The Vocabula Review

A society is generally as lax as its language.




The Bookshelf


On these pages, we will, over time, include all the books that we recommend in "On the Bookshelf," a monthly feature of The Vocabula Review.



April 2000: Language & Silence: Essays on Language, Literature, & the Inhuman
by George Steiner

Language & Silence: Essays on Language, Literature, & the Inhuman

Synopsis
How do we evaluate the power and utility of language when it has been manipulated to circumvent the truth at high levels or charged with vulgarity and imprecision by mass-consumer culture? How can fractured language adapt to the demands of more exact speech required by mathematics and symbolic notation? These are some of the questions addressed in this elegantly written book, first published in 1967 to international acclaim. — From the publisher

May 2000: The Death of Virgil
by Hermann Broch

The Death of Virgil

Synopsis
It is the reign of the Emperor Augustus, and Publius Vergilius Maro, the poet of the Aeneid and Caesar's enchanter, has been summoned to the palace, where he will shortly die. Out of the last hours of Virgil's life and the final stirrings of his consciousness, the Austrian writer Hermann Broch fashioned one of the great works of 20th-century modernism, a book that embraces an entire world and renders it with an immediacy that is at once sensual and profound. Begun while Broch was imprisoned in a German concentration camp, The Death of Virgil is part historical novel and part prose poem — and always an intensely musical and immensely evocative meditation on the relation between life and death, the ancient and the modern. — From the publisher

June 2000: Figures of Speech — 60 Ways to Turn a Phrase
by Arthur Quinn

Figures of Speech

Synopsis
Quinn has managed to do what I would have thought impossible: turned a discussion of dozens of rhetorical figures — hyperbation, hendiadys, isocolon — into a book that is both a delight to read and a living refutation of most current rules of style. Offering examples that range from the Bible through Shakespeare and James Joyce to Joe Jacobs, he quietly and wittily demonstrates that — but why should I, by giving away his show, commit hysteron-protoron? — Wayne Booth, George M. Pullman Professor of English at the University of Chicago

July 2000: Zuleika Dobson
by Max Beerbohm

Zuleika Dobson

Synopsis
"Zuleika Dobson is a highly accomplished and superbly written book whose spirit is farcical," said E. M. Forster. "It is a great work — the most consistent achievement of fantasy in our time ... so funny and charming, so iridescent yet so profound." Originally published in 1911, Max Beerbohm's sparklingly wicked satire concerns the unlikely events that occur when a femme fatale briefly enters the supremely privileged, all-male domain of Judas College, Oxford. A conjurer by profession, Zuleika Dobson can only love a man who is impervious to her considerable charms: a circumstance that proves fatal, as any number of love-smitten suitors are driven to suicide by the damsel's rejection. — From the publisher

August 2000: Alms for Oblivion
by Edward Dahlberg

Alms for Oblivion

Synopsis
Of Alms for Oblivion, Sir Herbert Read writes, "His portraits of Dreiser, Anderson, and Ford Madox Ford tell us more about these authors, as authors, than a whole library of exegesis. Even the glimpse of Allen Tate's 'wry, Poesque face flensed by some teleological anguish,' tells us more about Tate's genius than the preceding references to his works. He does not write many words about Edmund Wilson or William Carlos Williams, but those words bite deeply and are indelible." And R. Baird Shuman, in South Atlantic Quarterly, says "His perceptions are generally brilliant, cogent and refreshingly original, and his use of language as well as his mastery of English sentence structure make the book worth reading as an example of superlative style if nothing else." — From the publisher

September 2000: Doctor Faustus
by Thomas Mann

Doctor Faustus

Synopsis
Thomas Mann's last great novel, first published in 1947, is a modern reworking of the Faust legend, in which Germany sells its soul to the Devil. Mann's protagonist, the composer Adrian Leverkühn, is the flower of German culture, a brilliant, isolated, overreaching figure, his radical new music a breakneck game played by art at the very edge of impossibility. In return for twenty-four years of unparalleled musical accomplishment, he bargains away his soul — and the ability to love his fellow man. Leverkühn's life story is a brilliant allegory of the rise of the Third Reich, of Germany's renunciation of its own humanity and its embrace of ambition and nihilism. It is also Mann's most profound meditation on the German genius — both national and individual — and the terrible responsibilities of the truly great artist. — From the publisher

October 2000: Style
by F. L. Lucas

Style

Synopsis
What is style? How is good style determined? What is the role of style in good writing? F. L. Lucas answers these questions and many more in this witty, urbane, and highly informative book. His own style makes his trenchant observations on the art of good prose a reading experience as enjoyable as it is instructive. Numerous quotations from modern and classical literature provide effective counterpoint to the author's theses. As an anthology of good writing and as a study of its essentials, this delightful book will give both the casual reader and the serious writer a new appreciation of the values of English prose style. — From the publisher

November 2000: Between the Acts
by Virginia Woolf

Between the Acts

Synopsis
The author's last novel, written during the early years of World War II, was completed just before her death. The action takes place on a single summer's day at a country house, Pointz Hall, in the heart of England. In the garden the villagers are presenting their annual pageant — on this occasion scenes from English history up to and including "ourselves," the audience, in June 1939. During the interludes the inhabitants of Pointz Hall, the Olivers, their guests, and the villagers have tea, stroll, and talk. There is an intense interplay among the unhappy Isa Oliver, her handsome husband, Giles, whom she loves and hates, and a guest, Mrs. Manresa, who is pursuing him. A storm interrupts the final tableau, and the pageant comes to an end. The performers and the audience depart to resume their ordinary lives and Isa and Giles to confront each other. — From the publisher





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