Glenn's Book Notes

These in-depth, thought-provoking, and often funny posts are the brainchild of The Book Barn's very own Glenn. He never fails to make a great recommendation, grateful warning or entertaining suggestion!

June 14, 2020

#166: ESCAPE.  Some books remain in memory forever connected to the occasion of our discovering them.   Certain titles have gone with us on particular travels: a copy of Nicholas Nickleby went with me around England, and of Call Me By Your Name around northern Italy.  Would I have had or made the time to read the 1500 pages of Les Miserables recently without the nine weeks’ isolation of the Covid pandemic?...

May 9, 2020

#165:  TIBETAN BUDDHISM: THOUGHTS AND QUESTIONS.   Pico Iyer wrote in Sun After Dark, “What exactly you believe, and how much, and why, is a question Tibet asks you more searchingly than any place I know…  ‘Tibet’ is the name we give to whatever we wish to believe, or can’t quite credit.”

      Traditional Tibetan culture is as saturated with Buddhism as the medieval culture of Europe was with Christianity, and one of...

May 9, 2020

#164: THE HYDRA AND THE ANGEL.  The reader’s first experience of Victor Hugo’s gargantuan novel Les Miserables is that it’s like driving cross-country in a rattletrap car so old you no longer know what’s holding it together.  In addition to its sentimentality and wild coincidences it is perforated, more than any other great novel, by huge, gaping digressions: sixty pages on the battle at Waterloo, forty pages on the life of a...

April 5, 2020

#163:  A MISTRESS OF THE ART.  Recently, while catching up with the work of Masaoka Shiki, the fourth in the canonical line of haiku masters, I was moved to spend a little time online searching for books by the later or lesser-known poets.  I’d known of translations of Santoka Taneda, the twentieth-century master, whom I’ve pictured as moving sometime into fifth position in the line of succession; and I’d run across the marvel...

February 15, 2020

#162:  TO WAYFARERS A LIGHT.  In the nineteen-sixties, the bugaboo word in the educational world (among others) was “relevance.” It was part of the battle-cry of the student dissidents in Paris, and by the seventies it was an everyday word on American campuses.  Students wanted literature taught in a way that was relevant to their lives.   Sounded great, and the noise made a certain amount of sense, and then degenerated into d...

January 5, 2020

#161.  THE RAJ.  In the cave temples on Elephanta Island, in the harbor of Mumbai on the west coast of India, there is an extraordinary grouping of bas-reliefs, carvings and sculptures, including the famous three-headed bust of Shiva in his role as creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe.  The sculptures, apart from natural wear, are marked with defacements and missing limbs where bored soldiers of the British Army us...

January 5, 2020

#160.  A BIRD THAT SINGS WITH BLOODIED THROAT.  Fully as much as the great Japanese sumi-e paintings, in which a scene, an animal, a flower may be revealed in essence by a few brush-strokes of ink on paper, the Japanese poetic form of the haiku is formed by and expresses the Buddhist truth of transience, of impermanence.  Many western readers know of these “one-breath poems” being composed (usually) in lines of five, seven and...

December 10, 2019

#159.  LAST LINES FROM TWO MASTERS.  Two of the remarkable books of American poetry recently published, The Last Shift, by Philip Levine (Knopf, 2016) and Dead Man’s Float, by Jim Harrison (Copper Canyon, 2016) are the final individual collections of two poets recently deceased.  Both had solid careers behind them, such as poets have in this country; it defies justice or belief that anyone could publish such books as Levi...

October 30, 2019

#158: TO HAVE BEEN THIS ONCE.  Perhaps one reason for my huge enjoyment of Benjamin Taylor’s memoir The Hue and Cry at Our House: A Year Remembered (Penguin, 2017) is that we were both born in 1952, and the props of his childhood—Johnson and Goldwater, lists of presidents, old issues of TV Guide, LPs, bomb shelters, Chunky candy bars, “Rebel Without A Cause”—are on instant recall for me.  The year in account begins tumultuousl...

October 18, 2019

#157: PROPHETS AND ANGELS.  A few more words and works apropos of the new visibility of racism in America.

        One of the best documentaries I’ve seen of late has been Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, about Richard Baldwin.  Later in life Baldwin wanted to write about the near-simultaneous murders of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., all of whom he had known and all of whom...

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