The book club
I can’t read e-books; my attention wanders. I’m OK reading one on my iPad on an airplane, where the only other choice is a safety pamphlet, but on the ground I need paper and binding and a bookmark. I tried in digital format Robert Caro’s latest installation in the life of Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power, and finally gave up. I couldn’t stomach always seeing variations of the line at the bottom: “You are on page 133 of 1,878.” I bought the hard cover with “only” 700 pages. I highly recommend it in whatever format you prefer.
I also enjoyed Margaret MacMillan’s History’s People, although I must say that portions seemed banal and dumbed down. Odd, too, was her declaration that she had chosen to refer to the native peoples of Canada as “Indians” partly because some people such as Elizabeth Simcoe, whom she quotes, used that terminology and “partly because we have as yet no single agreed designation from among the various possibilities of First Nations, aboriginals, natives, or indigenous people.” But Mrs. Simcoe lived and wrote a long time ago – in the first half of the nineteenth century. As for the second part of MacMillan’s reasoning, surely as a top-ranked scholar she should lead by setting a better example.
I laughed out loud a lot and saw myself – always a sign there’s a broad audience – in Ian Brown’s Sixty. To be sure, Brown stretched a bit at times to find things to fret about. But I admire him and have worked with him so know he can tend to the apoplectic. I can also assure him that there is life after sixty.
But of all the books I read in 2015, the absolute best was H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, an unlikely tale that combines grieving, memory, solitude and the training of a goshawk. On every page Macdonald has at least one phrase or one sentence that is so fresh and so lyrical that you’ll stop in your tracks to re-read it and taste it joyously on your tongue.