Review: ‘The Club: Johnson, Boswell, And The Friends Who Shaped An Age


What began as an admirable effort to show the wide ranging influence of an eighteenth century London club whose members included Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, David Garrick, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, Joshua Reynolds, and Edward Gibbon rapidly devolved into an unsatisfying biography of Boswell and Johnson.

On the other hand, I learned that the classic nursery rhyme, ‘Do you know the muffin man,’ likely has salacious organization and I was inspired to do some googling and found that you can rent Boswell’s ancestral Scottish manse for your holiday.

Good Day – Book Art & Contemporary Political Art


I went into the office on a Sunday because I simply couldn’t believe that over the course of four and a half day holiday weekend I hadn’t received any work emails (I hadn’t but then again, our systems were being spotty and people claimed to have tried to send me documents).

Upon discovering that my fears were groundless and having already found parking downtown, I decided to spend a little flaneur time.

First, the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

The museum was not only free that day but featured a Book Art Festival, which is a fancy way of saying that young, creative types set up tables with their zines and chapbooks and letterpress creations.

Naturally, I bought five books. One of those books was a book of art reproductions created in the wake of Trump’s election which leads to my next fortuitous encounter.

While walking to Chinatown in search of noodles, I passed by a sign that pointed through a door and up some stairs to the Center for Contemporary Political Art.

Night Sky With Exit Wounds


This was book and Vuong were very heavily hyped (if, like me, you exist in the world of regular poetry readers and consumers of poetry news) and my first reaction was, ‘wow.’

I still loved it upon a second reaction, but you can guess that it was not as much.

Perhaps the best poems set too high of a bar and going from great to merely very good was a disappointment (and not fair to Vuong’s work, but there it is).

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives Of The Inklings


This is a somewhat half hearted effort to convince the reader that Barfield and Williams are at least half as important as Lewis and Tolkien, undermined by the authors’ own apparent lack of belief in that aspect of the project and by a consensus of opinion which they seem disinclined to challenge.

Towards the end, they set up poor Barfield, by describing his intent to meet the challenge laid down by his peers’ successes and to write his magnum opus. It’s a big set up, narratively, but ends with the admission that few liked it and barely more than that even noticed it was written.

Structurally, they probably could have just focused on Lewis and Tolkien and then included a wider variety of other Inklings.

But, I learned a lot about them and it was interesting, because I like Tolkien and Lewis. I like ’em a lot.

The Zaleskis, without becoming prurient or even mentioning it again, makes a good argument that Lewis and Mrs. Moore were having a sexual affair, which convinced me. It doesn’t change my opinion of him, it’s merely nice to have some resolution, in my mind, on the matter.

Likewise, I had not realized just how devoutly Catholic Tolkien was nor how important it was to his Middle Earth novels (he went to mass daily for most of his life).

But… I can’t help but be a little disappointed. I had been hoping to learn about another Bloomsbury group or another Transcendentalist circle or another Paris in the twenties, instead, learned about a group of intelligent and interesting academics, two of whom happened to become very, very famous and were very important writers. And I put the book feeling that the authors didn’t really like the works of Lewis and Tolkien all that much, which feels almost like a personal insult to one such as I, raised on Narnia and Middle Earth (though they seemed to like two lesser read Tolkienalia, Farmer Giles of Ham and The Smith of Wooton Major, both of which I loved and read over and over again as a child).

SOLEIL COU COUPÉ


I was reading Apollonaire’s Zone when I had to pause over the last lines.

My edition translated it as:

Sun throat cut

But I had to stop because something was bothering me.

You may already know what I just realized – that Aimé Césaire had taken the title of his most famous work from that line; only I had only read it in a far more aggressive translation:

Solar throat slashed

Afterland


My mother introduced me to Mai Der Vang, calling me up after reading about her in The New Yorker. Took me a while to get around to getting a copy and once I did, it was a slow read, rather than something one can plow through. A lot of emotionally difficult poems about alienation, immigration, land mines (Vang is Hmong, an ethnic group notable for being discriminated against by virtually every government in Southeast Asia and which often found itself on the wrong side of bombs from both sides during various American adventures in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos).

Formally speaking, she frequently writes in couplets, which had the added effect of inspiring me to pull out a copy of Pope.