April 22, 2013 by Reader's Connection
Brian Kimberling’s first novel Snapper is scheduled for publication on Tuesday, April 23rd, and at 5:00 p.m. there will be a reception at Big Hat Books in Broad Ripple. The author will give a reading around 6:00, which will be followed by Q & A and book signings.
Click here for more details. The reviews of Snapper available in our catalog are all positive. Here’s Booklist‘s “starred review:”
In those awkward, drifting, postcollege years, when many young men find themselves working behind a counter, Nathan Lochmueller learns he has a gift for tracking songbirds. Given a job as a research assistant, he becomes intimately familiar with one square mile of south central Indiana near Bloomington, where he imagines himself in kinship with the great naturalists of early America. The pay is poor, but the woods provide solace through rocky, hand-to-mouth years, during which Nathan pines for the lovely but free-spirited Lola and experiences the growing apart that accompanies growing up. Told with precise and memorable prose in beautifully rendered, time-shifted vignettes, Snapper richly evokes the emotions of coming to adulthood. Nathan’s fascination with the physical world and with living an authentic and meaningful life, his disdain for jingoistic environmentalism, and his struggle to find balance between the cloistered liberalism of college towns and the conservatism of small towns are thoughtfully explored. All this, and it’s funny, too. Whether it’s a snapping turtle biting off a friend’s finger or a borrowed dog finding a human thigh bone in a cemetery, Kimberling writes gracefully about absurdity, showing a rich feeling for the whole range of human tragicomedy. A delightful debut.
April 18, 2013 by Reader's Connection
“To Obscure Men” and “German Fries” appear in Norbert Krapf’s first full-length collection Somewhere in Southern Indiana: Poems of Midwestern Origins (©1993).
The rights to these poems have reverted to the author, who has generously given his permission to reprint them.
For purposes of clarity, I should say that Daniel Buechlein is the bishop and archbishop being referred to in “German Fries.”
To Obscure Men
This is a belated letter
to lonely old men like
the uncle who taught us
how to hunt, the neighbor
who took us on our first
camping trip, or the friend
of our father who organized
the excursion to our first
big-league ball game in
Cincinnati or St. Louis.
This is an inadequate,
belated letter to old men
everywhere who, after we
grew up, moved away from
the town, and never wrote
back, sustained themselves
for a few years on bitter-
sweet memories of laboring
in factories, sweating on
county road gangs, or working
the earth on hand-me-down
farms . . . A long overdue,
unsuccessful letter to
unhappy old men who withered
away in parlors, hanged
themselves from two-by-four
rafters in garages, or shot
themselves in smokehouses
with the twelve gauges
they’d hunted with for fifty-
five years . . . An impossibly
late but nevertheless contrite
letter from those of us
who have just grown old
enough to begin to remember.
An old man whose German name
means “little book” stands
at a gas stove in a house
in Jasper, Indiana.
The smell of onions sizzling
in bacon drippings between
slices of peppered potatoes
boiled in their skins
and chilled overnight
permeates the kitchen.
A wife who hobbles when
she walks sits in a rocker
near the table. Wife
and husband, mother
and father, seem sad.
Someone knocks on the door.
You can bet it’s no one
terribly important, just
a neighbor come to deliver
a small bulging envelope.
The neighbor’s German name
means “jelly-filled pastry”
and she seems even sadder
than the couple in the kitchen.
The woman hands the man
at the stove the envelope
and announces in a voice
too cheerful that donations
in the name of her late husband
for the Catholic charity
the two men had worked for
over several decades have
come to a good total.
You can believe it’s not
fried onions alone
that bring tears to the eyes
of the man at the stove.
He will miss my father,
as his wife will; as my mother,
their neighbor, and we
four children will.
And as the smell of German fries
fills that kitchen in the hills
of southern Indiana to the level
of small lives deeply lived
no one knows that in a few years
the wife in the rocker will die
and several years after that
the soft-spoken son
of the old couple in the kitchen
who has lived most of his life
in a monastery on a hill
will become Bishop of Memphis
and later Archbishop of Indianapolis
and a few minutes before
being invested will quote
to a reporter some simple words
of warning impressed upon him
by the woman in the rocker:
When you lead, don’t ever think
you’re better than those you lead.
If you understand this simple
scene you know the Archbishop
of Indianapolis will never be able
to overcome his urge to eat
German fries in the kitchen.
|Map of Indiana, with Dubois County highlighted, is by Arkyan.|
April 15, 2013 by Reader's Connection
Winners of the 2013 Pulitzer Prizes, and the finalists, were announced on Monday, April 15th. The book-related categories are listed below. The results in other categories can be found at the Pulitzer Prize website.
Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree, my predicted winner, turns out to have not been in the running for the General Nonfiction award. The winner was Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King
This account of the Groveland Four, defendants in the 1949 Jim Crow-era rape case, sheds new light on the fate of four African American men. King shows the lengths to which Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund went to defend them, and to which Lake County, Florida, Sheriff Willis McCall and his deputies, prosecutors, and jurors went to enforce race-based justice. Drawing on FBI investigation files and personal papers of key NAACP lawyers, King elucidates the gendered and racial assumptions that denied the Groveland Four a fair trial and that justified arson, bombings, beatings, and murder to uphold southern racial mores. The case reached the US Supreme Court, which ordered a new trial for two of the defendants, who were then shot under suspicious circumstances. One defendant, Walter Irvin, survived, and his death sentence was commuted. King demonstrates that no rape likely occurred, and the examining physician’s testimony was deliberately excluded from both trials. Set against the Cold War and on the eve of the Brown case, this saga illustrates that equal justice under law was honored in the breach in the post-WW II South. — Choice
General Nonfiction Finalists
Half an acre. 335 huts. 3,000 people. And a concrete wall that is supposed to hide them from view: this is Annawadi, the Mumbai slum that comes vibrantly to life in this book’s pages. Ms. Boo says that she chose Annawadi because the scale of this “sumpy plug of slum” bordering a lake of sewage was small, and its location was fraught with possibilities. Annawadi sits beside the road to the Mumbai airport, on “a stretch where new India and old India collided and made new India late.” In 2008, at the time the events in the book unfolded, scavenging and trash sorting were the children of Annawadi’s most promising career choices. — The New York Times
The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature by David George Haskell
An extraordinary, intimate view of life in an old-growth forest. “Can the whole forest be seen through a small contemplative window of leaves, rocks, and water?” This is the question Haskell (Biology/Univ. of the South) set out to answer by examining one square meter of old-growth Tennessee woods. Highly informative and entertaining, these short essays are dense with sensory details and deserve to be read slowly and carefully. The sights, smells and sounds of the forest permeate the pages, bringing readers face to face with a panoply of simple natural wonders: leaves, wildflowers, mosses, ferns, snails, salamanders, deer and more. Throughout an entire calendar year, Haskell scrutinizes this “mandala” of space, connecting the microcosm of birds, plants and animals in this patch of woods to the macrocosm of the outer world. This in-depth look into the natural biosphere emphasizes the idea that nothing–not even the small microbes that exist in the leaf litter–lives unrelated or unconnected to any other thing. — Kirkus Reviews
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
Johnson’s novel accomplishes the seemingly impossible: an American writer has masterfully rendered the mysterious world of North Korea with the soul and savvy of a native, from its orphanages and its fishing boats to the kitchens of its high-ranking commanders. While oppressive propaganda echoes throughout, the tone never slides into caricature; if anything, the story unfolds with astounding empathy for those living in constant fear of imprisonment–or worse–but who manage to maintain their humanity against all odds. The book traces the journey of Jun Do, who for years lives according to the violent dictates of the state, as a tunnel expert who can fight in the dark, a kidnapper, radio operator, tenuous hero, and foreign dignitary before eventually taking his fate into his own hands. In one of the book’s most poignant moments, a government interrogator, who tortures innocent citizens on a daily basis, remembers his own childhood and the way in which his father explained the inexplicable: “…we must act alone on the outside, while on the inside, we would be holding hands.” In this moment and a thousand others like it, Johnson (Parasites Like Us) juxtaposes the vicious atrocities of the regime with the tenderness of beauty, love, and hope. — Publishers Weekly
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander
It’s a tribute to Englander’s verve and scope that the eight stories in his new collection, although clearly the product of one mind with a particular set of interests (Israel; American Jewry and suburbia; writing and reading; sex, survival, and the long shadow of the Shoah) never cover the same territory. Each is particular, deeply felt, and capable of pressing any number of buttons. The title story, which features a reunion of old friends, a lot of marijuana, and a series of collisions between Israel and America and Orthodoxy and laxity, starts out funny and gets funnier, until suddenly it’s not a bit funny. “Sister Hills” traces an Israeli settlement from its violent founding to its bedroom community transformation and reads like a myth, simple, stark, and, like many a myth, ultimately horrifying. And as you spend a few days with the beleaguered director of “Camp Sundown,” a vacation camp for elderly Jews, you’ll find, as he does, that things you think you’re sure about–guilt, justice, silence, and the morality of revenge–start to get fuzzy. What we talk about when we talk about Englander’s collection turns out to be survival and the difficult–sometimes awful, sometimes touching–choices people make, and Englander, brings a tremendous range and capacity to surprise to his chosen topic. — Publishers Weekly
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Here’s a modern retelling of the Russian fairy tale about a girl, made from snow by a childless couple, who comes to life. Or perhaps not modern–the setting is 1920s Alaska–but that only proves the timelessness of the tale and of this lovely book. Unable to start a family, middle-aged Jack and Mabel have come to the wilderness to start over, leaving behind an easier life back east. Anxious that they won’t outlast one wretched winter, they distract themselves by building a snow girl and wrap her in a scarf. The snow girl and the scarf are gone the next morning, but Jack spies a real child in the woods. Soon Jack and Mabel have developed a tentative relationship with the free-spirited Faina, as she finally admits to being called. Is she indeed a “snow fairy,” a “wilderness pixie” magicked out of the cold? Or a wild child who knows better than anyone how to survive in the rugged north? Even as Faina embodies a natural order that cannot be tamed, the neighborly George and Esther show Jack and Mabel (and the rest of us) how important community is for survival. VERDICT A fluid, absorbing, beautifully executed debut novel. — Library Journal
Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam by Fredrik Logevall
Most American studies of the Vietnam War concentrate on the period following the introduction of U.S. combat units under President Johnson. However, contemporary Vietnamese accounts view the “American phase” as the concluding act of a prolonged nationalist struggle to gain independence from Western imperialism. Logevall, professor of history at Cornell, leans toward the latter approach–that is, American involvement must be inseparably linked to the doomed French effort to maintain imperial control over Indochina. Of course, American policy makers insisted their goals were different; unlike the French, they wanted an independent South Vietnam free from both colonial and communist control. Yet, as Logevall eloquently illustrates, the U.S. followed essentially the same dreary path and made the same errors as its French predecessors. We failed to comprehend the nationalist yearnings of Vietnamese “communists” and were blind to their support among a wide swath of the people. That blindness led us to prop up hopelessly inept or hopelessly compromised Vietnamese “leaders” like Ngo Dinh Diem. This is a superbly written and well-argued reinterpretation of our tragic experience in Vietnam. — Booklist
This weighty book distills a lifetime of learning of one of our most authoritative historians of colonial America. Continuing his exploration of the demographic origins of the colonies (begun in The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction), Harvard professor emeritus Bailyn offers a history of the colonies built up of brilliant portraits of the people who interacted in these strange and fearsome lands. Much of it is the story of the costs, savagery, terrors, and conflicts that attended the establishment of European outposts in what became the U.S. This is not your school-book colonial history; there’s no Anglo-American triumphalism in its pages. Rather, Bailyn describes “confusion, failure, violence, and the loss of civility” and the extraordinary heterogeneity of the white and Indian populations. Only a historian as penetrating and stylish of pen as Bailyn could convince you that there was something important to say about the few Finns settling in the colonies. And the squeamish should be forewarned: the true barbarousness of people, European as well as Indian, and white against white, is appalling and shows how thin the veneer of civilization often is and was in the colonies’ early decades. An extraordinary work of profound seriousness, characteristic of its author. — Publishers Weekly
Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History by John Fabian Witt
“Let slip the dogs of war,” proclaims Marc Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Yet even in the most merciless wars, efforts have been made to put restraints on the violence perpetrated upon both soldiers and civilians. In a civil war, as President Lincoln quickly realized, that task is particularly difficult, since Lincoln viewed the rebels as traitors rather than an army of a foreign nation. Witt, professor of law at Yale, shows how Lincoln’s struggles with this dilemma resulted in a “civilized” code that still governs American and international military behavior. Witt first examines the conduct of soldiers in earlier American conflicts, from the Revolutionary War to the Mexican War. But Lincoln found those precedents as well as the advice of military professionals inadequate as he tried to fight and win the war. Late in 1862, a commission chaired by Francis Lieber, a college professor, gave Lincoln what he wanted. It was a code that allowed him to apply the “hard hand of war” to both southern soldiers and civilians without descending into pure savagery. This is a well-written and provocative examination of the effort to modify the inherent barbarism of war. — Booklist
Biography or Autobiography
Alex Dumas, an extraordinary man whose sensational life had been largely lost to history solely because of his race, takes the spotlight in this dynamic tale. Thanks to Reiss’s excellent research, combined with the passionate memorial his son, Alexandre Dumas, consistently built in his own novels and memoir, Dumas’s life has been brought back to light. Father to the well-known novelist and clear inspiration for The Count of Monte Cristo, as well as the adventurous spirit of The Three Musketeers and other stories, Dumas (1762-1806) rose through the ranks of the French army from a lowly private in the dragoons to become a respected general who marched into Egypt at Napoleon’s side. (The rivalry and juxtaposition between these two leaders proves fascinating.) Born in what is now Haiti to a French nobleman father and a slave mother, the biracial Dumas chanced to come of age during the French Revolution, a brief period of equality in the French empire; he was thus granted numerous opportunities that the son of a slave 20 years before him (or even 20 years later) would not have enjoyed. Reiss capitalizes on his subject’s charged personality as well as the revolutionary times in which he lived to create an exciting narrative. — Publishers Weekly
Biography or Autobiography Finalists
In this innovative biography, written with flair and unostentatious erudition, Smith College English professor Gorra tells the life of Henry James through the story of the composition of his novel, The Portrait of a Lady. First published in 1881, the novel was a landmark work: James’s scrupulous devotion to craft led him to dramatize the interior life of his heroine, Isabel Archer, in unprecedented fashion. Instead of transparent plots and clear moral conflicts, James opted for subtle clashes of personality and morally ambiguous stories in which action was character and character action. Analyzing James’s letters, journals, stories, and travelogues, Gorra traces the author’s life and literary milieu, alternating a reconstruction of his travels with extensive attention to the novel’s composition and reception. The book reads like an exciting voyage of discovery, beginning with James revising his novel 20 years after it was written, and later depicting his blooming consciousness as an author torn between an American and a European identity. Gorra’s highly engaging introduction to James will be most attractive to lovers of literature who want to learn more about the craft of novel writing and will likely send readers back to the shelves to discover James all over again. — Publishers Weekly
When one reads in the introduction that Nasaw was asked by the Kennedy family to write this biography, the obvious question is, How did the request affect the finished product? Nasaw was granted access to papers denied to other researchers and worked for six years on the project. Some of his conclusions clash markedly with what has been written about Kennedy (Nasaw dismisses rather lightly the long-held conclusion that Joe made part of his fortune as a bootlegger). But he gives readers a much fuller look at various accusations made against Kennedy, especially the charge that he was an anti-Semite. Through quoted letters, it is clear that Kennedy did have a grudge against the Jews, mostly because they interfered with what he wanted, be it getting a foothold in the movie industry or keeping the U.S out of WWII. His isolationism never really wavered. He believed that “victory over Hitler had cost much and accomplished little.” Perhaps the key element to Kennedy, Nasaw suggests, is that rather than being larger than life, he was much smaller. He was all about protecting his family and his fortune. Though fortune remained, the family shattered, cutting Kennedy, in many ways, adrift. The book becomes more fascinating the farther one gets into it, and while there may be areas for dispute here, there’s no doubt it makes a major contribution to Kennedy history. — Booklist
Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds
Known for her unadorned, emotionally direct, sometimes sexually explicit free verse, Olds has amassed a large and loyal following over 30-odd years and 10 books. In her new collection every poem speaks to the collapse of a 30-year marriage, precipitated by the ex-husband’s affair. Hence the memorable title: “The drawing on the label of our favorite red wine/ looks like my husband, casting himself off a/ cliff in his fervor to get free of me.” Olds begins as the marriage is ending: “I want to ask my/ almost-no-longer husband what it’s like to not/ love, but he doesn’t not want to talk about it.” Years later, he is a memory: Olds can “watch my idea of him pull away/ and stay, and pull away,” like a kite. In between there are violently mixed feelings, erotic memories, loneliness, anger, and resolve in a book that takes its arc from the divorce, but its organization from the seasons, moving from winter to spring to “years later,” and frequently looking back: “Maybe I’m half over who he/ was, but not who I thought he was, and not/ over the wound, sudden deathblow/ as if out of nowhere.” — Publishers Weekly
The Abundance of Nothing by Bruce Weigl
Throughout his award-winning career, Bruce Weigl has proven himself to be a poet of extraordinary emotional acuity and consummate craftsmanship. In The Abundance of Nothing, these qualities are on full display, animating and informing poems that combine rich, metaphoric imagery with direct, powerful language. Deftly weaving history and everyday experience, Weigl transports readers from the front lines of the Vietnam War and all the tangled cultural and emotional scenes of that time to the slow winds of the American Midwest that softly ease the voice of the veteran returning home. Though the poems struggle with themes of mortality and illness, violence and forgiveness, the poet’s voice never wavers in its meditative calm, poise, and compassion. Elegiac yet agile, ethereal yet embodied, The Abundance of Nothing is a work of searching openness, generous insight, and remarkable grace. — Chicago Distribution Center
Collected Poems by the late Jack Gilbert
Gilbert has long held legendary status among poetry readers for his wise, hard-won poems about the joys and complexities of romantic love, about grief and about the power of experience deeply felt. His 1994 collection The Great Fires (which is included here in its entirety) is, for many, practically a sacred text. The publication of Gilbert’s complete body of work to date is doubtless a literary event. From his Yale Younger Poet’s Prize-winning debut, Gilbert’s poems have felt wise beyond their years and yet youthful, full of contradictions that give them life: “Joy has been a habit,” he writes in one early poem, which concludes, “Now/ suddenly/ this rain.” Here are also many and many kinds of poems about travel or life in far-flung places, particularly Greece. Plentiful, too, are poems of marriage–its difficulties (“Eight years/ and her love for me quieted away”), its ecstasies, and its ending: divorce is memorably figured as “looking/ out at the bright moonlight on concrete.” Gilbert is perhaps best known, however, for the grief-stricken poems that chart the dying of and then mourning over his wife, Michiko, of whom he writes, “The arches of her feet are like voices/ of children calling in the grove of lemon trees,/ where my heart is as helpless as crushed birds.” All poetry lovers will want this book. — Publishers Weekly
April 13, 2013 by Reader's Connection
I’m not in the habit of sloshing coffee on my library books, thus forcing myself to pay for them and bond with them, but I seem to have made an exception in the case of Andrew Solomon’s Far from the Tree : Parents, Children and the Search for Identity.
And it’s just as well. When (fearless prediction) this book wins the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction on Monday, April 15th, I won’t have to worry about new requests that are made on library copies.
Solomon was interested in children whose identities are in some way problematic for their parents, so the book has chapters on a number of “disabilities,” but also on prodigies, children of rape and criminals. He interviewed 300 families over a period of ten years, enabling him to write sentences that begin “Five years later, I asked Deirdre how Catherine’s education was going.”
Not once while reading the earlier portions was I tempted to skip ahead to the chapters on Down syndrome and autism, with which I had the most personal connection. I was too interested in the way Solomon considers his dyslexia a handicap, while being gay is part of his identity. He hasn’t always managed to feel this way, and when he was younger he attempted to remold himself.
When I was nineteen, I read an ad in the back of New York magazine that offered surrogate therapy for people who had issues with sex . . . I knew the back of a magazine was not a good place to find treatment, but my condition was too embarrassing to reveal to anyone who knew me . . . I began “counselling” with people I was encouraged to call “doctors,” who would prescribe “exercises” with my “surrogates”–women who were not exactly prostitutes but who were also not exactly anything else.
The question of whether a condition is a handicap or a part of one’s identity is at the center of the book, and a question that’s with me all the time. If my elder son didn’t have Down syndrome, he would look completely different, speak differently, and our lives as we’ve lived them together wouldn’t have happened. So I’ve known for years that I didn’t wish he didn’t have Down syndrome, because that would amount to wishing him out of existence.
But an email group to which I subscribe is called D.A.D.S., which stands for Dads Appreciating Down Syndrome, and that feels like a stretch. I appreciate Thomas, but do I appreciate Down syndrome? As I sit hear, typing, I don’t know how to answer that.
Some of the passages on autism remind me that our autistic guy, in addition to being a sterling fellow, has also been a piece of cake, relatively speaking. The conditions that have been assigned that term autism cover a lot of ground, as do most of the conditions explored in the book. I learned here that some autistic individuals think of autism as part of their identity, and resent the idea that there’s a “real” identity being cloaked by the autism. Sitting here, typing, I realized that I don’t spend time, as I used to, waiting for moments when my “real” son would shine through; but I didn’t deliberately stop out of respect for his identity.
Solomon speaks of vertical identities–elements of identity derived from one’s parents & family–and horizontal identities–which one shares with others in society, not usually with family members. In Solomon’s case, being gay and depressive are horizontal components of his identity. (His 2001 title The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression won the National Book Award.)
My own battles with depression have contributed to a meaningful identity for me, but if I were choosing between a depression-prone child and one who would never suffer such ravages, I’d go with option B in a heartbeat. Even though the illness would probably become a locus of intimacy for us, I still wouldn’t want it to happen.
I’m about halfway through Far From the Tree, just finishing the chapter on schizophrenia. As always with blogging, I continue to learn how little I know.
Interviewing schizophrenics, I was struck by the way those deep in the disease seemed not to feel self-pity, which contrasted sharply with my experience of people with depression and other psychiatric disorders–a frequently whiny group to which I myself belong. People in the early stages were horrified and sad, but those who had been sick a long time were not. They complained about their particular delusions or felt guilty not to be functioning better, but there was surprisingly little railing at the disease itself. Many had once been headed for wonderful lives, but the woman who had been a great beauty seemed, unlike her parents, not to think about the adventures in love she would have had; a sweet-natured fellow who had been wildly popular in high school could not tell me, as his parents could, how much pleasure a lifetime of friendships could have given him; a man who excelled at Harvard at the time of his first psychotic break never talked, as his parents did, about the career he so narrowly missed. It seemed that illness had cut these schizophrenics off from those lives so entirely that they were hardly conscious of them. They had stoic grace in relation to their illness and I was consistently moved by it.
April 11, 2013 by Reader's Connection
Peter Trachtenberg’s book Another Insane Devotion: On the Love of Cats and Persons is divided more or less equally between those two loves, and the reader is always asking two questions:
Will Peter find his lost cat, Biscuit?
Will Peter’s marriage hold together?
There’s actually a third question: What does Peter’s wife think of the way he has turned their marital problems into a book? But I stopped asking that one after a while, consumed as I was with the other two.
Peter and F. (which is what he calls his wife, whether or not that’s really her initial) are away from upstate New York, he in North Carolina and she in Italy, when Biscuit disappears. Byron, the young man who was supposed to be watching the cats, lets two and a half days go by before he lets anyone know that she’s missing. Peter can hardly control his anger while on the phone.
I told him to go out and call her. “It’s best if you say her name three times.” I showed him how F. and I did it; I used a falsetto. It’s true that this was the voice she most responded to, but I suspect I was also taking some mean pleasure in the thought of this big, preening kid being made to squawk, “Bisquit, Bisquit, Bisquit!” in a mortified falsetto on the back porch of our house, within earshot of a women’s college dorm.
The book’s title is borrowed from a poem by Gerald Stern, and it’s easy to see why. Both works have to do with a man’s feelings for a cat and a woman, and about how a life adds up to something. (The poem appears in Stern’s collection, Lovesick, and in later selections of his poems, Leaving Another Kingdom and This Time, and you can click on the Poetry Foundation logo below to read it on their site.) It’s amazing how cat love and human love are woven together by Trachtenberg.
Most definitions of love, following Aristotle, incorporate the notion that its objects are ends in themselves rather than means to other ends. You can’t love somebody because she’s great in bed or looks terrific in an Alexander McQueen or makes a perfect ragú Bolognese. Or, rather, you can, but what you feel then isn’t love. The preposition “because” indicates that the object is only an intermediate point in your pursuit of sex or beauty or good food, and as soon as her enthusiasm starts to flag or her arms get too hammocky for a strapless, you’ll start charting out a different route. But the true beloved always occupies a terminal position. She’s the last point on the map.
And what was the inspiration for this passage? Why, naturally, it was the way Biscuit leaves a dead chipmunk for Peter to enjoy, and Peter’s speculations as to why the cat leaves it for him. I can imagine your embarrassment about having failed to guess that.
And so I imagine a state of affairs in which Biscuit had no interest in chipmunks, was utterly indifferent to them, but on seeing one, had the thought, This is something he will like or use, and acted accordingly. That would be love.
This may not be your idea of a cat book. It may jump around in time too much, or you might find F. and Peter exasperating. But when I finished it, I was glowing. I knew that Peter had left me this chipmunk because . . . yes, I suppose he wanted to make some money, and attain some level of fame, but really, he knew this was something I would like and use.
The Poetry Foundation’s logo is used with their generous permission.