Some Reviews: San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, 11 August 2013

Roberto Bolaño gets evoked (only for the nth time) in a review of the new short story collection by Carolyn Cooke, The Gravity of Birds gets lavished with praise, and a book about a circus elephant — Topsy, the “crooked-tailed elephant” (which recalls to self the documentary Blackfish, which was about Tilamuk, the orca with the crooked tailfin who has sired “54%” of the whales performing now in marine parks all over the United States) — manages to arouse self’s curiosity in spite of getting a less than enthusiastic review.

First, the Cooke collection, which is reviewed by a fascinating name.  The name is Porter Shreve.  Self thinks “Shreve” is such a distinguished-sounding last name, and the fact that it belongs to a “Porter” makes it sound New England-y and, well, you know what self means!  New England-y!  The review goes:

Roberto Bolaño defined high-caliber writing as having “the ability to peer into the darkness, to leap into the void, to know that literature is basically a dangerous undertaking.  The ability to sprint along the edge of the precipice: to one side of the bottomless abyss and to the other the faces you love.”  It’s not enough to write well, he argued, not enough to write extremely well.  The very best write on the edge.

Carolyn Cooke, a Mendocino County writer whose novel Daughters of the Revolution was a 2011 Chronicle Top 10 Book of the Year, is Bolaño’s kind of writer.

And that’s all you pretty much need to know.  Go out and buy the Cooke collection, hurry!

Next is a review of a fabulously titled debut novel, The Gravity of Birds.  The review begins:

If literary fiction is on the verge of extinction, Bay Area writer Tracy Guzeman’s debut novel, The Gravity of Birds, ought to inspire new hope for an endangered species.  With its deft interweaving of psychological complexity and riveting narrative momentum, with its gorgeous prose and poetic justice, Guzeman’s book is about sibling rivalry, tragedies and resurrections.  And it’s irresistibly exquisite.

The Gravity of Birds might seem a near-gothic fairy tale, with a stolen infant, a bewitched lover and a long-buried secret.  Yet the multiple characters are modern and elaborate, archetypal, not stereotypical.

Okey-dokey!  You know what to do, dear blog readers!  Go out and buy this novel!

And finally, here’s what self considers the most interesting review of the Sunday 11 August 2013 San Francisco Chronicle:  the review of Topsy:  The Startling Story of the Crooked-Tailed Elephant, P. T. Barnum, and the American Wizard, Thomas Edison, by Michael Daly (What a title. Self is quite disappointed at the lack of imagination of the publisher, the Atlantic Monthly Press.  More subtlety, please, in the future, oh Atlantic Monthly Press!).  The review begins:

The circus and sideshow business pf tje 19th century was largely the domain of con men, scam artists, pitchmen and charlatans.  Business was based on hyperbole, especially for P. T. Barnum, from calling General Tom Thumb “the world’s most famous dwarf” to titling his circus “The Greatest Show on Earth.”  Most circuses even traveled with their own set of pickpockets, who were encouraged to rob the patrons during performances, as long as they kicked back a percentage of their “earnings” to the circus owner.

The review calls the book a mixed bag, but it is so dense with information that seems new and wonderful that self still wants to read Topsy.  Besides which, she loves elephants in general.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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