Such thoughts are raised by one great exception to this way of our world: The Library of America. Quietly, without...

HENRY JAMES

COMPLETE STORIES, 1864-1874

            As recently as a hundred years ago, in a more assured age than this, the enduring importance of a literary career could be measured by whether an edition of an author’s collected works was issued.  Bound in calfskin for the wealthy bibliophile, in a more modest cloth of some subdued hue for the less well-to-do, these sets made several statements about an age.  They suggested that readers could most appreciate writers by knowing the entirety of their work and not simply one or two particularly flashy efforts.  And those ranks of volumes, filling the shelves of home libraries, further showed that it was possible for individuals to possess much of the best work by the best minds.

            Who nowadays would be so audacious as to assert such a possibility?  The persistent literary and academic battles raging among various mutually uncomprehending camps would make consensus on most living authors almost unimaginable.  And how many writers would be comfortable issuing a set of their complete writings?  In a time when authors are only as memorable as their last book, when novelty is king, and when time for reading itself is forever under siege, the leisurely delight implied by collected works seems curious and antique.

            Such thoughts are raised by one great exception to this way of our world:  The Library of America.  Quietly, without contention or confusion, The Library has been issuing authoritative editions of the work of America’s most influential 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century writers in compact, crisply designed volumes at affordable prices.  So swiftly (there are now 108 in print) and with so little controversy in an era notable for wrangling has this been accomplished that it’s shocking to realize that so important a historical and cultural resource as The Library of America has been in existence for only two decades.  Again this fall, the eclectic nature of the project is evident in its editors’ offerings, which include the lucid, rather urgent political essays and speeches of James Madison, the surprisingly graceful natural-history writings of John James Audubon, the five influential crime novels of Dashiell Hammett, and a further volume of the stories of Henry James.  The Library’s editions are valuable in their own right, providing the finest versions of work that has shaped the national imagination.  They’re valuable also, however, as a corrective to the hectic spirit of our age, and as a pointed reminder that what a writer does over a lifetime – not within the confines of one or two bestsellers – is what matters most.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 1-883011-70-1

Page Count: 975

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1999

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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