February 1, 2017 Booklist 11 www.booklistonline.com
with tidbits about the origin of certain words,
foods, and practices in Switzerland, as well as
a history of the school itself, this is a short
collection of literary essays that coalesce into a
life experience. Gorham mixes arresting prose
and interesting interjections about her years
of coming-of-age, which haunt and shape her
still today. —Stacy Shaw
Animals Strike Curious Poses.
By Elena Passarello.
Feb. 2017. 200p. Sarabande, $19.95 (9781941411391). 814.
This phenomenal collection of essays documents the lives of particular animals from
a wide range of species, following a structure similar to Passarello’s previous Let Me
Clear My Throat (2012), which explores the
human voice through individual recording artists.
This contemporary bestiary reaches back to Yuka,
a mammoth frozen in ice
for nearly 40,000 years,
and up to the infamous
case of Cecil the lion,
murdered by an American
dentist. Passarello treats her subjects with
dexterous care, weaving narratives together
in a way that investigates, honors, and complicates her subjects. One essay chronicles
the life of Harriet, a 176-year-old tortoise,
purportedly collected by Charles Darwin
himself and celebrated at her final home in
Australia by excitable naturalist Steve Irwin.
Another traces the peculiar influence of Albrecht Dürer’s fanciful woodcut of the then
little-known rhinoceros, which circulated
widely at a time “when half the world was
built on hearsay.” An especially harrowing
entry on Jumbo II catalogs the long tradition of pachyderm exploitation and abuse in
American circuses. A lighter entry consists of
a joke composed entirely of words used by
Koko the gorilla, who understands sign language. Passarello has created a consistently
original, thoroughly researched, altogether
fascinating compendium. —Diego Báez
Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the
End of the World.
By Nell Stevens.
Mar. 2017. 256p. Doubleday, $25.95 (9780385541558);
e-book (9780385541565). 818.
This mostly memoir grapples with the
The Girl from Metropol Hotel: Growing
messy, uncomfortable space where untested
ideas meet reality. Stevens receives a three-
month fellowship to write anywhere in the
world, and she chooses Bleaker Island in the
Falklands, in the South Atlantic, with the
idea that an isolated, distraction-free environ-
ment will morph her into a focused writer.
In reality, with only wind and penguins for
company, she devolves into anxiety, defined
by raisin counting and decreased productiv-
ity. Stevens decides her novel is a failure, yet
she presents readers with a book that suc-
ceeds. Bleaker House is a chapter-by-chapter
mix of travelogue, fiction, and personal essay,
and all of these elements interact in satisfy-
ing ways. Knowing about the workshops and
life events that shape her tales makes reading
them even more compelling. Comparisons to
Cheryl Strayed’s Wild (2012) are inevitable,
as both books present women on solitary
journeys that test their physical endurance,
and from which they emerge transformed as
people and writers. Stevens does not dive as
guts deep as Strayed, but like so many before,
she travels around the world to locate herself.
up in Communist Russia.
By Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. Tr. by Anna
Feb. 2017. 176p. Penguin, paper, $16 (9780143129974).
In times of extreme deprivation, the
small symbols of normalcy we hold close to
ourselves give us the strength to carry on. Petrushevskaya (There Once Lived a Mother Who
Loved Her Children until They Moved Back In,
2014) drives home this point eloquently in
her moving memoir. The daughter of Russian
intelligentsia, she was forced to flee with her
family from Moscow’s elite Metropol Hotel to
distant Kuibyshev in a cattle car as the storm
clouds of WWII grew ever darker. Foraging
in trash for cabbage leaves to make soup and
skipping school because she had no shoes, Petrushevskaya still longed for a doll she could
call her own, an object that could tether her
to some sense of comfort amid all the starkness. Through such fragmented episodes,
Petrushevskaya succeeds in showing just how
off-the-bell-curve her extraordinary life has
been. That she grew up to be a gifted writer,
learning to read from newspapers left in the
trash, is proof that the brightest, most fiery
diamonds are forged under extreme pressure.
YA: The history of Stalinist Russia is made
real through the eyes of one intrepid young
girl. YAs will cheer Petrushevskaya on and
appreciate her indomitable spirit. PA.
Juliet’s Answer: One Man’s Search for
Love and the Elusive Cure for Heartbreak.
By Glenn Dixon.
Feb. 2017. 352p. Gallery, paper, $16 (9781501141850).
Every year, the Club di Giulietta (“Juliet’s
The Vonnegut Encyclopedia. Rev. ed.
Secretaries”) in Verona, Italy, receives more
than 10,000 letters addressed to Shake-
speare’s Juliet, asking for advice on love.
Dixon, a Canadian high-school English
teacher, is suffering from his own case of un-
requited love and decides to travel to Verona
and volunteer to help answer those letters.
He and his fellow “secretaries” take each
letter seriously, and the excerpts he shares
are often tinged with angst and despair. As
Dixon struggles to find just the right advice,
he muses over the ways of love, recalls his
students’ reactions to Romeo and Juliet, and
remembers his own youthful experiences. He
slowly shares the story of one woman he has
loved for 20 years, who sees him as her best
friend, and another woman who begins as a
friend and becomes an important part of his
life in Verona. Intermingled with the letters
and thoughts on love are Dixon’s explora-
tions of the town and Shakespeare’s play.
This romantic, touching memoir is a charm-
er. A book discussion guide and walking tour
of Verona are included. —Candace Smith
YA: Teens studying the play might be
enchanted by Dixon’s experiences. CS.
By Marc Leed.
2016. 758p. Delacorte, $40 (9780385344234). 813.
Geography & Travel
Leeds, longtime friend of Kurt Vonnegut
and founding president of the Kurt Vonne-
gut Society, offers us a revised and expanded
version of his 1995 compendium. This engag-
ing new edition includes everything from the
earlier work plus all of
Vonnegut’s more recent
material. As in the ear-
lier edition, Leeds makes
generous use of original
quotations from Vonne-
gut’s work, accompanied
by his own detailed,
and very well informed,
italicized commentary. A major departure
from the arrangement of the previous edi-
tion is that line citations are now replaced by
chapter citations. Therefore, this new publica-
tion will be of utility to all Vonnegut readers
regardless of the edition, or format, of the
Vonnegut work they use. Vonnegut enthusi-
asts will be delighted with Leeds’ exhaustive,
almost obsessive, treatment of the characters,
places, events, and tantalizingly mysterious
references for which Vonnegut’s five-decade
writing career is celebrated. In addition, Leeds
gives us a very comprehensive system of cross-
indexing. We learn, for example, that Henry
Kissinger is on the passenger-cruise list in Ga-
lápagos (1985), then reappears as one of the
caravan revelers in Hocus Pocus (1990). The
only caveat—one likely to concern only the
most serious Vonnegut scholars—is that cov-
erage is restricted to writings that Vonnegut
personally approved for publication. There-
fore, it does not include the many Vonnegut
open drafts and refused manuscripts that are
now available to researchers. Otherwise, this
is a wonderful and beautifully designed refer-
ence source. —Art Lichtenstein
Interpreting Our World: 100 Discoveries
That Revolutionized Geography.
By Joseph J. Kerski.
2016. 386p. illus. ABC-CLIO, $89 (9781610699198);
e-book (9781610699204). 910.9.
Geography encompasses studying human and natural systems, including their
interactions, holistically. Hence, limiting
revolutionary discoveries to only 100 will inevitably lead to errors of omission—especially
as geography touches our lives daily, such as