Now for the books that are hanging around on my nightstand, waiting on various coffee tables, and a few of the books on a particular shelf that just might as well be labeled “dream on, O foolish reader.” Library books, too, that need to be read in two weeks.
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt. I’ve been reading this slowly; I’m now thinking I’ll go back to the beginning and take notes as I read it. I studied Greek and Roman history, literature, and art in college and I savor any opportunity to revisit those subjects. Often, when I go to the Metropolitan Museum I walk through the beautifully renovated Greek and Roman galleries. I still remember when the Greek vases were in the dusty basement, case after case of treasures. The Swerve is about the re-discovery of De Rerum Natura—On the Nature of Things–the great philosophical and scientific work by the Roman Epicurean poet Lucretius from the first century BC. De Rerum Natura was Lucretius’s effort to make sense of the physical world, to prove that all things operate according to natural laws, not dependent on religion. Manuscript hunters in the fifteenth century visited scriptoria in monasteries to find the classical works that were buried there, lost or swept aside when the Christian Church tried to wipe out all vestiges of ancient religion and philosophy. The copying and translation of De Rerum Natura had a remarkable effect, according to Greenblatt, inspiring artists, writers, philosophers, and scientists and creating the remarkable flowering we know as the Renaissance. Greenblatt meanders through the story, filling us in on all kinds of history and philosophy; a great read. I also enjoyed his earlier book Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, about how the complicated political and social changes in Shakespeare’s times affected the man and his plays.
The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen. I was immediately drawn into this story of how grief and past mistakes can derail a happy family. John and Ricky Ryrie’s third child died shortly after a premature birth and it’s clear to their two children, a year later, that although family life goes on in the ways they’ve come to expect, their parents have lost their way. I read Cohen’s lovely memoir Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World (it’s in my memoir book) a tender, fascinating account of growing up at the Lexington School for the Deaf, where her father taught. The Grief of Others is in some ways about people hearing what’s unsaid.
Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield. When we all used typewriters, fonts weren’t something we thought about very much. Even the IBM Selectric, with its removable ball, had a limited selection of fonts and for personal use, e.g., term papers, we just didn’t care. But, of course, we were aware of fonts; we could always identify a New York newspaper just by looking at the typeface and layout without seeing the masthead. And who didn’t practice drawing fat “cookie letter” alphabets or messing around with various typefaces that looked so cool on our notebook covers? Now we casually accessorize our documents with fonts and scorn the overused ones, like Helvetica and Comic Sans. The reviews on Garfield’s book have been terrific; I’m looking forward to reading about the social and cultural history of fonts and how they’ve become part of the message. And for anyone who has an interest in letterpress printing, take a look at the website briarpress.org. Full disclosure here: my son Alex is the technical wizard who keeps it working.
Thinks… by David Lodge. I love David Lodge’s brand of satirical humor and have enjoyed several of his novels: Paradise News, Nice Work, and Small World. My husband just finished Lodge’s latest book, a sort of biography in novel’s clothing, about H.G. Wells, called A Man of Parts. Not sure I’ll read that one, although it does tie in with my interest in British writers of that period. We’ll see…
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. I read Verghese’s memoir My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story shortly after it was published in the mid-90s, probably because something in the reviews appealed to me. It is one of only a handful of books that I’ve rated a 5 on my Goodreads account. It was extraordinary: a beautifully written account of how a young immigrant doctor in rural Tennessee discovered his calling caring for the young gay men who were returning from the cities to their rural homes to die of AIDS. My copy of Cutting for Stone is signed; I got it at Book Expo after hearing Verghese speak at an author breakfast. Somehow, I’ve neglected to read it when everyone else already has. Soon, soon.
Ancestral Passions: The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind’s Beginnnings by Virginia Morell. We were in Tanzania in August and visited Oldupai Gorge, so I bought this in preparation for that trip, not realizing that Morell’s biography of the family is enormous and hugely detailed. It’s fascinating, more so now that I’ve been to the famous site, but it’s not clear when I’ll get back to it.