No Place Like Home

            This time of year, when I’m not skipping through mounds of crackly leaves, or sipping hard cider on my porch swing, or carving intricate designs on pumpkins, or canning the bounty of my prodigious garden, I’m preparing for winter. Taking a cue from neighborhood squirrels, who think my house a great place to gnaw on, I make list of things I should get busy with before winter turns my vistas brown and gray. At the top of my list is changing the filters in the floor vents and furnace. It’s not a big deal, but because I have to stop doing all the things listed above, I like to put it off. At least until I run out of hard cider.

Changing the floor vents is accomplished with little fanfare. I think I could change both of them in the duration of a TV commercial, especially during political campaigns. But the furnace is in the basement. If essays had sound effects, there would be one after the word “basement.” DA DA DAAAAHHH!

The basement is a place I avoid. To reach it, one exits a barn-type door and descends a short, steep stairway on a back-porch type area, to a landscape of red clay, spider-family webs, and darkness. It is cool and damp and perfect for serial killers, vampires, zombies and lifeless, decapitated bodies who crawl around in the dirt. It is also the storage area for gardening tools, which are known to be aggressive.

I take my little flashlight, too small to double as a weapon. It’s quiet in the basement. Cavernous and shadowy, with earthy odors and ancient dust whose waftings harbor secrets. Bad ones. When I reach the old metal furnace, the rusted doors scrape against the edges of the machine. An ominous, baleful silence is broken and battered. I am sure I have awakened dormant demons who are poised to uncoil from sinister corners, ready to abduct and drag me to a lair from which I will never see light again. I slide the filter into its slot and clang the metal door shut. It doesn’t go well, the door is out of its frame and the hollow stillness at my back makes every inch of my feigned composure crumble. “It’s nothing,” I tell myself, “Stop being a wuss,” but my feet carry me quickly away.

I have survived another trip to the basement. And for now, the monsters are contained.

By the way, I never do the things I suggested at the beginning of this tale. Perhaps I should. At least the hard cider part. It might arm me against the murky mysteries downstairs.

Encyclopedia Johnson

 

By Liat Faver

My greatest regret in reading Boswell’s Life of Johnson was I felt rushed. I needed to finish the book in time to write about it, and in three weeks I drove through its 1402 pages like a mad woman. When Johnson himself informed me “if we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read” (747), I took it to heart. I found occasion to savor it, hovering over passages that stunned me with their intricate beauty and acuity. Rarely did this tome inspire ridicule; however, I was often dismayed with Boswell’s manner of crossing the same streets repeatedly. I realize he wants to paint an accurate portrait of a man he admires above all others. Yet I wonder if it is necessary to take us through so many of Johnson’s daily events with so thoroughly fine-toothed a comb.

It is easy to see the objectionable side of Dr. Johnson, his self-importance, argumentativeness, and the annoying quality of being correct most of the time. But we warm to him when we see “his brown suit of cloaths looked very rusty; he had on a little old shrivelled unpowdered wig, which was too small for his head; his shirt-neck and knees of his breeches were loose . . . a pair of unbuckled shoes by way of slippers” (280). Here we find the old curmudgeon in his rumpled and unadorned simplicity, loveable and mortal.

Our fascination with Johnson begins when we read that he once beat his school mistress. This is offered as an example of “that jealous independence of spirit, and impetuosity of temper, which never forsook him” (29). We are intrigued by his prodigious powers of recall when his mother insists that he memorize and recite lessons in a prayer-book, and he does so in stunningly short order. We then read that he stepped on and killed a duckling when he was three-years-old, and composed a beautiful, if remorseless epitaph. When we are told the duckling story isn’t true, we are informed, in a footnote, according to Miss Seward, the value in this fable and other childhood tales that can’t be proven, is in “the seeds of those propensities which through his life so strongly marked his character” (31). Thus, we are introduced early to Johnson’s tendencies toward inflexibility and supremacy, and “aversion to regular life” (47).

Numerous letters to relatives, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances often repeat themselves, and I wondered why Boswell included so many. Eventually I came to appreciate them as evidence of the frequency of written communication in Johnson’s era. They also convey emotion and humor, and elucidate the elaborate turns-of-phrase common to the eighteenth century. In a beautiful missive to Joseph Baretti, Johnson expresses affection, “’I would have you happy wherever you are: yet I would have you wish to return to England . . . You may find among us what you will leave behind, soft smiles and easy sonnets’” (257).  The letters also evince historical dealings more colorfully than simple narrative.

I disagree with Johnson’s belief that “’women have all the liberty they should wish to have. We have all the labour and the danger, and the women all the advantage . . . If we require more perfection from women than from ourselves, it is doing them honour’” (944). And he over-simplifies grief and its longevity, saying, “’In time the vacuity is filled with something else; or, sometimes the vacuity closes up of itself’” (714). He seems heartless in his regard for children when he reveals that he “’should not have had much fondness for a child of my own’” (737). Yet he suffers considerably after his wife’s death, and exhibits great affinity toward his step-daughter, and Boswell’s children, and in one of his many defenses of Johnson, Boswell tells us “man is, in general, made up of contradictory qualities” (1399).

As an observation of historic and political events, Life gives an insider’s account of the time it occupies. We hear of the American struggle for independence, controversies over slavery, public execution, etiquette in the classroom, and more. Discussions between Johnson and his cohorts traverse many themes, from wine consumption, to Parliamentary procedure. When Johnson falls ill, we learn of the dropsy, blood-letting, and the application of squills.

Boswell’s devotion to Johnson is painstaking and affectionate. We see his “strange and somewhat uncouth” appearance, his “convulsive cramps” and “slovenly mode of dress.” It is touching to watch him walk with “the struggling gait of one in fetters” (1398). Johnson’s voice may still be heard in the pages of Boswell’s biography, a man with the “power of seizing the useful substance of all that he knew” (1400). And we can’t help but listen.

Boswell, James. Life of Johnson. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. 1980. Print.

 

 

Lessons and Locutions

By Liat Faver

Books that are written to instruct can be dull and repetitive. Becky Bradway and Doug Hesse are aware of this, and they have written a book about writing that piques creativity. Creating Nonfiction: A Guide and Anthology contains well-structured lessons followed by an anthology that houses a wealthy store of contemporary authors and interviews that keep the reader enthralled and amazed.

The section on craft discusses form, description, dialogue, style, and revision. We learn that we may separate creative nonfiction “into two rough piles: ‘information’ and ‘idea.’” And we may toy with these two piles in degrees of nuance and revelation to whatever effect we wish because “what writers do with an incident or memory is generally more important than the subject matter itself” (38). I placed markers in the chapter on form to highlight several paragraphs with suggestions for generating ideas, questions to address the specifics of what one is writing and why. I found myself feeling like I had entered a familiar classroom with a favorite professor. Bradway and Hesse’s direction is detailed and intricate, but gentle and encouraging in its delivery. I was inspired to return to stories of my own to apply what I was learning, to manipulate structures and time, and experiment with dialogue.

Bradway and Hesse find new ways to shed light on standard information. It is heartening to see oneself in missives about falling “in love with words . . . putting them together in unique ways . . . forced to define what had previously been overlooked” (78). It is liberating to note that “unconventional punctuation shows that we’ve moved from the realm of the conventional to the literary” (83). The authors don’t encourage us to blatantly ignore rules. They present examples and show us how best to choose our own unique styles without losing our readers in the process.

I am fond of the revision process. This does not mean that I don’t find it tedious and dull sometimes. Creating handles this subject meticulously, emphasizing the fact that while “the act of writing can seduce and beguile, causing us to love our worst lines” (98), we must realize the fatality of the flawed phrase, sentence, paragraph, or even chapter. How many times have I forced myself to remove something I thought enchanting? And how much information has been jettisoned because it was useless? How often have I noticed, after reading something more than ten times, that I’ve left out vital data, or punctuation, or that I’ve misspelled a word, or missed the boat entirely? It serves us as writers to be reminded that details must “develop the larger narrative pull and thematic concerns” (113).

Creating concludes its lessons with chapters on research, interviewing, and writing ideas. Although I tend to resist research, it is usually necessary to good writing. And I often find myself enjoying the process, despite my aversions, and Bradway and Hesse take me to task, calling writers detectives who don’t consider research “an odious, dreaded task but an adventure in finding an answer and getting a fuller picture” (120).

As a book on the craft of writing, Creating Nonfiction is one of the best I’ve read, and its anthology is wonderful, with numerous variations on style and form, and topics ranging from the operations of a candy factory, to the squalid conditions of abject poverty. As one who yearns to improve, I will continue to use this book. If I were teaching, it would be indispensable.  I have touched on a fraction of what makes this book a must-have for aspiring writers. To wit, it is a gold mine.

Bradway, Becky and Doug Hesse. Creating Nonfiction: A Guide and Anthology. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s. 2009. Print.

Feast or Famine?

By Liat Faver

A note at the beginning tells us Ernest Hemingway worked on A Moveable Feast for years after it was first written, and made more revisions after it was finished. Feast takes place mostly in Paris between 1921 and 1926, with side trips to smaller French towns and a ski trip to Austria.

Hemingway starts with descriptions of the Café des Amateurs that he avoids because it houses “dirty bodies and the sour smell of drunkenness” (1). We begin to feel “all of the sadness of the city,” that “came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter, and there were no more tops to the high white houses as you walked but only the wet blackness of the street” (2). Hemingway depicts his settings clearly, putting the reader in a chair at his table. This is the Hemingway I know and love; the one through whom I live vicariously, and well.

Hemingway tells himself to “write the truest sentence that you know,” and if he finds he is writing “elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something,” he can remove “that scrollwork or ornament . . . and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence” (7). He makes a point of not thinking of his topics while he isn’t writing, so his ideas will be fresh when he returns to them.

In a detailed portrait of a spring morning, we join him in his room where “the windows were open wide and the cobbles of the street were drying after the rain.” A goatherd approaches, stopping to sell fresh milk to a neighbor and “went on up the street piping and the dog herded the goats on ahead, their horns bobbing” (27). This paragraph, uncluttered and easy, is one the reader wants to revisit, to savor colors, textures, scents and sounds. He brings us so close we feel we are a living strand of his hair, or the sweat on the bill of his cap “in the open air and the fallen leaves blew along the sidewalks” (48).

What Hemingway does best is engage the reader by mixing us in on his color palette. He writes from an interior dwelling that makes us feel we are living inside his mind, behind his eyes. When he meets Scott Fitzgerald and begins a journey with him and Zelda, his story turns outward, and we see less of his creative process. His thoughts revolve around Fitzgerald’s dysfunctions, and his illustrations become ordinary, almost predictable, and less interesting.

A Moveable Feast is not a bad book, but it left me feeling I’d had a great appetizer and only a few bites of the main course. Perhaps its value lies in revealing the youthful Hemingway, with his awkward sentence structure and naïve vantage point. Painful lessons are learned, and we find ourselves, in the beginning, loving his immaturity and, in the end, loathing his betrayal of his wife, Hadley, and ultimately, himself.

 

Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast. London: Arrow Books. 1936. Print.

 

Diamond Mining

By Liat Faver

            Several years ago, not long after my sister’s death, I read the first two chapters of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. I couldn’t continue. The same thing happened when I tried to read Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. Both books evoked too much pain. I’m sure I’ll be able to read these good books someday, when I’ve gained sufficient distance from my own sorrows, or something. For now, I’d rather drop an elephant on my foot.

Most of my friends know that this past year has been one in which magical thinking was needed. My mother’s stroke, preceded by Hospice, followed by two mini-strokes, and her confinement to bed, the sudden death of a lifelong friend, and most recently, a breast malignancy that brings my own health to the forefront, and the lack of Fairy-Godmothers, have given me a lot to grow about. I don’t get much enjoyment from reading these days, and writing has become mostly a keeping of notes for future “real” writing. For that someday, when I can focus again, or stay put for awhile, or something.

Maybe if I had more help, maybe if I had a spouse or partner, maybe, maybe, maybe some combination of circumstances would allow me the energy and spirit to tumble those letters and enjoy the word-wallowing I like to call writing. Or, perhaps I’m doing the best I can do, and need to realize this is what it is, and be satisfied that time is on my side. It only looks like it’s on my face. Tequila, please.

What gives us creative energies? What takes them away? What makes the writing stop working? I feel most creative when life is satisfying, and it only needs to be moderately so. On the other hand, deep pain can draw me to ink and paper like bees to flowers. However, daily routines with little variety scour away the thrill of feeling emotion. Feeling becomes inconvenient and time-consuming, best relegated to a gathering of wits in a cool room when I can be alone long enough to let the stuff run over me like a mudslide, and if I need to, drown for awhile. And after that, allow my mind to drift somewhere without direction, like a soft movie or TV show. And I am lulled and soothed and the cacophonous edges dissolve.

Some days, I wake up lured to the pages and words and somewhere between that first thought and the ten that follow, the alphabet fades and there is so much to do—so much the same—so sad—so unpromising.

The deliverance in all of this is that these days hold magic, if one watches and listens carefully. When moments of light come from my mother’s eyes, and the recognition and recall are there, and the intimacy of what we are sharing is a precious chapter at the end of our life together here, and I can see that she knows what is really happening and is as present and calm as ever, and she says she loves me, and thanks me for what I am doing, and briefly, she isn’t confused, or frightened, or vacant, or powerless. All the years of singing and dancing, grace, struggle, falling and getting back up, spill into the room she lives in, and time ambles and gallops and the miracle of this love is overwhelming. These are diamond days.

Winging It

By Liat Faver

            Beryl Markham spent most of her childhood on her father’s farm in Njoro, Africa, where she learned to breed and train horses. A successful career followed, but Markham was drawn to another occupation, and earned her pilot’s license on her way to becoming a bush pilot and aviation pioneer. Her 1942 book, West With the Night, tells her fascinating story.

In her first chapter, she wonders, “How is it possible to bring order out of memory?” (3). Laboring with the task of creating a story from a hash of recollections, she notes that her flight log book has statistics, and no remarks. Markham succeeds in bringing her inspiring life to the page, and paints a vivid landscape of “wilderness and the freedom of a land still more a possession of Nature than of men,” where “the world once lived and grew without adding machines and newsprint and brick-walled streets and the tyranny of clocks” (38).

Markham’s chapters alternate between distant and recent past, highlighting transformational events. We learn of the heroic deeds of her dog, Buller, an almost lethal encounter with a lion, and her life as a huntress. And when she meets Tom Black, who lures her with stories of flying, “a word grows to a thought—a thought to an idea—an idea to an act. The change is slow, and the Present is a sluggish traveller loafing in the path Tomorrow wants to take” (154). The reader is seduced by the hunt and the marvel of flight.

It is easy to fall in love with Markham’s Africa, where, “to the north looms Mount Kenya, throne of the Kikuyu God, jeweled in sunlight, cushioned in the ermine of lasting snow. And, to the northeast, lying lower, like a couch of royal purple awaiting the leisure of this same prodigious God, spread the Aberdares” (164). And not a tsetse fly anywhere.

In 1936, Markham became the first person to fly solo from England to North America. She had fuel line malfunctions, and almost didn’t make it. Although she intended to land in New York, she instead crashed her plane into Nova Scotia mud on Cape Breton Island, but she proved the trip was possible, and set new precedents for international travel.

West With the Night is a collection of love stories about a woman growing up in Africa. It is also a pas de deux danced with her contraption, among the elements:

Being alone in an aeroplane for even so short a time as a night and a day, irrevocably alone, with nothing to observe but your instruments and your own hands in semi-darkness, nothing to contemplate but the size of your small courage, nothing to wonder about but the beliefs, the faces, and the hopes rooted in your mind—such an experience can be as startling as the first awareness of a stranger walking by your side at night. You are the stranger. (283)

 

Markham, Beryl. West With the Night.San Francisco: North Point Press. 1983. Print.

 

No Place Like Home

 By Liat Faver

            Joan Didion has written a book of tales with complex lessons tucked between and beyond its words. Slouching Towards Bethlehem, written between 1961 and 1967, takes a lighthearted view of some weighty subjects, and ventures into acutely painful territory with just enough distance to keep the reader from needing a box of Kleenex. Didion has a refreshing way with words, her turns of phrase dryly humorous, intelligent and poignant. In her preface she shares inklings of what it means to be a writer in which she imagines, “almost everyone who writes is afflicted some of the time by the suspicion that nobody out there is listening” (12), and finds “there is always a point in the writing of a piece when I sit in a room literally papered with false starts and cannot put one word after another and imagine that I have suffered a small stroke” (13). We become part of her space, sitting with dictionaries and coffee and the eternal call of the keyboard, having the same lapses of confidence and creativity.

She begins by introducing us to her homeland, California, where “no one remembers the past. Here is where the hot wind blows and the old ways do not seem relevant, where the divorce rate is double the national average and where one person in every thirty-eight lives in a trailer . . .  the last stop for all those who come from somewhere else” (20). Didion’s California plays a large role in Slouching. It is the soul to which her wanderings return when all else has not sufficiently delivered on its promises.

Didion’s insights into issues of morality are astute and accurate. She questions what we deem acceptable in terms of what is and is not correct, indicating that we “have no way of knowing—beyond that fundamental loyalty to the social code—what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong,’” because “there is something facile going on, some self-indulgence at work” (165). Didion explains that we have no business suggesting we are above anything we haven’t had the experience upon which to draw conclusions, and the concept of what is moral is nothing more than an agreed-upon social code with no bearing whatsoever in truth. Her worry is that our “moral imperative” will join us with the “fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and we are in bad trouble.”

Didion’s final chapter takes us to her early twenties and her move to New York City. We follow her through naive years when she was sure “nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before” (225), to the ultimate understanding, in her 28th year, that “not all the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every mistake, every word, all of it” (231). Instead of being maudlin in her observations, she brings a matter-of-fact perspective to the dilemmas of growing up in world whose integrity is flawed. And we learn we can go home again.

 

Didion, Joan. Slouching Towards Bethlehem.New York: Washington Square Press. 1968. Print.

To Hellion and Back

By Liat Faver

            Tobias Wolff has been lucky: Lucky he survived his mother’s succession of destructive boyfriends, to have learned from his father’s mistakes, to not have a rap sheet, and to have survived a year in the Vietnam War. In Pharaoh’s Army is a continuation of his coming of age account, This Boy’s Life. In the latter, we watch young Toby struggling to establish an identity, among the ruins left by his con-man father, and the often violent men his mother chooses as boyfriends and surrogate dads. At the end of This Boy’s Life, we realize, along with Toby, that whatever turns his life takes, his future is bleak if he stays where he is. So, he joins the army, and leaves the reader wanting to know what happens next, and repeatedly, our protagonist proves he must learn the hard way.

In Pharaoh’s Army begins on the Mekong Delta, where Wolff has been sent to counsel a Vietnamese battalion. Although he is not on the front lines, his encounters with death and destruction are enough to create in him a sense of bartering against his own demise. He is aware that he is deluding himself, “but illusions kept me going and I declined to pursue any line of thought that might put them in danger” (5). Wolff’s humor is welcome in a story set primarily in the land of constant threat, compounded when our hero recognizes that the enemy is often one of his own people.

When Wolff and his friend, Sergeant Benet, steal a color television to watch a Thanksgiving episode of Bonanza, we again visit the ironies of war. Wolff and Benet are lulled and soothed in the glow of the Cartwright family gathering, and Wolff’s tired heart swells with “pride in the beauty of my own land, and the good hearts and high purposes of her people, of whom, after all, I was one” (37). Wolff’s sarcasm is not lost on the reader.

Wolff imparts fragments of the civilian life that led him to enlist, and some of what evolved upon his return from Vietnam. We are introduced to his crazed first fiancé and her family, and we get to know his father. And we see his evolution as a writer and scholar. He is forthright and humble and surprised at his ability: “Mostly I was glad to find out that I could write at all. In writing you work toward a result you won’t see for years, and can’t be sure you’ll ever see. It takes stamina and self-mastery and faith . . . I was saving my life with every word I wrote” (213).

Wolff ends In Pharaoh’s Army remembering and missing his friend Hugh Pierce, who was killed in Vietnam. He is now a father with a successful career and stable family life. He has overcome his father’s legacy and made peace with his demons. And he has made us see and laugh at ourselves in his failures and underdog victories. For a book whose bulk is based mostly in the muck and mire of a pointless, brutal war, it is an enthralling, easy read that leaves one feeling hopeful, and looking forward to another book from Tobias Wolff.

Wolff, Tobias. In Pharaoh’s Army. New York: Knopf. 1994. Print.

 

 

Young, Gifted, and Baldwin

By Liat Faver

This essay addresses sections of James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son, chiefly because these chapters are literary magnificence. Baldwin’s ability to deliver clearer than daylight settings and characters, in intricately woven words, and the emotion he conveys, make him irresistible.

In the title chapter, Baldwin, a young man of color in 1940s New York City, struggles with his identity. He takes us to the Harlem streets and we see, hear, and smell the neighborhood where “on each face there seemed to be the same strange, bitter shadow” (100). He battles feelings of outrage at the many injustices visited upon blacks, describing “the ‘race’ men, who spoke ceaselessly of being revenged,” and the “directionless, hopeless bitterness, as well as that panic which can scarcely be suppressed” (101), in himself and his countrymen. In a restaurant, Baldwin’s storm overcomes him and in the wake of a violent outburst he begins “to feel that there was another me trapped in my skull like a jack-in-the-box who might escape my control at any moment and fill the air with screaming” (102). Although I am a white woman who wasn’t alive when this was written, I have felt the “jack-in-the-box” inside myself. The repression of women has often motivated my tempests. Black or white, male or female, unfair is unfair, wrong is wrong, and Baldwin knows it well.

Equal in Paris takes us to the grimy side of the City of Light, where Baldwin lives in “a ludicrously grim hotel on the rue du Bac, one of those enormous dark, cold, and hideous establishments in which Paris abounds that seem to breathe forth an odor of gentility long long dead” (138). This passage reminds me of the many vivid descriptions in Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, a tale set in dreary Parisian shadows, of a man consumed with self-loathing, in denial of his homosexuality. I recognize much of Baldwin’s inspiration for Giovanni’s Room in his Parisian excursions. Baldwin goes there with very little money, and devotes considerable attention to French culture, that is “nothing more or less than the recorded and visible effects on a body of people of the vicissitudes with which they had been forced to deal” (140). The young Baldwin is beginning to understand what generates a society, and his views are fair and balanced. In Paris he discovers new reasons to be afraid, and being black is among the least of them.

Baldwin continues exploring the manifestations of identity in his final chapter, Stranger in the Village, comparing white and black men and a “battle by no means finished, the white man’s motive was the protection of his identity; the black man was motivated by the need to establish an identity” (173). As opposed to individuality and self-awareness, the notion of identity as a preservation of one’s history and as adaptation to a confused, alien culture and its leaders, I am impressed with how uniquely, and utterly “it remains for him to fashion out of his experience that which will give him sustenance, and a voice.”

Notes ends with less pain and anger than its beginnings, and Baldwin’s travels reveal a man who has learned to define himself. He is stronger, wiser, and freer in a world that is “white no longer, and it will never be white again” (175).

Baldwin, James. Notes of a Native Son. Boston: Beacon Press. 1955. Print.

Pages From the Ages

By Liat Faver

            Phillip Lopate’s collection of works in The Art of the Personal Essay, takes readers on a journey to and from other civilizations, and delves as far back as Seneca, in the first years of the first century A.D., to the early 1990s. In an exploration of varied styles evolving from measured, deliberate, ornate flourishes, to conversationally-toned expositions and crafty sarcasm, the ride is a marvelous escapade that reminds us how far we’ve come as authors and readers, and how very little we’ve changed as humans.

I was most at home with Lopate’s The Rise of the English Essay, wherein we meet Addison and Steele, Lamb, Hazlitt, Chesterton, and Woolf, among other well-known authors. One must read several paragraphs of each of these entries to adapt to the unique flair of each author. When one has grown accustomed, the waters are smooth and welcoming, especially if one is, like me, an Anglophile.

William Hazlitt’s On Going a Journey is a vivid observation by one whose purpose is communion between the spirit of man, and the soul of nature. Hazlitt’s reverence for the natural world cannot be expressed in words, but if they could, he would “attempt to wake the thoughts that lie slumbering on golden ridges in the evening clouds; but at the sight of nature my fancy, poor as it is, droops and closes up its leaves, like flowers at sunset” (184). For one with a loss for words, his choices are melodic and lovely. Hazlitt turns ordinary sensations into symphonies, and it’s not all romance. His stunning portrayal of humanity in On the Pleasure of Hating stings with its accuracy: “Love turns, with a little indulgence, to indifference or disgust: hatred alone is immortal” (190).

Lopate sends us to Other Cultures, Other Continents with offerings by Turgenev, Tanizaki, Benjamin, Borges, and Fuentes, to name a few, and ends the anthology with The American Scene, with selections by classically renowned authors like Thoreau, Fitzgerald, and E. B. White, and brings in a few contemporaries with works by Baldwin, Vidal, Didion, Dillard, and many more. Lopate’s own Against Joie de Vivre, a series of wry observances, gets us laughing with honest portrayals of humans doing what we do.

When faced with Joie’s Doppelganger, Lopate muses about lying on the beach, where “there is no harder work I can think of than taking myself off to somewhere pleasant, where I am forced to stay for hours and ‘have fun’ . . . I distrust anything that will make me pause long enough to be put in touch with my helplessness . . . unable to ward off the sensation of being utterly alone . . .” (724). In the Here and Now reflects Lopate’s practical stance on the popular notion of inhabiting the present, a thing “much overrated . . . Besides, the present has a way of intruding whether you like it or not. Why should I go out of my way to meet it? . . . I . . . will salute it grimly like any other modern inconvenience” (725).

The Art of the Personal Essay is a pleasant and thorough romp through the ages, with more rich variety than can be briefly expressed. Readers will want to return to its pages to revisit its memorable and remarkable narratives, to savor its bounty of hues and textures. I only wish I could take it intravenously.

Lopate, Phillip. The Art of the Personal Essay. New York: Anchor Books. 1994. Print.