Sunday, October 18, 2009

Diane Ackerman's book, A Natural History of the Senses, is one of my favorite books of all time, so I was thrilled when the San Francisco Chronicle invited me to review her latest book, Dawn Light. You can read the review here.

Update: Just wanted to mention that I received the loveliest email from Diane Ackerman in response to this review. I had wondered if she'd have a chance to read the review, but never imagined I'd hear from her. It made my day and then some!


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

'Literary voluptuary.' Now that's some fresh description. Lovely review. One question: Will dill work on humans to keep off mosquitoes? I'm going for it. :)

dmccafferty said...

Beautiful review.

gayle said...

Thanks so much, Pat/Tricia and Dominique! :)


Kit Stolz said...

"Literary voluptuary" is indeed a great description for Ackerman, but I must say, as a devout reader struggling to finish Ackerman's "A Natural History of Love," that there is an implicit criticism in that as well. Ackerman is fascinated, turned on if you will, by seemingly every aspect of love...which makes for a book that can't seem to choose. What is love, really, in a world of endless sensuality?

Kit Stolz said...

Okay, I take back my previous complaint about Ackerman. "A Natural History of Love" does meander, but it's worth it, as this passage shows:

Historically, women have not been much turned on by the idea of fish-men. Men, on the other hand, have been obsessed with fish-women. In the mermaid fantasy a man can penetrate a beautiful woman-child, and through her the entire ocean, which she represents. He can step outside human manners and society, which play no role in her world. She will believe everything he tells her, do whatever he asks, be his sea-geisha. As innocent-looking and beautiful as a mermaid is on top, she is a wanton animal below, untroubled by guilt or inhibition, eager for his pleasure.

Drawn on maps, tattooed on sailors' arms, printed on cans of tuna, carved on figureheads, painted on pub signs, the mermaid blurs the distinction between human and animal. Strictly speaking, she offers little reward: not enough woman to voe and too much fish to fry. In a sense, she is monstrous, but hers is a sweet monstrosity, like love. For men of the sea, mermaids combine the self-destructiveness of the ocean, to which they are nonetheless wedded, with their loneliness for the women they've left behind. They find the ocean -- fertile, curvy, womblike, velvety, tempestuous -- all female. Its rhythms are ancient and mysterious, as are a woman's. It has monthly tides and an eternal languorousness. Rolling its hips, first one way then another, it turns gently as a sleep does: the ocean is a woman dreaming. A man enters the water as he enters a woman, giving himself up to the liquefaction of her limbs, losing himself willing to her soft, lucid grip. The ocean becomes mortal and embraces him, just as a loving woman, when she embraces him, in that moment becomes horizon-less as the sea.