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It is often said, half in jest, what separates humans from the rest of the Kingdom Animalia is not our vast and unmatched intellect, nor our ability to generate sarcasm, but the presence of a fifth appendage on each hand—the inimitable opposable thumb. In this reviewer’s opinion, the existence of numerous species of primates possessing that very same evolutionary gift suggests that the opposable thumb is a simple red herring in the search for humankind’s developmental leap. Rather, it is our unique and astonishing ability to use a vast arsenal of means of communication.
Not coincidentally, this is the theme to the Spring 2012 edition of Lapham’s Quarterly. Edited and published by Lewis H. Lapham, a former editor of Harper’s Magazine, Lapham’s Quarterly boasts a rich and historical retinue essays, stories and poems, some written specifically for each volume and others added in from thousands of years of literary canon. Indeed, despite it’s relative youth in the world of magazine literature, Lapham’s Quarterly has already established a prestigious history (4 years in, it already possesses a nomination for the National Magazine Award, alongside such fantastic names like The Paris Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Sun).
Its newest edition “Means of Communication,” does not disappoint. From the very beginning in Mr. Lapham’s Preamble, our editor recognizes that “new means of communication give rise to new structures of feeling and thoughts,” and in a world with daily changes in the means of communication (MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Skype…telekinesis?), it is no wonder that many of us are questioning our place in the universe. We hardly have time to sit back and relax! The very path of communication’s history (and, wait for it…human history) has been turned on its head by the recent developments in the capability to communicate over immense distances at the click of a mouse.
Such immense and worldly postulations could make a lesser publication too heady and unapproachable. However, Mr. Lapham is generous in his inventory of contributors, which ranges from the Greek philosopher Lucretius to the contemporary novelist Toni Morrison. In between, you’ll find a plethora of artistic and photographic works dedicated to “Means of Communication,” for it was once so eloquently written in the Book of Changes (circa 350 BC), “Writing cannot express words fully; words cannot express thoughts fully.” Nevertheless, a mix of all the mediums can certainly try!
-Anders T. Rosen
What if the Reformation never happened, the Roman Catholic Church rules over the Western world, and all forms of technology save for steam engine are forbidden? Keith Roberts's Pavane (Old Earth Books, $17) depicts this alternative history through a series of six loosely interconnected stories, followed by a coda. The characters range from a heretic monk to a Lady who sets in motion a revolution. This 1968 science fiction classic has recently been reissued in a lovely deckle-edged edition and reviewed by Michael Dirda, who called it "one of the most thought-filled, a book with the glowing but somber majesty of a stained-glass window, constructed from the most disparate bits and fragments, from the tesserae of multiple lives." It is an exquisite work of fiction that transcends genre, and I would recommend it even if science fiction is not your usual fare. It is the book to read slowly, savor, and contemplate.
- Ellie Bogomazova
Hari Kunzru’s fourth novel, Gods Without Men (Knopf, $26.95), is set in the Mojave desert in a variety of times, from the seemingly eternal Native American mythic era to the high-tech 21st century. Kunzru shuffles a number of stories -- some extended narratives, others one-time glimpses -- and all of them are absorbing. This multi-layered structure enacts his thematic concern with pattern and the larger meaning -- or mystery -- available in coincidence and recurrence. The desert, after all, is where people go to search for truth, have visions, meet extra-terrestrials, do drugs, or just to get lost, the place they go when life is too much or too little. All of these scenarios are in play here, and Kunzru builds a stunning, moving novel out of a UFO cult, hippies, and a family cracking apart under the strain of caring for an autistic son, and then enduring the media spotlight when he disappears in the desert.
Ranging from historical to autobiographical fiction and modern tall tales, Nathan Englander’s stories are written with a ferocious, startling energy. They also pose difficult questions -- dilemmas requiring Solomonic wisdom to resolve -- and they don’t let anyone off the hook. Set in Israel and various parts of the U.S., the fiction of What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank: Stories (Knopf, $24.95) focuses on Jewish characters. But “it’s a delicate thing being Jewish”; what exactly is a Jew, anyway? How secular can one be and still be Jewish? How many dietary laws can one fudge and still claim to be observant? And, as the title suggests, how large should the Holocaust loom in 21st-century Jewish life? Englander masterfully concentrates a number of these matters into “what if” scenarios that use humor and gravitas to vividly dramatize ideas of obligation and sacrifice. Above all, this writer is after the truth, and he takes notions of transparency to ends both logical and absurd to make his characters—and his readers—bare their souls and see what’s there. It’s a cliché to say of powerful fiction that it will haunt you after you close the book, and though Englander steers clear of cliché, this one was true for his previous books and is for this one as well.
Baby Shower and Wedding Registries
The new P&P wishlist feature on our website is great for birthdays, school libraries, wedding registries, and baby showers. Or use it to keep track of a collection of books that you might like for a rainy day.
An "Add to Wish List" button now appears alongside the "Add to Cart" button on product pages and book lists on our website. When you are logged into your online P&P account, pressing this button will add the book to your wishlist.
- Users can email their wishlist to friends and family, along with a custom message.
- The wishlist supports product quantities - useful for schools or charitable organizations which might want more than one of each item on a list.
- When another user makes a purchase for you from your wishlist, your list is updated. The item is marked as "Fulfilled" on the list, and the add to cart button is removed.
- Users can search for wishlists by email address. Visit politics-prose.com/wishlist/searchto find a friend’s wishlist
Because this is the "Beta" format, we look forward to future updates:
- Google eBooks cannot be added to wishlists at this time. In the meantime, giving eBooks as gifts can be accomplished with a Politics & Prose Gift Card.
- Only 1 wishlist per user. (You do have the option of creating additional usernames and wishlists if you have multiple email addresses.)
- The "Add to Wish List" button will not appear in search results. You have to click the book from the search results to look at the detailed book page and then add it to your wishlist.
- You will not be notified when something is purchased from your list.
- Andrew Getman
World Book Night
The deadline to sign up for World Book Night is Monday, February 6! World Book Night 2012 is looking for 50,000 volunteer book givers to hand out 20 copies each—for a total of 1 million free special World Book Night paperbacks April 23. Join Politics & Prose in helping share your passion for reading with your community!
What’s the only thing funnier than reading Tina Fey’s new memoir? Listening to Tina Fey read Bossypants! Kick back to hear the inimitable Tina Fey be Tina Fey—with her pitch-perfect deliveries, unedited clips from SNL and side-splitting impressions of the Second City improv troupe and 30 Rock cast and crew. The Bossypants audiobook feels like a glorious mix of top-notch stand-up comedy and after-work gabfest with your wickedly smart, hilarious best friend. I can attest that it will fill hours of highway driving with laughter and delight, but don’t wait for your next road trip to enjoy it! - Elizabeth Sher
David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and TV commentator has written a long, 378-page work about a fictional couple to illustrate discoveries about social psychology. This ambitious undertaking is untraditional non-fiction. Punctuated by excursions into modern research in cognitive science, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (Random House, $16) follows two main characters, Harold and Erica, as they pass from infancy to adulthood, including careers and marriage, and are largely unaware of the unconscious forces shaping their lives. Consequently the reader understands them far better than they understand themselves.
Brooks writes: "The people studying the mind and the brain are producing amazing insights about who we are, and yet these insights are having a sufficient impact on the wider culture...This book is an attempt to do that. It's an attempt to integrate science and psychology with sociology, politics, cultural commentary, and the literature of success." - Barbara Meade
With Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Penguin, $16), Amy Chua follows her economic and historical studies, World on Fire and Day of Empire, with a memoir focusing on her approach to parenting. Eschewing what she sees as the permissive Western style for a more disciplined Asian method, Chua recounts how she and her husband raised their two daughters to meet high academic standards, develop a strong work ethic, and respect authority. – Laurie Greer
In her many books on the history of religion (The Battle for God, The Great Transformation), Karen Armstrong has advocated compassion as one of the greatest virtues. In her new book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (Anchor, $14), she presents practical ways to practice compassion in everday life, including learning how to apply it to others and to yourself, and how to develop greater mindfulness, sympathetic joy, and concern for everyone. – Laurie Greer