Jacket Copy

Books, authors and all things bookish

« Previous Post | Jacket Copy Home | Next Post »

The curious life of books

February 21, 2008 |  3:28 pm

Tuesday, a.m.

At night the books on my desk rearrange themselves in different piles. Say, for example, I put the pile of 11 books on global warming all together. Next to a pile of books on the art of the memoir. Next to a pile of three upcoming novels about life in the West. They won’t have it. The grouping is too simple, too unsophisticated. In the morning, one of the books on global warming with a fiery cover has sidled over to a book of poems, "Empire Burlesque" by Mark Svenvold (many of the poems about the end of the world), both cozied up to a memoir about being single in L.A., adding up to a noir, Steve Erickson-style essay on the apocalypse that will never get written.

"The Bitter Sea: Coming of Age in a China Before Mao" by Charles N. Li lies deep in conversation with "Beijing Coma" by Ma Jin, an "allegory of rising China" shouts the flap copy; "a seminal examination of the Tiananmen Square protests," out this spring. The frat boy at this table (if my desk has become a warm yellow-lighted room in a bar in a cold college town) is a funny book called "Going Dutch in Beijing" by Mark McCrum, with drawings of familiar gestures that mean one thing in Peoria and another in Shanghai. "Changing Clothes in China: Fashion, History, Nation" by Antonia Finnane with its rich drawings of 1920s evening wraps keeps a polite distance from the riffraff.

What could they be discussing?

A book of black-and-white photographs of Frederick Law Olmsted landscapes by Lee Friedlander has a linen cover and a photo of dappled light on a warm lawn. A photo on the cover of a book I reviewed several weeks ago, "Hope’s Boy" by Andrew Bridge, is a dim reminder of the young man I interviewed just a few days ago, whose book (his first) is now climbing the New York Times’ best seller list (sixth on its way to fifth). "You won’t believe it!" he e-mails me. "I’m pinching myself!"

This business of writing and reading is not as simple as it seems. Books are not passive objects. They come hurtling toward you out of nowhere sometimes, just when you need that particular one. Andrew Bridge’s book took several months to digest. One morning in the car I realized that his experience (he was taken from his mother on an L.A. street at age 7 and placed in foster care) had showed me it was OK to love my own crazy mother for what she was and to defend her love for me against a culture that hates crazy mothers. No small thing for an object 5 1/2 by 10.

"Memo: From 'The Course of Empire' by Bernard DeVoto"
(From "Empire Burlesque" by Mark Svenvold, Ohio State University
Press: 80 pp., $13.95)

Autumn softens the bluffs on the river
With a haze, and a fierce, finite light--
Rivers flow into other rivers, and they
flow into rivers that flow into the sea.


Imagine, if you will, Coronado’s golden city,
For here he stood--never mind the doughnut bakery.
Rivers flow into other rivers, and they
flow into rivers that flow into the sea.


Despite the lost tribes of Welshmen,
Israelites, Amazons, unicorns, all maps agree:
Rivers flow into other rivers, and they
flow into rivers that flow into the sea.

Why ask the radar on the mountain
For latest news? Here’s an update--
Rivers flow into other rivers, and they
flow into rivers that flow into the sea.


You want it when? With graphs and charts?
You give me a headache. I’ll give you the summary.
Rivers flow into other rivers and they
flow into rivers that flow into the sea.

First the diagnosis, then the announcement:
"You’re now free to move about the denouement,"
as rivers flow into other rivers, and they
flow into rivers that flow into the sea.

How do I love thee, and why? O congeries
Of gorgeous lies, I’ve lost my way.
And rivers flow into other rivers, and they
flow into rivers that flow into the sea.

Susan Salter Reynolds

Comments 

Advertisement










Video