Throughout Real Writing Michael Lydon creates a solid thesis for the power of realism. Though each of these writers are products of their own times, with settings and themes determined by the key concerns of the day, there is a timelessness to their themes and characters.
The Sense of an Ending is a beautifully crafted exploration of a character arc that happens too late to affect change. The motion from clever smugness to painful self-awareness is flawless. The absolute control of Barnes’ prose coupled with the philosophical power of his meditations has resulted in a book that’s as dense and powerful as it is readable.
Dale Peterson takes the unusual angle of examining how evolution has shaped animal behavior in the area of cooperation. He uses research in cell biology to talk about the limbic brain, emotional responses to things like tickling, fear, grief and love
Zimmer conducts us through a world that possesses many of the qualities of fantasy. For example, we keep track of time, more or less through the medium spiny neurons eavesdropping on the cortex. This could easily be the subject of a ballet by Merce Cunningham and John Cage.
The discussions of meta-cognition and self-efficacy were interesting, and also the notion of ‘communities of practice’: if you ignite fervour for learning and it ceases to be simply ‘being taught’, then you’re on a roll.
Throughout, there’s a lot of luminous polemic, a slue of terrific poems (Man Ray’s ‘Untitled’ was a new one on me), a bevy of insights about art and poetry. If you are looking for a classy thought-provoking rant, if you want something to stir and shake you up and perhaps inspire you to start writing poems (if you don’t already) then The Art of Recklessness is prescribed.
Ouyang Yu is a poet who works the gap between languages, looking closely at our linguistic assumptions, etymologies, and correspondences. His latest book is a nonfiction created in a pen-notes style (biji xiashuo) inspired by ancient Chinese fiction.
If this book makes even a small chip in the notion that a standardized test score is the best indicator of intelligence, it will have been worth Robinson and Aronica’s investment of time. For those of us reading it, it could do much more. It could open our eyes about the great diversity of unique capability that we all have and help us to think in much broader terms about ourselves, our children, our colleagues, and indeed our world.
That the book remains elegant, moving, upbeat, erudite, lucid, and calm throughout the morass is due to Barnes’ great skill as a writer. Nothing To Be Frightened Of is, as one would expect from Julian Barnes, a tightly written, and ultimately affirmative piece of work that takes the reader on a journey that ends in exactly the place you’d expect. Black humour notwithstanding, it’s one of those books that will enrich your life, at least while you’ve still got it.
So there is little account of the ethical dimensions of a spiritual life, nor of the fact that spiritual yearning can arise out of a dissatisfaction with contemporary modes of living, despair or indeed grief, ‘so often the source of our spirit’s growth’ (Rilke). Rather than, say, through a sense that science’s materialist world-view is inadequate.