Category General Nonfiction

Wild With Desire: Eleanor Bass’s “Yours Always: Letters of Longing”

I’ve been luxuriating, which is to say, “reading slowly,” through a lovely book of letters on the subject of “longing.” The type that one human being has for another, sometimes reciprocated and sometimes, tragically, not. The editor, Eleanor Bass, an academic from King’s College London, has compiled quite the lineup of literary and cultural all-stars here, most of them at their abject, somewhat-miserable-and-desperate but florid selves, with which anyone who has ever hurtled over a cliff of wild desire for another’s acknowledgement, presence, breath, word, smell, arched eyebrow, anything, can surely sympathize.

Charlotte Bronte, Winston Churchill, Henry the VIII, Franz Kafka, Ernest Hemingway, Edith Piaf, Graham Greene, Marie Curie—all here, plus quite a few more. That includes Richard Burton writing to that woman Liz who so tormented him, then her writing back, joining all the others who...

Read More

A Happy Belated Birthday to Henry David Thoreau

We’re not always up to speed at Traversing. We prefer to slow down our thinking, turning it more toward mulling, pondering, even a dollop or two of old-fashioned cogitating. Sometimes this slowness means we miss observances and even parties (drats!), like the ones that were held in various locales to celebrate Henry David Thoreau’s 200th birthday last July. But when we do miss folks’ big days, we always try to send a cheery “Happy Belated!” card to acknowledge our oversight and wish them godspeed.

So Henry, this card is for you. And given your towering presence in the literary and even spiritual life of our nation, I will go beyond the usual birthday niceties here to include an honest, but I think ultimately compassionate view of our relationship, your life, and the spirits that moved you in the brief time, a mere 44 years, that you walked—and walked and walked—upon this earth.

***

Let’s sta...

Read More

“Are You Somebody?” Lamentations of An Irish Woman Memoirist

How does one write gorgeous, lyrical, haunting prose about topics that reach to the very depths of human sadness?

About the deep grinding poverty of mid-20th century Ireland, land of no birth control and females as baby-producing machines.

About loss and longing, the physical and emotional battering of children, the abuse and oppression of women, the ache of adult loneliness, the vacancy of wanton sex, the invisibility wrought by old age.

About the alcohol and drugs to which so many victims of the above desperately flee.

And about the lifelong search for love, identity and self-acceptance that proves so elusive in the wake of so much tragedy.

You do it how Irish writer Nuala O’Faolain did it in her surprise bestseller, “Are You Somebody? The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman.” With wrenching, sometimes brutal honesty that takes acute measure of all things human and leaves nothing outside the ...

Read More

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”: A Meditation

Every person, country, and culture carries a wound. For all its wonder and joys-a-waiting, life leaves virtually everyone bruised and torn by some deep hurt, some natural catastrophe, personal betrayal, shattered dream or misguided intention that leave us chastened, sobered, aware not only of our intense vulnerability to being hurt, but also our own capacity to fail others and cause pain in return.

We are born into a broken world, a stark fact that every religion this side of the most happy-talking prosperity gospel has affirmed throughout history.

America’s deep, still festering wound is slavery and the institutionalized, abiding racism and oppression it has left in its wake. Slavery was so monstrous, its premises and practices so inimical to our stated beliefs that “all (people) are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights,” so contrary to our goal of paving the wa...

Read More

12 Enduring Takeaways From J.M. Barrie’s “Courage”

We are fresh off graduation season and its urgent exhortations for young men and women to sally forth and boldly make their mark in the world. Just over ninety-five years ago, the writer J.M. Barrie, yet to produce his enduring masterpiece “Peter Pan,” sounded some of the same notes but went most all of today’s grad speakers quite a bit better in his inaugural address upon being named rector at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland.

As a speech, “Courage” clocked in at a longish (for these days) one hour-plus, but by virtue of its text being shared and then bound into book form, it has been provided to us as a quickie half-hour or so read, available free here on the Internet. Among its many virtues is this, I will surmise: Once you read it, I doubt you will ever think about courage in quite the same light again.

He states his reason for reflecting on it forthrightly enough:

“You must excuse me ...

Read More