Book Reviews

There is undeniable pleasure in reading Mahmoud Darwish in that it feels like we are looking back on our present day from several thousand years in the future. But this effect also produces a kind of cultural-historical vertigo in which today’s world (which many in the West like to think of as belonging to an ever newer, better, improved era of history, an era blessed and, no doubt, sanitized by the perfect scientific godlessness of Progress (the non-ideological ideology par excellence)) is really no different than any other point in our deeply intertwined world history.

Edward Lucie-Smith’s The Glory of Angels is a sumptuous feast for the eye and spirit, a volume carefully researched, knowingly written, and elegantly illustrated, no illuminated. It’s an oversized (11” x 14”) production, a coffee-table book so beautiful that care must be taken that neither coffee nor any other beverage be spilled upon it.

Reading Alix Cleo Roubaud’s journal is like standing in a pitch-dark room and flicking on the light for a split second. The flash of illumination reveals only an impression of the furniture but forbids a thorough appreciation. The photographer recorded her thoughts, aspirations, and, most especially, her fears (she attempted suicide multiple times…)

What do I want of summer books? In general, I want affirmative books: books that affirm genre conventions, books that affirm common sense, books that affirm my instincts about how to live. There are also practical considerations to keep in mind. I want books that I won’t feel guilty about dripping ice cream on or dirtying with sand and saltwater (or grimy subway hands).

Maile Chapman’s Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto contains all the ingredients for a splendid gothic mystery. It features a cast of strange and secretive characters, a setting of chilly natural beauty (the story takes place in rural Finland) and an air of implicit violence. It is too bad, then, that the book snuffs out every whiff of suspense hinted at in its premise, offering instead a plodding narrative punctuated by missed opportunities.

“It is never said, but it is clear that it is over, that our lives, bound together for so long, will now be lived apart. Everything that we were, the whole magical, horrible opera, is now over. We are only a table apart but we’re in different worlds. He seems less like a person and more like a fragment from a dream I once had, some nocturnal wonder I cannot revive after sleep, only remember.”

In Imperial Bedrooms, Clay buys two escorts –– a teenaged boy and girl –– and brings them to a house in Palm Springs. The boy is from down under, Australia. The girl from the Bible Belt, Memphis. At one point, Clay is “smeared in shit” and pushes his fist into the girl. She shrieks with shock until the boy stuffs her mouth with his cock, gagging her. Shortly thereafter, Clay tells us that “the devil was calling out to [the girl] but it didn’t scare her anymore because she wanted to talk to him.” All the while, in the background, a group of crickets buzz and hiss incessantly.

The stories all have a Seinfeldian quality, in the best sense of that adjective. The humor is observational, the plots are subtly intricate, and each piece is populated by monsters masquerading as regular people. An anorexic and kleptomaniac roommate prompts Crosley to consider moving into a former brothel populated by the ghosts of dead hookers.

The list of contributors, some names long forgotten, others alive in legend, is as eccentric and eclectic as the recipes themselves: Elizabeth Arden, Christian Dior, Charlie Chaplin, Clare Boothe Luce, Laurence Olivier, Katherine Hepburn, Salvador Dali, Tallulah Bankhead. It’s a real early twentieth century celebrity parade.Specialites is more than just a fun book to read. It is an historical document of some content and value giving a real sense of the state of American cuisine before World War II…