Cover to Cover

Du Maurier gets her due; Julia Glass's latest; the ruins of the railroads; SCottishness debunked; and more

Justine Picardie

The Daphne du Maurier Companion
Helen Taylor, editor
Virago/Trafalgar Square

Don’t Look Now: Stories
Daphne du Maurier
New York Review Books

A century after her birth, Daphne du Maurier, who achieved enormous commercial success but no place in the literary canon, is finally getting some critical respect. Feminism can take some of the credit, and there can be little question now that du Maurier was an innovative and strikingly original literary artist. Her distinctive character comes to life in Picardie’s fictional portrait, which is a complex novelistic homage to du Maurier and her most famous book, Rebecca. Virago’s Companion contains essays (two of them by Picardie) on her work, as well as biographical material, and is a searching examination of her life and art. Don’t Look Now is a stunning collection of du Maurier’s particular brand of intricately plotted story. The mesmerizing title story was faithfully adapted by Nicholas Roeg, and the volume also includes the creepily riveting tale “The Birds,” which, like Rebecca, was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock. These three books penetrate to the heart of this troubled genius and her multifaceted oeuvre.

Acedia & Me
Kathleen Norris

Norris, a religiously inclined poet and essayist, compounds her interests here, offering a moving memoir and an etymological explication of acedia, a state of spiritual torpor identified by early Christian monastics and known variously as “soul-weariness,” “the noonday demon,” even plain “ennui.” Drawing on her hard-won experiences, she demarcates such neurasthenia from depression, its modern, medically treatable relative; weighs its deleterious effects on a grand cultural scale; and argues, sometimes persuasively, that a rarely diagnosed, centuries-old condition plagues us still.

The Oxford Project
Photographs by Peter Feldstein, text by Stephen G. Bloom
Welcome Books

In May 1984, Feldstein set up a sign outside a main-street shop in Oxford, Iowa, his hometown. On it he wrote get your photo taken. By the end of the summer, he’d taken a single black-and-white shot of nearly all of Oxford’s 676 residents. Twenty years later, he resurrected the project, but this time the writer Stephen G. Bloom interviewed each resident, with revelatory results. The product is a hard-to-put-down coffee-table book, with big, striking then-and-now portraits, that pulls you deep into small-town America, with its almost excessive heartbreaks and intermittent joys. The danger of such a project is that it can make caricatures out of real people—but this book stays true to its life-worn subjects and to the complexities of what would seem to be the most simple of places.

I See You Everywhere
Julia Glass

Glass’s third book—a novel in spirit if not in structure—plumbs the relationship between two sisters with equally strong wills, if somewhat antithetical personalities. As in all of Glass’s work, much of the delight in these interlaced stories, in which the sisters alternate point of view, comes from the precision and vibrancy with which she presents her fully realized and jam-packed fictional world. Like bumper cars, the sisters touch and careen apart, supplying each other with sympathy and yet fiercely insisting on their differences and independence. Glass dives deeply into this complex relationship, made even more complicated by the shocking ending. That she offers no easy explanations is to her credit.

The Ancient Shore: Dispatches From Naples
Shirley Hazzard

This book collects Shirley Hazzard’s and Francis Steegmuller’s love letters to Naples from a singular time (the postwar decades) and place (a city of surpassing beauty, danger, and cultural complexity). As the professionally expatriate Hazzard notes, “One does not go [to Italy] for simplicity but for interest: to make the adventure of existence more vivid, more poignant.” It’s a fair assessment, as is her pithy summation of life there as “a performance—an idea of the self played out with style.” Both notions are manifested repeatedly—and limned gorgeously—by her painterly prose, her late husband’s stylish reportage, and a somewhat unexpected (but thoroughly apt) complement: glowing photographs of Naples by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Herbert List, and others.

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Honeybees contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy. A short documentary considers how desperate beekeepers are trying to keep their hives alive.

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