During my weekly visits to Kramerbooks in Washington, D.C., I can’t avoid the anxiety-inducing new-arrivals section. It is filled with books laden with urgency about climate catastrophe and the looming collapse of liberal democracy. Now with a looming pandemic, newsworthy crises are the realm of responsible readers. But instead of partaking there, I find myself drawn to different shelves, filled with another flourishing, but quieter, genre of new releases.
I’m referring to a growing library of self-help guides for the self-care generation. Clothed in minimalist cover jackets, bathed in soft hues, these books promise calm and reprieve: “Silence: In the Age of Noise,” “The Longing for Less” and “How to do Nothing.” Titles that once might have disappeared in lifestyle bins are now prominently displayed among the week’s bestsellers. The literature of silence is having its moment, and for this reader, it feels especially resonant.
My re-reads usually happen in the winter, but I’ve noticed that I also gravitate to the novel during moments of personal anxiety and uncertainty. So you may not be surprised to hear that I’ve been reading it again recently. This time, I was struck anew by the book’s masterful prologue, which manages to beguile the reader, fire up the plot, and preview Tartt’s artistic concerns all at once. No small feat for the first page and a half of a debut novel.
Medical journals are best known for publishing the results of clinical trials and the latest breakthroughs from scientific labs. But many of them also devote a page or two to poetry.
The authors? Doctors.
Some people dream of seeing a game in every stadium in the major leagues. Others are content to stream all 16 seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy.” For his part, Toby Ferris wanted to stand before every painting by the Dutch Renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder. It would mean traveling across Europe and the United States, visiting nearly two-dozen museums, but as he describes it in “Short Life in a Strange World,” his oddly charming, deeply intelligent chronicle of the experience, he felt he had little choice in the matter. “A mania for Bruegel had recently gripped me,” he explains, “and I had been thinking about little else.”
It’s a mystery novel, but not one presented in any manner to which we’re accustomed; a horror novel, but only metaphorically; and a political novel with deep penetration of a remarkably foul milieu. “I was in a very pessimistic place when I wrote it,” Melchor told Publishers Weekly earlier this year. You close the book every so often, feeling that you have learned too much. Though there are glitters of humour and empathy, Hurricane Season is an uncompromisingly savage piece of work: difficult to escape from, built to shock. Yet it’s also elating. I was left buoyed up by Melchor’s anger, elated because she had shown me things I needed to be faced with.
Who can resist triumph over adversity? It is the stuff of many Ted Talks and muscular films and popular books. If the adversity includes wildness and the elements, even better. A shark, a self-amputated arm, a bear or two. I do not mock. I enjoyed Claire Nelson’s book and it is valuable. This is no misery memoir, but a thoughtful exploration of what happens when a human being is removed from all that keeps her safe, with no hope of rescue – and how she survives that shock.