The Tools We Need

The Tools We Need

The panic that arose across the country as the incredible reality of a Trump presidency began to sink in hit the book world with particular force. In his temperament, style and values, the new president seems almost purpose-built to oppose everything Barack Obama has stood for and accomplished. (The only things they appear to have in common are a love of golf and an on again-off again friendship with Hillary Clinton.) In few aspects is the gulf wider than in their respective attitudes to reading. 

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Marilynne Robinson's Psalms and Prophecy

Marilynne Robinson's Psalms and Prophecy

Marilynne Robinson began her novel Housekeeping while completing a dissertation on Shakespeare as a graduate student. Initially she wrote what now form the book’s preliminary scenes as exercises in extended metaphors. Evoking her childhood home of Sandpoint, Idaho, a lake town in the panhandle of the state (in the book she renames it Fingerbone) and remotely drawing off her ancestors, Robinson simply wanted to see if she could still write something other than scholastic essays. Also, she has said, she wanted to impress her friends.

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Absent Friends: It wasn't what he wanted

Absent Friends: It wasn't what he wanted

As Charles Homer Haskins pointed out in his humbly durable masterpiece The Renaissance of the 12th Century, the Dark Ages weren’t dark at all. Fiercely cold most of the time (due to a bout of climate change), but not dark in the sense of shuttered. Beknighted, but not benighted.

The great scholar John Addington Symonds (whose absence from bookstore shelves bloody well qualifies him for honoring here in Absent Friends, somewhere down the line) put it very prettily when he observed that any age without Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael must necessarily seem dark. The ostentatious showboating of the Italian Renaissance is the problem in a nutshell when it comes to thinking about the innocent ages that come before.

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Childe Harold's Children

Childe Harold's Children

F. Scott Fitzgerald could never quite get over his youth. He had managed so fully to take part in its opportunities that everything in adulthood savored of anticlimax. From his first days at Princeton—“the best country club in the world”—to the success of his first novel, This Side of Paradise, he experienced everything that custom entitles young people to experience, no matter how stupid or ridiculous it may be.  

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Shall we in that great night rejoice?

Shall we in that great night rejoice?

‘But hush, for I have lost the theme. . .'

A party of young people takes advantage of a beautiful blue-sky spring afternoon to have a picnic. The men are all trim and waistcoated, the women wear their hair in shapely turrets, with long white gloves on their hands. Baskets of fruit, an ice-bucket filled with bottles of sweet wine, and platters of coldcuts weight the picnic blanket. The air is clear and the nearby trees are gently swaying. The talk is quicksilver, invigorating.

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