Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Reviews in Publishers Weekly, New York Times


Published: August 26, 2007

The Half-Life of an American Essayist. By Arthur Krystal. (David R. Godine, $24.95.) Arthur Krystal is not really a go-getter. A self-described “aimless, melancholic, bumptious freelance writer,” he shirks fashionable topics, even if they might bring in a buck. In the engaging title piece of this slim, occasionally stuffy volume, Krystal makes a vigorous case for the virtues of old-fashioned literary criticism, twitting the navel gazers of “creative nonfiction,” which he dismisses as just a fancy word for memoir: “Writing interestingly about Jane Austen requires more imagination than confessing to having slept with someone named Jane Austen from Beaumont, Texas.” Krystal ranges widely, taking on subjects ranging from the typewriter to boxing, and he’s not afraid of weighty topics: he slogs through the notebooks of Paul Valéry, ponders different theories of beauty and offers a defense of the seven deadly sins. (“On the whole,” he writes, “it helps to have sin around; it’s like having a set of instructions for building a life that God approves of.”) In “My Holocaust Problem,” Krystal (whose grandparents died in the camps) complains that the profusion of Holocaust books, films and memorials — “the pomp and circumstance of remembrance” — has trivialized the event. If the argument isn’t terribly original, he subtly ponders the obligations of remembrance. In his charming concluding essay, “Who Speaks for the Lazy?,” Krystal returns to justifying his underachieving ways: “Let’s face it, some boys and girls become writers because the only workplace they’re willing to visit is the one inside their heads.”


Saint Francis and the Wolf
Jane Langton, illus. by Ilse Plume. Godine, $16.99 (32p)

With a smooth storyteller's pacing and an eye for kid-friendly detail, Langton (The Fledgling) retells the legend of how Saint Francis of Assisi used kindness to negotiate peace between the people of Gubbio and the wolf that was terrorizing their village. Though many tales of Francis's good deeds and selfless service are well known, children especially will gravitate to this story and its elements of suspense. Children stay indoors, warned that “The wolf will gobble you up”: the farmer, the miller and the baker, suffering their own hardships from the menacing beast, frantically express their concern for Francis. And the hungry wolf “licked its chops, dreaming of fat sheep,” while the villagers cower. As a complement to the dramatic tension, the young friar's Dr. Dolittle–like communication with animals also holds much appeal. The book's design goes far in capturing the flavor of Saint Francis's Italy. The font suggests, in a more humble style, the sturdy forms of calligraphy and illuminated letters of the day. On each spread, Plume (The Bremen-Town Musicians) alternates spot illustrations of flowers and plants with slightly larger scenes of Gubbio framed in Renaissance-inspired shapes. Her delicate lines and sunny watercolor palette depict the flourishing flora, fauna and stone dwellings of the Italian countryside. A brief biography of Francis is included, and his “Canticle of the Sun” appears on the end papers. All ages. (Oct.)

No comments:

Post a Comment