To prepare for this initiation, I bought a lifetime supply of index cards. On each four-by-six rectangle, I distilled the major points of a book. My index cards—portable, visual, tactile, easily rearranged and reshuffled—got me through the exam.
Yet it never occurred to me, as I rehearsed my talking points more than a decade ago, that my index cards belonged to the very European history I was studying. The index card was a product of the Enlightenment, conceived by one of its towering figures: Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist, physician, and the father of modern taxonomy. But like all information systems, the index card had unexpected political implications, too: It helped set the stage for categorizing people, and for the prejudice and violence that comes along with such classification.
After surviving a civil war, a devastating fire and a property dispute, the 89-year-old Catalònia bookstore in Barcelona closed in 2013 and was reborn as a McDonald’s. Witnessing this sacrilege was Jorge Carrión, a Barcelona-based novelist and essayist who at the time was preparing a cultural history of bookstores. “Of course, it is an obvious metaphor,” he recalls glumly, “but that doesn’t make it any less shocking.”
Fortunately he holds off his pessimism until the end of “Bookshops” (so named because its seasoned translator, Peter Bush, is British) since his real purpose is to celebrate bookstores. And he does so by wandering the globe in search of those that play — or have played — a special role in the intellectual and social lives of their communities. They become Carrión’s personal mappa mundi.
Herbert Hoover was one of the more intriguing and unconventional figures ever to have occupied the White House, but historians and biographers often have treated him unkindly. A nominal Republican, Hoover felt more at ease as a political shapeshifter who refused to toe the party line. His complex, brooding leadership style, combined with poor communication skills, served to frustrate friend, foe and voter alike.
Kenneth Whyte’s “Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times” casts a new light on the remarkable career of the 31st president. The founding editor of Canada’s National Post and a former editor in chief of Maclean’s, Whyte is an impressive stylist with a penchant for explaining political history to contemporary readers. This well-researched volume proves that Hoover, far from being a political failure, should be rightfully acknowledged as the father of New Deal liberalism and modern conservatism.
The exploration of internal and external damage is skilfully achieved. All of Babst’s characters are hurting before the storm hits. Landfall unleashes wreckage on multiple fronts and the individual’s plight amid a massive public crisis is vividly rendered. Or as Cora puts it as she wades through the toxic waters of her “unreal” city: “The rain struck her like hypodermics.”