Here are four books by four writers featured in the latest issue of Lapham’s Quarterly. This is a companion post to my review of “Means of Communication” (Spring 2012)
House of Holes by Nicholson Baker
Shandee finds a friendly arm at a granite quarry. Ned drops down a hole in a golf course. So begins Nicholson Baker’s fuse-blowing sexual escapade—a modern-day Hieronymus Boschian bacchanal set in a pleasure resort where normal rules don’t apply. House of Holes, one of the most talked-about books in recent memory, is a gleefully provocative novel sure to surprise, amuse, and arouse.
You are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier
A programmer, musician, and father of virtual reality technology, Jaron Lanier was a pioneer in digital media, and among the first to predict the revolutionary changes it would bring to our commerce and culture. Now, with the Web influencing virtually every aspect of our lives, he offers this provocative critique of how digital design is shaping society, for better and for worse.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin’s writings represent a long career of literary, scientific, and political efforts over a lifetime which extended nearly the entire eighteenth century. Franklin’s achievements range from inventing the lightning rod to publishing Poor Richard’s Almanack to signing the Declaration of Independence. In his own lifetime he knew prominence not only in America but in Britain and France as well. This volume includes Franklin’s reflections on such diverse questions as philosophy and religion, social status, electricity, American national characteristics, war, and the status of women. Nearly sixty years separate the earliest writings from the latest, an interval during which Franklin was continually balancing between the puritan values of his upbringing and the modern American world to which his career served as prologue.
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester
The Professor and the Madman, masterfully researched and eloquently written, is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary — and literary history. The compilation of the OED began in 1857, it was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.