The Mindful Reader** was in yesterday’s Concord Monitor, because the week before the book page featured staff holiday recommendations (see my contribution at The Nocturnal Librarian), and another week Mike Pride wrote about Donald Hall’s new book. I think I’ll be back to my usual slot (2nd Sunday of the month) on January 13.
In this month’s column I review Daniel Klein’s Travels With Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life, with shorter reviews of Brothers: On His Brothers and Brothers in History, by George Howe Colt, Hunger Mountain: a Field Guide to Mind and Landscape, by David Hinton, and Margaret From Maine by Joseph Monninger.
I also note a couple of books by NH authors I didn’t review: Jeffrey Bolster’s The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail and Kristi Larrabee’s memoir, Acceptance: Why Can’t I Have a Baby?
** Here’s the text if you can’t login:
Mindful Reader: Daniel Klein takes on a philosophical journey in ‘Travels with Epicurus’
(Published in print: Sunday, December 23, 2012)
His love of philosophy and many years of travel to Greece led him to conclude that instead of dental work, what he wanted was to sit in the Greek sun and read what philosophers say about how to be “an authentic old man.” So he traveled from his home in Massachusetts to Kamini, a village on the island of Hydra, with a suitcase full of books. Yes, dear readers, he had me at suitcase full of books.
If you think philosophy is hard stuff that makes your head spin and possibly hurt, Klein is the perfect guide to deep thinking. He introduces big ideas by way of personal anecdotes and stories about his life and friends in Greece and America.
Taking in philosophy this way is like sitting down with a wise, witty friend explaining something really interesting.
Companionship, idleness, remembrance, the pleasures of contemplating what you have done, reflecting on what you believe, who you love and have loved, all this is part of Klein’s exploration of aging well.
He considers potentially destructive thought patterns as well, like anticipating suffering and death, or focusing too heavily on lost youth. Throughout he manages to be both erudite and down-to-earth.
Being fully aware and wondering how best to spend our time are useful practices at any age, and this warm, thought-provoking book is a terrific introduction to thinking about life philosophically.
Brothers: On His Brothers and Brothers in History, by Massachusetts writer George Howe Colt, is both a memoir and a lively history of male siblings from Cain and Abel to contemporary times. Colt examines the Booths (Edwin and John Wilkes and their other siblings), the Kelloggs (of cereal and sanitarium fame), the Van Goghs (artist and art dealer), the Marxes (Groucho et al.), and the Thoreaus (John took the river trip with Henry that would lead to Henry’s first book). Alternating between in-depth examinations of these famous brothers’ bonds and lives, Colt ruminates on his own family of four brothers and how they’ve made each other who they are. He also introduces dozens of other brothers, some famous (the Wrights, the Gershwins) and others obscure. Colt’s fine writing, extensive research, and thoughtful analysis make Brothers a meaty, pleasurable read.
Hunger Mountain: a Field Guide to Mind and Landscape, by Vermont translator and poet David Hinton, is a slim book dense with reflections on Chinese philosophy, mythology, and poetry, nature, cosmology, and thoughtful, contemplative passages about the author’s experiences hiking Hunger Mountain near Montpelier. One chapter includes his recipe for chutney, another ends with a long, lovely “collage-poem” Hinton assembled from ancient poetry translations, “those warp-threads on the loom of culture.” Using the development of written Chinese as a narrative thread, Hinton also teaches readers about the progression from oracle bone symbols to modern Chinese. A challenging read, but the payoff is a deeply moving homage to the evolution of human consciousness and culture, and a sense that what binds us in human experience and understanding is greater than our cultural differences.
‘Margaret from Maine’
Margaret From Maine is Plymouth State University professor Joseph Monninger’s latest novel. Margaret Kennedy is married to Thomas, a Medal of Honor recipient who returned from Afghanistan in a vegetative state. She lives with their son, Gordon, only a baby when his father was injured, and her father-in-law Grandpa Ben on a dairy farm near Bangor. When she’s invited to Washington for a veterans’ bill signing, another wounded soldier, Charlie King, volunteers to escort her. Margaret and Charlie fall for each other, but she is committed to Thomas. This is a romantic tale of star-crossed lovers, a meditation on loyalty, and a look at the ongoing burdens of war. Monninger’s highly descriptive writing is rich in fine sensory detail. Even bugs sound pretty in his hands: “A battalion of flies flickered near the windows . . . turning to embers in the flashing light.”
∎ University of New Hampshire associate professor Jeffrey Bolster’s The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail is a thorough examination of North Atlantic fisheries from colonial times to the 20th century. Combining exhaustive historical research with fishermen’s stories, Bolster tells both the ecological and personal story of fishing. A timely book in light of the current debate on sustainable fishing regulations.
∎ New Hampshire author Kristi Larrabee has published a memoir, Acceptance: Why Can’t I Have a Baby?, about her multiple miscarriages and after many years, the birth of her son. Acceptance “reminds all couples that they are not alone.”