What We’re Loving: Mysteries, Horror, Geography


This Week’s Reading


The late Joachim Fest was famous as an historian of the Nazi era. Among other books, he wrote the first German-language biography of Hilter and a biography of Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer. Fest’s own account of the Nazi years, Not I: Memoirs of a German Childhood, will be published in English next February by Other Press, and it tells a very different story: that of a strictly conservative, highly cultured family united in their opposition to the Nazi regime, then shattered by the war. The hero of Not I is Fest’s father, an educator who lost his job and brought the family under suspicion when he refused to join the Party, but Fest’s portraits of his brothers, his mother, and his cousins—and of himself as a teenage soldier and POW—are equally vivid and full of pathos. —Lorin Stein

In his Art of Fiction interview, Russell Banks said, “With a novel it’s like entering a huge mansion—it doesn’t matter where you come in, as long as you get in.” I thought a lot about that statement as I read Keith Ridgway’s Hawthorn & Child, a mystery of a book presented as a novel, but one you could just as easily call a story collection. What begins as a standard detective novel—a man is shot from a vintage car—soon transforms into a puzzle of fractured characters and narrative: a couple not good with words writes intimately to each other in a notebook, a man disappears for a month only to reappear with a manuscript on wolves. How should a novel function as a form? How much work should be expected of the reader to put all the pieces together? (I suggest multiple readings.) In the story “Rothko Eggs,” a young woman describes Jackson Pollock’s paintings as “like the idea of having an idea, instead of having an idea.” She could just as easily be describing this book. —Justin Alvarez

Death, so the cynics say, can be quite the career move for a writer. In the case of Elmore Leonard, it is unlikely that his sale numbers needed any help. There were probably a number of morbid opportunists like myself, however, who spent the first weeks after his sad demise scouring the Internet for first editions. I felt really intelligent when I received an immaculate edition of Glitz in the mail—sixteen bucks for the original hardcover, with its awesome disco-accented lettering. Decidedly less triumphant was the feeling, a few days later, when La Brava arrived sans dust jacket. I wrote a threatening e-mail to the vendor, but to no avail. (The prospect of a damning review on Amazon, it seems, doesn’t scare the bejesus—not to say the Bezos—out of anyone anymore.) That’s what I get for my materialism. Or for not quitting while I was ahead. —Fritz Huber

When it was released in 1973, The Wicker Man was cut down from its intended ninety-nine minutes to B-movie length. Needless to say, the bizarre mix of horror, pagan themes, and electro-folk still managed to achieve cult-film status—it was simply too weird and too genuinely scary not to—but it is still a treat to see one of the several restored versions, and even more so when it’s on the big screen. The “final cut” currently screening at the IFC Center is not, in fact, the longest iteration, but you get more old-religion antics, more Scottish scenery, and more of Paul Giovanni’s truly strange score than in the original. Yes, The Wicker Man is campy at times (think any part involving the obviously-dubbed Britt Ekland), it now has unfortunate Burning Man associations, and you can see that it was made on a shoestring (star Christopher Lee worked on the film for free). But as the abysmal Nic Cage remake shows, budget isn’t everything: to my mind, there is no more frightening scene in movies than that final appointment with the wicker man. —Sadie Stein

Eratosthenes, ancient Greece’s most accomplished dilettante, invented geography—both its Greek etymon and the discipline—and along with moonlighting as head of the Library of Alexandria, he made one of the earliest and astoundingly accurate measurements of the earth’s circumference. Ptolemy rejected Eratosthenes in favor of Posidonius of Rhodes’s later and less accurate measurement while creating his map of the world, solidifying great distortions in maps for well over a millennium. In fact, that greatly slimmed circumference convinced Columbus to sail west for faster passage to the Indies, and the rest is history. Think about it: Why is the world divided into latitude and longitude? Or meridians? Why did Roman surveyors draw rather imaginative maps of the Empire? Those intrigued by the ancients’ attempts to visualize and sometimes intentionally alter the lay of lands near and far will see the world in curious new ways at “Measuring and Mapping Space: Geographic Knowledge in Greco-Roman Antiquity,” opening today at NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. The exhibit has on display more than forty objects, manuscripts, and maps ranging from classical Greece and Rome through the Renaissance, as well as a robust interactive online gallery. Go for the maps, those strange and captivating maps. —Adam Winters