An Earthly Cosmology
Pantheon: 310 pp., $26.95
David Abram's first book, "The Spell of the Sensuous," was one of those rare, mind-altering books (an Aldous Huxley or Hermann Hesse on the literary Richter scale — and don't you dare say those books are for kids). It is a book that makes you think hard about language, how we use it and where it first came from (sounds and movements in the natural world), not to mention the magic that can happen when it actually works. "Becoming Animal" is, in many ways, a sequel, an exploration of how cutting the roots, the tentacles of meaning that first tied us to nature and to our own wild natures has paved the way to self-destruction. We are animals, big animals with a deep, nurturing and necessary relationship to the Earth. Ignoring that relationship allows us to destroy the planet, yes, but it also isolates us from the mysterious, the awe-inspiring, the elevating beauty that sustains our imaginations and our spirits. Abram's prose is lighted from within, happy, solid and clear. It's fun to read and helps the reader remember his or her place in the larger, luminous world.
Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English
Little, Brown: 368 pp., $23.99
How to be British: the clothes, the manners, the locution, the tea. Jack and Sadie Rosenblum flee Berlin at the beginning of World War II, in 1937, and arrive in a London full of refugees. Jack is determined to assimilate: "Jack had said the word so often to himself, that he heard it as a hiss and a shibboleth. He was tired of being different; he did not want to be doomed like the Wandering Jew to walk endlessly from place to place, belonging nowhere." But assimilation has its discontents; to the British police, no matter how hard he tries, Jack is little more than "a class B enemy alien" The most he can hope for (in order to go home to Sadie and his baby daughter in Dorset) is "'class C' (loyalty to the British cause not in question." Always, there is the life before, in Germany, and the life after, in London; recipe books and prayer books and a few small mementos from home. "Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English" is written in a deceptively jaunty tone, one that covers but does not erase the fear of eternal wandering. Home, in the end, takes the form of that most organic, simple, beautiful of British contributions: the cottage in the village (preferably in Dorset), complete with flower garden, gate and outdoor places to rest.
A True Story About a Boy, a Mom, and a Very, Very Bad Beagle
Adams Media: 256 pp., $19.95
Paula Munier, recently divorced, writes that they didn't need a dog, but in the end, of course, they did. Munier's 12-year-old son, Mikey, was sick of moving; his father had just moved out, and only a puppy would make their new house in Massachusetts feel like a home. Enter Freddie, a 6-month-old beagle, 50% off and already housetrained. "New job, new house, new puppy," Munier thinks. "I had this single mom thing down." Then follows, as you well know, blow after blow to Munier's efforts to create a stable home for her son and a new life for herself, a plotline so true, so scientifically replicable that it makes a story about a bad dog who helps create a new family from the fragments of an old family seem unusual. Fixing Freddie, of course, is just a metaphor. Munier's ability to pick it up, try again, clean up the kitchen, be hopeful in a new relationship is only the back story. Mikey's relationship with Freddie is the uplifting part, the survival tale, complete with heroes and demons and new lands, new fears to be vanquished.
Salter Reynolds is a writer in Los Angeles.