Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Destination: East Anglia

If you have ever asked Lisa here at Booksmith for a book recommendation, you were probably regaled with an elaborately structured oral term paper on the book in question, and, very likely, you walked out of the store with said book tucked underarm. The art of the book review is a difficult skill to master, as any reader of the NYRB can tell you, and to give one verbally, on demand, is a talent few readers possess. So when Lisa told me about her latest read, Edmund deWaal's The Hare with the Amber Eyes, I listened with rapt attention, to learn not only about the book, but about the art of talking about books. An art cultivated in bookstore aisles.

De Waal's narrative follows the history of his family's inheritance--a collection of netsuke, Japanese wood and ivory carvings--through the Parisian and Viennese art worlds until the family's wealth was dispersed during WWII. To get a full review of the book, come on in and ask for Lisa. When she told me about the book, she compared it to Sebald. I stopped her. "Wait...who?!"

I had just begun reading W.G. Sebald's Rings of Saturn the night before. Delighted with the coincidence, we began to discuss the author. I just mentioned Sebald to a customer, Lisa told me, who had not only read him, but coincidentally, had recently published an article about him. This customer's father, I learned when I read his article for myself, had once left England for a walking tour in Germany. In Rings of Saturn, Sebald, a German, takes the reader on a walking tour of England.

Such coincidences are not uncommon in a bookstore, and, in fact, abound in the works of Sebald. To Sebald, everything is connected, so that to say he takes the reader on a walking tour of East Anglia is a gross understatement. Sebald's work is travel narrative at its fullest, a deeply-layered, multi-faceted exploration of what it is to travel, not only to new spaces, but across time. Sebald describes each place he encounters not only for what it is, but for what it has become through a culmination of its history, science, culture, and environment. He examines the wars, the explorations, the inventions, the everyday lives, and uncommon deaths that occured in these landscapes over centuries. The result is a meditative masterpiece of modern literature--a hidden inheritance for any reader to discover--that will have you running to your nearest bookstore to find someone to share such a journey with. We can't wait to hear about it.

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