain vivid action or fascinating characters, but somehow fall below what critics may regard as the “standards of literature.” In the last hundred years in particular, we have seen a shift in favor of the new and revolutionary in literature over more traditional forms of storytelling. Most critics, for example, would regard Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury as literarily superior to best-selling Erich Marie Remarque’s All Quiet On The Western Front, both of which appeared in 1929.
Let’s go exploring.
More specifically, let’s explore the American South.
New Year’s resolutions and I make for poor company.
Like many reading this column, I have in the past made resolutions designed to correct some flaw in my character or my habits, which often are the same creature. I have rung in the new year vowing to lose weight, to give up drinking, to write more letters and emails to those I love, to keep my big mouth shut when the desire to offer advice wells up in my throat, to exercise more, to eat healthier foods, to pray more, in short, to write out and act upon some proposed change aimed at self-improvement.
Opposites attract, so the old saying runs.
We’ve all known friends, husbands and wives, and lovers who match this adage, and the same can sometimes hold true for books. This week, for example, rupi kaur’s milk and honey and William F. Buckley Jr.’ s A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century snagged my attention. I can hardly imagine two books more different from each other.
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.