What do you do when you finish a book of extraordinary writing—writing that’s unlike anything you’ve read before? Writing that’s caught you up and not turned you loose. Writing that informs, but is beautiful. Writing that leaves you breathless, but not wanting for air, rather wanting for more writing…writing of the kind you’re swimming in at the moment.
A normal person would, I suppose (and I have to suppose what it is normal people do…ever…under any circumstance), rush out and tell his friends, tell anyone who’ll hold still, shout it to the world. I’m doing that, of course, but being me, I’m also facing a dilemma: where do I house such a singular title in the bookcases of my own library? An Elemetal Thing is
unlike anything I’ve read. I have no place to house
it—on my shelves or in my thinking. To call it a book of essays just doesn’t seem right or do it justice; it might be off-putting to those for whom essays aren’t the order of the day. Then again, to call them prose poems
doesn’t seem right either, although they’re surely poetic and wondrous. I should also mention that Weinberger is an acclaimed translator of Octavio Paz, Jorge Luis Borges and other South American authors, as well as being an acclaimed poet himself and winner the National Book Critics Award for criticism. He is a writer readers should know.
I suspect I’ll end up dedicating part of a shelf to the handful of volumes of prose poetry I own and part of the same shelf to the works of Weinberger that I own or expect to own—creating a skimpy-looking shelf in an otherwise crowded library of fiction, poetry, and lit crit. I’m whining and I’ll stop.
The entries in this book takes the reader to China and India, to Papua, New Guinea and the Nazca Desert of Peru. They provide the history of the first, second, third, fourth, etc., rhinoceros to arrive in Europe and the fates that befell them. They offer a dizzying history of the vortex in philosophical and scientific thought—as dizzying as Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelström.” (Did you know the caduceus is part of that history? The DNA double helix?) Would you have imagined that all the star myths could be condensed into a brief six pages, and would you expect a phrase like, "thier infinitude propels us to count them?" Included is the story of Muhammad and other myths, as well as an inclusive bibliography that informs this volume.
I found this title by sheer good luck and following the reviews of Stephen (above) whose review says it best: “Astonishing, just astonishing.”
This is likely the last book I’ll finish this year—a perfect one. Having met my goal of 60, this volume has been the culmination of some very, very good reading.