The Daily

This Week's Reading

Staff Picks: Cycling, Skiing, and an Island of Solitude

April 15, 2011 | by

Jeanne Mackenzie’s anthology Cycling is a collection of lighthearted, cycle-related selections from various literary figures, including James Boswell, Mark Twain, H. G. Wells, and P. G. Wodehouse, to name but a few. The book is beautifully printed—who could resist its cover?—and the selections delightful, and it's endearing to see so many writers brought to rapture by so similar and elegant a sensation. As George Bernard Shaw fittingly concludes: “Yes, bicycling’s a capital thing for a literary man.” —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

John Swansburg, this week’s culture diarist, pointed me in the direction of an interview that Slate’s Michael Agger conducted with James Salter last year about Solo Faces and Downhill Racer. —Thessaly La Force

Ted Hughes’s translation of Jean Racine's Phèdre absolutely crackles. It's a poem about envious royals and epic feuds, but to me it was at its best when Hughes captured the private dilemmas of these very public figures. When Phèdre denies her throne, insisting that she cannot rule a country if she cannot rule herself, it is an incredible moment that pits person against state and soul against country: “Me? Rule? Me take control/Of a state flying to pieces/When I cannot control myself?”—Rosalind Parry

I’ve been reading Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole’s Sacred Trash, a book about the Cairo geniza—that small storehouse where, for centuries, local Jews deposited their shopping lists, letters, wills, and personal libraries. Cole and Hoffman’s book tells the story of how the geniza was “discovered” by European scholars, transplanted to Cambridge, England (also St. Petersburg, New York City, and Budapest), and eventually changed the way we think about Jewish history. I can’t think of another work that succeeds so well in making archival research into gripping adventure. —Robyn Creswell

Jonathan Franzen on David Foster Wallace in this week’s New Yorker is an item you simply cannot ignore. Oh, and did you see his vacation pics? —T. L.

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