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This Sunday: The smartest person in the room and 'Cuckoo's Nest'

February 3, 2012 |  3:20 pm

Margaret Fuller

In her review of John Matteson's “The Lives of Margaret Fuller,” Laura Skandera Trombley poses an interesting question: “What must it have been like always to be the smartest person in the room without any of the privileges accorded to men?”

That's what Fuller continually had to contend with in a circle that included Emerson, Thoreau, Poe, Hawthorne and Horace Greeley. The newspaper editor and reformer Greeley hired her to become the New York Tribune’s first literary editor and then the paper’s first foreign correspondent. Emerson asked her to serve as editor of his transcendentalist journal the Dial. Less charitably, Poe considered her a “busybody” and an intellectual anomaly of her sex. Skandera Trombley, an eminent Twain scholar and president of Pitzer College, offers a long-overdue look at one of the more interesting intellectual figures of 19th century America.

It’s hard to believe that 50 years have passed since Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"

was first published.  And now it's back again in an anniversary, hard-cover edition with the original jacket art. Carolyn Kellogg knew the story of the book and the popularity of the movie starring Jack Nicholson and Randall Patrick McMurphy. But until now she hadn't read the book and wondered if it deserved all the hype it has received. You can find her verdict in this Sunday's coverage.

Times book critic David Ulin reviews Nathan Englander’s short story collection “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank,” noting that much of this work involves the “tension between the religious and the secular, between the American setting of much of this work and the more elusive textures of Jewish life.”  Englander shows his range and skill, tilting “toward the magical realist or, more precisely, toward the tradition of Jewish fable writing as embodied by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Sholem Aleichem.”

More after the jump

Richard Rayner reviews Barry Unsworth’s “The Quality of Mercy,” a "standalone sequel” to his 1992 novel “Sacred Hunger.” This novel picks up the story of Sullivan, brought back to London in 1767 to stand trial on charges of mutiny and piracy. His escape and journey to the north of England to find the family of a fallen shipmate constitute the novel’s focus.

From Dickensian London we move to 19th century Hawaii in Wendy Smith’s review of “Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings and America’s First Imperial Adventure.” Author Julia Flynn Siler details the history of a Pacific kingdom, created by a proud Polynesian people, and the political twists and turns leading to the U.S. annexation of Hawaii in 1898.

Susan Carpenter’s YA selection this week is Emily M. Danforth’s novel “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” which tells the story of a young girl in Montana whose awakening homosexuality provides some difficulties. And, as always, we have our weekly bestsellers list.

Still catching up from the week? Check out our daily reviews: Lorraine Ali’s review of Ayad Akhtar’s novel of a Pakistan American boy and his encounters with Islam in “American Dervish,” Reed Johnson’s conversation with Tricia Tunstall, the author of “Changing Lives: Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema, and the Transformative Power of Music” and Nick Owchar’s review of “Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew your Spirit.”

Thanks for reading,

-- Jon Thurber, books editor

Top photo: Margaret Fuller at age 36. Credit: Houghton Library, Harvard University. Image from the book 'The Lives of Margaret Fuller' by John Matteson. Published by W.W. Norton

Photo: "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."  Credit: Glenn Koenig/ Los Angeles Times