They were not only companions, but mirrors. Or more than mirrors—they were seer stones. They allowed her to glimpse in herself qualities she didn’t even know she had yet: courage, wisdom, heart, the capacity to make and hold opinions based on a perception of the truth. That revelation came through the process of witnessing herself described, breathtakingly, in the texts. In Whitman’s practice of “loafing,” that miraculously self-confident laziness that encompassed pleasure and curiosity and wonder, she recognized her own strange style of being in the world, and saw that it could be so good, so lovely, that it was worth immortalizing in words. It also came through the joy of reading itself. She felt a sense of triumph interpreting complicated words, and not only interpreting them but seeing them, in her mind, expand into a whole imaginary world, one she could enter and survive.
As much as my ethnographic work deepened my appreciation for art’s disruptive capacities, it also taught me something else about art. The same participants in my study who emphasize the great unsettling effects of aesthetic experience will in the same breath describe the arts as a source of tremendous “comfort.” The arts, they often say, made their initial forays out of evangelicalism livable, even though the start of the journey entailed wells of confusion and uncertainty. The arts not only unsettled their certainties but also increased their capacity to dwell in the mystery and half-knowledge that characterize so much of our life.
Robin Sloan's new novel, Sourdough, is exactly like his first book, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, except that it's not about books (exactly), but is absolutely about San Francisco, geeks, nerds, coders, secret societies, bizarrely low-impact conspiracies that solely concern single-noun obsessives (food, in this case, rather than books), and also robots. And books, too, actually, now that I think about it.
It is a beautiful, small, sweet, quiet book. It knows as much about the strange extremes of food as Mr. Penumbra did about the dark latitudes of the book community.
It is into this miserable melee of biodiversity loss and habitat destruction that biologist Chris Thomas enters, with his book, hopefully subtitled “How nature is thriving in an age of extinction”. Decades of ecological research and travels in some of the most biologically interesting parts of the world, from Borneo to New Zealand (via Yorkshire), have revealed to him the scale of our impact on indigenous wildlife. But in the midst of this global extinction event, he was also discovering how our human changes were encouraging new life: immigrant species; newly emerging hybrids; and subspecies exhibiting freshly evolved adaptations.
Here is a debut writer showing serious range – drawing on realism, magical realism, the fantastic and speculative, myth and fable.