The Zodiac Arch, Freya Stark


This interesting, if uneven, collection of essays by fearless Freya Stark was a good companion on a few quiet nights. One piece that's really quite special is "Himyar, the Lizard," which I could read and reread and probably still cry every time I come to its close, thinking of the little reptile taking to Parma violets for sustenance, at a cost to Freya of a shilling a day.

I could go on and on, but I suppose I'll keep things brief. "Lunch with Homer" is another excellent piece; some of her meditations on memory, and how we grow accustomed to the world, are just lovely: 

... the memory has come down thin and pastoral, a hard survival amid rocky hillsides and the thorny, scented thyme. ... [but] voices have become small and dry, dusted over by a century or more of everyday toil that a man can deal with and put the unexpected out of mind. The origins of memory are anyway out of reach.

What begins it may be out of reach, but what remains I can almost touch, taste. It's her evocative imagery that makes the best of these essays sing; that, perhaps, is her project entire, if you take this line from "On Silence" at face value:

A part of all art is to make silence speak.

A joy to listen to the words she brings forth.

Wallflower at the Orgy, Nora Ephron

Ephron's collection of essays is a nice introduction to her writing; in the foreword, she explains the importance of critical distance:

[I]t took me a long time to become comfortable using the first-person singular pronoun in my work. In the articles in this book I used it gingerly ... The work I have done subsequently is considerably more personal and considerably more full of the first-person singular pronoun, but I still believe that the best approach to its use ought to be discomfort. Do you really need it? Does it add something special to the piece? Is what you think interesting enough to make the reader care? Are you saying something that no one has said? Above all, do you understand that you are not as important as what you're covering?