Happy to see you alive and reading!
Here’s some of what we love this week…
Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music, by Rob Young
In the late 1960s, with popular culture hurtling forward on the sounds of rock music, some brave musicians looked back instead, trying to recover the lost treasures of English roots music and update them for the new age. The records of Fairport Convention, Pentangle, Steeleye Span, and Nick Drake are known as “folk rock” today, but Rob Young’s epic, electrifying book makes clear that those musicians led a decades-long quest to recover English music—and with it, the ancient ardor for mysticism and paganism, for craftsmanship and communal living.
From Lilly: Superb! A dream odyssey of a read revealing a musical/ideological pathway connecting some of my favorite composer/musicians – i.e., Ralph Vaughan Williams, Nick Drake… (However, doesn’t include Jethro Tull….?!)
The Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson
Winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize
Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular former BBC radio producer, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer, and television personality, are old school friends. Despite a prickly relationship and very different lives, they’ve never lost touch with each other, or with their former teacher, Libor Sevcik.
Dining together one night at Sevcik’s apartment—the two Jewish widowers and the unmarried Gentile, Treslove—the men share a sweetly painful evening, reminiscing on a time before they had loved and lost, before they had prized anything greatly enough to fear the loss of it. But as Treslove makes his way home, he is attacked and mugged outside a violin dealer’s window. Treslove is convinced the crime was a misdirected act of anti-Semitism, and in its aftermath, his whole sense of self will ineluctably change.
The Finkler Question is a funny, furious, unflinching novel of friendship and loss, exclusion and belonging, and the wisdom and humanity of maturity.
The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick DeWitt
Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die. The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it. Though Eli doesn’t share his brother’s appetite for whiskey and killing, he’s never known anything else. But their prey isn’t an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm’s gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living–and whom he does it for.
With The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt pays homage to the classic Western, transforming it into an unforgettable comic tour de force. Filled with a remarkable cast of characters–losers, cheaters, and ne’er-do-wells from all stripes of life–and told by a complex and compelling narrator, it is a violent, lustful odyssey through the underworld of the 1850s frontier that beautifully captures the humor, melancholy, and grit of the Old West and two brothers bound by blood, violence, and love.
The Letters of Sylvia Beach, edited by Keri Walsh
Founder of the Left Bank bookstore Shakespeare and Company and the first publisher of James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” Sylvia Beach had a legendary facility for nurturing literary talent. In this first collection of her letters, we witness Beach’s day-to-day dealings as bookseller and publisher to expatriate Paris. Friends and clients include Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, H. D., Ezra Pound, Janet Flanner, William Carlos Williams, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Richard Wright. As librarian, publicist, publisher, and translator, Beach carved out a unique space for herself in English and French letters.
This collection reveals Beach’s charm and resourcefulness, sharing her negotiations with Marianne Moore to place Joyce’s work in “The Dial”; her battle to curb the piracy of “Ulysses” in the United States; her struggle to keep Shakespeare and Company afloat during the Depression; and her complicated affair with the French bookstore owner Adrienne Monnier. These letters also recount Beach’s childhood in New Jersey; her work in Serbia with the American Red Cross; her internment in a German prison camp; and her friendship with a new generation of expatriates in the 1950s and 1960s. Beach was the consummate American in Paris and a tireless champion of the avant-garde. Her warmth and wit made the Rue de l’OdA(c)on the heart of modernist Paris.
The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life With the Chimps, by Jeanette Winter
The stories in Some Day This Will Be Funny marry memory to moment in a union of narrative form as immaculate and imperfect as the characters damned to act them out on page. Lynne Tillman, author of American Genius, presides over the ceremony; Clarence Thomas, Marvin Gaye, and Madame Realism mingle at the reception. Narrators – by turn infamous and nameless – shift within their own skin, struggling to unknot reminiscence from reality while scenes rush into warm focus, then cool, twist, and snap in the breeze of shifting thought. Epistle, quotation, and haiku bounce between lyrical passages of lucid beauty, echoing the scattered, cycling arpeggio of Tillman’s preferred subject: the unsettled mind. Collectively, these stories own a conscience shaped by oaths made and broken; by the skeleton silence and secrets of family; by love’s shifting chartreuse. They traffic in the quiet images of personal history, each one a flickering sacrament in danger of being swallowed up by the lust and desperation of their possessor: a fistful of parking tickets shoved in the glove compartment, a little black book hidden from a wife in a safe-deposit box, a planter stuffed with flowers to keep out the cooing mourning doves. They are stories fashioned with candor and animated by fits of wordplay and invention – stories that affirm Tillman’s unshakable talent for wedding the patterns and rituals of thought with the blushing immediacy of existence, defying genre and defining experimental short fiction.