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Everett’s Risk

“We got ourselves some kind of crime here, Lordy.”

If it weren’t for the subject of Percival Everett’s novel The Trees, it might be tempting to think it slightly off-beat like Thomas Pyncheon’s comic, conspiratorial The Crying of Lot 49, with its two-dimensional characters and the loopy names that Everett doles out, like Junior Junior, Delroy Digby, the Doctor Reverend Cad Fondle and his wife Fancel Fondle, Philworth Bass, Chester Hobnobber, McDonald McDonald, Helvetica Quip, Pick L. Dill, and Pinch Wheyface. On a superficial level, The Trees (Graywolf Press, 2021) is a loose parody of the classic murder mystery. Who murdered Junior Junior, Wheat Bryant, and Granny C and left the bodies of the men genitally mutilated? The local “idiot deputies” are inept—and racist, to boot—so a couple of African American Special Detectives from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and a Special Agent from the FBI are brought in to try to solve the case. But Everett keeps upping the ante. Why are there Black corpses next to each of their bodies? Bodies that keep disappearing from the morgue or from police custody! And what’s with the copycat murders that start cropping up all over America? What’s in Mama Z’s back room? For a short spell, this could almost pass as a Pyncheon novel.

Except that The Trees turns out to be about lynching. It’s also about a particular lynching. The first clue, which I didn’t catch, is the novel’s location: Money, Mississippi (“named in that persistent Southern tradition of irony”). It turns out that the fathers of Junior Junior and Wheat Bryant—men named J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant—were the two men who belatedly confessed to the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955, after being found innocent at trial. Granny C is Carolyn Bryant, whose false claim that Emmett Till flirted with her led to his lynching. Someone in Everett’s novel is seeking a kind of “retributive justice,” more than a half century after the original event.

After the three initial murders, more keep happening, in Mississippi and then beyond. And beside every new mutilated white body lies another Black corpse. There are hints that each of these killings is somehow a revenge murder for a past lynching. The darkened mirror that Everett holds up is a reminder that lynching is indelibly embedded in America’s history. It’s always been there, if we’d only look. “Everybody talks about genocides around the world,” one character says, “but when the killing is slow and spread over a hundred years, no one notices. Where there are no mass graves, no one notices.”

Robert Colescott, Knowledge of the Past is the Key to the Future: St. Sebastian, 1986
© Robert Colescott Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

In the back room of a character named Mama Z are filing cabinets with the records of “almost everything ever written about every lynching in these United States of America since 1913″ and a folder on every person lynched. It is there that a hapless, but dully heroic academic, a man named Damon Nathan Thruff, starts to write down the names of all those lynched individuals, using a number 3 pencil. This is followed by a full chapter that is dedicated to a list of more than three hundred of those names.* (Croatian writer Daša Drndić posted a similar list in her 2012 documentary novel Trieste from MacLehose Press, a forty-four page, double-columned list that named the 9,000 or so Jews “who were deported from Italy or killed in Italy in the countries Italy occupied between 1943 and 1945.”) Here’s Mama Z and Thruff:

Mama Z pulled the pad toward her and looked at the list. “Why are you doing this?” she asked.

“When I write the names they become real, not just statistics. When I write the names they become real again. It’s almost like they get a few more seconds here. Do you know what I mean? I would never be able to make up this many names. The names have to be real. They have to be real. Don’t they?”

Mama Z put her hand against the side of Damon face. “Why pencil?”

“When I’m done, I’m going to erase every name, set them free.”

“Carry on, child,” the old woman said.

But outside Mama Z’s place, people are using more than number 3 pencils.

Some called it a throng. A reporter on the scene used the word horde. A minister of an AME church in Jefferson County, Mississippi, called it a congregation. Whatever it was called, it was at least five hundred bodies strong and growing and had abandoned all stealth. The congregation could be seen cresting a ridge then coming down toward the town like a tornado. And like a tornado it would destroy one life and leave the one beside it unscathed. It made a noise. A moan that filled the air. Rise, it said, Rise.

Everett, ever elusive as a writer, keeps edging The Trees between contemporary farce and the despair of history. He portrays white Mississippi (and the white South, by extension) with wicked satire, full of illiterate rednecks whose free time seems to consist of drinking beer, watching daytime television and Fox News, squishing pimples, and talking cartoony redneck “sumbitch” talk. A Trump-like President gives a speech about how “the folks from Europe rescued the Africans from each other” and how Blacks “are not White like Americans are supposed to be.” Everett pretends to hide his fury behind comedy and caricature and propels the plot forward so that The Trees almost reads like a page-turner. But he knows exactly what he is doing here. He’s practically daring us to enjoy his novel too much. His novel about lynching.

2020.0077.01; Marker, historical. Defaced Emmett Till Historic Marker. From the collection of the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Museum.
  • There is no clear explanation for who is listed in the approximately 325 names shown in Everett’s book. According to the NAACP, at least 4,743 lynchings occurred in the U.S. between 1882 and 1968, with 581 of them happening in Mississippi. More than 325 were committed in the U.S. after 1913.

Three Archivists of the Marginal: Keiller, Sebald, Sinclair

David Anderson’s recent book, Landscape and Subjectivity in the Work of Patrick Keiller, W.G. Sebald, and Iain Sinclair (Oxford, 2020), begins by quoting from Rebecca Solnit’s book Wanderlust: A History of Walking. Solnit has made it clear to us how closely related walking and creativity are. “To write,” she says in that important book, “is to carve a new path through the terrain of the imagination.” Since the age of Wordsworth, walking and literature, along with the other arts, have become increasingly entwined. Anderson has chosen three of my favorite artists—two writers and one filmmaker—for whom walking plays an essential role. Although, I must say that walking somehow seems to me like the exact wrong word for what these three did within the context of their art. Anderson uses the word “peregrination” once or twice and I think this is where we should start.

Film still from Patrick Keiller’s London, 1992.

A peregrination usually implies a long, often meandering walk, perhaps somewhat geographically aimless and often directed by goals other than a physical destination. Anderson first examines Patrick Keiller’s trilogy of pseudo-documentary films, London (1994), Robinson in Space (1997), and Robinson in Ruins (2010), in which an enigmatic and melancholy flaneur named Robinson takes meandering journeys around parts of England, while a narrator recites an often ironic text that is somewhat, but not always, related to whatever we are watching on screen. Keiller uses “melancholia and estrangement” to achieve his goal to create a “compelling reimagination of [the UK] landscape.” Keiller (like the other two artists in this study) often focuses in on the human impact on the landscape, especially the ways in which technology and bad public policy have changed, damaged, and restricted the use of the land. If you haven’t seen these films—especially London—I encourage you to seek them out.

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Afterness @ Orford Ness

One of the latest projects of London-based Artangel Trust, which prides itself on going “where others fear to tread,” is Afterness at Orford Ness, a long, strangely angled spit of land on the Suffolk coast on England’s east side. In the 1920s, Orford Ness was taken over by Britain’s Ministry of Defence and over the next eighty or so years was used for a variety of often top-secret military experiments, including radio navigation and radar. It is now owned and operated by the National Trust, which tightly controls access to the land because of its fragile habitats and the site’s former military history.

W.G. Sebald famously described and inserted photographs of the visit he made to Orford Ness sometime in the early 1990s in The Rings of Saturn. He had a local fisherman ferry him over and leave him to wander the landscape and inspect the abandoned military ruins. “The closer I came to these ruins, the more any notion of a mysterious isle of the dead receded, and the more I imagined myself amidst the remains of our own civilization after its extinction in some future catastrophe. . . wandering among heaps of scrap metal and defunct machinery”

For Afterness, the artists Iain Chambers, Alice Channer, Graham Cunnington, Brian d’Souza, Axel Kacoutié, Ilya Kaminsky, Paul Maheke, Emma McNally, Rachel Pimm, Tatiana Trouvé, and Chris Watson have each done a site specific project at Orford Ness. Several artists have made work that can also be experienced online. When you’re browsing the website, simply click on the “Read More” button for each artist to see what options exist.

The reviews have been fantastic. I especially like what Laura Cumming wrote about Afterness in The Guardian earlier this summer. Here’s part of one paragraph:

Everything irresistibly proposes a question on this island. Why are the poppies yellow and cerise, like a colour-blindness test? Why are there miniature deer in a reserve without any trees? Why are the hares so huge and what do they live on? What did the scientists really discover in these crumbling structures, and who designed them?

Afterness continues through October 30. Visits to Orford Ness are limited to certain days of the week and access is by ferry only. See this page on the Artangel website for more details on how to visit and purchase tickets.

For a different artist’s response to Orford Ness, take a look at Emily Richardson’s six-minute video Cobra Mist over on Vimeo. Made in 2008, Cobra Mist explores the landscape of Orford Ness using a 16mm anamorphic camera lens and time-lapse and motion control techniques.

The lighthouse that appears in Cobra Mist was decommissioned in 2013 and demolished in 2020. Upon learning this, the pop musician Thomas Dolby (who I listened to endlessly in the 80s and 90s) made a documentary film about it called The Invisible Lighthouse, which he took on the road through the US and UK, accompanying the film with live music, narration, and sound effects. There is a great five-minute teaser at his website.

The Knife’s Edge

In his new book Golden Apples of the Sun (Mack, 2021), Teju Cole’s photographs, which in the past have reflected the tensely energized vision of a global citizen, have become contained, muted, domestic. Their primary subject is now the kitchen. Instead of looking out across Berlin or Beirut or Brazzaville, we’re looking down at his dark counter tops and the burners of his gas stove, which is black, so that the backgrounds of the photographs are dark, somber, practically reflectionless. There are utensils, pots and pans, dishes, towels, a jigger, a creamer, glass and plastic storage containers, not much in the way of food, an apple, an egg, a lime, a boule, some lemons, half an onion, a sprig of thyme. The framing is tight, turning some objects into geometric shapes, cutting others off abruptly. This is not about cooking, it’s about post-cooking detritus.

The images themselves seem a bit buried somewhere within the matte printing on the matte paper selected by the designer Morgan Crowcroft-Brown. I find myself peering close to the page, looking for the edges of objects, looking for details that have fallen into the creamy blacks and lush blackish blues of Cole’s photographs. It is clear that Cole wanted these to be modest images. What he had in mind were Dutch seventeenth century still life paintings of fruits and vegetables and the tabletop paintings of Giorgio Morandi, many of whose works depict endless rearrangements of nearly monochrome jars and bottles.

But should we think of Cole’s photographs as domestic images? Domesticity implies something that relates to a home or a family or a person who performs menial tasks. These kitchen images seem inert. They depict a stasis, a frozen now. Rarely do we have any sense of what has happened the moment before the photograph was taken or what was likely to happen next. Interspersed between the kitchen photographs are full-page photographs that show hand-written recipes for dishes like puddings and marmalade, plus helpful instructions for cooking-related tasks, such as how “To Collar a Calves Head.” The recipes are printed on brown paper reminiscent of that which a butcher might use to wrap meat. Both the immaculate penmanship and the language of the recipes are obviously antiquated, and Cole tells us in his essay in the book that these pages are from an anonymous eighteenth-century cookbook from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Cole lives. Cole photographed them so that the recipes are legible, but are sometimes cropped, making them serve as a kind of wallpaper for the kitchen images. Some of the eighteenth-century Cambridge households from which this cookbook might have come would have had domestics, black kitchen help, maybe even slaves. Very suddenly the innocent question “Should we think of Cole’s photographs as domestic images?” becomes fraught. Now we are in the realm of history. Here’s Cole, from his essay:

I cannot now find the interview in which W.G. Sebald said that not only had he never been to Auschwitz, but that he would never wish to do so. You see everything there is to be seen—I seem to recall him saying—and then, what, they have a restaurant there, and you go and sit down to eat? But, in counterpoint: I think of those who experience an entire terrain as the site of atrocity. In the United States of America, for instance—especially for indigenous people and for Black people—there is no part of the terrain that does not reverberate with horror, torture, and the most perverse brutalities. The site of the massacre is not delimited. The map is equal to the territory and yet we must live. We still have to go in and sit down to eat.

In the upper corner of every page where there is a kitchen photograph there is a faint date stamp, like the kind you find on digital images. The dates begin SEPT 29 13:13 and progress chronologically through NOV 3 16:02. The year, Cole tells us in his essay, is 2020. Pandemic Year. George Floyd Year. Election Year. Thus the final photograph was taken on Election Day. Cole says he did not rearrange anything for his photographs but he surely he knew what he was doing when he photographed the edge of a knife on Election Day, 2020 for the final image in his book.

Some photography is about showing, the photographs in this book are about seeing, observing. Seeing is a democratic process. No two of us will concentrate on the same details, follow the same flight path around these rectangles, draw the same conclusions. For Cole, these photographs were part of a process, one with its own set of rules. Take photographs every day. Don’t arrange anything. Observe. Repeat.

The untitled essay that comes at the end of Golden Apples serves as a kind of running commentary on some of the things that Cole observed and remembered and pondered during the same time in which he took the kitchen and cookbook images. Photographing in his kitchen and reading the centuries-old recipes reminded him of the hunger he experienced as a child, the still life paintings of the French painter Chardin, the music of the Smashing Pumpkins, the poetry of Louise Glück, slavery, Zen, John Cage, Cargill and the salt trade, hunger strikes, Covid-19, the photographer Chris Killip (who had just died), Giorgio Morandi, J.M. Coetzee’s novel Elizabeth Costello, voting, and much more. It’s a solid thirty-page block of writing that morphs from one subject to another the way that dreams often do.

The Song of Wandering Aengus

By William Butler Yeats

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

I have previously written about three of Teju Cole’s other books: Blind Spot (2017), Open City (2011), and Every Day Is for the Thief (2007).

“The most exquisite writer I know”: Carole Angier’s “Speak, Silence”

For anyone who read W.G. Sebald attentively, he seemed to be giving readers bits and pieces of his autobiography in nearly every one of his books. And yet, when most outsiders probed a little further into Sebald the man, they would hit a wall, for he was a notoriously private person. A few facts and stories leaked out here and there if you were a close reader of the vast literature that was growing up around Sebald, but he was not a public figure like so many writers these days.

Sebald has now been gone twenty years, having died suddenly in an automobile accident in 2001 at the age of 57, and it’s striking that it is only this week that the first biography has come out. And what might also strike you when you begin to read the Preface to Carole Angier’s Speak, Silence: In Search of W.G. Sebald (Bloomsbury), is that several key people still would not speak to her. His widow, perhaps understandably, asked that his family life be kept private, and so Angier carefully tiptoes around Sebald’s marriage—except at the very end of Sebald’s life, when she can’t. But the voices of a number of important friends and colleagues are noticeably absent.

But an even bigger hurdle for Angier was the lack of permission to quote from many of Sebald’s letters or from his books and interviews. As she explains in her book, when Sebald was in his late fifties he was desperate to raise enough money to be freed of the grind of academia, so he turned to the powerful mega-agent Andrew Wylie for help. Wylie’s agency pulled the rights to his forthcoming book Austerlitz from his devoted long-time publishers Eichborn in Germany, Harvill in the U.K, and New Directions in the U.S. and instead auctioned the book off for very large sums to publishers that are, in effect, multinational corporations. This made Sebald modestly wealthy for the last few years of his life. But in an instant, much of his literary output became, and still is, heavily controlled by corporate interests that appear, at times, to place a curious, if not unwarranted chokehold around his copyright. Was Angier singled out for rights denial because there was some disapproval of her approach? Is the Wylie Agency working with a another biographer and doesn’t want competitors? I do not know.

“Why on earth,” asks Angier, “with these limitations, did I persist? I persisted because W.G. Sebald is the most exquisite writer I know.”

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Talking to the Past—Part II: Edmund de Waal

At first, the letters are addressed to “Dear friend.” Then Edmund de Waal slips into the more formal “Cher Monsieur” and finally “Monsieur.” “I realise,” he writes, “that I’m not entirely sure how to address you, Monsieur le Comte.” How does one address a French count who died more than eighty years ago and whose only connection to you is that he was a cousin of your grandfather’s? And why would you choose to make a book in which you write letters to him rather than write a biography of the count or adopt some form of family memoir? These are just some of the questions that occurred as I read Edmund de Waal’s new book, Letters to Camondo (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021).

In Letters to Camondo, de Waal writes fifty-eight letters to Moïse Camondo (1860-1935), letters that ask questions which are never answered, that desperately seek conversation with the dead. For ceramicist and writer Edmund De Waal, the house of Count Moïse Camondo was but a few steps away from the house of his distant relative, Charles Ephrussi, who features prominently in his earlier book The Hare with Amber Eyes (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), in which de Waal wrote about inheriting a collection of 264 netsuke, tiny Japanese wood and ivory carvings, from an uncle in Tokyo. The story of this collection of rare Japanese objects began in mid-nineteenth century Paris with de Waal’s relative Charles Ephrussi (1849-1905), a wealthy, Jewish collector who is one of the men used by Marcel Proust as he developed his character Charles Swann for In Search of Lost Time. Charles Ephrussi gave the netsuke collection to a Viennese cousin for a wedding gift. That cousin was Victor Ephrussi, de Waal’s grandfather. But with the coming of the Anschluss, Victor and his four children scattered around the globe, their art collections and possessions all confiscated by the Nazis, except for the Netsuke collection, which was smuggled away by a maid, who was later able to return them to the family. The Hare is an extraordinary tale that follows the precious netsuke collection from the Paris of the Impressionists to the Vienna of Freud and its famous cafe society to postwar Tokyo to contemporary London where de Waal lives and works.

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New Volume of Sebald Interviews Published

Thomas Honickel. Curriculum Vitae. Die W.G. Sebald-Interviews: Schriftenreihe der Deutschen Sebald Gesellschaft. Bd. 1. Herausgegeben von Uwe Schütte und Kay Wolfinger. Würzburg, Germany: Königshausen & Neumann, 2021. 39,80 Euro.

The first volume in a series of publications from the recently established Deutsche Sebald Gesellschaft brings together extensive interview material from the director and documentary filmmaker Thomas Honickel. Made for Honickel’s acclaimed 44-minute documentary W. G. Sebald: The Emigrant (2007), the full interviews, which were used selectively in the film, were completely transcribed for this volume. The interviews average about ten pages each. The result is a sort of oral history about Sebald’s life and work. Uwe Schütte places the interviews in context in a foreword. Several of the interviews are in English: Peter & Dorothy Jordan (partly in German), Gordon Turner, Anne Beresford, Stephen Watts, and Susi Bechhöfer. The rest are in German.

From the publisher’s website: Thomas Honickel studied German and is a graduate of the University of Television and Film, Munich. He has made 30 documentaries for ARD/ARTE, including portraits of Elias Canetti and W. G. Sebald. His film W. G. Sebald: The Emigrant was premiered in the Literaturhaus Stuttgart in 2007 and was shown in numerous Goethe Institutes and literature houses in Europe and can currently be seen on YouTube. Uwe Schütte studied modern German literature and history at the LMU Munich and received his doctorate in 1996 from the University of East Anglia under W. G. Sebald. He teaches at an English university and is a private lecturer at the University of Göttingen. Kay Wolfinger is a research assistant in Modern German Literature and lecturer at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich.

The people whose interviews are included in the volume are:

Gertrud Aebischer
Jürgen Kaeser
Ursula Liebsch
Jan Peter Tripp
Heidemarie Nowak
Karl-Heinz Schmelzer
Franz Meier
Heribert Wagner
Reinbert Tabbert
Peter & Dorothy Jordan
Peter Jonas
Richard Sheppard
Gordon Turner
Anne Beresford
Uwe Schütte
Hans Magnus Enzensberger
Günter Herburger
Michael Hamburger
Wolfgang Schlüter
Peter von Matt
Sigrid Löffler
Franz Loquai
Ruth Klüger
Irène Heidelberger-Leonard
Michael Krüger
Wolfgang Matz
Stephen Watts
Susi Bechhöfer
Thomas Honickel provides excerpts from the shooting diaries of his film.

Talking to the Past—Part I: George Szirtes

She died in 1975. He, the son, was newly married, with his own new son, trying to scrape together a living for his new family. What did he know of his mother?

“I knew nothing then of her past, of anything that had happened to her and all she had survived. Nor did I know much about my father and his close brush with death. I had no sense of them as heroes or powers or even as people in their own right. They were my parents. They did not speak. I did not ask. What was it I was supposed to feel, after all? For whom? For her? For me?”

George Szirtes’ memoir/biography of his mother Magda, The Photographer at Sixteen (London: Maclehose, 2019) begins with the moment of her death in an ambulance in a London traffic jam. From her suicide, caused by depression and decades of ill health, Szirtes begins to work backwards in time like an archeologist, uncovering layer after layer of her life. Using family snapshots and a tape recorded conversation with his father, László, as reference points, he begins to discover the woman who became his mother and the man who became his father. He describes their two decades in London as refugees, struggling to build a life for themselves and their two sons, and then their earlier years in post-war Hungary, as they tried, and ultimately failed, to fit into the ever-shifting Communist system.

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The Emigrants via Virtual Book Club

Somehow, I only learned about this last night. A Public Space magazine and the poet & writer Elisa Gabbert are in the midst of doing a virtual book club which is reading W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants on Twitter through June 22. They are going into the book in some detail, so there are multiple posts per day. To catch up, you’ll have to do quite a bit of backward scrolling on Twitter. (There are only a few quotes on Instagram.) But it’s well worth it. The following is from the magazine’s website:

Elisa Gabbert | W. G. Sebald

May 6, 2021 Share: Read W. G. Sebald’s The Emigrants with Elisa Gabbert in the June edition of #APStogether, our series of virtual book clubs, free and open to all. Starting June 10, you can read Elisa’s daily posts, and comments from our fellow readers, on our Twitter and Instagram accounts. And join us for a virtual discussion at the end of the book club, on June 22—register here.

W. G. Sebald’s The Emigrants is a novel in four portraits, the stories of four men in exile: a doctor, a teacher, a painter, and Sebald’s Great-Uncle Adelwarth, the traveling companion of an American aviator. Written in Sebald’s signature indeterminate, essayistic style, intercut with photographs of people and places, The Emigrants explores post-war trauma and memory, guilt and displacement, and what it means to survive. Join us to read this book Larry Wolff called “an end-of-century meditation” on “the most delicate, most painful, most nervously repressed and carefully concealed lesions of the last hundred years.”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of five collections of poetry, essays, and criticism, most recently The Unreality of Memory & Other Essays and The Word Pretty. She writes a regular poetry column for the New York Times, and her work has appeared in Harper’s, the New York Review of Books, A Public Space, the Nation, and many other venues. Her next book of poems, Normal Distance, will be out from Soft Skull next year.

W. G. Sebald (1944-2001) was born in the Bavarian Alps. From 1975 he taught at the University of East Anglia, became Professor of German in 1986, and was the first director of the British Centre for Translation. His books include The Rings of Saturn, The Emigrants, and Vertigo (all New Directions).

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A Gallery of Clouds and The Gestural Image

Rachel Eisendrath’s A Gallery of Clouds (NYRB, 2021) has the best opening move of a book that I can recall in recent memory. Right off the bat the author declares: “I died and then found myself walking across a large, green field.” A few sentences later, she is holding a folder that contains the manuscript of the book we are reading and talking with Virginia Woolf (who is shown in a small photograph by Ottoline Morrell). Woolf takes the manuscript out of Eisendrath’s hands and begins to read.

Eisendrath describes the book we are holding in our hands as “a book of clouds.” “Clouds are ephemeral moments of light and color that stay still only as long as you look at them, but then—as soon as your mind wanders—change into something else.” In other words, Eisendrath is telling us she is going to be switching channels on us—switching between memoir and scholarly writing and fiction and images, etc.—without warning or explanation. That shouldn’t really be a problem these days, for readers became used to texts of this nature long ago. If you try to visualize the image of “a gallery of clouds” you just might see someone lying on their back staring up at the sky as clouds scud past in the shapes of whales or ships or the like. And so it is that A Gallery of Clouds is fundamentally a book about reading, and the fabulous image on the book jacket (designed by the renowned Katie Homans) is a photograph of the dreamy clouds that form the ceiling of the Rose Reading Room of the New York Public Library, painted by James Wall Finn. Imagine yourself a fortunate reader in that famed reading room as you pause from your reading or research project and look up.

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