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Notes on Current Books

ISSUE:  Winter 1995


The Press Gang: Newspapers & Politics, 1863-1878, by Mark Wahlgren Summers.

Perhaps the greatest improvement in Mark Summers’ recent book The Era of Good Stealings over its predecessor The Plundering Generation was the author’s heightened understanding of the workings of the partisan press and the manner in which the press influenced and, indeed, helped create the popular image of corruption in politics in the Gilded Age. Last year’s Era of Good Stealings appears to have blessed Summers with so much material on the press that did not fit into that book that within a few short months he has produced this first-rate companion volume on the great papers, editors, and correspondents of the age of Presidents Johnson, Grant, and Hayes. No historian has a more extensive knowledge of the newspapers of this era. Summers writes in a lively and colorful style worthy of the best correspondents and editorialists of the Gilded Age. The Press Gang is by far the best book yet produced on the 19th-century press and is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the politics of this period. North Carolina $49.95 cloth, $17.95 paper

Second to None, Vol. I & Vol. II, edited by Ruth Barnes Moynihan, Cynthia Russert, & Lauried Crumpacker.

This valuable contribution to women’s history includes prose, speeches, letters, and other documents written by some of the famous and “ordinary” American women who shaped our nation. The first volume covers the 16th century to 1865 and the second from 1865 to the present. Many readers will be eager to revisit well-known writing by such illustrious women of the recent past as Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Anita Hill. But the selections from early American women are perhaps even more valuable because unfamiliar. In both volumes, each well-chosen selection is introduced by a brief but useful discussion of its historical and biographical significance. The collection’s only significant flaw is that some of the excerpts are too short to give us an adequate sense of the author’s message. The abrupt ending of the selection from Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique exemplifies this problem. While the editors should be commended for including so many women from history, it perhaps would have been wiser to either use longer excerpts from fewer women or to allot three volumes for the project.

Nebraska $20

Baseball: An Illustrated History, by Goef-frey C. Ward and Ken Burns.

This beautiful, super-abundantly illustrated history of baseball (which includes excellent brief pieces by leading writers— Thomas Boswell, Roger Angell, and George Will) is the companion volume to Ken Burns’ PBS television series. As baseball descends to new depths of vulgarity, mismanagement, and greed, this nostalgic book is an elegiac tribute to a game that was, to a game that is no more, to baseball when it was still a game. There are many rare photos included here; some will bring a tear to the eye of the true baseball fan.

Knopf $60

The Battle of the Wilderness, May 5-6, 1864, by Gordon C. Rhea.

The bloody engagements known as the Wilderness in May 1864 have not received the historical attention that they deserve. To be sure, the Wilderness lacked a decisive outcome. Nor may one find anything so stirring as Jackson’s flank march at Chancellorsville or the defense of Little Round Top at Gettysburg. Indeed, glorious anecdotes seem profoundly inappropriate for a brutal slugging match punctuated by the immolation of wounded soldiers by burning underbrush such as occurred at the Wilderness. Gordon Rhea brings the enthusiasm of an amateur historian to his narration of these events. The author does at times go overboard in his prose, so that the book often reads like a novel. Rhea’s research, however, appears impeccable. Unlike many recent works on the military history of the Civil War, this work is not mere pulp. Readers can enjoy this book with confidence. Louisiana State $34.95

Contraception and Abortion in 19th Century America, by Janet Farrell Brodie.

Partisan rhetoric generated from the right wing of the reproduction/abortion debates would suggest that the imminent demise of American civilization can be traced to recent legal and attitudinal changes concerning sexual practices. In the old days, the zealots argue, topics such as birth control and abortion were taboo— not to be discussed; much less acted upon. Not so, says historian Janet Brodie, who has researched the topic through popular literature, patent records, and the catalogues of apothecaries. Americans in the past century practiced reproductive control with all the ingenuity of their modern counterparts, though with less technology and a bit more discretion. Particularly telling are the diaries of one family’s sexual history that Brodie unearthed. They chronicle how last century’s end was similar to our own era, with religious extremists and opportunistic politicians vying to criminalize the intimate choices normally made behind bedroom doors. Cornell $33.95

Adapting to a New World: English Society in the Seventeenth-Century Chesapeake, by James Horn.

In a densely packed description of life in the 17th-century Chesapeake, Horn argues that cultural continuities—English values, norms, and attitudes—were more important than the environment in shaping colonial society in Maryland and Virginia. Horn begins by giving the English context of emigration, goes on to describe the immigrant society that grew in the Chesapeake, and then examines family, kinship, and community, work, material culture, authority, and religion in successive chapters. This is an important book, one of the few that examines the transfer of culture from Europe to America in a comparative way. The research is both wide and deep; the book is well-edited and beautifully produced. North Carolina $55

The Chronicles of London, by Andrew Saint and Gillian Darley.

This handsome tome is an illustrated history of the city from Roman and Saxon times through the postwar period. It includes chapters on the city under the Jaco-beans, Tudors, and Stuarts, which feature portraits, maps, and architectural views, in conjunction with brief descriptions of various details of city life culled from a variety of primary sources. A map of London is combined with “a Venetian’s impressions” of the city and accounts of the Thames freezing over are juxtaposed with a view of the “great frost fair” in 1583-4. This is a book to be nibbled at—and with pleasure!

St. Martin’s $40

The Price of Nationhood: The American Revolution in Charles County, by Jean B. Lee.

Jean B. Lee’s The Price of Nationhood is, in essence, a story of loss. She examines the impact of the American Revolution on the rural communities of Charles County, Maryland. Attempting to recapture the individual experiences of those who witnessed this transforming event, Lee traces the personal histories of the county’s residents, both black and white, from the birth of the colonial resistance movement in the 1760’s through the nation-building process of the 1780’s and 1790’s. Her story of political and economic transformation unfolds in three parts. Although they secured freedom, Charles County’s revolutionaries paid a price. Their once vibrant plantation society emerged from the war economically devastated and drained of opportunity. Despite her narrow focus, Lee’s well-crafted study should appeal to historians and nonspecialists alike. Norton $29.95

A History of the Atlantic Monthly, 1857-1909: Yankee Humanism at High Tide and Ebb, by Ellery Sedgwick.

This interesting and well-written book examines the first 50 years of The Atlantic Monthly through the policies and perspectives of its first seven editors (including Lowell, Howells, and Page). Sedgwick traces the evolution of New England intellectual culture from Emersonian individualism to the eve of Progressive conversion under the magazine’s dominant editors of the 20th century, the author’s grandfather. Unencumbered by the impedimenta of literary scholarship (footnotes and criticism), the book manages to capture much of the spirit of Yankee Humanism in this period of genteel intellectual decay.

Massachusetts $40

Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North, by Yuri Slezkine.

This fascinating and authoritative book covers the history of relations between Russian civilization and the hunter-gatherer peoples of northern Eurasia. Slezkine charts changing Russian policies toward these circumpolar cultures beginning with the fur trade (often “tribute” instead of “trade”) in the 11th century, through the expansion of the Russian empire under the Czars, to the modernization policies of the Soviets. Slezkine argues that attention to this history reveals as much about the construction of Russian identity as it does about the cultural identity of the northern “others.” Indeed, the cultural politics of

Russia vis-a-vis Western Europe were repeatedly played out in the north, where Russian officials and intellectuals put into practice enlightenment and romantic concepts of the noble and ignoble savages. This book is an important addition to the growing literature on comparative colonialisms. Cornell $32.95

The Third Day at Gettysburg ir Beyond, edited by Gary W. Gallagher.

This slim volume containing six essays is thoroughly revisionist in approach and interpretation but surprisingly enough it tends to support older judgments about the main characters and events of the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg and its aftermath. These essays unwittingly go far to prove that when the dust of modern Civil War historiography settles, the demise of the Lost Cause notwithstanding, James Longstreet will remain unacquitted for his role in Lee’s defeat, George Pickett’s charge will reign supreme in American military myth, and George Meade will be praised for not foolishly striking Lee’s wounded but dangerous Confederate army as it made its trek back across the Potomac River. North Carolina $24.95

Spreading The Word: The Bible Business in Nineteenth-Century America, by Peter J. Wosh.

The title of this work would lead one to believe that the subject was the business of Bible selling in the 19th century, but it is about the American Bible Society. The author, the director of the ABS library and archives, has given a more academic history of this important institution. The book is heavily weighted toward the beginning of the century and seems to race through the latter half of the century. One wishes that the author had kept his initial pace and given as detailed coverage to the end of the century. The author displays some real insight into the way in which cultural factors affected the way the ABS did business.

The insight is not without the aforementioned lack of detail in discussing the interaction of the society and the Bible publishers in the last 50 years of the 19th century. The work shows some real possibilities and perhaps an expansion of the work to greater depth could yield a truly significant modern work on this influential institution. Cornell $35

Choosing Truman, by Robert Ferrell.

Conventional academic wisdom is that the physical and biological sciences are cumulative and the social sciences are not. Many picture the natural scientist maintaining a focus on the same or a closely related research problem for the better part of a lifetime. Critics charge that humanists and social scientists lurch from one research area to another rather than patiently adding to their earlier research. If there is any truth in this criticism, Professor Robert Ferrell is a conspicuous exception. A very distinguished University of Indiana historian, he not only has devoted much of his life to diplomatic history; he has published a series of basic studies of Harry S. Truman. Choosing Truman is the latest; and while Ferrell in part goes over familiar ground—for example, FDR rejecting Jimmy Byrnes as a vice presidential candidate because of labor’s opposition—he brings new evidence and profound insights to bear on the vice presidential selection process. Missouri $24.95

Leaving England: Essays on British Emigration in the Nineteenth Century, by Charlotte Erickson.

These seven essays (some reprints of earlier work, some new) represent the considered reflections on the nature, motives and myths surrounding 19th-century transatlantic migration from one of the pioneers of this field of inquiry. As ever, Ms. Erick-son’s essays are thoughtful, scholarly, and stimulating. Cornell $38.50


Chloe Plus Olivia: An Anthology of Lesbian Literature from the Seventeenth Century to the Present, edited by Lillian Fa-derman.

Why was this volume designed to resemble a Norton reader for high school or college students? Because it proposes a new canon, and to do so persuasively requires certain representational codes. “Canonizing by compendium” also involves diplomacy (hence the presence of Montaigne and Rousseau), a sense of continuity (e.g., from Aphra Ben and Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz through Amy Lowell, Djuna Barnes, and Anais Nin, to Dorothy Allison, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Jackie Kay), as well as an eye for the typical and the ostensibly self-contained. But are any of the contents “good?” In the political context that gave rise to the issue and the book, this may be an irrelevant question, but since literature is more than reflection (or subversion) of dominant ideology, it would be irresponsible not to ask, in the guise of an advocatus diaboli. Everything Faderman selected is certainly readable and intriguing; much of it invites repeated and closer examination; some of the finds—or other work by newly spotlighted authors—may even survive the Movement and find a durable place among texts read for their own sake and in their own nature. This may not constitute canonization, but is a first step toward it—beatification, perhaps. Viking $29.95

Ventriloquized Bodies, by Janet Beizer.

Surely one of the most distinguished studies of French literature to appear in many years, this well-written and absorbing book examines the narratives of hysteria in 19th-century France. Based on meticulous research in medical history, Beizer’s book is centered on the fascinating relations between Louise Colet and Gustave Flaubert. Precisely documented historical reconstruction is skillfully combined here with sensitive, close readings of texts in a fresh and provocative view of an intriguing and timely subject. All scholars and students of French literature are in the author’s debt. Cornell $17.95 paper

On Writers and Writing, by John Gardner.

More than a decade after his premature death, John Gardner’s uncollected essays and reviews have been gathered together in this handsome posthumous volume. Everything in these pages (with the exception of an oddly misplaced extract from Gardner’s working notes for The Sunlight Dialogues) is of interest, though his remarks vary in quality; for instance, his apercus concerning Lewis Carroll, Italo Calvino, William Gaddis, Walker Percy, and William Gass somewhat jar against his more pedestrian observations regarding Vladimir Nabokov and William Styron. In all, though, this is a remarkably welcome release, with an admirable introductory essay by Charles Johnson. Addison Wesley $25

Black Women Novelists and the Nationalist Aesthetic, by Madhu Dubey.

This book examines the relationship between African-American nationalist ideologies of the 1960’s and 1970’s, black feminist literary criticism, and the work of three novelists—Toni Morrison, Gayl Jones and Alice Walker. Dubey concisely analyzes “the difficult negotiation with contemporary conditions of readability” that all three novelists have engaged. As women, they have both resisted and profited from nationalist calls for the liberation of a unitary black [male] subject; as artists, they have both resisted and profited from nationalist calls for the subordination of art to politics. A clear and uncluttered writer, Dubey helps us understand these ideological and literary complexities.

Indiana $29.95 cloth, $12.95 paper

Late Imperial Romance, by John McClure.

This book maps out an interesting territory for critical investigation. McClure shows how some of the most talented of contemporary authors—Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Joan Didion—have continued a tradition of imperial fiction begun by Conrad, Kipling, and Forster. McClure argues convincingly that contemporary novels are often preoccupied with the same issues that animated works like Heart of Darkness, Kim, and A Passage to India: the encounter between East and West, the possibility of adventure on the periphery of empire, the impact of imperial enterprises on a nation’s domestic policies. Unfortunately, for all his subtle observations on the works he discusses, McClure is in the grip of strong anti-Western and anti-American prejudices that continually turn his book into a one-sided polemic. He is so certain of the truth of his own position that he feels entitled to sit back as a critic and smugly and sanctimoniously cheer on authors when they agree with him and chastise them when they fail to live up to his admittedly high standards of political correctness. In discussing an author as elusive as DeLillo, for example, McClure somehow feels quite comfortable in stating unequivocally what his novels mean (often quoting characters as if they simply speak for DeLillo). In one of the low points of the book, McClure comes perilously close to identifying DeLillo’s vision with that of Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo movies. McClure raises many interesting questions in this book; if only he weren’t so sure he has all the answers.

Verso $59.95 cloth, $18.95 paper

Art, Dialogue, and Outrage: Essays on Literature and Culture, by Wole Soyinka.

This is a rich and varied collection of essays, written over the past 30 years, and anyone interested in Soyinka in particular or African literature in general will want to read it. Some of the essays, like “Who’s Afraid of Elesin Oba?” shed light on specific works of Soyinka’s (in this case, his drama Death and the King’s Horseman). Other essays deal with a variety of African writers, including some with whom Soyinka has engaged in lively polemics (his sense of humor and mastery of sarcasm help make his essays a delight to read). The volume also contains essays on authors from the European canon, such as Aristophanes and Shakespeare, subjects to which Soyinka brings a fresh perspective. Several of the essays deal with more general subjects, offering, for example, Soyin-ka’s observations on art and culture. Of particular interest is “The Critic and Society: Barthes, Leftocracy and Other Mythologies,” a deft dissection of the pretensions of overly theorized French criticism. Together these essays give a sense of the range of Soyinka’s interests and the power of his mind. Pantheon $25

Under Review: Further Writings on Writers, 1946-1990, by Anthony Powell.

This fascinating collection of brief essays on mostly English authors marks the culmination of Anthony Powell’s distinguished career as a literary critic for such publications as the Daily Telegraph, Apollo, Punch, the Spectator, and the Times Literary Supplement. A first-rate novelist himself, Powell has developed a unique ability to assess the work of other novelists with an insight that is both witty and intelligent. Although Powell has been alive most of the 20th century, the range of his knowledge is so broad and yet so detailed that one finds it hard to believe that he authored this rich collection on his own. Powell’s unmistakable panache and grace unify this eclectic group of literary essays and suggest that he has cultivated personal friendships with each of the several dozen authors he discusses here.

Chicago $34.95

Comic Transactions: Literature, Humor, and the Politics of Community in Twentieth-Century Britain, by James F. English.

This ambitious and carefully researched study offers astute readings in what English calls the “politics of literary humor.” In his introduction, he offers a brief overview of the wide array of work that has been done on humor and literature. The goal of his book, however, is to show with close readings of literary texts and their historical context the relation of these texts to the sociopolitical dimensions of humor. English perceives this relation as a way to define and explore the dynamics of community; as he sees it, “comic transactions constitute a field on which the categories and contradictions of community may be freely set to work.” The readings of particular texts are insightful on their own, but to fully appreciate the complexity of English’s argument, one must pay attention to the way it develops as he turns from such modernist authors as Wydham Lewis and Joseph Conrad to Salman Rushdie’s politically explosive post-modern comedy.

Cornell $15.95

Creating American Civilization: A Geneol-ogy of American Literature as an Academic Discipline, by David R. Shumway.

Following on the heels of Kermit Vanderbilt’s American Literature and the Academy and Gerald Graffs Professing Literature comes David Shumway’s Creating American Literature, a disciplinary history that, as Shumway puts it, “confronts rather than marginalizes the impact of the institutional formation and cultural context of the discipline on the knowledge that it produces.” In other words, “American literature” for Shumway is not a predetermined subject but one created in the very process of its study. Beginning in 1890 and ending in the 1960’s (Leo Marx’s 1964 Machine in the Garden is the last text he treats), Shumway traces the evolution of American literature as a discipline, looking closely at scholarly articles and books for the research practices they reveal. Although he also considers some curricular practices, the focus is largely on the production of knowledge, not its transmission. Throughout, Shumway makes the notsurprising argument that the invention of American literature as a discipline was closely tied to the development of American nationalism. Minnesota $21.95

The Unity of Reason: Essays on Kant’s Philosophy, by Dieter Henrich, edited and introduced by Richard Velkley.

Some works better remain untranslated. This collection of articles by Dieter Hen-rich is a case in point. The four essays on the “unity of subjectivity,” the “concept of moral insight and Kant’s doctrine of the fact of reason,” the “ethics of autonomy,” and “Kant’s transcendental deduction” might indeed have been classics of Kant scholarship in Germany at their time, but the present translation comes 20 to 40 years after the fact—what does the editor hope these articles of the mid-fifties to the mid-seventies will achieve in the mid-nineties when the philosophical agenda, also of Kant scholarship, has moved so dramatically? It also does not help the project that the four articles are translated by four different persons. This brings an unevenness of style and vocabulary into an already highly abstract and difficult text. The editor is not one of the translators, so that the question can even be raised in how far he is qualified to (re)present and introduce the present work. The high price will keep this work out of the hands of most people. Those who can afford it will be better advised to buy a more recent book of Hen-rich—and in German! Harvard $45

The Art of Translating Prose, by Burton Raffel.

This is an immensely interesting, informative, and at times irritating, discussion of what might be called the anatomy of translation. Prose, which is shown to be different from poetry, has its own rules which are here based largely on syntactical construction. Meaning, the author maintains quite rightly, is conveyed by style, as well as by words. In an effort to judge the quality of translation, therefore, he is much concerned with counting clauses, sentences, commas, and periods (a practice which may have little significance in early manuscripts), and with the flow and shape of the narrative. Still, it is evident from some of the examples that a too rigid interpretation can result in a loss of expression, and the author, who is quick to condemn others, is not without his own grammatical faults and undistinguished turns of phrase. But the importance of what he has to say largely outweighs the flaws, and makes this a book which should be read by everyone who reads an English version of a foreign work. Pennsylvania State $29.95

The Gothic Sublime, by Vijay Mishra.

This book poses some fascinating questions, and its basic thrust, to trace a kind of postmodern tendency in Gothic fiction, makes for a provocative thesis. Both the bizarre subject matter and the convoluted narrative techniques of Gothic fiction do in many ways anticipate the concerns of contemporary fiction. Mishra takes up many of the standard texts of the Gothic tradition— The Castle of Otranto, Caleb Williams, and Frankenstein—but he also brings a number of seldom discussed books into his argument, offering an extended treatment of the development of the vampire legend and filling out his coverage of Mary Shelley with analysis of Mathilda and the underrated novel The Last Man. Mishra offers valuable insights into many of the works he discusses, but unfortunately his book is marred by a ponderous theoretical apparatus and in general a tendency to rely too heavily on other critics to make his points. The book is also weak in organization, both on the local level and its overall structure. Mishra does not proceed chronologically in his argument; in itself this need not be a problem, but he offers no explanation, for example, of why he discusses Frankenstein after The Last Man, even though it was written earlier. One ends up often wondering why he takes up specific works in the order he does. NYU Press $19.95


Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., by John C. Jeffries, Jr.

The first prerequisite for literary success is to select a topic on which you have had some persona] experience and know firsthand. The author fulfills that mandate admirably in this biography. In addition to having served as a law clerk to Justice Powell, Jeffries is an outstanding law professor who has published prolifically on constitutional law. The book should therefore be read profitably not only by concerned citizens who wish to gain an accurate insight into the American political process in general and the federal judiciary in particular but also by law students seeking a personal role model on whom they may base their future professional success at the bar. Justice Powell’s disparate distinguished accomplishments range from senior partnership in one of the leading corporate firms in the nation, to the presidencies of the American Bar Association and the Richmond School Board during the days of segregation and massive resistance, all of which prepared him ideally for future judicial public service. And personally, he was a man of absolute integrity and impeccable character. His name surely will be found on any list of the 10 most memorable members of the Supreme Court in the 20th century. But sadly, he may be the last of an endangered species—a true Southern gentleman! Scribner’s $30

No Gifts from Chance: A Biography of Edith Wharton, by Shari Benstock.

Edith Wharton was to Old New York what Margaret Mead would later be to the tribes of New Guinea: an ironic, yet empa-thetic analyst whose insights were based on years of total yet lucid immersion. Wharton was also an artist—so talented, well-schooled, and innovative that her narratives still delight new readers with “surprising inevitabilities” on all levels of structure. To Benstock, the author of Left Bank Women and Textualizing the Feminine, Wharton’s perspective and technique are derivatives of a life-long project to achieve autonomy against the odds set by her family, society, and even intimates. Benstock’s case for Wharton’s success imbues the novelist with heroism—not only from a feminist, but a broader, humanistic, standpoint. Distinguished by solid, telling (and often new) evidence, judicious analysis and a presentation as fluent as it is graceful, this is a major biography.

Scribner’s $28

Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography, by Jeffrey Meyers.

It’s the curse of the literary biographer to discover new things to say, or new ways to say old things, about the famous among us. In fact, Jeffrey Meyers prefaces Scott Fitzgerald by noting that “this biography places much greater emphasis on Scott’s drinking, on Zelda’s hospitals and doctors, especially Oscar Forel and Robert Carroll, on his love affairs, before and after Zelda’s breakdown,. . .” and so on. Meyers, who writes biographies faster than some write novels, has chosen the darker side of Fitzgerald’s life to emphasize, filling out in great detail Alice Toklas’s claim that Fitzgerald was “one of those great tragic American figures.” His research is remarkable—he devotes one of three appendices to his quest for Bijou O’Conor, with whom Fitzgerald had an affair in 1930; in another he gives a timeline of Zelda’s illnesses— but seeing such emphasis placed on Fitzgerald’s many weaknesses leaves one wondering what the purpose of biography ultimately should be. Certainly not hagiog-raphy, but perhaps less National Enquirer and more about the novels for which we remember Fitzgerald in the first place.

HarperCollins $27.50

The Last Best Hope of Earth: Abraham Lincoln and the Promise of America, by Mark E. Neely, Jr.

Mark E. Neely, Jr. is John Francis Ban-non Professor of History and American Studies at Saint Louis University and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties. The focus of his latest book is the brief but eventful years between the summer of 1860 and the spring of 1865. Building on other studies and some of the revisionist works, Neely surveys this period and what went before and helps the reader to see Lincoln as an ambitious politician, conservative capitalist, a president who sought to preserve the Union above all, and a leader who was the driving force in pushing the nation toward emancipation while being pushed by events which he once said controlled him. Neely’s study is a work of surpassing clarity, and he helps us to see the intellectual and political growth of Lincoln and his ability to understand power and purpose in the history of the Republic. Harvard $24.95

Appalachian Autumn, by Marcia Bonta.

Published by the University of Pittsburgh’s series in Nature and Natural History, Appalachian Autumn is a beautifully written account of the author’s day-by-day interaction with the natural world surrounding her home in the mountains of central Pennsylvania. Like Marcia Bonta’s previous widely acclaimed book Appalachian Spring, Appalachian Autumn poses large questions about people’s responsibilities toward the natural world we far too often thoughtlessly exploit. Bonta does not come up with any easy answers, but invites her readers to enter into the beautiful, endangered land she describes and ponder for themselves whether it is right to sacrifice it for temporary economic gain.

Pittsburgh $15.95

True North, by Jill Ker Conway.

Although this sequel to the author’s memoirs of childhood in Australia, The Road from Coorain, is not as absorbing and haunting as the earlier book, it is nonetheless a thoughtful, interesting, and well-wrought work. She traces her career in the United States and Canada, from graduate education at Harvard through her ascendancy to the presidency of Smith College, discussing her marriage, travels, friendships, and personal aspirations. The author is an exemplary figure. A courageous woman, with a will of steel, tempered by a quiet sense of humor, she writes with a reverence for the beauties of nature and poetry. Her own historical studies of women and attitudes toward feminism are of particular interest. Knopf $23

Ezra Pound and James Laughlin: Selected Letters, edited by David M. Gordon.

This book addresses three readerships; one is destined to be pleased by it, and the others disappointed. Biographical factolo-gists will revel in the new glimpses Gordon’s selection provides of Pound’s life and contacts, especially his long and seldom simple relationship with disciple-publisher-caretaker James Laughlin. For students of modern poetry, however, pickings will be slim, because Pound had played out his revolutionary role long before the first exchange, dated 1933. Connoisseurs of what Eliot called Pound’s “epistolary eminence” will similarly find little to pique their interest: by the early 30’s, his youthful blend of candor, magnanimity, literary shrewdness, erudition, and irrepressible wordplay had gone up in paranoid, politicized smoke. Norton $30

Aesthetic Autobiography, by Suzanne Nal-bantian.

This conventionally academic monograph investigates the autobiographical transformations in the fiction of Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Virginia Wolf, and

Anais Nin. After a conventional review of the history of autobiography, the author presents an unexceptional reading of her four subjects. The book is not written with a light touch. Nor does it deliver deep insight into its subjects. Indeed, it does not clearly define the very nature of aesthetic autobiography. Recommended for graduate students in search of bibliography on autobiography. St. Martin’s $35

Ezra Pound: The Tragic Years, 1925-72, by J. J. Wilhelm.

Less a finished biography than a rich, preliminary gathering of data and an opening of perspectives, this volume completes Wilhelm’s project, begun four years ago in the same publisher’s Ezra Pound in London and Paris, 1908-1925. Wilhelm’s interviews and archival research broaden and deepen the data base on Pound’s descent into ideology, isolation, and madness as well as the almost uninterrupted deterioration of his poetry, the latter of which Wilhelm treats perfunctorily and naively. In sum, Wilhelm’s work is a but a starting point for probing analysis and interpretation. Penn State $49.50

Mexican Lives, by Judith Adler Hellman.

The enactment of NAFTA, effective January 1, 1995, has made more important than ever before, a better understanding of our neighbors South of the Border in general, and not just of their economy. This need is admirably met in this vibrant book, through personal interviews, in which the author takes us into the homes and lifestyles of 15 Mexicans ranging from a poor street vendor to a wealthy industrialist. Their personal portraits provide an intimate picture of modern Mexico as it enters into the global world. They will enlighten anyone interested in that magical country, with all of its wants. For example, we learn all about the abuses of the Charros (corrupt union officials); the absolute reign of the Porras (vicious thugs); the frequent demands for nordidas (bribes); and the coyotes whose greedy services arrange for illegal border crossings.

The New Press $22.95

Defend the Valley: A Shenandoah Family in the Civil War, by Margaretta Barton Colt.

This is an extraordinary collection of letters, diaries, and memoirs from two prominent Shenandoah Valley families united by marriage, the Bartons and Joneses. The families sent 11 sons into battle, most of whom served in the legendary Stonewall Brigade, but their record is not confined to mere personal matters. Wartime Virginia comes to life as one follows these soldiers up and down the valley on Jackson’s forays and sees not only the extreme sufferings of the Confederate soldiers but also the struggles to maintain farms and businesses and the resourcefulness and courage of the women left at home. Orion Books $35

Loving Garbo, by Hugh Vickers.

In the tradition of movie-star biographies, Loving Garbo gossips about the sex life of its subject and shows off glamorous illustrations of the famous film star at work and at play. Only die-hard Greta Garbo fans will want to do more than skim the prose and admire all the lovely black and white photos. This is not to say that the story Vickers has to tell is dull. Garbo had a slew of suitors, but Vickers focuses here on two who briefly made it past Garbo’s self-constructed fortress before they were summarily banished. For more than two decades, Garbo dallied with the enigmatic bisexual dandy Cecil Beaton. Vickers includes many of Beaton’s letters about the affair but, unfortunately, did not have access to the few that Garbo wrote in return. Garbo’s short and tumultuous affair with Mercedes de Acosta (an energetic lesbian who also had a fling with Marlene Dietrich) is less well documented, but Vickers makes up for this lack of detail with some lively speculation about what the affair implies about Garbo’s sexuality. Vickers gestures toward drawing larger conclusions about how Garbo’s gender-bending lifestyle fueled her fame, but for the most part, sticks to the nuts and bolts of narrating her strange romances. Random House $25


In the Tennessee Country, by Peter Taylor.

In In the Tennessee Country, Peter Taylor expands his earlier short story, “Cousin Aubrey,” into a marvelously crafted, engrossing novel. Nathan Longfort, a well-known art historian who teaches at the University of Virginia, narrates this story in a leisurely but precise fashion. The central event of Longfort’s life was the train ride he took when four years old to accompany his grandfather’s casket to its burial ground. His absorption with this experience and his obsession with his cousin Aubrey (who disappeared nearly without a trace after the funeral) force him to continually reflect on their significance in his adult life. What he discovers about himself is gradually revealed over the course of the story. Entwined in his sensually evocative recollections are insights regarding the more comfortable life of the critic over the less certain existence of the artist, as well as a wonderful critique of the politics of academic institutions. In the Tennessee Country is a masterful performance and a pleasure from beginning to end.

Knopf $21

The Father of a Murderer, by Alfred Andersch.

This was Andersch’s last novel (published in Germany after the author’s death in 1979). Based on Andersch’s memories of Heinrich Himmler’s father, who examined Andersch in Greek when the author was a boy in a classical Gymnasium, the novel tells the story of a single Greek lesson.

Herr Himmler, the school principal, takes over the Greek class for the day, during the course of which his mounting cruelty reflects a desire to offend the fathers of particular boys and to impart to all his pupils a lesson in discipline and political order. It is a narrative at once absorbing and painful, and really quite extraordinary.

New Directions $17.95

Bitter Herbs, by Natasha Cooper.

This is the fourth mystery novel in a series featuring a protagonist with the implausible name of Willow King. As undemanding as one’s expectations of this genre should be, Ms. Cooper (aka Daphne Wright) manages to disappoint. The mystery is tedious, its resolution is obvious, the characters have fewer dimensions than can be measured by common Euclidean geometry, and the text is littered with moments of inappropriate pontification (if we cannot learn our moral philosophy from detective fiction, where else can we hope to find it?). Reread Chesterton or Doyle instead.

Crown $22

The Crossing, by Cormac McCarthy.

Following the National Book Award-winning All The Pretty Horses, this is the second volume in the author’s “Border Trilogy.” Even better than the first volume, it has made critics invoke Faulkner, Melville, Hemingway, and Cervantes— justifiably, because there is a power and universal scope to McCarthy’s fiction that set it apart from the literary fashions of our day. The author describes the journey of two brothers into Mexico (and much, much more) with a spare, highly poetic prose that creates an austere beauty and deep spiritual resonance. Knopf $23

Moses Supposes, by Ellen Currie.

This exceptional collection contains stories from both before and after Currie’s 20-year writing block. What remained remarkably intact during this period was

Currie’s sense of voice; the malice and lilt in her characters’ speech is matched only by the dexterity and control with which Currie herself turns a phrase. Currie does not feature action (though a kitchen does explode in one story); she concentrates instead on quirky, funny conversations which slowly tilt to reveal whole relationships, whole worlds of pain, missed connections, and understanding.

Simon & Schuster $20

Suicide Blonde, by Darcy Steinke.

When Jesse tries to seduce her preoccupied bisexual boyfriend Bell by slipping into a black teddy and arranging herself on the futon, her manipulations backfire, and Bell announces that he’s bored. “There was a taste of pennies in my mouth,” Jesse says, recalling the moment, “a fierce nausea and tinny rawness, like the moment after you break a bone.” Darcy Steinke’s second novel, Suicide Blonde, is filled with such moments—dark undercurrents of desire described with a lyric intensity bordering on the excessive, but not quite slipping over the edge. They make for a pulsating novel of sexual desires and frustrations, as the 29-year-old Jesse (a minister’s daughter) goes in search of the missing Bell, tracing her way through the drug-filled San Francisco underworld and learning not a few things about love and her own false expectations along the way.

Washington Square $10

The Elements of Hitting, by Matthew F. Jones.

Walter Innis has settled into middle-age, so haunted by childhood terrors of a violent father and a mother who committed suicide that his own marriage and career lie in a shambles. In alternating chapters, Walter’s past vies with his present to see which will triumph over his tormented soul. But as his bank account dwindles, Walter is forced to come to grips with his past, managing some small insights that allow him to build a foundation for a new life. In his second novel, Jones has traded the more humorous and Gothic effects of The Cooter Farm for a subtler and surer touch. And if the colors in this novel are less bright, they nonetheless form a distinctive palette.

Hyperion $22.95

Grief in a Sunny Climate, by Diane Shalet.

The author of this witty first novel is a veteran actress of stage and screen. Diane Shalet has made good use of her acting experience in this novel. Like a first-rate contemporary play or movie, the novel uses fast-paced dialogue to both move the action-packed plot brusquely forward and reveal characters’ personalities. Shalet told an interviewer that as part of her unconventional method of composition, she acted out each of the main characters’ “parts” before writing them. This approach may result in characters that are somewhat shallow and caricatured, but readers expect a comic novelist to paint her characters with broad strokes. Like the best romantic comedies, this one makes its audience think as well as laugh. St. Martin’s $20.95

The Devil’s Own Work, by Allen Judd.

This is an elegant novella about selling one’s soul to the devil in return for literary success. The story moves slowly and gracefully, with a methodical and inexorable feeling of tension and suspense. Judd’s clear, uncluttered prose is perfectly matched for the story he has to tell. The novel is at once a fine literary horror story and a short, even-handed treatise on artistic integrity. Through watching the seduction and fall of his friend, Judd’s narrator comes to the realization “that truth in art matters, that part of the role of art is to help us to hear what cannot usually be heard amidst all the noisy nonsense in which we live.” Judd reminds us forcefully that to forsake the truth for the glamour of nonsense is not just bad art: it is to lose one’s soul. Highly recommended. Knopf $17

Arise and Walk, by Barry Gifford.

Surreal, absurdist, bizarre, harsh, funny, heartbreaking—Gifford’s loose collection of stories is all we expect from the author of Wild at Heart. It presents the reader with as motley a cast of characters and as nasty a sequence of more or less random events as any in modern Southern fiction; in the aggregate, the fragments coalesce into a monstrous portrait of the denizens of New Orleans’ darkest depths. A few, like Marble Lesson, head hit-woman of the Mary Mother of God rape crisis center, exhort their fellows to “arise and walk,” but most of them, in the words of her father Wesson, “ain’t really up to it.” Another mad, over-the-top roller-coaster ride from a master.

Hyperion $19.95

Roadwalkers, by Shirley Ann Grau.

Shirley Ann Grau is an accomplished author who has written five novels, including The Keepers of the House, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1965. Road-walkers will not disappoint fans who have come to expect to meet in Grau’s novels characters that seem to have leapt from a deep-South diner or front porch by way of a Flannery O’Connor short story. Grau does surprise us, though, in her choice to depict the experience of Southern black women. The novel begins with a lyrical account of “Baby’s” childhood wanderings across the rural South during the Depression, when orphaned “roadwalkers” were a common sight. Even though Baby survives her ordeal and eventually becomes financially successful, she cannot protect her own daughter from experiencing a similar type of alienation. Grau’s beautifully told story of the separate journeys of these two women affirms the old adage: the more things change, the more they remain the same. Knopf $22

The Collected Stories of Max Brand, edited by Robert and Jane Easton.

This book is highly recommended to several audiences: to those who like short stories with interesting plots, to those who teach or study the art of the short story, and to those fans of Max Brand who will discover many unexpected facets of his talent. In the first place, his name was not “Max Brand” but Frederick Schiller Faust. The pseudonym was used in 1917 for understandable reasons, and then continued after gaining quick fame. In this volume, each story is introduced with interesting notes as to how it was written and why—an added delight to students of writing. The introduction, written by William Blood-worth, gives an excellent biographical sketch of the author, along with critical notes on his literary career. Few of these stories are Westerns, thus enlarging one’s understanding and appreciation of one of America’s most versatile and technically skillful writers of the short story.

Nebraska $35

Goodbye, Saigon, by Nina Vida.

This comic/tragic first novel (an autobiography?) tells the story of Anh who comes from the paddies of Indo-China and is thrust into the hustle and bustle of a capitalistic society in a section of southern California known as little Saigon. She meets Jana, a tough Anglo survivor, the secretary for a lawyer who settles personal injury cases with insurance companies and never goes to court. When the attorney mysteriously disappears, the mad-cap couple join forces. Anh supplies Vietnamese clients to Jana who then obtains handsome cash payments from insurance companies. This engrossing story is one of the best portraits penned to date on the many adjustments made by Vietnamese refugees who emigrate to the States. Crown $20

The Unicorn Hunt, by Dorothy Dunnett.

This is the fifth volume in an ongoing epic saga of the exciting life of one Nicholas vander Poele, a 15th-century European businessman/banker/politician, by the international queen of historical/adventure/ romance novels. Each of the five books is a self-contained unit that can be read separately or as a continuation of the entire series. At the conclusion of volume four, our hero had just returned from a successful venture to Africa. His travels now take him to a foray in the Middle East. Since the author publishes a new story every two years, we may all look forward to 1996 to enjoy yet another presentation of her meticulous research and vivid imagination in an accurate and fascinating portrayal of the lifestyles of 500 years ago. Knopf $25

Henry And Clara, by Thomas Mallon.

An historical novel chronicling the passionate, controversial love between Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone, the young couple who shared Lincoln’s theater box the night the president was assassinated. Mallon traces their love from childhood, after Clara’s widowed mother marries Henry’s widowed father. The novel is more than just thoroughly researched and documented: Mallon has carefully re-created the feel and tone of 19th-century America in the narrative voice of the story. While not as wryly pleasant as Art and Sciences nor as conceptually brilliant as Aurora 7, Mallon’s third novel displays a developing craftsman retelling a fascinating and compelling story, with an authentic sense of the political and social world in which his characters lived and loved.

Ticknor & Fields $21.95


The Two Faces of National Interest, by W. David Clinton.

Professor Clinton tests the coherence and relevance of his views of the national interest against four turning points in American foreign policy since World War II: the Marshall Plan, the Korean War, the Nixon Doctrine, and the Carter Human Rights Policy. What sets his discourse apart is attention to details and the exigencies of Congressional debate, the diversity of cultures and national tradition, the role of personalities, and the convergence of separate national interests and objectives. He reminds us of facts that are often overlooked: the European economy in early 1947 was slow in recovering from the shock of World War II; the decision to intervene in the Korean War involved the United States in a process of clarifying its interests unlike the steps leading to the Marshall Plan (the latter required prolonged deliberations while decisions on Korea were taken in approximately three weeks); the Nixon Doctrine called for U.S. restraint and a reduction of American participation in Asian wars; and Carter’s human rights crusade entailed a break with tradition in foreign policy. Any fair-minded person must agree that few books compare with Clinton’s in historical and philosophical sweep, even-handed weighing of the facts and holding to the primary purpose of painstaking study of a term often used as “totem or whipping boy.” Louisiana $35

Kill All the Lawyers?, by Daniel J. Korn-stein.

Any member of the legal profession— student, professor, lawyer, or judge—will profit handsomely from a close reading of this fascinating and rewarding book. Many of Shakespeare’s plays deal with themes that relate directly with legal issues; many others relate specifically to lawyers and points of law; and a large number treat legal themes that are similar to contemporary issues. Two or three even involve litigation. And lawyers and judges quote Shakespeare more than any other single source. An intimate familiarity with the written word of the Bard will therefore expose one to the true role of justice in modern society. The author’s passionate love for the law and Shakespeare is conta-geous. His objective, as a lawyer and playgoer, is to demonstrate the deep connection between law and literature, is brilliantly achieved. Princeton $24.95

A Journey through Economic Time: A First-Hand View, by John Kenneth Gal-braith.

A firsthand view is not necessarily the most reliable or complete perspective on events. And so it is with Mr. Galbraith’s slight and breezy take on the (macro)eco-nomic trends of this century. While commendable in its commitment to a consistent view of events (judged liberal by its friends, and Socialist by its foes), it is compromised by Galbraith’s deafness to the scholarship of an entire generation of economists and economic historians.

Houghton Mifflin $24.95

Inside Agitators, by David L. Chappell.

In this engaging work on Southern whites who sympathized with the Civil Rights Movement, Chappel argues that moderate whites, though lacking a moral commitment to civil rights, played a key role in the movement’s success at both the local and national levels. Locally, segregationists’ extreme tactics prompted moderates to support the movement in order to preserve peace and maintain a “good business climate.” Nationally, they became “agents of federal authority” in the South as the Lyndon Johnson-led Democratic Party gave its support to moderates who, by “grantfing] concessions to civil rights groups,” could allow the party to win Northern black votes and still maintain the allegiance of Southern whites. Chappell, however, underestimates the significance of those few whites who were morally committed to racial reform. By supporting the movement at their first opportunity, these white activists paved the road the moderates would later follow in breaking with the segregationists.

Johns Hopkins $35

Tragedies of our Own Making: How Private Choices Have Created Public Bankruptcy, by Richard A. Neely.

Judge Richard Neely of the West Virginia Supreme Court is no stranger to controversy. He has written six books, all of which have provoked heated debate. This, his most recent volume, is likely to cause still more. Neely argues with some force that local, state, and national governments are on the brink of bankruptcy. This fiscal crisis has brought almost all our public institutions to the brink of collapse. Like many so-called “conservatives,” Neely blames our public troubles on a private event—the transformation of the family. Soaring rates of divorce and illegitimacy have overburdened government, perhaps to the breaking point. Unlike the conservatives, Neely sees no point in trying to restore the traditional family. Instead, Neely puts his faith in slowing down the rate of illegitimate births through the mass distribution of Norplant and discouraging divorce through a government-sponsored propaganda campaign. One need not accept Judge Neely’s proposed cure to admit that his description of our disease is accurate and deeply troubling. Illinois $19.95

The Semi-Sovereign Presidency: The Bush’s Administration’s Strategy for Governing Without Congress, by Charles Tiefer.

The Constitution is an invitation to struggle between the president and Congress. Earlier books by Holt and Crabb and by Muskie, Rush, and Thompson address the history of this question. The present book is part of a series on change entitled “Transforming American Politics.” The author has been acting general counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives. He points to “an insidious trend” toward executive usurpation of Congress’s constitutional powers especially during the Bush administration. Among the acts of the Bush administration that especially arouse his ire are the undermining of the 1991 Civil Rights Act, the “Quayle Counsel to declare a moratorium on government regulation,” and the Gulf War. Tiefer’s intent in what he describes as a personal analysis is to stimulate debate about the Bush presidency. His experience dictates that he emphasize the Congressional perspective, but his legal credentials lead him to offer intriguing constitutional interpretations. Westview Press $55 cloth, $17.95 paper

The Deep Divide, by Sherrye Henry.

This is an important and provocative book with the clear message that the author, an experienced radio talk show hostess as well as a successful magazine editor and journalist, is highly qualified to present. She poses the crucial question: why do American women resist equality and thereby continue to suffer as second-class citizens? Her reply is that too many feminists have not become mainstream women. That is to say that they do not exercise their full electoral power. Not enough of them vote for each other. Nor do they participate sufficiently in the political process by running for elective office. It remains to be seen whether or not readers of this stimulating volume will implement the solutions recommended by the author.

Macmillan $25

The End of the House of Windsor, by Stephen Haseler.

A distinguished British scholar has presented a serious study on his convincing conclusion that the forthcoming demise of the House of Windsor is inevitable. Accordingly, he proclaims that Elizabeth II could perform a great service for her subjects if, in the remaining years of her reign, she voluntarily took his recommended necessary steps to transfer the present power of the monarchy into a British republic. This would avoid a constitutional crisis and make for a peaceful, albeit a traumatic, transition. Royals and conservative diehards, whose shenanigans have largely been responsible for the decline of their nation into a second-class state, might bemoan this development, but the mystique of the throne has been tarnished beyond redemption. St. Martin’s Press $49

The Democratic Imagination: Dialogues on the Work of Irving Louis Horowitz, edited by R. C. Rist.

A Festschrift honoring a very productive and controversial sociologist, who from the early seventies has also had a successful second career as a social science publisher. (The volume in question originates from his firm.) The thematic range of the contributions (from the sociology of politics to that of publishing, from Castro’s Cuba to the Holocaust) reflects that of Horowitz’s own writings; the spectrum of opinion about their significance reflected in the contributions, however, comprises only “friendly critics”, and takes little notice of less friendly criticism addressed over the years both to his scholarly work and to his political position(s). Transaction $49.95

Representations of the Intellectual, by Edward W. Said.

The six lectures reprinted here are largely repetitive and read like an extended op-ed piece. Less an essay about the “intellectual” in the broadest sense, having to do with the play and freedom of the intellect, these lectures are in effect a political speech alluding to virtually all our contemporary international political woes. The drum-beat of our speaker’s dogmas scarcely accord with his own ideal intellect’s skeptical irony. Indeed, the self-irony to which the author aspires is nowhere found in these pages. Pantheon $20

Against the Tide: Whites in the Struggle Against Apartheid, by Joshua N. Lazerson.

In his study of the few courageous whites who have participated in South Africa’s black liberation struggle, Lazerson found that most white activists were Eastem European Jews (and their progeny) whose long tradition of protest and whose personal experiences with discrimination motivated them to join the struggle. Afrikaner activists, with deep roots in South Africa, were rare, and few of them left evidence as to their reasons for joining the fight. White involvement in the anti-apartheid movement, though continuous, yielded only mixed results. While their participation suggested to black activists that a non-racial democracy was possible in South Africa, “white democrats” attracted few other whites to the movement prior to the 1980’s. Ironically, as South Africa copes with the tumult of the 1990’s, the goal of non-racialism, which had drawn many whites into the struggle, may now fall victim to the “particular goals of the African majority: the realization of full citizenship and with it economic and political redress.” Westview Press $39.95

The State and Labor in Modern America, by Melvyn Dubofsky.

An intelligent and provocative examination of the relationship between the state and labor (as movement and as category) in the century before 1973. Dubofsky maintains that the state generally favors the interests of capital over labor; that labor however can and has benefitted from state regulation and intervention in the marketplace; that the state listens to labor when shaping policy only when it is organized; and that the pursuit of individual rights in the workplace, however legitimate in democratic terms, is destructive of labor’s collective interests. North Carolina $34.95 cloth, $14.95 paper


Selected Poems, by Daniel Halpern.

After an apprenticeship where his poems first resembled the brief, choppy poems characteristic of the early 1970’s (Travelling on Credit) and then seem strongly indebted to the Mark Strand’s early vision (Street Fire), Daniel Halpern slowly began to develop his own individual style. His poems began to grow in length and complexity, though they remained filled with straight-forward observations. Their rhythms grew more sinewy, and by the time he published Tango, his strongest individual book, in 1987, even their shapes had evolved to reflect this development. In these poems Halpern manages to allow a more sensual reality to rise in his words and descriptions, as when he writes: “The light is Spanish on the Moroccan back streets, / late winter, the air begins to hold a little / of the lemon vegetation, the sound of dogs / and flutes carries up the valley, late afternoon.” In Foreign Neon, the last collection represented here, Halpern relaxes even further into his material. The pleasure of reading these poems becomes similar to the pleasure of listening to a perceptive friend talk casually after dinner while sharing a bottle of wine. Knopf $23

Little-Known Sports, by Vern Rutsala.

“Radio/This of course is the parrot that says whatever it wishes.” That, in its entirety, is the title and the poem, an example of the prose poems which make up this collection. Some are as long as a paragraph, or a page. The booklet makes good reading once you become acclimated to the unfettered style of prose poems. They are divided into three sections: The Art of Photography, Bestiary and Little-Known Sports. The last section includes such delights as “Getting into Bed,” “Being Hopeless,” and “Hangover.” With accurate observations, wry humor and unexpected topics, this volume is enjoyable, well done, and deserving of the Juniper Prize which it won.

Massachusetts $20 cloth, $9.95 paper

A Muriel Rukeyser Reader, edited by Jan Heller Levi.

This welcome volume is a treasure. It pulls together selections of the poetry and prose of one of the most important poets of our time. Her life and her writings were so intermingled that she became a voice of the culture of that turbulent world from the ‘30’s to the ‘60’s. As a participant observer, her writings are sensitive expositions, including civil rights, Spain, North Vietnam and Korea, as well as her life as a single mother and the experience of being hunted as a Communist. In an ordinary collection, her poetry would be enough (all but one volume of her work has gone out of print), but here also are excerpts from prose works of lasting merit, such as The Life of Poetry, (1949) and five songs from her play, Houd-ini. Every page draws one in to join her as her voice moves from intimacy to authority, and cries out from shouts of protest to murmurs of a lullaby. Her poetry speaks for all of us. Norton $25

Difficult Weather, by Rose Solari.

Inconsequential. As one reads the poems in this collection, the thought recurs: “Why should I care about these adolescent sexual explorations, this lust between brother and sister, this lust of the girl for the jogger in running shorts, or the skinny kid who pulled his shirt off?” The poems look like poems, but come off more like prose written down the left-hand margin. Occasionally there is an attractive turn of phrase, but all too soon the attention is drawn once more to the fingers searching about inside her panties. In this book, the nuggets of silver are too rare to warrant searching through the ton of dross.

Gut Punch Press $7.95

Fresh Peaches, Fireworks, &■ Guns, by Donald Piatt.

It is a pleasure to read these poems which demonstrate such a straightforward, sensitive view of the world. Piatt has a talent for writing a poem that, at the finish, leaves you wanting a few more verses. Walking on the beach with his nine-month-pregnant wife, for instance, he veers off from feeling her belly to flying kites and looking at the sunbathers! A few more words about the scene as experienced by his wife would have been welcome. His poems throughout pique your curiosity as to what view he will take of the ordinary, turning it into something you already knew, but did not voice. His first poem, with the title the same as the book, invokes all the heat, the dust, the South, and the incongruous juxtapositions of a trip down Rt. 29. Through a selection of eight poems you live with his retarded brother, loving and enduring him as one must do. I recommend this book to those who appreciate modern poetry and do not object to a combination of biography and philosophy. Especially, read “Life Class,” the ruminations of the artists’ nude model!

Purdue $11.95

The Glass Hammer, by Andrew Hudgins.

The Glass Hammer, subtitled “A Southern Childhood,” collects poems based on experiences from Hudgins’ early life. They are clearly written, with a strong iambic foundation, and are accessible to the general reader. In fact, Hudgins’ purpose seems to be to take back some of the territory poetry has lost to fiction in recent years. The poems’ details accrue so that one gets a clear sense of the speaker and his emotional turmoils, such as his desire to escape his hometown, his encounters with racist attitudes, and the death of his mother. There are many charming and insightful moments in these poems, but too much of what Hudgins has to say seems as if it could be drawn from nearly anyone’s childhood. The tight focus on one theme also diminishes many of the poem’s individual effects. The cliched experience of an elderly great-grandmother’s repulsive smells and attentions or a father’s taunting a child about how easy his life is undercut the authority of the more unique and moving poems, such as those regarding Hudgins’ introduction to sensory pleasure through encountering the rich smell of tobacco or his introduction to sexual desire through reading “I really need a blow job” on a restroom wall.

Houghtin Mifflin $18.95

Dark Harbor, by Mark Strand.

The smooth language, assured long sentences, and uniform three-line stanza Strand employs consistently in the 45 poems comprising this one long “Poem,” belie the work’s myriad textures and moods. At one level a kind of quest, the poem recounts the poet’s efforts to find a “great space,” one endowing him with “the shadowy shapes / of its song.” Before reaching that song, however, Strand faces other challenges: how to balance obligations to both past and future; how to “turn pain / Into its own memorial”; how to sustain the glory of dawn and “resist the onset / Of another average day”; how to choose other than “dismissal or doubt” when facing the inscrutable phenomena of life. The poet’s mission essentially lies in making songs that lend meaning to the world and to themselves. Strand’s mentors in this are Orpheus, Rilke, and Wallace Stevens. It is Stevens whose long-lined rhythms and gold-veined images run throughout this book. And, like Stevens, Strand’s protean eye is as apt to note a homespun truth as a metaphysical one, to muse lightly over “the dull little shops, the useless items / that turn into necessities,” as to feel the power of how “the wind drew the shadow of the clouds / Around us so that we could feel the force / Of our freedom while still captives of dark.” Knopf $11 paper

The Way to Xanadu, by Caroline Alexander.

The Xanadu of Coleridge’s “Kubla Kahn” emerged from the poet’s imagination as the distillate of his prodigious reading and overwhelming desire to write. In her second book, Alexander tracks Coleridge’s various images back to their sources. From the poet’s Notebooks, she investigates first the travel literature he read, then journeys herself to the relevant sites, of which there turn out to be five: the Kahn’s summer palace in Shangdu, Inner Mongolia; the lakes and wilds of North Florida; the Amarnath Cave region of Kashmir; the source of the Blue Nile, in Ethiopia; and Coleridge’s immediate surroundings in Exmoor. Each trip is richly, even lovingly, described, and Alexander complements her evocative geographical portraits with informative accounts of the regions’ histories, both ancient and modern. Alexander’s touch is always light, and her prose clear and efficient, yet also graceful. Throughout she achieves a dexterous balance between the reality of the places she visits—one scarred by illness, violence, and political unrest—and the high Romance of Coleridge’s poem and of her own undertaking. Knopf $23

The Domestic Life, by Hunt Hawkins

Winner of the 1992 Agnes Lynch Starrett award, this collection startles with the prescience and escapade of being here, in a world of absurdity, compensation, and terrifying loss. Some of these prankish poems make the reader laugh aloud; others allow a deep pathos. In “Swiss Army Midlife Crisis”: “The famous knife, / of course, with its corkscrew and tweezers, / but also the Swiss Army Pipe, which besides / producing puffable smoke, can pound in tent pegs.” In “Where John Berryman Died”: “And I wonder what it’s like, / the dark place with no words. / Can you go uninjured there? / Those tassels growing from the ice / look so loose and soft. / I wish I knew / what they’re called.”

Pittsburgh $19.95 cloth, $10.95 paper

Tall Birds Stalking, by Michael Van Walleghen.

Many poets attempt to work through their bereavement in their poetry. In this book a father loses his foot to gangrene; a brother is found a suicide in a trashed apartment; an aunt is nursed for 15 years by her husband. Is anguish over tragedies such as these better endured after writing them down? Does reading about them help others to face and bear their own hurts? Perhaps, but a book of poems of this sort soon palls. Not intended as therapy, this book struggles with a few poems to rise into a sphere of light. A rare flash of humor only emphasizes the pervading gloom, like a dim bulb on a darkened stage. It would be incongruous to read this book on a sunny afternoon. Pittsburgh $10.95 paper

Study for the World’s Body: New and Selected Poems, by David St. John.

David St. John’s poems are distinguished by an intricate sense of rhythm and a visual sensuality. Here, for instance, is a representative segment from “Lucifer in Starlight”: “Of course, I knew instantly just what he meant—/Not simply because I love/Standing on the terrace of my apartment on a clear evening/As the constellations pulse low in the Roman sky,/The whole mind of night that I know so well/ Shimmering in its elaborate webs of infinite/Almost divine irony.” Yet even as the textures of his poems have stayed fairly consistent, their subjects and deliveries have varied considerably. His early work reached a climax in No Heaven, where he abandoned nearly all punctuation and employed harder enjambments and a more jarring syntax. In his following book, Terraces of Rain, he included “To Pasolini,” an eight-sectioned terza rima, and in some of his “New Poems” he consciously manipulates the left-hand margin and plays this indentation off long, fluid passages. His mode may also vary, from lyrical to meditative to narrative, and he writes some particularly strong dramatic monologues. This breadth of ambition reveals a serious artist at work on his craft, and this collection represents some wonderful successes.

HarperPerennial $11


Trespassing, by Sam Pickering.

In his latest book, Pickering again proves himself to be one of the masters of the familiar essay. Lyrical descriptions of dogwoods and green nuts and chokecherries, spats with his wife, house-training his dog (along with a host of outrageous characters from his boyhood Tennessee)—Pickering examines in close detail the trivia of daily life, the flotsam and jetsam that, to an ordinary observer, is quickly forgotten. Wiping away the layers of conventionality and forgetfulness that accumulate on these unexamined moments, he recaptures a freshness. As he says of his work, “Essay writing has made me a collector, not of the large and abstract but of the small and particular.” Although most of us will never be able to accompany him on one of his long, rambling walks, at least he gives us a glimpse of what he has seen while he has been away. New England $22.50

Men in Sports, edited by Brandt Aymar.

This is the ninth in a successful series of anthologies by the editor. It includes 46 of the best (male) sport stories of all time from the Greek Olympic games to the American World series. The 34 sports covered range from archery and auto racing to wilderness walking and wrestling. The reader will also be pleasantly surprised to discover that some of the world’s best literature has been not only by professional sports writers but also by such disparate authors writing on sports as John Cheever, Mary Renault, Rudyard Kipling, Zane Grey, Homer, A. Conan Doyle, Sir Walter Scott, Jack London, and P.G. Wodehouse. Great diversion. (Women in Sports would be a welcome sequel!) Random House $25

The English Garden, by David Coffin.

When asked what he thought of a garden urn in the true Tuscan order, Samuel Johnson replied with characteristic firmness: “Sir, I hate urns; they are nothing, they mean nothing, convey no idea but ideas of horror.” Of course the good doctor knew perfectly well what they meant, and it is the purpose here of the author to illuminate their funerary meaning as part of his larger investigation of “meditation and memorial” in the 18th century. Using a wide variety of texts—poems, diaries, letters, and treatises—to elucidate columns, obelisks, temples, and pyramids in gardens, Coffin has written a richly learned, nicely illustrated, historical treatise of his own, which will be surely enjoyed by all scholars and amateurs of British culture.

Princeton $35

A Natural History of Love, by Diane Ack-erman.

A companion volume to her successful A Natural History of the Senses, A Natural History of Love takes over where the “kissing” entry of her section on “touch” left off (she includes it in both books). The natural five-part structure of Senses, however, is missing from Love, which begins with a short history of love and then ranges widely: from ideas about love in literature and psychology to the biology of love, from love’s erotic aspects to the cultural customs built up around courtship and marriage. Though immensely varied and learned in its references, A Natural History of Love does leave one wondering how many research assistants Ackerman must have, or how much time she spent searching electronic databases. One curious fact follows another, sometimes to the point of overkill, and the reader can be left wanting more narrative, more guidance about what ties this brilliant hodge-podge together. Best read in bits and pieces, A Natural History of Love could be seen as an immensely enjoyable reference work; it’s like reading an essay collection in disguise.

Random House $23

The Cultures of Collecting, edited by John Eisner and Roger Cardinal.

Despite the theoretical posturing that fills this anthology, there is a rich body of information presented here on the anthropology of collecting. This book surveys the history and diversity of collecting from Noah’s collection of animals to the modern postcard as a means of “collecting” places. We learn about what Captain Cook collected in the Pacific, about the famous Hapsburg collections and their history, about Freud’s collection of antiquities.

Harvard $18.95 paper

Likeness and Presence, by Hans Belting.

One of the most important art historical books by a German scholar to appear in many years, this monumental, synthetic work is “a history of the image before the era of art.” By “image” Belting means devotional pictures of Mary and Jesus, and “the era of art” means the Renaissance when the aesthetic character of the image took on increasingly greater significance in relation to its devotional purpose. This ambitious book which sweeps over a millennium of art history does not make for easy reading, but it raises thoughtful questions about the uses to which religious images were put. Chicago $65


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