Books and Arts
An Equal Music by Vikram Seth (Broadway Books, 381 pp., $25) The poet Ronsard once began a poem by saying that in sixteenth-century France writers were running about in their abundance like ants. Not all of them, he hastened to add, were any good. On March 22, the Delhi magazine Outlook said the same of teeming India.
The Returns of Odysseus: Colonization and Ethnicity by Irad Malkin (University of California Press, 331 pp., $45) Celebrating Homer's Landscapes: Troy and Ithaca Revisited by J.V. Luce (Yale University Press, 260 pp., $35) For the modern traveler, Greece and its environs seem surprisingly small, a sea-girt checkerboard most often first glimpsed from the air. Most of the Aegean islands are on nodding terms with each other.
I. Marcel Proust by Edmund White (Lipper/Viking, 165 pp., $19.95) Scarcely halfway between L'Etoile and Place de la Concorde, across from the Grand Palais on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, lies a row of landscaped parks dotted with trees and chestnut alleys through which runs a very tiny, winding path called Allee Marcel Proust.
I. Madeleine Albright: A Twentieth-Century Odyssey by Michael Dobbs (Henry Holt, 466 pp., $27.50) Down from the heavens he came a decade ago this month, descending by helicopter onto the Field of Blackbirds in Kosovo to deliver a speech that still reads as a paradigm of nationalist madness. About a million Serbs gathered that day to hear Slobodan Milosevic.
The massacre at Columbine High School in April brought a flood of agonized responses. The whole country was sickened--yet again--by teenage mayhem, which didn't end with Columbine High. Causes for these horrors are being sought, and high among the suspected causes is the abhorrent film and TV violence now gorged on by teenagers. It is certainly hard to believe that so much slavering murder on large and small screens is not affecting adolescent fantasies. But I have been worried by the broom-sweep in some of the comment.
Step into room 316 of the 42nd Street library any day of the week and you will find a dozen or more people slowly making their way through "Nabokov Under Glass," a salute to the writer, who was born 100 years ago, on April 23, 1899. Nabokov enthusiasts are a varied lot--including the young and the old, the straitlaced and the very casually dressed--but I expect that they are all mesmerized, as I am, by a show of rare books and manuscripts that makes them laugh out loud.
The Stakeholder Society By Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott(Yale University Press, 296 pp., $26) Of the new deal's many programs, Social Security may be the most impressive achievement. Its impact has been enormous, greatly reducing the problem of poverty among the elderly. At the same time, it has become a large-scale symbol, an institution, even a sacred cow. Three of President Roosevelt's masterstrokes guaranteed this result.
Later Auden By Edward Mendelson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 570 pp., $30) W.H.
For two decades now, the Pritzker Prize has mirrored the best and the worst in contemporary architecture. For many observers of the arts, indeed, the very idea of such a prize is deeply problematic. Applying competitive standards to creative efforts is at best irrelevant and at worst destructive, prompting feelings of superiority, envy, and inadequacy among artists already prone to such low and distracting emotions.