Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Uninvited Guest

Ah, you got to thinking Biblical with that title.

Or maybe visiting family.

Or even a forgotten order for a book from Amazon or Abe Books or some such place, showing up in the mail box with the Spring glut of catalogues, inducements to change wireless phone service, and warnings from desperate Republican politicians that the Democrats are undermining the President's agenda.

Nah; I'm talking about the Spring Books edition of The New York Review of Books. One of the earliest of the modern generation of significant book reviews--The Saturday Review of Literature was toast long before NYBR got its sketchy, graduate English Department look out among us.

I'd made pretty good work through a pile of reviews, even selecting this week's candidate for my own column and getting a nice jump on the reading. Students were beginning to howl, customers were wondering when to expect, but as well as one can be caught up without being thought unconnected, I had things in hand.

Slippery hand, especially when I puled NYRB out of the box and began to note, alas, all the new titles under review and in the ads. University of Chicago Press has a nifty-looking Rembrandt and the Female Nude.Yale has Notebooks of Tennessee Williams,Toby Press, of whom I'd never heard, has a hot-looking novel;Rutgers has an intriguing Jane Austen Companion,Vintage has a Selected Poems of Auden,that looks to be a must-have, and Pantheon, always reliable, has Shakespeare & Company;all this before looking at an appealing series of writers from various countries, in this case Ireland, Poland, and Mexico, and Kansas doing a title that is a grabber, The Last Cattle Drive.

All this, mind you, before getting into the books under review, including one by one of my favorites, Howard Norman, reviewed by Pico Iyer, one of the better reviewers in America, and Jonathan Raban, taking off on the challenging conservative who has fallen out with Mad King George and begun to favor the junior senator from Illinois.

Distractions. Purposeful distractions.

On a more positive note, let's hope they are clamorous enough in voice to distract this man away from smugness or any sense that he is in any way caught up with the work to be done, the things to be taken in and learned.

Due to the random forces of proximity, the NYRB was folded over the Winter edition of The Sewanee Review, a step or two up on the literary later, reaching more to the academy than the generalist reader, and from the look of it, containing not its usual one or two short stories but five. But there it is, out in the open, like a prowling relative looking for a week or two away from his own life.

Perhaps it is Biblical, after all: The Aramaic words appearing on the wall at Belshazzar's feast, mene, mene, tekel, upharashin, interpreted by the Prophet Daniel to mean that the king (Belshazzar, not Bush) had been weighed and found deficient. Well, maybe Bush, too.

In my case, you have been held in the balance and found unread.

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