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Category: LitStack Recs

Category: LitStack Recs

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LitStack Rec: How to Grow Old Disgracefully & Life on Mars

How to Grow Old Disgracefully: An Autobiography, by Hermione Gingold If you’re a fan of classic films, say, Vincente Minnelli’s 1958 musical, Gigi, or classic stagings of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, you already know Hermione Gingold, the earthy actress with the husky voice and wicked sense of irony. Otherwise, Gingold is likely a mystery, […]

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Litstack Recs: Anna May Wong & The Hatred of Poetry

Anna May Wong: From Laundryman’s Daughter to Hollywood Legend, by Graham Russell Gao Hodges Don’t be misled by the tabloid nature of the title. Hodges’ biography is a meticulously researched and carefully constructed account of one of early cinema’s most notable icons. You could be forgiven for not knowing the work of Anna May Wong, […]

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LitStack Rec: Changing My Mind & Hunger Makes the Wolf

Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, by Zadie Smith This collection of essays came about by accident, Zadie Smith tells us in the foreword, but the voice and curiosity behind it makes this read seamless and satisfying. My hope, as a reader of essays, is to learn something, whether the topic is snow camping or religious […]

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LitStack Recs: Crash Course & Ninefox Gambit

Crash Course: essays from where writing and life collide, by Robin Black The third book from short story writer and novelist Robin Black collects her recent essays, many of which first appeared on the great, and sadly erstwhile literary blog, Beyond the Margins. Crash Course, subtitled essays from where writing and life collide, is aptly […]

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LitStack Rec: Barbarian Days & A Taste of Honey

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan William Finnegan’s 2016 memoir begins with an epigraph from Edward St. Aubyn’s novel Mother’s Milk: He had become so caught up in building sentences  that he had almost forgotten  the barbaric days  when thinking was like a splash of colour landing on a page. It’s a fitting […]

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LitStack Rec: Bridge & The Ballad of Black Tom

Bridge, by Robert Thomas “Welcome to the prayer-strewn pews of my brain,” Alice, the narrator of Bridge tells us, and quickly, we understand that this intellectually gifted young woman sees the world, and herself, in unconventional and often dangerous ways. Robert Thomas’s powerful debut novel, published last year by BOA Edition, takes place in fifty-six […]

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LitStack Recs: The Pink Suit & On Memoirs of Place

The Pink Suit, by Nicole Mary Kelby Few garments have come to define a moment in history as the pink Chanel suit that Jackie Kennedy wore on that fateful November day in 1963.  That bright suit and its accompanying pillbox hat immediately conjures up tragedy – and strength. Author Nicole Mary Kelby takes this iconic […]

The Places In-Between, by Rory Stewart

In 2002, Rory Stewart made a walk across Afghanistan from Herat to Kabul. A scholar of Afghan history and language, he was wellgrounded the country’s ancient history, and in the grave first years after 9/11, sought to learn “what [Afghanistan] was like now.”  Part memoir, part political and cultural history, Stewart (currently a MP in Britain’s House of Commons—and famously the youngest elected to date), was fluent in the language, and shape shifting enough in his appearance, to pass as Afghani, or as The Guardian phrased it, “travelling in disguise through places famous for killing infidels.”

Stewart’s journey retraced an ancient trek made at the start of the sixteenth century by Barbur, First Emperor of Mughal India. As Stewart writes, Herat was one of the most civilized cities in the Islamic World, and at age twenty-two, Barbur was the prince of a poor kingdom in Uzbekistan. He set out to conquer Kabul, and subsequently “pressed on east to conquer Delhi and found the Mughal Dynasty.” Though in the process of going by foot over passes buried under ten feet of snow, Barbur nearly dies, an eerily resonant detail for Stewart’s contemporary retracing.

Stewart’s walk took place soon after the Taliban takeover of the country—and the American military invasion. Beyond the obvious personal risk is the uncertainty of travel by foot—weather, sufficient food, water, shelter. In the course of the journey, Stewart is put up in huts, palaces and abandoned castles, fed sumptuous meals and some that are questionable. He’s given aid by warlords and village headmen, though his only constant protection is a walking staff with a metal tip. Early on, he comes into possession of giant Mastiff, and names him Barbur. The dog proves to be protection, but mostly a comfort and a complication—given the animal’s changeable attitude about long-distance walks.

Stewart’s account is part rumination and reflection, as here, as the recent war puts him in mind of a more familiar landscape, as he says defined by acts of violence and death: “Places in the Scottish Highlands are also remembered for acts of violence: the spot where Stewart of Ardvorlich shot a MacDonald raider, or where the MacGregors decapitated Ardvorlich’s brother-in-law. Around my house in Scotland the Gaelic place-names record death: ‘Place of Mourning’ or ‘Field of Weeping.’ But here the events recorded were only months old.

In the end, The Places In-Between is a personal story, a chronicle of a worldly exploration whose effect, in the end, is powerfully intimate.

—Lauren Alwan

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LitStack Rec: Out of Place & Dead Lands

Out of Place: A Memoir, by Edward Said Edward Said, the prolific author, political activist, pianist, and critic rose to academic stardom in 1978 with the publication of the seminal Orientalism, a critique of the cultural bias that founded Western study of the East. Said, who died in 2003 after battling a rare form of […]