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This review is from: Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography (Hardcover)
"Darling" was the first book I ever pre-ordered. When it finally arrived I devoured it immediately. I have an appetite these days particularly for non-fiction essays by what are sometimes called "public intellectuals," but of the kind who represent themselves whole in their writing as people of feeling, people interested in where they (and we) come from and where we may be going. In a fractionalized world I value integrated representations by integrated people. And I am drawn to those who are particularly good, incisive writers. Thus
are on my list of favorites. But for particularly American perspectives, since I am American (North American, I should specify, nod to Mr. Galeano), some are even more valued:
William Irwin Thompson
It may be that Solnit's best work ever is the first thing I read of hers, "River of Shadows," an award-winning meditation on Edweard Muybridge, historical California, technological innovation in the 19th century and what, as a result, we have become. Moreover, it may be that Thompson's major writings are behind him, since I haven't read much of substance from him lately, even though I make periiodic pilgrimages to his shared website, Wild River Review.
But of Rodriguez, "Darling" is here, and may be his best collection ever. I've read his wonderfully crafted, often elegaic essays ever since "Hunger of Memory," and have waited for the next collection to appear, then the next. Human nature being what it is, my expectations have constantly risen, but so have his resources as an intellect and writer. This latest isn't primarily about being gay in America, in spite of the title essay: it is full of variety, though more about the author's visit to the source of the world's "desert religions," Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, and the researches they inspired, than anything else. As a topic they weren't high on my list for interest--nor the religions' recent abuses by terrorists or fundamentalists, never mind atheists--but Rodriguez more than held my attention throughout. This is essay writing carried to the highest level of art, but without the stuffy sound of that term, if that's what it has for you. He is never ponderous, always engaging. He collages more than he used to, bits and pieces of historical or topical writing, jumps back and forth from past to present, turns on a dime from universal to personal, and allows full range to his erudition, which is considerable. (Easily exceeding my own. Every essay contained words I had to look up, suggesting that he wasn't interested any longer in a common-denominator readership, if ever he had been.) He is also occasionally snarky and wry. Essays on Cesar Chavez, the lingering death of a friend in Las Vegas, and one of rhapsodic historical and cultural divagations on the color brown--maybe further ruminations after his book of that name--populate this slim but rich volume.
It has been 11 years since Rodriguez' last collection was published. Perhaps that is testament to the fact that, even from the highly gifted, writing that aspires to be both substantive and dazzlingly well-written is slow work. The quality shows, though, and it has been worth the wait.
Rodriguez is a national treasure. I am only sorry that this latest lies behind me, not before. But the living affirmation he represents for our culture--our truly international culture, as he reminds us--will be solace for months.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 19, 2013 8:30:24 PM PDT
Adam Donovan says:
What an eloquent and elegant appreciation of Rodriguez. I have to read this book on the strength of this review alone. Thank you.
Posted on Dec 25, 2013 10:11:53 AM PST
One correction: William Irwin Thompson does in fact have a recent publication, from 2013: "Beyond Religion." In paperback, even.
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