I TO MYSELF: An Annotated Selection from the Journal of Henry D. Thoreau, edited by Jeffrey S. Cramer. Yale University Press.
AMERICAN TRANSCENDENTALISM: A History, by Philip F. Gura. Hill & Wang.
Thoreau’s journals are a barely explored gold mine, as Cramer’s Introduction notes. This handsome volume of selections is both a contribution to literary scholarship and a book to keep and peruse for the nuggets contained within. Thoreau and Emerson are of course the best known names associated with American Transcendentalism, but as Gura’s accessible history shows, not the only interesting writers or participants in a contentious and malleable movement so important to American literature. Both of these books are important contributions to appreciating this golden era.
I EXPLAIN A FEW THINGS: Selected Poems by Pablo Neruda. A Bilingual Edition edited by Ilan Stavans. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
The Preface is correct: in the 1970s, around the time of his Nobel Prize, Neruda was a star on American campuses. (I’m pretty sure my first professional published piece was on him.) This selection from his entire career offers translations by Alastair Reed (who with Ben Belitt were the principal translators of 70s era collections), Robert Bly (some of whose translations were available then, and which I much preferred), Galway Kinnell, W.S. Merwin, Philip Levine, John Felstiner, Jack Schmitt, Margaret Sayers Peden and others. Editor Stavans finds the late (70s) poems wanting in his up to date overview preface, yet he translates one of the latest, about the effect of the Vietnam war: “they come, will come, they came,/ to kill the world within us.” They’re still at it.
ON ELOQUENCE by Denis Donoghue. Yale.
This is one of those absorbing books to read and savor, reminding us of literature we love and introducing us to aspects of literary works we don’t know as well, that we might well love. His past books revealed Donoghue as a scholar and reader who writes well, and the topic of eloquence allows him both breadth and concentration. It’s an important and neglected topic, in an era of bad writing and dense, very specific literary writing—an era that needs beauty as well as inspiration and instruction. With all the references and assertions (some I find myself arguing with) it's an active but rewarding read.
AUGUST WILSON CENTURY CYCLE by August Wilson. Theatre Communications Group.