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The Blog before the Book

With the book now in print, I've closed the blog, which has been superseded by the new and improved chapters based on the original daily entries. Just for a nostalgic look back to the summer of 2020, and a foretaste of the book, you'll still see here a few of my favorite postings, going back to the first entry, on Virginia Woolf.  Enjoy. . .

 

August 14: Judith Schalansky, "Atlas of Remote Islands"

As we’ve seen this week, island-based writers have often drawn connections with islands elsewhere, imaginatively crossing vast differences of time and space. Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands (2009) goes so far as literally to draw an entire atlas of islands, each of them given a short description -- really, a prose poem -- on the facing page. Each entry is headed with a selective timeline and a set of distances to other far-away places, together with a thumbnail hemispheric sketch to show the island’s location. Schalansky meticulously drew each island to the same scale...

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August 3: Songs of the Aztec Nobility

This week, we head northward to Mexico and Guatemala, where indigenous cultures continue to have a major presence. Some nine million people speak one of the many indigenous languages, chiefly Nahuatl or one of twenty-one Mayan languages, often with many Spanish words mixed in. Religiously and culturally as well, Mexico and Guatemala are home to complex interweavings. Thirty years ago, I bought a striking mask in an outdoor market on the edge of Mexico City. It portrays a woman who could be a Hollywood starlet, but for her horns, adorned with ribbons in the colors of the four sacred...

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June 22: The Hebrew Bible

The issues of imperial conquest and colonial rule that we’ve explored in sub-Saharan Africa have deep histories farther north as well. Throughout the past four millennia, the region of Israel/Palestine has seen particularly fraught conflicts between – and among – local populations and a whole series of foreign powers. On my first trip to Jerusalem some years ago, I was taking a taxi to give a lecture up at Hebrew University, when we passed an anomalously vacant lot. When I asked the driver why such a large plot was standing empty, he replied: “Every meter of this land is covered in blood...

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May 11: Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway

After making his round-the-world wager with his friends at the Reform Club, Phileas Fogg strides to his home at 7 Saville Row, several blocks away, to collect some clothes and his newly hired servant Jean Passepartout. Halfway there, he crosses the route that would be taken by Clarissa Dalloway fifty years later (had she, or he, actually existed), on her way to nearby Bond Street to buy flowers for her party that evening. Woolf begins her novel with Clarissa’s meditative stroll, which becomes a kind of hymn to the joys of London:

Such fools we are, she...

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