Somebody Does It Better

Any child psychologist will tell you it’s a bad idea to compare siblings to each other. Ask big sis why her room isn’t as neat as her younger brother’s and she won’t clean it up, she’ll drop out of school and ride off on a motorcycle to the tattoo shop. It’s probably not a good idea to compare one country to another either, although I don’t know what the national equivalent of a regrettable tattoo is. But the Olympics are in full swing and global competition is in the air (along with Zika-laden mosquitoes) so let’s throw caution (and some bug spray) to the wind and ask the big question: How does the good old U.S. of A. stack up to the rest of the world?

Pretty well overall, I’d say. I don’t wear a flag pin on my lapel or anything, but most of the time I’m perfectly happy to live where I do. I’m on vacation abroad right now, though, and my trip has shown me that we have some catching up to do in at least one important area. I’m talking about our relationship with books, of course. Sure, you and I read like our lives depend on it, but not everyone in the fifty states feels the same way. France, on the other hand, shows signs of being the most book-obsessed place on the planet ... continued

Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst

In 2003 Carolyn Parkhurst published her debut novel, The Dogs of Babel. It had the most idiosyncratic premise. Paul’s wife dies after falling out of an apple tree and the only witness is their Rhodesian Ridgeback. In an effort to explain the circumstances surrounding his wife’s death, Paul decides to teach his dog how to speak English so she can tell Paul the truth about what happened.

Paul sounds a little crazy, right? You might say that Parkhurst specializes in the confusion of a person stuck in circumstances beyond their control. Fiction is the perfect place to conjecture what you might do in a heartbreaking situation. Paul’s goal is far-fetched but the portrait of his grief is achingly realistic, and the book became a huge bestseller. Please don’t consider it a spoiler when I tell you the dog doesn’t learn to talk. But Parkhurst does manage to show how language is not enough. Paul’s wife had language and he still failed to understand her.

Harmony is Parkhurst’s new novel and its premise and execution is just as distinctive as The Dogs of Babel ... continued

The Transylvanian Trilogy

The Transylvanian Trilogy isn’t what you think it is. Assuming you were thinking it involved vampires.

It’s natural that you might suppose so. The one thing everyone knows about Transylvania is that it’s the home of Bram Stoker’s fictional Count Dracula. Most also know that it’s an actual territory in Romania. That’s true now, and has been for many decades, but it’s not the whole story. We tend, or at least I do, to get stuck on a concept of world geography that was formed by the globes and maps that we used in elementary school, and think of those borders as more or less permanently fixed. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, and the process of learning that is a fascinating topic for another day ... continued

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