Somewhere in the North Paciﬁc Ocean there is a whale. There are, of course, many whales, if rather fewer than there were a couple of hundred years ago. But this whale is different. It is a male and vocalizes during mating season in a way that only male whales do. Its species, however, is uncertain. It may be a fin whale, or perhaps a blue whale, the largest whale of them all. It may even be a hybrid — an unusual but not unheard-of scenario.
Nobody is certain because nobody has claimed to have seen it. But several people have heard it. And many more have heard of it. And what this latter group has heard about it has turned the whale into an unwitting celebrity, a cultural icon and a cipher for the feelings of many unconnected people around the globe. It is, allegedly, the Loneliest Whale in the World.
When I was a young woman, I drew a sort of perverse pride from my willingness to skip a meal or two in order to afford books. Soon enough, with the ubiquity of credit card touts on campus, I could buy both books and meals. I justified my increasing debt as necessary for my education, and joked with friends that while others spent their money on cars and expensive clothes, anything of value that I owned was on my bookcases.
I realise now that my “jokes” were, in fact, humblebrags. I did love books, always had, but I also took a certain arrogant pleasure from owning so many. It was also when my first “To Be Read” (TBR) pile started – all those volumes I had bought with the intention of reading them. And while years later, adult economics has forced me to stop shopping every time I step into a bookstore, my work as a reviewer now means that an average of five new titles arrive on my doorstep each week. My TBR pile is ceiling-high, and while I’m not going into debt, the visceral pleasure that I get from being surrounded by books remains the same.
From the start, Ash sets up the town’s population as a defensive fortress, the “us” in “us vs. them.” The plot of the novel does this through the characters’ insular behavior, their obsession with protecting and controlling their own. But more interestingly, the narration itself does this by having Tandy address an unnamed city-dwelling “you,” as in “There was a coffee shop where you could buy the kind of coffee I know people like you are used to.” While part of me felt like it set up a false premise at the beginning of the book—I thought she was going to end up in conversation with someone, à la the framing of Lolita—once I got adjusted, it worked well thematically. Tandy saw the world in terms of the “us” of her town against everyone else; it made sense that she would tell her story with that in mind. The tone rings with a kind of dutiful, proud explanation.
In his latest collection, “High Notes,” which includes a selection of magazine articles and book excerpts over a 45-year period from 1966 to 2011, Gay Talese once again reminds us of the indefatigable reporting skills and inventive use of language that made him a paragon of the New Journalism. Immersing himself in the lives of his subjects, he searches tirelessly for telling details to produce vibrant scenes and illuminating portraits.
Bourdain doesn't often talk about his career as a writer; he tends to blab about his junkie past, his life as a cook, and his fantastic and sometimes dangerous travels. But somehow he has also managed to write 13 books, including the two celebrated memoirs, Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw. His books, like his television shows, give a superficial impression of extreme candor, but look a little closer and you will often see moments of restraint, of filial or marital or parental respect or politesse, a gentle drawing of the curtain over private moments. The mask seems to drop when Saint Martin is mentioned, though; the island turns up in a number of key places in his work — it’s evidently a touchstone, in fiction and in fact.