A miscellany of literary musings.
Journalist and critic Zane (Journalism and Mass Communication/St. Augustine’s Univ.; co-author: Design in Nature: How the Constructal Law Governs Evolution in Biology, Physics, Technology, and Social Organization, 2012, etc.) has gathered over 100 columns he wrote between 1997 and 2009, when he was review editor and books columnist for the Raleigh News & Observer. Organized into a dozen thematic sections—contemporary fiction, Southern writers, book culture and sensationalism, etc.—the book, writes the author, offers “an overview of a period of dazzling, and sometimes lamentable change…marked by the rise of the Internet and the confessional memoir as well as the decline of the independent bookstore and the continued marginalization of serious literature and ideas.” Although serious ideas fuel some of the essays, Zane’s breezy tone is closer to Dave Barry than Sven Birkerts or Peter Gay, whom he lists among many writers who inspire him. In a piece about Andrea Dworkin, Zane admits that he came to her memoir with the image of a “foul-mouthed, fat feminist who favored overalls” in his mind and was surprised to find that she had “a provocative mind” that “challenged convention.” The memoir, he writes, “reminded me to resist the urge to stereotype and marginalize strong women.” In “What’s Up with the Muslims?” he concludes that “the overwhelming majority…pose no danger,” and “the relatively small number of hard-core ideologues...are driven by political goals, not religion.” In a column on the environment, he writes, “my idea of roughing it is hiking to the store, hunting for bargains or fishing for something to wear.” Nevertheless, he agrees with Bill McKibben that “to save Mother Earth, we must also get to know her better.” Turning to Southern writers, Zane’s pieces on Faulkner, Welty and Sedaris are appreciative rather than analytical.
An intermittently entertaining but sometimes banal collection.