Cloudsplitter – Russell Banks


I mentioned I like short stories. So, reading Cloudsplitter, (all 772 pages of historical fiction) is predictably, a bit much for me. It’s a great novel whose narrator is Owen Brown, a son of John Brown the abolitionist. I mostly picked it up hefted it because they lived in North Elba, NY for a while. North Elba is in the Adirondacks, and I’m often curious about how things might have been up in the north before gas heat and electric blankets. I’ve also been almost completely ignorant of John Brown’s raid. I’m nearly done with the book, and things are revving up to the raid. I’ll be happy to pick up some lighter reading (both in content and weight) after this.

The situation in Pakistan

John Green, author of An Abundance of Katherines, an excellent young-adult novel, posted this in the vlog (video blog) he hosts with his brother, Hank Green. You can see their year-long odyssey of communicating only through videos here: This post came about when he was asked to explain the situation in Pakistan – which he does, while eating peeps. Entertaining, and oddly enough, really informative. Note that Sharif has now been allowed into Pakistan and is running for Prime Minister.

What I like: short stories

While I’ve been known to slog through long Russian novels, my favorite kind of reading lately has been short stories, or anthologies of essays. Perhaps my attention span is waning, but I think it’s because I am in awe of how an author can create a universe from nothing in only a few pages.

Amy Hempel is the best short story writer ever. Or, at least, alive. (But I’m betting on ever, or like the cool kids say, evar.) Consider the first line of her story, The Harvest:

The year I began to say vahz instead of vase, a man I barely knew nearly accidentally killed me.

Take a moment with that. For a reader to know so much about the narrator with one sentence and how much it evokes is stunning. The story is a commentary on the art of writing, which you might not guess from the first line. Now, go read the whole thing, courtesy of pif magazine.

When you’re done with that and hungry for more, check out her books, which are like boxes of expensive chocolates that demand you both devour and savor them.

The Harvest is in The Collected Works of Amy Hempel

Other works:

At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom

Tumble Home

Philosophy and the good life

Lately, “the good life” is all the rage in philosophical circles. Which isn’t a surprise – it’s a subject that most decent philosophers have dealt with. But why so many new books and why now? The challenge is to differentiate the wheat from the chaff. Joel K. Kupperman has been writing interesting books such as, Six Myths about the Good Life: Thinking About What Has Value and Ethics and Qualities of Life. Personally, I’m with Socrates’ advice which may not have been an answer to “how to happy” but it works: Know thyself.