The Nation, 8 December 2008

The Fall Books Issue“- it seems a bit late this year… but worth the wait.

Torie Osborn wonders how California could have passed anti-same sex marriage Proposition 8.  Her view is that No on 8 forces neglected Los Angeles County, despite decades of experience showing that antigay measures win or lose based on the margins in that county.  She also has some harsh words for the Obama campaign for allowing voters to believe (mistakenly!) that Mr O backed Proposition 8. 

Christine Smallwood reviews a new edition of George R. Stewart’s 1945 book Names on the Land.  A collection of anecdotes about how various places in the USA got their names, this highly regarded work inspires Smallwood’s unreserved praise.  She goes on at some length about Stewart’s other works, including environmental fiction like Earth Abides, “the first American postapocalyptic thriller,” and Ordeal by Hunger, a novelization of the Donner Party.  She tells us that Names on the Land was Stewart’s own favorite of his books.  It raises no less a question than “what is America?,” Smallwood says.  And answers that question: “Not the leader of the Free World and not the scourge of the world, but a history of settlement.”  This answer would hardly have been extraordinary in 1945.  The book does sound interesting.   The cover of the first edition illustrates Smallwood’s review, and is reproduced below.


Scott Sherman’s review of Patrick French’s authorized (yet still quite hostile) biography of V. S. Naipaul gets around to Freench’s book in the last few paragraphs.  The review really is quite useful for its bibliography of Naipaul’s finest works and some key texts about him.  Naipaul presents himself as a “man without loyalties”; this is of course an ancient literary persona.  Among my favorite exponents of it were Roman historians Tacitus, Ammianus Marcellinus, and (perhaps) one of Rome’s first historians, Gaius Acilius (my namesake.)  So I’m intrigued by Naipaul.  Sherman’s recommendations include the essay “Conrad’s Darkness,” the novels A House for Mr. Biswas (of course, it’s Naipaul’s most famous work,) In a Free State, Guerrillas, and A Bend in the River;  and nonfiction books The Middle Passage, An Area of Darkness, and The Loss of El Dorado

Reviewing a biography of Emily Dickinson, Ange Mlinko provides generous extracts from Dickinson’s poetry.  I’ll take her cue, and include one of the poems she quotes in full.

My Life had stood–a Loaded Gun–
In Corners–till a Day
The Owner passed–identified–
And carried Me away–

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods–
And now We hunt the Doe–
And every time I speak for Him–
The Mountains straight reply–

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow–
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through–

And when at Night–Our good Day done–
I guard My Master’s Head–
‘Tis better than the Eider-Duck’s
Deep Pillow–to have shared–

To foe of His–I’m deadly foe–
None stir the second time–
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye–
Or an emphatic Thumb–

Though I than He–may longer live
He longer must–than I–
For I have but the power to kill
Without–the power to die–


  1. cymast

     /  December 2, 2008

    How could Obama- someone so smart about most issues- be so dumb about about equal rights? How can everybody not know equal rights for consenting adults is fundamental? Then I remember Obama was in a hate cult for over 20 years. He only reluctantly left. He has hate in his heart, just like Biden, and McCain, and Palin, and the Bush clan.


    I’m not a fan of guns, but I am a fan of Emily Dickinson. Here’s one of my favorites:

    “How soft a Caterpillar steps –
    I fond one on my Hand
    From such a velvet world it comes
    Such plushes at command
    Its soundless travels just arrest
    My slow – terrestrial eye
    Intent upon its own career
    What use has it for me – ”

    I am especially fond of the word “fond” in the context of this poem.

    When I read Dickinson’s poems, I imagine her slowly wandering around her garden estate in a long gown with a parasol, observing nature in full sun at a quiet, unhurried pace. Or she is sitting at her writing desk, and gazing out the window of her upper story bedroom while the flame from a candle flickers, and thunder and lightning fill the night sky.

  2. acilius

     /  December 2, 2008

    Thanks for the Emily Dickinson poem!

    You might be interested in the biography of her that’s reviewed in this issue. It focuses on her relationship with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and brings out some surprising sides to her character.

  3. cymast

     /  December 2, 2008

    Yes – that Clue, I read –
    I fond it true –
    But Wonderment comes still –
    Until I Understand the Whole –
    Perhaps, then, find a love –
    Or a simple castoff –

  4. cymast

     /  December 2, 2008

    Apologies to Emily Dickinson.

  5. acilius

     /  December 3, 2008

    I’m sure she’d say no apologies were needed. Interesting to see “understand the whole” come up at the same time as our long discussion in the “Wired with Sugar Water” thread.

  6. acilius

     /  December 3, 2008

    And I like “Wonderment” with a capital “W,” very Emily Dickinson.

  7. cymast

     /  December 3, 2008

    Thanks! It’d be nice if Dickinson joined our blog . . I Wonder if that is possible in this universe . .

  8. acilius

     /  December 3, 2008

    That would be neat! I suspect she would have liked blogging. To write without having to submit your work to an editor, without having to sell it to anyone, without even attaching your name. Perhaps a select few friends might be invited in from time to time…

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