In today's Prufrock: Tom Wolfe read his papers, a short history of extinct animals, a life saved by Trollope, a visit to England’s school for psychics, Pierre Manent and American greatness, dancing grandmothers in China, life after The Anarchist Cookbook, and more.
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Reviews and News:
An expert colonial historian at his best: “Mr. Bailyn’s later work charted what he called ‘peopling the peripheries.’ Nearly 400,000 English emigrants crossed the Atlantic over the first century of settlement, with another 300,000 following in the 18th century. Roughly 200,000 Scotch-Irish Protestants, 100,000 Germans and not less than 1,744,000 Africans joined them. The magnitude of the transference of people across vast distance to populate Britain’s empire had no precedent. Neither Rome nor Britain’s imperial rivals matched it, as Mr. Bailyn notes. The result was a truly new world of materials drawn from the old. Mr. Bailyn’s scholarship reveals a colonial world that is hard to see in buildings and other physical artifacts. Among much else, he captures the early fragility of the British Atlantic along with its emerging identities. Bringing such a world into focus on its own terms—and presenting it in a compelling narrative—puts the craft of history on display and illuminates precisely the “art” of history that Mr. Bailyn champions so eloquently.”
Tom Wolfe visits an exhibit of his papers: “A handwritten page of his most recent book, the 2012 novel Back to Blood, is marked with colored lines and has a few big blocks of text blacked out as if by a C.I.A. censor. ‘I have never gotten the hang of computers,’ he says. ‘There’s all these steps you go through—you don’t just slip in the paper. You go to ‘TEXT’—no, no, you go to something with a ‘W,’ and finally you get to the page.’ A letter from John Glenn sits next to a book of notes that Wolfe took while reporting The Right Stuff. He leans in to decipher his penmanship but can make out only a few words: ‘synergistically to attain, uh, astronaut status.’ He straightens up and groans. ‘The things you go through to write a book.’”
“How turning to Trollope saved my life”:
When kitsch was avant-garde:
A short history of extinct animals:
England’s school for psychics: “Ms. Grist, a 66-year-old who says she has been communicating with the deceased for decades, explained the goal of psychic ‘reading’ to a dozen first-time students from Europe, Asia and North America. Psychics mustn’t depress or frighten, she said, with unsettling predictions from the spirit world. ‘Your duty as a reader is to leave people feeling uplifted,’ she said.”
Victorian things: “‘Victorian sculpture’ is a phrase that can make the heart sink. One thinks of dreary monuments and dour busts. Certainly, many sculptural works produced in the heyday of the British Empire were stiff and worthy. But then many were also dazzling and unusual, as a wonderful new show at Tate Britain reveals. More than 100 statues, friezes, ceramics and other objects have been exhumed from storage by curators from Tate and the Yale Centre for British Art. The combination of imperial pomposity, neoclassical grace and arts-and-crafts inventiveness makes ‘Sculpture Victorious’ an absorbing and often surprising tour.
Pierre Manent and American greatness:
Dancing grandmothers causing a ruckus in China:
Register for the second annual Walker Percy Weekend: I went to last year’s event. Rod served up a selection of some of Louisiana’s finest food and drink and invited some great speakers to talk about a great writer in an idyllic small Southern town. This year's program looks just as good. What more could you ask for?
Essay of the Day:
In Harper’s, Gabriel Thompson tells the story of how William Powell, after he became a Christian and a father, renounced his 1971 book The Anarchist Cookbook and later tried to remove it from print (
 “Written by nineteen-year-old William Powell, The Anarchist Cookbook included sections such as ‘Converting a shotgun into a grenade launcher’ and ‘How to make TNT.’ The book’s message wasn’t subtle. In the forward, Powell expressed ‘a sincere hope that it may stir some stagnant brain cells into action.’ The final sentence reads: ‘Freedom is based on respect, and respect must be earned by the spilling of blood.” When it was published, in January 1971, Powell was young and angry in a country where the young and angry had started to blow things up. But by the time the bomb detonated in the Bronx—marking the first of many connections between the book and real-world carnage—Powell had become a father and converted to Christianity and was having reservations about what promised to be his life’s most enduring legacy.’”
“Powell is now a sixty-five-year-old grandfather. He still speaks with a slight English accent from a young childhood spent in London and has the professorial habit, before answering a question, of raising his eyeglasses to his forehead and pausing a beat to think. In 1979, he left the United States and has made his home in outposts throughout the world: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Jakarta, Indonesia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He has become a respected leader within the field of international schooling, heading several schools before launching an organization called Education Across Frontiers, which seeks to support international students with special needs. A recent book of Powell’s is entitled Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Teacher. Much of his work has been funded by the U.S. Department of State.”
“When I first contacted Powell, he didn’t sound interested in revisiting the past. ‘The AC story is old and I’m not sure I can add much to it,’ he wrote. This wasn’t surprising—he rarely speaks to the media. But as we continued to exchange emails and then talk over Skype, I learned that he had recently been working on a memoir. He later shared the manuscript, much of which deals with the circumstances that led him to his writing the book, along with his inability to fully get out from beneath its shadow. ‘The book has hovered like an awkward question on the rim of my consciousness for years,’ he wrote, ‘and has the annoying habit of popping into mind every time I am about to be absolutely certain about something.’”
Read the rest:
Image of the Day:
Les Murray, “Grooming with Nail Clippers”:
What You’ll Be Reading Next Week:
E. Charles Nelson and David J. Elliott, eds., The Curious Mister Catesby: A "Truly Ingenious" Naturalist Explores New Worlds (Georgia, March 1): From the jacket: “In 1712, English naturalist Mark Catesby (1683–1749) crossed the Atlantic to Virginia. After a seven-year stay, he returned to England with paintings of plants and animals he had studied. They sufficiently impressed other naturalists that in 1722 several Fellows of the Royal Society sponsored his return to North America. There Catesby cataloged the flora and fauna of the Carolinas and the Bahamas by gathering seeds and specimens, compiling notes, and making watercolor sketches. Going home to England after five years, he began the twenty-year task of writing, etching, and publishing his monumental The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. Mark Catesby was a man of exceptional courage and determination combined with insatiable curiosity and multiple talents. Nevertheless no portrait of him is known. The international contributors to this volume review Catesby’s biography alongside the historical and scientific significance of his work. Ultimately, this lavishly illustrated volume advances knowledge of Catesby’s explorations, collections, artwork, and publications in order to reassess his importance within the pantheon of early naturalists.”
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