Maybe that’s my taste space. If so, it’s been buried, in a way that the algorithmic machinery, which depends on explicit memory and 2 + 2 = 4 to operate, can’t fathom. An encounter with art is more like turning up in a neighbourhood you know, somehow, but can’t remember ever visiting, and getting a chill when you recognize a house you’ve clearly been in. Taste is not about what I remember explicitly, but that which haunts me.
Poems, for me, are the epitome of Dickinson’s capital-L Loneliness, that loneliness that accompanies and keeps one from feeling utterly alone, its shadow-shape, its cameo presence. I’ve often turned to poetry when I’ve felt most alone. When I did a month-long writing residency a couple of weeks after my brother died, I read and read and read Wallace Stevens. When I was unsure about my health, I wrote as many poems as I had time to write.
But I’ve often wondered if my turn to poetry in times of loneliness and uncertainty is a behavior that’s naturally implicit within the genre or if it upholds some cliché notion of what poetry is and should be. Many poets, including my younger self, started writing poetry about their “deepest, darkest” thoughts, their candid internal lives, their feelings. They attempt to render these thoughts and feelings often as abstractions. Of course, this is what I now urge myself away from, putting on the broken record of the one-hit wonder, “Show, Don’t Tell” in my brain.
At first reading, I wished the author had preserved more of the tantalizing mystery that propels much of the story. But that’s not the point. Like Ms. Donoghue’s best-selling “Room,” the novel ultimately concerns itself with courage, love and the lengths someone will go to protect a child.
The heroine of Emma Donoghue’s new novel The Wonder is an English nurse in her late 20s who trained under Nightingale and served with her at Scutari during the Crimean War. Like Nightingale, Lib Wright is a single woman who comes from middling upper-class family. “My father was a gentleman,” Lib tells a doctor upon arriving at her new job in rural Ireland, then immediately feels ashamed for distinguishing herself by her class. In fact, Nightingale’s reforms would transform nursing, long regarded as a dirty form of menial labor for the lower classes, into a respectable occupation for educated women.
Tracy Kidder’s achievement in this biography is matched by the ease of his storytelling. Kidder takes on a hugely complicated man – brilliant, troubled, obsessive, a charismatic team leader, dutiful son and “monster coder,” as English might say – and he paints a rich, three-dimensional portrait. He also gives a sense of the wild start-up culture in which English thrived. That Paul English comes across as a shrewd, appealing character, not a saint, reflects Kidder’s success.
Superheroes are everywhere. Our spandex-clad saviors rule movies. They own television. They even appear in comics occasionally. Yet some of the most interesting stories about caped crusaders right now don’t come with pictures or fancy special effects. They’re in good old fashioned books.
A tolerance for extreme noise is, alas, just another aspect of what we might call the booming 21st-century restaurant industry’s near sadistic approach to customers: the same treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen attitude that brought us restaurants which refuse to take bookings, and maitre d’s who would rather stare at an iPad than meet your eye.