Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) by Stacy Schiff
Stacy Schiff’s Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) brings to shimmering life one of the greatest literary love stories of our time. Vladimir Nabokov—the émigré author of Lolita; Pale fire; and Speak, memory—wrote his books first for himself, second for his wife, Véra, and third for no one at all.
“Without my wife,” he once noted, “I wouldn’t have written a single novel.” Set in prewar Europe and postwar America, spanning much of the century, the story of the Nabokovs’ fifty-two-year marriage reads as vividly as a novel. Véra, both beautiful and brilliant, is its outsized heroine—a woman who loves as deeply and intelligently as did the great romantic heroines of Austen and Tolstoy. Stacy Schiff’s Véra is a triumph of the biographical form.
Winner of the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for biography or autobiography.
Filled with humor, warmth, insight and wisdom, Dinner with friends is a modern day masterpiece on the destruction of today’s marriage. Through Margulies’s flawless use of language and his ability to convey the truest of dialogue and characterization, we watch, as the two couples do, our closest friends going through a wrenching breakup. Not only does he create vivid detail of a marriage in decline, he also brilliantly depicts the couple’s closest friends, and how this new mirror to their own marriage sends them through a whirlwind of raw emotion and self-reflection. –amazon.com
Winner of the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for drama.
Navigating between the Indian traditions they’ve inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri’s elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations. In “A temporary matter,” a young Indian-American couple faces the heartbreak of a stillborn birth while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout. In the title story, an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors and hears an astonishing confession. Lahiri writes with deft cultural insight reminiscent of Anita Desai and a nuanced depth that recalls Mavis Gallant. She is an important and powerful new voice. –amazon.com
Winner of the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
In And their children after them, the writer/photographer team Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson return to the land and families captured in James Agee and Walker Evans’s inimitable Let us now praise famous men, extending the project of conscience and chronicling the traumatic decline of King Cotton. With this continuation of Agee and Evans’s project, Maharidge and Williamson not only uncover some surprising historical secrets relating to the families and to Agee himself, but also effectively lay to rest Agee’s fear that his work, from lack of reverence or resilience, would be but another offense to the humanity of its subjects. Williamson’s ninety-part photo essay includes updates alongside Evans’s classic originals. –amazon.com
Winner of the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.
Between 1929 and 1945, two great travails were visited upon the American people: the Great Depression and World War II. In a single volume, the author tells how America endured, and eventually prevailed, in the face of those unprecedented calamities. He demonstrates that the economic crisis of the 1930s was more than a reaction to the excesses of the 1920s. For more than a century before the Crash, America’s unbridled industrial revolution had gyrated through repeated boom and bust cycles, consuming capital and inflicting misery on city and countryside alike. Nor was the alleged prosperity of the 1920s as uniformly shared as legend portrays. Countless Americans eked out threadbare lives on the margins of national life. Roosevelt’s New Deal wrenched opportunity from the trauma of the 1930s and created a lasting legacy of economic and social reform, but it was afflicted with shortcomings and contradictions as well. The author details the New Deal’s problems and defeats, as well as its achievements. Yet, even as the New Deal was coping with the Depression, a new menace was developing abroad. Exploiting Germany’s own economic burdens, Hitler reached out the disaffected, turning their aimless discontent into loyal support for the Nazi Party. In Asia, Japan harbored imperial ambitions of its own. The same generation of Americans who battled the Depression eventually had to shoulder arms in another conflict that wreaked worldwide destruction, ushered in the nuclear age, and forever changed their way of life and their country’s relationship to the rest of the world. In the second installment of the chronicle, the author explains how the nation agonized over its role in the conflict, how it fought the war, and why the U.S. emerged victorious, and why the consequences of victory were sometimes sweet, sometimes ironic. The author analyzes the determinants of American strategy, the painful choices faced by commanders and statesmen, and the agonies inflicted on the millions of ordinary Americans who were compelled to swallow their fears and face battle as best they could.
Winner of the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for history.
Having proclaimed as a young composer that I would “never write a symphony,” I look with some surprise at the premiere of my second.
My thought then was that there were so many great symphonies in the repertoire that I could satisfy only my ego by writing yet another. Only the death of countless friends from AIDS prompted me to write in our largest orchestral form. Mahler once described writing a symphony as creating a world. My Symphony No. 1 was about world-scale tragedy and, I felt, needed a comparably epic form.
This second symphony has a different genesis. The Boston Symphony contacted my publisher with a request that I write a second symphony to honor the l00th anniversary of their justly famous Symphony Hall. At first I declined, stating my earlier reservations about writing in this form, and offered another kind of orchestral piece, but they were quite insistent.
I started thinking about what I could do that would feel truly symphonic, and my thoughts turned to the String Quartet I composed for the farewell tour of the Cleveland Quartet in 1996.
Two things about the quartet-as-symphony intrigued me. Firstly, the Quartet, like Symphony No. 1, drew from very intense human feelings. The symphony dealt with inadvertent loss: death. The quartet, written as it was as the valedictory piece for the disbanding Cleveland Quartet, dealt with chosen loss: farewell.
Secondly, I knew even as I was composing it that the string writing had acquired a very orchestral quality. Just as Beethoven’s Grossa Fuga stretches quartet playing past its limits, so does my quartet stretch the players’ range, dynamics, emotional energy and technique. And, interestingly, the Beethoven is often played by orchestral strings in the concert hall.
Once I decided that the quartet was indeed ripe for orchestral expansion, I wrestled with how that should best be accomplished. Rescoring it for full orchestra — or even strings and percussion — would certainly expand the piece’s timbrel palette. But wouldn’t that in fact diminish the intensity of the work, even as its dynamic range widened? Part of the intensity of strings derives from their relatively limited (say, compared to brass) dynamic range. Fortissimos must be achieved by intensity, not volume. If even the Grossa Fuga were redone for full orchestra, tension would yield to bombast. So my final choice was to leave the work in the strings, rewriting it when necessary and adding to it when the opportunity arose. And, to come full circle, this also satisfied my reservations about writing another symphony in a repertoire of masterpieces: the string symphony is another animal entirely, and there aren’t many of them.
. . .
The result of this is a work that deals with the string orchestra as a whole body of sound unique in itself, and this transforms the string quartet to symphony and the string section to string orchestra.
Architecturally, the 35-minute work is in five movements that bear a superficial resemblance to the arch-form principles of Bartok’s fourth quartet (movements I and V are related and movements II and IV are related, with III as a central “night music”), but in fact all five movements of the symphony are also united by similar motives and thematic content. Specifically, the symphony is based upon a motto composed of even repetitions of a single tone, and a sequence of disjunct minor thirds. There are also four pitch centers recurring throughout the work: C, C-sharp, G and G-sharp.–John Corigliano
Winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for music.
Repair is body work in C. K. Williams’s sensual poems, but it is also an imaginative treatment of the consternations that interrupt life’s easy narrative. National Book Critics Circle Award-winner Williams keeps the self in repair despite love, death, social disorder, and the secrets that separate and join intimates. These forty poems experiment with form but maintain what Alan Williamson has heralded Williams for having so steadily developed from French influences: “the poetry of the sentence.” –amazon.com
Winner of the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
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In this loving memoir Wayne Johnston returns to Newfoundland – the people, the place, the politics – and illuminates his family’s story . . .
Descendants of the Irish who settled in Ferryland, Lord Baltimore’s Catholic colony in Newfoundland, the Johnstons “went from being sea-fearing farmers to sea-faring fishermen.” Each generation resolves to escape the hardships of life at sea, but their connection to this fantastically beautiful but harsh land is as eternal as the rugged shoreline, and the separations that result between generations may be as inevitable as the winters they endure. Unfulfilled dreams haunt this family history and make Baltimore’s mansion a thrilling and captivating book. –amazon.com
Winner of the 2000 RBC Charles Taylor Prize.
Tracing the movement from its origins in the 1920s to its decline in the 1950s and 1960s, Durozoi tells the history of Surrealism through its activities, publications, and reviews, demonstrating its close ties to some of the most explosive political, as well as creative, debates of the twentieth century. Unlike other histories, which focus mainly on the pre-World War II years of the movement in Paris, Durozoi covers both a wider chronological and geographic range, treating in detail the postwar years and Surrealism’s colonization of Latin America, the United States, Japan, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Italy, and North Africa. Drawing on documentary and visual evidence–including 1,000 photos, many of them in color–he illuminates all the intellectual and artistic aspects of the movement, from literature and philosophy to painting, photography, and film. All the Surrealist stars and their most important works are here–Aragon, Borges, Breton, Buñuel, Cocteau, Crevel, Dalí, Desnos, Ernst, Man Ray, Soupault, and many more–for all of whom Durozoi has provided brief biographical notes in addition to featuring them in the main text.
Winner of the 2003 Robert Motherwell Book Award, sponsored by The Dedalus Foundation.
This major work offers a new interpretation of the witchcraft beliefs of European intellectuals between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, showing how these beliefs fitted rationally with other beliefs of the period and how far the nature of rationality is dependent on its historical context. –amazon.com
Winner of the 1997 Gladstone History Book Prize, sponsored by the Royal Historical Society.
Some 35,000 people were condemned to death in England and Wales between 1770 and 1830, and 7,000 were ultimately executed, the majority convicted of crimes such as burglary, horse theft, or forgery. Mostly poor trades people–weavers, clerks, whipmakers–these terrified men and women would suffer excruciating death before large and excited crowds. Indeed, crowds of three to seven thousand were normal, and for famous cases, the mob could swell to 50,000 or more (100,000 were said to have watched the hanging of murderers Holloway and Haggarty–so great a throng that 30 spectators were crushed to death). What brought people out for such a gruesome spectacle? How did they feel about the deadly justice meted out in their midst? These are some of the questions examined in The hanging tree, a fascinating history of public executions in their awful heyday in England.
Drawing on letters, diaries, ballads, and poignant appeals for mercy, Gatrell vividly recreates the social atmosphere and heated debate swirling about these cruel spectacles. He gives readers an unflinching look at what these executions were really like, paints a colorful portrait of the large crowds who gathered to watch, and describes the part the gallows played in the popular imagination (as reflected in flash ballads, Punch and Judy shows, and broadsides). Gatrell illuminates the debate over public execution that raged in polite society, discussing the commentary of writers such as Boswell, Byron, Thackeray, and Dickens, most of whom deplored the behavior of the crowd more than the inhumanity of the sentence (Macaulay denounced abolitionists as effeminate). And Gatrell also examines the attitudes of the judges, politicians, and monarch who decided who should be reprieved and who should hang (a mortal decision often delivered with the one-sentence formula: “Let the law run its course”). Throughout the book, Gatrell traces how attitudes to death and suffering changed as the century progressed (after 1837, for instance, only murderers were hung, and after 1868, public executions were abolished). Perhaps most surprising, Gatrell reveals that the demise of public hanging owed little to humanitarianism. In part, polite society simply preferred not to look at the ugly machine of justice that subtly served their interests. But ultimately, Gatrell contends, it was the unleashed passions of the scaffold crowd the unsettled the middle class: the crowd mirrored the state’s violence too candidly and gave the lie to middle-class pretensions of civility and humanity.
Panoramic in scope, authoritatively researched, and gripping from beginning to end, The hanging tree radically alters our sense of the past. It is not only a history of emotions, but also an emotional story, invested with the author’s own incredulity and anger over the merciless events he chronicles. Taking up the plight of those who felt the hand of justice at its heaviest, he recaptures the lived experience of people poorly served by their own criminal law.
Winner of the 1994 Whitfield Book Prize, sponsored by The Royal Historical Society.
Brian Greene, one of the world’s leading string theorists, peels away layers of mystery to reveal a universe that consists of eleven dimensions, where the fabric of space tears and repairs itself, and all matter―from the smallest quarks to the most gargantuan supernovas―is generated by the vibrations of microscopically tiny loops of energy. The elegant universe makes some of the most sophisticated concepts ever contemplated accessible and thoroughly entertaining, bringing us closer than ever to understanding how the universe works.
Winner of the 2000 General Prize from the Royal Society Winton Prizes for Science Books.
Middle-class family life in the 1950s brings to mind images of either smugly satisfied or miserably repressed nuclear families composed of breadwinning husbands, children, and housewives. Jessica Weiss delves beneath these mythic images and paints a far more complex picture that reveals strong continuities between the baby boomers and their parents. Combining interviews with American couples from the 1950s to the 1980s with a deft analysis of movies, television shows, magazines, and advice books from each decade, Weiss provides an unprecedented and intimate look at ordinary marriages in a time of sweeping cultural change.
Winner of the 2001 Frances Richardson Keller-Sierra Prize from the Western Association of Women Historians.
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