Watch for frequent updates!

Yale 62

The “Book Coroner”
A Book Column

By John Harger Stewart,

The print’s a bit small in this edition…

Recently I was struck by the notion that as we move into our reclining age, we all may be reading more. I know I am and I’m also interested as perhaps we all are in what each of us is reading. My taste runs to fiction, genre spy, mystery and sf, and literary, and some belles lettres, as well as New Yorker and NY Review, both of which I run far behind on. Here are some books I’ve read recently. Berlin Diaries is the fascinating account by Marie Vassilitchikov, a White Russian princess, of life in Berlin during WW II. More difficult is The World as I Found It, Bruce Duffy’s marvelous novel about Wittgenstein, Russell and Moore, three of the 20th century’s greatest philosophers – penetrating and brilliant. And now for something completely different: Ninth House, by Leigh Bardugo ‘97, a delicious fantasy which takes place at Yale now, where the secret societies do magic, and the ninth house of the title is the regulator to keep them from anything too destructive. She really gets Yale right, including insider information about what the secret societies’ houses look like, especially her own.

Also…three books by classmates. In order to further his study of French, Dixie Carroll wrote in French, Welcome to the Neighborhood, Stories and Adventures, which he has been kind enough to publish in an English translation. It’s a sort of very charming roman à clef about his neighborhood in Washington. Alex Garvin’s latest is The Heart of the City, more prescriptive than some of his others, recommending ways of reviving downtowns. And I’m eagerly awaiting from my bookstore, Oblong Books in Millerton, NY, Charlie Eisendrath’s memoir, Downstream from Here, a Big Life in a Small Place.

If you’re so inclined, add your own note below to report on what you’re reading or what you’ve written, and keep in mind the possibility of creating a discussion group, if two or three of us have read the same thing and would like to talk about it.

PS During the Y62 Communications Team meeting a couple of weeks back, three other books were mentioned. Steve Buck’s wife has written a fascinating memoir: Bridge Between Two Worlds: a Lebanee-Arab-American Woman’s Journey, by Hala Lababidi Buck. Recently Chris Snow’s wife Cameron read to him The Pioneers, by David McCullough, which mentions Yale scientists in the 19th century in Ohio. Finally, Dick Riseling recommends books by Yuval Harari including Sapiens: a Brief History of Human Kind, a discussion of our many ancestors and why we survived.

We look forward to your comments. Please add them below. Have you read (or authored) something terrific? Do you like the idea of a book discussion group? Let us know!


3 comments to The Book Coroner

  • Roman Weil

    Good idea to tell us about what you’ve read and enjoyed. I mentioned in my post on Envy v. Jealousy that I’m reading for the first time in about 40 years and have discovered the writings of essayist Joseph Epstein, which I find both educational and entertaining. Several ppl I’ve recommended his essays to dislike him, one because she thought his remark about Meryl Streep uncalled for and the other because of his remark about psychologists/psychiatrists. His essays come in varying lengths, from 800 words to 6,000 words; he has about 30 books out there. I’ve read about half of them by now. Try Wind Sprints, a collection of the 800-word ones. If you don’t like these, you won’t like the others. You can buy these books on for a pittance. Also most any other book you want.

    As for sharing information about books, I think about the lessons of cognitive dissonance I learned as a graduate student, which I recall as follows: people who eat grasshoppers report how much they liked doing so. We trick ourselves into liking the things we do, no matter how distasteful was the doing in some objective sense. People who read a book to the end can’t bear to admit they wasted their time, so tell us what a good book it was. How often do you hear people tell us, “Don’t read this book; it wastes your time; at least it wasted mine.”

    So, in addition to telling me what you like, tell me what you didn’t like. I thought Epstein’s recent book on Charm not up to his usual standard. His obituary about Harold Bloom disappointed me. [That’s an inside joke.]

    I recommend you not waste your time reading my most recent book, the sixth edition of the Litigation Services Handbook.

  • Larry Prince

    Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo Da Vinci is an outstanding biography of an extraordinary individual. It’s about art, science, the Renaissance, and Leonardo’s affect on all of them.

  • Roman Weil

    Another negative book thought….

    A new experience for me occurred at the University of Chicago Book Club of the Peninsula–Bay Area south of San Francisco, where most members are alums of the College. The members are well read, mostly old timers, like us.

    At a recent meeting, the first to speak said he thought the book uninteresting, not worthy of discussion. The second to speak [me] thought it awful. The third to speak said she’d recommended it to the Club on the basis of a review, but hadn’t read it before recommending; she thought it no better than a compendium of gossip columns and she was sorry to have wasted our time. No one present had any interest in discussing the book, so within five minutes we all agreed not to discuss the book and went on to other discussions.

    I wonder if that ties some kind of record–only a meta-discussion agreeing not to discuss a book. Mary McAuliffe, When Paris Sizzled: The 1920s Paris of Hemingway, Chanel, Cocteau, Cole Porter, Josephine Baker, and Their Friends.

    I tend to dislike the fiction this Club reads, but much of the non-fiction. My favorite of the last year was Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature: Alexander Humboldt’s New World. Second, Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct. For August, we are to read Mukherjee’s The Gene; stay tuned.