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Review-a-Day

Monday, November 9th


 

The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest by Barbara Guest

Revelations in Verse

A review by Tyrone Williams

The relativity of the term "obscure" is always implicit in the regular journalistic and academic jeremiads against contemporary American poetry. Billy Collins's insistence that poetry should be "transparent" echoes an entire history of critical celebrations of serenity, simplicity, and clarity -- for language. Not that controversies revolving around the relationship of "serious" music (classical and jazz) and the plastic arts to the public don't exist; it's just that they rarely make it beyond, for example, the Arts section of The New York Times. Poetry's irrelevance -- however celebrated (Auden's "Poetry makes nothing happen"), regretted (Spicer's "Nobody listens to poetry"), or condemned (Williams's "Critically Eliot returned us to the classroom . . .") -- is causally linked to either its academic inaccessibility or facile popularization. For poets like Collins, working in traditional narrative and lyric modes, the perceived excesses of neo-modernist Language Poetry and spoken word...



The Adventures of Pinocchio (New York Review Books) by Carlo Collodi

Knock on Wood

A review by Tim Parks

A voice yells from within a pine log, "Don't hit me too hard!" The carpenter is astonished, his axe stayed. When they come unexpected, life and language are unsettling.

Brought into being by blows, the talking log proceeds to start a fight: the carpenter's friend Geppetto has arrived to ask for a piece of wood and the voice mocks his yellow wig; Geppetto imagines he is being insulted by his friend and in a moment the two are on the floor, scratching, biting, and thumping. Consigned to Geppetto, the lively log contrives to bang his shins and provoke a second misunderstanding and a second...



Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace: Idealistic skeptic

A review by David L. Ulin

I didn't know David Foster Wallace all that well. We met a couple of times, and once, I interviewed him onstage at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. I asked him on a few occasions if he'd review for the paper, but he said he'd had a bad experience and had sworn off reviewing for good. We shared a literary agent.

In the lead-up to the 2004 presidential election, we spent an hour or so on the phone one afternoon discussing politics, which he followed with the rabid fascination of someone who, despite all better judgment, believed the process mattered, that somehow, somewhere, there ...



The Best of Inquiring Mind: 25 Years of Dharma, Drama, and Uncommon Insight by Barbara Gates and Wes Nisker

A Review by Chris Faatz

A review by Chris Faatz

Let's face it: not only has Buddhism come to the West, but it's become a growth industry on its journey. There are literally thousands of books on the subject, exploring various schools and approaches, delving into currents and traditions, and trying to make sense of the relationships that make up the life of any community of passionate and devoted people. There is an increasing number of magazines, as well -- Tricycle, Buddhadharma, and Shambhala Sun among them -- and many of these make an imposing splash when tossed into the serene pond of Buddhist literature.

One of the best is...



Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent by David Sterry

A review by Georgie Lewis

Chicken is a book for voyeurs, and I must admit I was lured to Chicken for the same reason I found myself engrossed by Jerry Stahl's Permanent Midnight and adored the film Boogie Nights. The vulnerable boy-man propelled into the underworld of drugs or pornography by self-loathing and the scars of dysfunctional middle American domesticity. Looking for love, or a sense of family, in all the wrong places, and finally coming to some sort of wisdom at the close.

Yet Chicken is a different sort of book than Permanent Midnight, and Sterry's tale of male prostitution in LA in the 1970's has none...



Special Providence : American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World (01 Edition) by Walter Russell Mead

Santayana Syndrome

A review by James P. Rubin

I. It has been a long time since Santayana's maxim about forgetting history and repeating history could be cited without irony. The sentence — which first appeared in 1905 in a chapter on "Reason and Common Sense" in Santayana's book The Life of Reason — has been so often and oppressively quoted that it has itself become the very symbol of cliché, the most common way of teaching a platitude by example. Those who do not remember Santayana's maxim, you might say, are condemned to repeat it. But there is at least one precinct of American life in which the famous admonition still has...



Unraveled by Maria Housden

The Great Escape

A review by Sandra Tsing Loh

Finally, an American mother who stopped her yammering and found a stunningly simple solution to the work-life balance problem: she left her family -- her husband and three small children! And now she has written a memoir about it: Unraveled. She is Maria Housden, and while I waited for her memoir to arrive, in its plain brown amazon.com wrapper, I wondered what had made her do it. Certainly some sort of substance abuse had to be involved, a Judy Garland-like hitting of rock bottom. Or maybe the decision was triggered by a Fear of Becoming Andrea Yates self-diagnosis. Perhaps this was a...



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