Elegant and thoughtful, with much to read between the lines in commentary on a long life’s work. Students and admirers of...

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THE GREAT CLOD

NOTES AND MEMORIES ON THE NATURAL HISTORY OF CHINA AND JAPAN

The noted poet and essayist returns with a deceptively small book enfolding a lifetime’s worth of study.

Snyder (This Present Moment, 2015, etc.) was an environmentalist before that word was widely applied, “radicalized,” he memorably writes, “by the ghosts of the original trees still hanging out by their stumps and telling me what had gone on” in the overlogged forests of the Puget Sound. He has also been a student of Asian religions for seven decades. Both interests inform this slender volume, which reads as a kind of personalized digest of scholarship and history blended with memoir and travelogue—a book, in short, not quite like any other but trademark Snyder, its learning lightly worn but profoundly stated. The author begins on a rueful note that will be repeated elsewhere: that he had imagined, in his exuberant youth, that by going to China and Japan he would be immersing himself in civilizations that treated the land better than the materialist West did. Not so, he writes with wisdom gained: “large, civilized societies inevitably have a harsh effect on the natural environment, regardless of philosophical or religious values.” His reading of East Asian history is a kind of understated study of the Fall of Man, tinged with anarchist morals; in the place of “a free, untaxed, self-sustaining people” rises a bureaucratized, state-governed society amenable to such things as slavery and despoliation. Religious traditions such as Taoism rise in critique, offering other objects of striving than the material: says one Buddhist exhortation, “the Perfect Way is without difficulty: strive hard!” Classical poetry, calligraphy, the best source of temple incense—all figure in the text, which has something of the feel of a valediction.

Elegant and thoughtful, with much to read between the lines in commentary on a long life’s work. Students and admirers of Snyder will be enchanted and intrigued.

Pub Date: May 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61902-569-1

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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