"The book I'm looking for,' says the blurred figure, who holds out a volume similar to yours, 'is the one that gives the sense of the world after the end of the world, the sense that the world is the end of everything that there is in the world, that the only thing there is in the world is the end of the world."
- Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler

Friday, August 24, 2012

Alice Munro and Lucretius

Runaway by Alice Munro [link]

Munro writes very long, stylistically muted, hyper-realistic short stories about women in Canada.Stories about women on trains, or visiting their neighbors or going to see a lover.

There're no gimmicks, either thematically or structurally. I don't just mean there's no genre stuff like vampires and aliens and locked room mysteries. I also mean there are no tricks that get employed in more literary offerings: things like setting your story at the birth of the Manhattan Project or making your protagonist a world class bee keeper or switching between first and third person or using long, reflexive run-on sentences.

Which is all to say that its really hard to turn it into a pitch. Her work is nothing but craft, and it's really excellent.

Some of the stories are better than others, and the endings had kind of a weird habit of summing up the next several weeks/months for the character in a way that I'm not sure if I liked or not. But if you want to read something serious and insightful and super-realistic--read this book!

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Steven Greenblatt [link]

I think that am too sleepy to write anything interesting about this! I also enjoyed this more when I wasn't constantly asking myself to summarize and critique it for a future blog post. That may be too much information about how the blog sausage is made, but there it is.

This is a history book about the Greek poem/essay "On the Nature of Things" by Lucretius and its discovery by an Italian papal secretary named Poggio. That specific subject is a vehicle to explore much more general topics:the philosophical and cultural arguments that were going on during and prior to the Enlightenment, the history of books and scrolls, and the Greek foundations of naturalism.

I minored in History, but I am so so bad at it. I don't have a knack for the very detailed narratives of politics, and I think there's always been some secret part of me that isn't convinced that learning about History is important--at least not in the classic "doomed to repeat it" sense.

I always liked my history courses more for the ideas in them than for their brambled narratives. And this is the kind of history book for me--it reads like a Malcolm Gladwell take on History; you know "Hey! Here's an idea! Isn't it interesting???"

The prose is very accessible. This is the most readable history book I've ever read. What are you waiting for? Go read it!

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