The New Yorker, 11 March 2013 (Briefly Noted)

(Dear blog readers will of course have noticed that the New Yorker in question dates from March 2013:  self’s backlog of unread journals and magazines is truly getting serious)

Without further ado, here are the four books in the Briefly Noted section, and the reasons self wants to read all of them:

The Real Jane Austen, by Paula Byrne (Harper)

Self would read anything about Jane Austen.  Anything.  Even if it were something about her eating habits.  That said, here are the strengths of this particular biography:  “Byrne makes a strong case that earlier biographers misinterpreted as sincere letters lampooning heartbroken sentimentalism . . .  Byrne shirks chronological constraints, beginning each chapter with an object of special significance in the author’s life —  a shawl, a wooden lap desk —  on the premise that much of Austen’s fiction was ‘made real by a few carefully chosen things.’ “

Louis Agassiz, by Christoph Irmscher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Here we have a biography of a man who believed that “only whites were descended from Adam and Eve.”  Also, he was a fierce opponent of Darwinism.  Also, he was a Harvard professor.  Also, the biographer was his friend.  Also, also . . .  self is just curious to see how such a man deserves a biography.

Ten White Geese, by Gerbrand Bakker, translated from the Dutch by David Colmer (Penguin)

The novel is about “an Emily Dickinson scholar” who “has moved from Amsterdam to live on a rented farm in rural Wales.  An abundance of physical description gives the novel a peculiar texture, but it moves rapidly along: a card from her husband arrives; a boy stumbles onto her property and stays; a small flock of geese disappear one by one.  But at the farm, her primary relationship is with Dickinson and her work, which tries ‘to hold back time, making it bearable and less lonely too perhaps, by capturing it in hundreds of poems.’ “

City of Angels, by Christa Wolf, translated from the German by Damion Searls (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

“Billed as a novel, this work by one of the leading literary figures of East Germany is more like a journal — with a digressive, quotidian pace and recognizably autobiographical content.  In 1992-93, Wolf, who died in 2011, was a fellow at the Getty Center, and a narrator much like Wolf explores Los Angeles and mourns her lost country in the wake of Communism’s collapse . . .  Wolf uses the image of Freud’s overcoat as a metaphor for memory’s instability:  ‘the coat that keeps you warm but also hidden, that you have to turn inside out.’ “

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.


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