by Campbell Geeslin
Tom Zoellner is the author of Train: Riding the Rails That Created the Modern World—From the Trans-Siberian to the Southwest Chief. He began a review of travel books in the Times Book Review with a sweeping summation: “There is no such place as untrammeled earth. A journey to any spot on the globe is certain to cross the traces of past civilizations, the residue of different era. They may announce themselves in wreckages of marble or stone, or they may have discretely sunk beneath the dirt. Yet wherever we may travel, the ghosts of history beckon. They remind us of our predecessors and also of our own transience.”
JEWELS: Barbara Taylor Bradford’s most recent bestseller is The Cavendon Women. Her books have sold about 88 million copies worldwide. They are published in 40 languages and in 90 countries. She is 82 years old.
Her jewelry was the subject of a recent article by Jean Rafferty in the New York Times. Bradford, who auctioned off about 40 pieces of her collection in 2013, says she still has plenty. Her father started her off when she was 18, with a “string of good pearls from a jeweler in Leeds” and pearls were the first gift of jewelry from her husband as well.
“I’ve learned a lot about jewelry over the years,” Bradford said. “Women love to read about it.” In fact, writes Rafferty, “quite a few of these personal jewels turn up in her fiction. One sapphire bead and diamond bracelet inspired Lady Daphne’s engagement present from Hugo in Cavendon Hall. A similar ruby bead and diamond bracelet was stolen by Felicity, the countess in Cavendon Women, Ms. Taylor Bradford’s most recent book, where the family jewels, many inspired by her own, are major plot features.”
“Jewelry is emotional,” said Bradford. “I think women love a piece because of who gave it to them, how long they have had it, the love and the memories of somebody caring.”
UNPREPARED: Gary Indiana’s new memoir, I Can Give You Anything But Love, was reviewed by Francine Prose in the New York Review of Books. Her review opens with a quote from Indiana’s epilogue: “At one point I began to prune away anything suggesting the sort of ‘triumph over adversity’ theme that gongs through so much of the so-called memoir genre, paring away most evidence of my eventual career as a writer and artist—which has not in any case been an unmitigated triumph over adversity. . . . eventually I let go of any pretense of documentary reality, and kept instead the evocation of things happening to a person for the first time, of being young and completely unprepared for life.”
Prose followed with: “Indiana need not have worried about anyone mistaking his book for one of those heartening narratives that charts its author’s voyage through a stormy youth into the bright harbor of a glorious career.”
ON GARDENS: Dominique Browning did her annual review of gardening books in the Times Book Review—11 in all this round, including several about gardens that are protected by trusts. “Surely,” she writes, “the planting of gardens shares kinship with the making of sand mandalas, those vibrant patterns, painstakingly laid down by Tibetan Buddhist monks over long, backbreaking days only to be ritualistically brushed away when they’re completed. Life is ephemeral; we are in eternal transit. Every dawn, gardeners the world over stroll outside to view the depredations of the night’s creatures and learn to accept impermanence.”
ON WAR: David Shields, 59, is the author of a dozen books including Reality Hunger. War is Beautiful: The New York Times Guide to the Glamour of Armed Conflict, is his latest. In it, according to the Seattle Times, Shields “asserts that The New York Times and its photography staff create images of war that glamorize war and its sacrifices.”
In an interview with Salon, Shield explained how he came to write the book. A long time Times reader, Shields said, “my eye was noticing this overwhelming pattern of impossibly beautiful photographs that conveyed not the war itself but the war that is a kind of heck, you know, according to the Times, war is heck. What was going on? Was I under-reading the pictures, misreading the pictures? Demanding the pictures be more gritty than they can possibly be? I wanted to investigate that question.”
BIG PRIZE: David Goldblatt, a writer for The Guardian, won the William Hill Sports Book of the year award for The Game of Our Lives: The Meaning and Making of English Football. The award comes with a prize of 27,000 pounds. Receiving the award, Goldblatt said: “In the words of Sir Alex Ferguson: sports writing, bloody hell.” The chairman of the judges panel, John Gaustud said: “The Game of Our Lives will be required reading for anyone studying the history of late 20th and early 21st century Britain.” Two of Goldblatt's sporting Guardian colleagues made the six-author shortlist for the award.
ON BIOS: Deborah Solomon is the author of Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell. In the December 6 Times Book Review, she wrote: “What is the point of reading biographies of artists? Critics have frequently come down hard on them. They contend that the details of a life are helpless to explain the majesty of art. What matters are not the despairing childhoods and difficult relationships, the question of whether a particular artist was altruistic or plainly cruel—but the object that emerged in the end, an object unburdened by life, succeeding or failing on the basis of its appeal to the eye.”
THROW AWAY: David Bromwich is the author of The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke. In a recent issue of The New York Review of Books, he reviewed an exhibition at the Morgan Library that runs through the end of January, Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars. “Hemingway was the foremost defender of revision as a proof of serious craft. The more you could throw away, he said, the surer you could be that something of substance was there to begin with.”
LETTERS: Shaun Usher is the author of Letters of Note, and More Letters of Note—epistolary treasures that have made a successful leap from the website he started in 2009 to bestselling anthologies. “The literary equivalent of a box of chocolates,” said the London Times of the original Letters, “bite-sized and pure addictive pleasure.”
What all the fuss is about is Usher’s simple presentation of old school letters in their original form, handwritten or typed, on real paper, sent from one person—usually quite a famous one—to another. A brief text by Usher sets the stage and names the correspondents— David Bowie to his first American fan, Mark Twain to a salesman, Queen Elizabeth to Dwight Eisenhower, Ursula Le Guin to an editor explaining why she would not blurb a book of science fiction—“which not only contains no writing by women, but the tone of which is so self-contentedly, exclusively male, like a club, or a locker room.”
“If I'm reading an email I've always got my eye on something else,” Usher told the Guardian. “But if a letter comes through the door, I'm always in awe that someone has taken the time and made the effort. There's something beautiful just looking at the paper someone's chosen, looking at the letterhead if there is one, working out what they have typed the letter on or looking at the handwriting. There's just so much more to enjoy.”
FAIRY TALES: The actor Ethan Hawke, the author of Rules for a Knight, was the Times Book Review’s By the Book subject this week. Asked what his favorite fairy tale is, he replied: “I like the fairy tales about superficial celebrities who, through living a long time and doing no hard work at all, gain powerful insights and great depth of knowledge.”