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    2023 Archive (11 found)

    Emptying the Bookshelves

    December 22, 2023  | 

    “We’re going through Dad’s bookshelves and wondered if you’d like us to save some things for you?” This innocent question, posed by phone in the fortnight between my father’s death and his memorial service

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    Plains Writing

    November 30, 2023  | 

    The American West is a great setting for a story, but a hard place to live. That is the theme of new biographies of Willa Cather and Larry McMurtry, 20th-century novelists who abandoned a life

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    Writing in Reverse

    November 20, 2023  | 

    Hilary Mantel wrote with a novelist’s flair and a historian’s mind. Her fiction overflows with the busy detritus of life: this plate of fruit, that whispered threat, children at play, a plucked string. The accretion of detail

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    The World in Their Hands

    November 17, 2023  | 

    Of all the artifacts that persist in the face of new technology, the globe may be strangest. Books have stubbornly clung to market share despite the rise of e-readers. Mechanical wristwatches remain the subject

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    Anchored in Space, Voyaging in Time

    September 22, 2023  | 

    On his first night in rehabilitation after a massive stroke at age 68, the writer Jonathan Raban took on a project. “I had long promised myself to read Tony Judt’s Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945—a long book

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    Scenes from a Literary Marriage

    September 12, 2023  | 

    George Orwell was a man in need of a better half. Reserved and awkward, he was inept at manual tasks and perennially sick. For most of his brief life he looked like he was starving to death.

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    Criticism, Anyone?

    June 12, 2023  | 

    I once invited Martin Amis to play tennis. The year was 2007 and he was visiting Chicago to promote his latest novel, House of Meetings. After his book talk, I lined up with other audience members to get my copy signed

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    The Watchmaker’s Eye

    June 9, 2023  | 

    People who love watches tend to be romantics, more interested in yesterday than tomorrow. The current Apple Watch can make calls and receive e-mails, track heartbeats and count sheep

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    The Great Pandemic Novel

    May 24, 2023  | 

    The pandemic is officially over. By federal declaration, the public health emergency expired on May 11, capping a general sense that has been in the air for months. Yet Covid-19’s devastating

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    High and Dry

    April 13, 2023  | 

    A largely forgotten chapter of a little-remembered war between England and Spain provides the setting for this gripping study of human nature in extremis. Wager, a British frigate, crashed onto rocks off the coast of Patagonia while pursuing the enemy into the Pacific in 1741. The seas in that remote part of the world are infamous. “Below forty degrees latitude, there is no law,” went a sailors’ adage. “Below fifty degrees, there is no God.”

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    Stamina Pays Off

    February 10, 2023  | 

    One of the best adventure books ever written begins with a failure. “The order to abandon ship was given at 5 p.m.” So opens Alfred Lansing’s “Endurance” (1959), the definitive account of Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 attempt to sail to Antarctica and cross it on foot. The eponymous ship was trapped in ice for nine months and eventually sank after being crushed by the pack. Shackleton and his crew of 27 had to paddle, march, hunt and shiver their way to safety, braving huge seas in smaller boats with the use of crude navigational instruments. Somehow, they all survived.

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