Baum on Books

“More than any other food, cheese has personality,” writes Liz Thorpe in her gorgeous, yummy, almost overwhelming treatise, The Book of Cheese: The Essential Guide to Discovering Cheeses You’ll Love. “Punk cheeses, boring cheeses, comfort cheeses” and her own favorites, based on flavor, texture, scent and surprise, but Thorpe urges everyone to follow his or her own nose and taste buds. Her theme is: take a chance, discover something new.

There’s an old proverb popularized by Mel Brooks that sums up “Fractured Continent,” William Drozdiak’s fine, eminently readable analysis of European politics that made The New York Times Most Notable 100 Books list for 2017.

Walter Isaacson begins his chapter on the world’s most famous painting this way: “And now, the Mona Lisa.” We’re near the end of this handsome, hefty, magnificent exploration into the life, work and times of, arguably, the world’s greatest genius. Throughout, Isaacson invokes two of his previous subjects, Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein, but declares rightly that the eloquent polymath Leonardo da Vinci was unique and in ways that matter particularly today in our fragmenting world.   

Sadly, presciently, civil rights attorney Lewis Steel wrote the following words in his autobiography, The Butler’s Child, which came out last year: “The hard truth today is that in all the years since Brown and notwithstanding all the other state and federal laws written to promote equal rights that have been passed since the Civil War, racism remains a grave problem in the United States.” That’s Brown, as in Brown v. Board of Education, the unanimous 1954 landmark Supreme Court case that ruled segregated public schools were unconstitutional.

It’s a forceful and confident title that Jill Bialosky gives her unusual memoir, Poetry Will Save Your Life. She writes “will” not “can” or “may.” I’m not so sure, nor am I convinced that a favorite book wouldn’t do, or music, with its purported power to soothe the savage breast. Because it’s longer and without meter or rhythm, however, a novel is not as likely as a poem to prompt immediate reaction. In any case, there’s no denying that poetry as consolation, if not salvation, worked for Bialosky and her hope is that it will work for her readers.

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