12 Booklist October 1, 2015 www.booklistreader.com
significant wit. Read a poem once and take
in its crisp rhythms, subtle rhymes, and arresting images. Read it again and detect its
hide-and-seek metaphors and meanings. A
two-term U.S. poet laureate, a Pulitzer Prize
winner, and a MacArthur fellow, Ryan follows her new and selected collection, The
Best of It (2010), with a pithy and substantial
eighth book. Nature is an inspiration; tribute is paid to Thelonious Monk, whose spare
poetic music correlates so gracefully with her
concise lyricism, while out of the tactile—an
arrowhead sharpened with a rock, a hammer
striking a bottle containing a ship—spark
sharp, startling insights. Physical marvels,
from fizz to the trajectory of a baseball in
flight and the passage of a ship across the
sea, fascinate Ryan, whose quantum poems
pose resonant questions of physics and metaphysics, of attentiveness and caring on scales
intimate and universal. —Donna Seaman
Syllabus of Errors.
By Troy Jollimore.
Oct. 2015. 112p. Princeton, $35 (9780691167589). 811.
Despite sharing its title with Pope Pius IX’s
infamous 1864 anathema of modernity, Jollimore’s (At Lake Scugog, 2011) third collection
isn’t concerned with moral mistakes but with
creaturely appetites. Not that the latter can’t
arouse regret as surely as errors do. In “On
Beauty,” Jollimore notes the hypothesis “that
beauty’s roots lie buried in the sexual,” that
“desire is constitutional,” and so “we are fixed
to perpetrate the species”—“I meant
perpetuate,” he quickly rectifies, but continues, “as
if our duty / were coupled with our terror. /
As if beauty itself were a syllabus of errors.”
Besides regret, appetites bring on anxiety. In
“Ars Poetica,” Jollimore flounders in the very
activity that fulfills him: “I never found out
what the songs had intended / to promise
me. I only know / that I never received it.”
Jollimore is unfailingly witty (heck, laugh-out-loud funny), genuinely philosophical (he
teaches it, after all), and formally adept as he
celebrates and rues a gamut of delights, from
birds to broken hearts to—in the longish
“Vertigo,” also about the Hitchcock classic—
memories. —Ray Olson
Geography & Travel
The Best American Travel Writing, 2015.
Ed. by Andrew McCarthy.
Oct. 2015. 384p. Houghton/Mariner, paper, $14.95
“Best”? In this case, you bet. These essays
The Box Wine Sailors: Misadventures of
were, according to the protocol that has ex-
isted for years, gathered from periodicals
that appeared over the past year. The final
selection for inclusion in this latest volume
in the estimable series rested in the hands
of actor-traveler Andrew McCarthy, whose
introduction to the volume is a wonderfully
perceptive and articulate piece of writing it-
self. His basic guiding principle for deciding
on what essays to include is this: “Tell me
a story, don’t sell me a destination.” What
follows is a marvelously entertaining and edi-
fying group of travel pieces that do just that.
Highlights? One of the gems-among-gems is
Patricia Marx’s “A Tale of a Tub,” from the
New Yorker. At first, she thought “What
could be more restorative than to voyage
across the Atlantic aboard a merchant vessel?”
Results were mixed, resulting in a laugh-out-
loud piece. “Behind Closed Doors at Hotels,”
by Gary Shteyngart, from Travel & Leisure,
is a greatly amusing essay on the sounds that
can be heard from the neighboring rooms in
one’s hotel. —Brad Hooper
a Broke Young Couple at Sea.
By Amy McCullough.
Nov. 2015. 266p. Academy Chicago, paper, $16.95
Amy and Jimmie were so much in love
that they wanted to spend every waking
minute together. Every. Waking. Minute.
So they did what any overly smitten young
couple would do: quit their jobs, sold all
their possessions, bought a barely seaworthy
27-foot boat, and set off to sail the Pacific,
from Portland, Oregon, to La Paz, Bolivia.
They had little sailing experience, but, armed
with a couple of books, some sorta-up-to-date charts, and a few You Tube videos, they
figured they were up to the task. With the
awesomeness of their love and some early
successes under their belts, they blithely
charged onward. Then winter storms came,
treacherous waters threatened, whales zeroed in, and their meager supplies ran low.
Think Wild at sea. Yet McCullough’s bright,
bouncy, sea-breezy voice reinforces the notion that two people in love pitted against
nature’s might can actually be a force to be
reckoned with. —Carol Haggas
Crossing the Plains with Bruno.
By Annick Smith.
Nov. 2015. 224p. Trinity Univ., paper, $17.95
(9781595346698); e-book, $17.95 (9781595346704).
Writer and filmmaker Smith traces jour-
Pardon My French: How a Grumpy
neys within journeys as she chronicles a
cross-country drive with Bruno, her affec-
tionate chocolate Labrador retriever, from
her home in Montana to Chicago, where
she grew up, the daughter of Jewish Hun-
garian immigrants. She is traveling to visit
her 97-year-old mother and to take her to
the family’s Lake Michigan beach house.
Smith’s trip drums up memories and mus-
ings, which she shares in a warm, vivid,
and evocative narrative as mesmerizing as
the two-lane highways she navigates. Stops
along the way trigger fascinating looks into
the lives of Native Americans, Jewish and
women homesteaders, and other western
writers. Smith follows the paths of her par-
ents, Helene and Stephen Deutch, who met
in Paris, where Smith was born, and came
to Chicago, where their artistic pursuits led
to close friendships with Nelson Algren and
Studs Terkel. While traveling back through
her own full and adventurous life, Smith
reflects with wit and wisdom on family and
place, the “complexities of suffering,” and
the infinite varieties of joy, including the
open road and a good dog’s sweet company.
American Fell in Love with France.
By Allen Johnson.
Oct. 2015. 352p. illus. Skyhorse/Yucca, $24.99
(9781631580642); e-book (9781631580789). 914.44.
Yes. To become a world-class traveler, Johnson believes one must always say yes. He
follows his own credo well in this entertaining and enlightening travel memoir. After a
stint in France in 1971 to learn the language,
Johnson and his wife return decades later for
a one-year stay. Although hampered from
the get-go in his efforts to find an apartment
by the heavy-handed bureaucracy, and still
struggling with the language despite much
study, Johnson enthusiastically plunges
into a variety of classes to learn more about
France and, especially, the French. He is
neither unreservedly rapturous nor unduly
disheartened by the cultural divide, which
includes a less-than-helpful attitude about
customer service and a downright dangerous
approach to driving. Instead, he goes beyond
merely noting his experiences to exploring
the causes of cultural traditions, primarily by
quizzing his French friends. It is this open-ness and curiosity, along with the author’s
infectious humor, that makes Pardon My
French both entertaining and enlightening.
The Armenian Genocide: The Essential
Ed. by Alan Whitehorn.
2015. 425p. illus. ABC-CLIO, $89 (9781610696876).
A masterwork surveying the first genocide
of the twentieth century, this account provides
140 detailed A–Z entries on the causes, perpetrators, and outcomes for Middle Eastern and
world history. Thorough coverage begins with
ancient Armenia and incorporates the beginnings of the Ottoman Empire, encompassing
missionaries, labor battalions, and Red Crescent physicians alongside the orchestrators of
mass death. An 11-page time line identifies
Armenia as the world’s first Christian state,
in 301 CE, and continues through the grisly
events of 1915 to the country’s independence
with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, in
1991. References to recent sources guide the
researcher to more specifics (e.g., war crimes,
rape, propaganda, denial, and U.S. and British witnesses).
Four maps give graphic evidence of the
shrinkage of Armenia’s borders from 70
BCE to the present, declining Ottoman influence around the Mediterranean, and the