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The Ghosts of Birds offers thirty-five essays by Eliot Weinberger: the first section of the book continues his linked serial-essay, An Elemental Thing, which pulls the reader into “a vortex for the entire universe” (Boston Review). Here, Weinberger chronicles a nineteenth-century journey down the Colorado River, records the dreams of people named Chang, and shares other fa The Ghosts of Birds offers thirty-five essays by Eliot Weinberger: the first section of the book continues his linked serial-essay, An Elemental Thing, which pulls the reader into “a vortex for the entire universe” (Boston Review). Here, Weinberger chronicles a nineteenth-century journey down the Colorado River, records the dreams of people named Chang, and shares other factually verifiable discoveries that seem too fabulous to possibly be true. The second section collects Weinberger’s essays on a wide range of subjects—some of which have been published in Harper’s, New York Review of Books, and London Review of Books—including his notorious review of George W. Bush’s memoir Decision Points and writings about Mongolian art and poetry, different versions of the Buddha, American Indophilia (“There is a line, however jagged, from pseudo-Hinduism to Malcolm X”), Béla Balázs, Herbert Read, and Charles Reznikoff. This collection proves once again that Weinberger is “one of the bravest and sharpest minds in the United States” (Javier Marías).


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The Ghosts of Birds offers thirty-five essays by Eliot Weinberger: the first section of the book continues his linked serial-essay, An Elemental Thing, which pulls the reader into “a vortex for the entire universe” (Boston Review). Here, Weinberger chronicles a nineteenth-century journey down the Colorado River, records the dreams of people named Chang, and shares other fa The Ghosts of Birds offers thirty-five essays by Eliot Weinberger: the first section of the book continues his linked serial-essay, An Elemental Thing, which pulls the reader into “a vortex for the entire universe” (Boston Review). Here, Weinberger chronicles a nineteenth-century journey down the Colorado River, records the dreams of people named Chang, and shares other factually verifiable discoveries that seem too fabulous to possibly be true. The second section collects Weinberger’s essays on a wide range of subjects—some of which have been published in Harper’s, New York Review of Books, and London Review of Books—including his notorious review of George W. Bush’s memoir Decision Points and writings about Mongolian art and poetry, different versions of the Buddha, American Indophilia (“There is a line, however jagged, from pseudo-Hinduism to Malcolm X”), Béla Balázs, Herbert Read, and Charles Reznikoff. This collection proves once again that Weinberger is “one of the bravest and sharpest minds in the United States” (Javier Marías).

30 review for The Ghosts of Birds

  1. 4 out of 5

    Aravindakshan Narasimhan

    From left to right: St Barlaam and St Josaphat. I never knew that Buddha had metamorphosed into a Christian saint by the medieval period! In the chapter "That imposter named Buddha", Weinberger goes on in detail about how western world were introduced to Buddha and Buddhism. Quite surprisingly the narrative of Buddha being an Asian and an Indian is a very recent understanding for the westerners. According to Guy Tachard, a 17th-century French Jesuit, Buddhism was a “monstrous mixture of Christiani From left to right: St Barlaam and St Josaphat. I never knew that Buddha had metamorphosed into a Christian saint by the medieval period! In the chapter "That imposter named Buddha", Weinberger goes on in detail about how western world were introduced to Buddha and Buddhism. Quite surprisingly the narrative of Buddha being an Asian and an Indian is a very recent understanding for the westerners. According to Guy Tachard, a 17th-century French Jesuit, Buddhism was a “monstrous mixture of Christianity and the most ridiculous fables.” Both religions had heavens and hells (though the Buddhist ones were multiple and not eternal — merely way-stations on the path to the next incarnation). Both had monks who were celibate, dressed in robes, and collected alms. Both the Buddha (in some versions of the story) and Jesus were born from a virgin birth. The Japanese names for the Buddha’s parents, Jōbon Dai Ō and Magabonin were apparent corruptions of Joseph and Mary. Buddhist prayer chants, said Matteo Ricci, sound like Gregorian, and they chant the name Tolome, not knowing that it clearly means that “they wish to honor their cult with the authority of the Apostle Bartholomew.” Others thought the Buddha a decayed memory of Thomas the Apostle, who was said to have gone to India after the Resurrection. The narrative changed its origin to Africa and Egypt around 18th century, that Buddha was from Egypt, who got expelled from egypt by persians and landed on India. Around this time the theory of a double Buddha was floated. But how did Buddha ended up as a christian saint? The middle portion of the journey starts with the Arabic translation (Possibly from a persian text) of the story of Buddha titled, The book of Bilawar and Budhasaf. According to this, the father of Buddha is against what his son believes (which Buddha learns from his teacher Bilawar), but later accepts his son's religion. This ended up as a perfect dish for christians. They changed the persecuted religion of Buddha to Christianity and when the latin version came out, Pope Gregory XIII included St Barlaam (Bilawar) and St Josaphat in his Roman Martyrology. The irony achieves a beautiful climax when the jesuits bring the printing press to Japan and they print a book called Compendium of the acts of Saints, which includes Buddha and his teacher as Christian saints. Quite a story! Eliot Weinberger book's styles range from poems, essays, prose and many others. However fantastic and fabulous they may sound, they are all factual. He is one of the few scholars --- who I have come across --- who does extensive reading for his writing. First part of the book (there are no definite thematic markers, these are just my feelings) has anecdotes, poems, and historical accounts surronding nature. Be it islands, lakes, birds, winter, autumn etc. The one that actually made me more interested in reading the book is about autumn, from a chinese text of 11th century. The writer Ou-Yang Hsiu quite beautifully muses on autumn being a natural personification of all that is sadness and tragic. "Once there were the delicate patterns of thick grass. Once there was green shade lying under the trees. “Autumn touches the grass and its color fades. Autumn touches the trees and the leaves fall. It cannot help but destroy. Its nature is corrosive. Its occupation is executioner. Its badge is darkness. Its color may be gold, but its sword is steel. It is the pitiless justice of heaven and earth: to kill with cold. “The sound of autumn is a flute sound, a sad song, the sound of things being hurt, the sound of things past their prime that will soon be put to death. The second part mostly concerns various figures, from Junior Bush, Kubilai Khan to Balacs and Herbert Read. But the second part starts with a triptych on architecture theme. We have the chapter on Big wall of China (How various American presidents made a visit to it and what they had to say. The one by Bush is particularly remarkable - "Let's go home."), on the German wall ( a collection of newspaper articles on trespassing by public, east berlin's repressive code for Border guards, killing of trespassers) , on city ( interestingly starts from a tribe in India called Santals and how they are close to the nature and then starts from Mesopotamian cities and goes through china, Cambodia, and how eastern idea of a city is different from the western idea, namely the western concept of modernity associated with cities is in exact opposite for the eastern view of antiquity for the cities) On the chapter Balacs's Chinese dreams, I never knew or expected that Balacs also wrote stories. He is mostly known for his Film criticism. Tales that are reminiscent of E.T.A Hoffman or Brothers Grimm were published as chinese in the name of The cloak of dreams. And when he later wrote "The book of Wan Hu-Chen" he comes more close to a chinese story. "A penniless man is in love with the governor’s daughter. She rebuffs him, so he decides to write a book about her, making her even more beautiful and elegant than she is in life. Eventually she comes out of the book to visit him, but Wan has made, out of modesty, a terrible authorial mistake. In the book she is in love with the dashing Prince Wang. Wan then has to write a chapter killing off Prince Wang. The maiden turns to Wan for solace, and they live on happily for many years — he, writing the book all day, giving her ever finer jewels and clothes; she, coming out of the book at night. But he grows older and poorer, having no other occupation, and she remains young and beautiful. They have a son who remains in the real world, and is the reincarnation of Prince Wang. Wan, penniless, finally gives the boy to the governor’s family, discovers that the real daughter had died the day he began writing, and goes off into the pages of his own book to live in eternal springtime with his true love." In the chapter on Charles Reznikoff's, he mentions the method by which Reznikoff worked: His research for Testimony was almost unimaginable. The known source for merely one of the short poems is a court transcript that runs to a hundred pages. As Reznikoff said in an interview: “I might go through a volume of a thousand pages and find just one case from which to take the facts and rearrange them so as to be interesting. . . . I don’t know how many thousands of volumes I went through, and all I could manage to get out of it were these poems.” (Characteristically, he adds: “And in looking through the book I might throw out some of them.”) Interestingly, this is the same way Weinberger himself works and has openly acknowledged the same. I personally owe him for introducing the name of Guy Davenport years back. In one of his interviews he had mentioned Guy Davenport as one of the best american essayist working (I am not sure when he had given that interview, but I had read it on the now defunct The Quaterly conversation) In my humble opinion, people like Eliot Weinberger are rare breed of intellect and I believe he needs to be read more than just his "What I heard about Iraq"

  2. 4 out of 5

    jeremy

    the latest essay collection from wundermensch eliot weinberger, the ghosts of birds collects nearly three dozen disparate pieces (including further entries in his serial essay, an elemental thing) into another literary achievement. weinberger's erudition is breathtaking to behold and he so effortlessly makes each of his subjects seem like the most interesting thing in the world. read, reflect, and repeat. from "american indias" but beyond literary history, beyond the many pleasures of the individu the latest essay collection from wundermensch eliot weinberger, the ghosts of birds collects nearly three dozen disparate pieces (including further entries in his serial essay, an elemental thing) into another literary achievement. weinberger's erudition is breathtaking to behold and he so effortlessly makes each of his subjects seem like the most interesting thing in the world. read, reflect, and repeat. from "american indias" but beyond literary history, beyond the many pleasures of the individual poems, it could serve the function of translation at its best—that is, as inspiration. here are ways of writing poetry that do not exist in our language, but, transformed, could.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    The first half of The Ghosts of Birds is a continuation of the serial essay, An Elemental Thing, which is my favorite Weinberger collection. The second half of the book includes a handful of brilliant essays, including Weinberger's take on George W. Bush's memoir, Decision Points, and solid introductions. As always, it's impossible not to be impressed with the scope of Weinberger's learning and his mastery of juxtaposition. The first half of The Ghosts of Birds is a continuation of the serial essay, An Elemental Thing, which is my favorite Weinberger collection. The second half of the book includes a handful of brilliant essays, including Weinberger's take on George W. Bush's memoir, Decision Points, and solid introductions. As always, it's impossible not to be impressed with the scope of Weinberger's learning and his mastery of juxtaposition.

  4. 5 out of 5

    kirsten

    If you know me, you know that I ask strangers, friends, family, and anyone else I encounter whether or not a crow or a seagull would win in a fight. Now I have literature backing me up - For the cormorants of the open sea and the cormorants of the rivers and the lakes started a war of all the birds over whose fishing grounds were superior. The sea birds were stronger, the land birds more clever, and the land birds won.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Richard S

    A collection of essays, poems and some book reviews, admirable in its erudition and cataloging, but really nothing worth mentioning. Joyless, smug, never entertaining, mildly interesting at times. I'd say the poems are the best part, very creative and interesting, and perhaps a little enlightening, but the "laundry lists" are nothing more than that. The overarching anti-religious anti-Western sentiment is perfunctory. These are all things we know - but why is life so mysterious? A collection of essays, poems and some book reviews, admirable in its erudition and cataloging, but really nothing worth mentioning. Joyless, smug, never entertaining, mildly interesting at times. I'd say the poems are the best part, very creative and interesting, and perhaps a little enlightening, but the "laundry lists" are nothing more than that. The overarching anti-religious anti-Western sentiment is perfunctory. These are all things we know - but why is life so mysterious?

  6. 4 out of 5

    Cooper Renner

    Superb collection of essays, some free-form, on a wide variety of topics, including literature, of course.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    The first essay – "The Story of Adam and Eve" – summed up everything I knew about the Hebrew myth in a couple pages then astonished me with a book I didn't know existed:In the 1st century CE, The Life of Adam and Eve may or may not have been written in Hebrew or an undetermined Semitic language. It survives in Greek, Latin, Slavonic, Georgian, and Armenian versions, and was translated or adapted scores of times throughout the Middle Ages. Weinberger explores the variations from translation to tra The first essay – "The Story of Adam and Eve" – summed up everything I knew about the Hebrew myth in a couple pages then astonished me with a book I didn't know existed:In the 1st century CE, The Life of Adam and Eve may or may not have been written in Hebrew or an undetermined Semitic language. It survives in Greek, Latin, Slavonic, Georgian, and Armenian versions, and was translated or adapted scores of times throughout the Middle Ages. Weinberger explores the variations from translation to translation, each of which brought something unexpected to the story – "the Armenian, Georgian, and Latin versions open with Adam and Eve starving" – a horrifying premise, although it's implied in the original. ("In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.") I'm deeply familiar with the first three chapters of Genesis; my grandmother had me memorizing Scripture when I was 8. Weinberger makes the myth strange again, and weirdly specific. "Most of the sources say that Adam and Eve spent a total of three hours in paradise, though some say six." The Ghosts of Birds, like Weinberger's earlier collections, enacts a kind of scholarly magic, part erudition and part poetry. Some chapters are improbable lists, extracts or summaries of books from the ancient East or the pre-Columbian Americas. A few pages from John Wesley Powell's 1869 exploration of the Colorado River capture the naturalists' amazement at what they "discover" as well as their hubris: like American Adams, the explorers bestow names on a landscape that has been inhabited for thousands of years: Beehive Point, Ashley Falls, Whirlpool Canyon, the Canyon of Desolation. It's how the West was won. The collection concludes with a Bibliography ("The Cloud Bookcase") that has nothing to do with the book, books which themselves seem to appear, morph and disappear.Diagrams Illustrating the Mystery of the Cultivation of Truth, the Mystery of the Supreme Pole, and the Mystery of the Primordial Chaos by Anonymous (12th century) Contains only diagrams with no explanations. Gradual Enlightenment by Ma Tan-yang (1123-1184) Contains poems where the first character is deliberately omitted. There's also a Glossary – with, again, no obvious relation to the book before it.Panglukhu. Cloth to cover the head, payable to a cuckold by the man who has slept with the wife. I love these aleatoric catalogs, a compound of Whitman, Borges and Dada. But it's the essays I prize most. My favorites in this book include the review of two recent translations of the I Ching and "American Indias" which explores the Western fascination with (and ignorance of) India. In an interview from 2005, Weinberger was asked how translation might energize English. He answered, "There’s interesting prose being written in English, and it’s not all imitation Carver (or, more exactly, Carver-Lish). I’ll avoid a list, but one could start with the writers in India and the Indian diaspora—collectively, more or less, the source of the best novels in English these days." The last paragraph of "American Indias" picks up this thread.Classical Indian poetry, with its millennia of texts, its many languages, its oceanic vastness, remains the largest blank on the Western map of world literature. But beyond literary history, beyond the many pleasures of the individual poems, it could serve the function of translation at its best – that is, as inspiration. Here are ways of writing poetry that do not exist in our language, but, transformed, could. Weinberger is an ideal guide to the Library of Babel: all the books ever written, all that can be imagined. A reader's euphoria.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Geez, this guy is so erudite! Kind of like Ezra Pound, but with good politics. First half of the book is a continuation of his ongoing "serial essay" begun in "An Elemental Thing" (2007). Not quite as breathtaking as the "essays" there, but he always digs up some nugget of cultural history that interests us. The second half is made up of essays and introductions he has done for art show catalogs, books and various magazines (not surprising that many of them read like essays for the London or NY Geez, this guy is so erudite! Kind of like Ezra Pound, but with good politics. First half of the book is a continuation of his ongoing "serial essay" begun in "An Elemental Thing" (2007). Not quite as breathtaking as the "essays" there, but he always digs up some nugget of cultural history that interests us. The second half is made up of essays and introductions he has done for art show catalogs, books and various magazines (not surprising that many of them read like essays for the London or NY Review of Books). The culture of India, China and Japan take up most of his interest (less Mexico/Central and South America here than in the past). His essays on Reznikoff (who he has written about before - this is an Intro to "Testimony"), the now little known Bela Balaz (what a life - and already writing film criticism in the days of silent films!), and "American Indias" (an odd pastiche, but informative, on the lack of Asian Indian poetry in English translation) were my favorite. Post 9/11 he, as a New Yorker, became very outspoken about W's admin, and there is a wonderful review of "Junior's" memoir here. His essays on the "I Ching" and Khubilai Khan show off his ability to give a complete history of events in a short amount of space. And then his "Bibliography/Cloud Library" at the end. Since I could not find any of the authors or titles online, aand since he translated Borges "Complete Prose", I am thinking that this is a Borgian made up library, complete with humorous titles and descriptions. Always interesting and informative, and love the quirky and odd that he brings to our attention.

  9. 5 out of 5

    John Hicks

    I bought this book for Weinberger's essay on the I Ching and was not disappointed. There are other fascinating essays here. For example, his treatment of history of the Western interpretation of the Buddha. Some few of these essays are, however, too esoteric even for me. I bought this book for Weinberger's essay on the I Ching and was not disappointed. There are other fascinating essays here. For example, his treatment of history of the Western interpretation of the Buddha. Some few of these essays are, however, too esoteric even for me.

  10. 5 out of 5

    John LaPine

    This is a tough one to rate. The first half is largely translations of authors, poems, journals, and mythologies. The second half is mainly book reviews. Weinberger spans large swaths of history, religions, ideological systems, and artistic movements, and he has intensive knowledge of several facets of society. I usually find history dry, but his book reviews are mostly interesting, so this book didn't pick up steam from me until the second half, but I'm glad I stuck with it. his exploration of This is a tough one to rate. The first half is largely translations of authors, poems, journals, and mythologies. The second half is mainly book reviews. Weinberger spans large swaths of history, religions, ideological systems, and artistic movements, and he has intensive knowledge of several facets of society. I usually find history dry, but his book reviews are mostly interesting, so this book didn't pick up steam from me until the second half, but I'm glad I stuck with it. his exploration of the I Ching and review of George W Bush's autobiography as a postmodern work really sung. The poetry translations in the first half are hit and miss for me as far as art, but I'm sure they're done masterfully because Weinberger exemplifies masterfulness is everything else he does. one issue with this book is the fact that Weinberger seems to bemoan the lack of authorship from, for example, Indian poets in the US... but he is writing and published (heavily!) as an old, white, American man. I realize it's not his fault that he's ironically become canonized for his work that hopes for the canonization of more non-Americans; that is the fault of publishers. Weinberger's vast knowledge of Indian poets and authors makes him qualified to speak about them, but the fact that he, a non-Indian author, gained fame for speaking about their lack of publication, itself seems problematic.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Max Eichelberger

    I read this book while my little sister visited. She's painting some pots as I write. It's sunny for the first time in a long time, but that's Seattle in January. I couldn't expect it earlier. Parts of this book went right over my head. I couldn't tell if his poem of bird sounds is his translation of the Conference of Birds (coincidentally I just picked up a nice edition simultaneously with Fitzcarldo Editions coming out with one of their own) or his take on it or some sort of homage or (unoffici I read this book while my little sister visited. She's painting some pots as I write. It's sunny for the first time in a long time, but that's Seattle in January. I couldn't expect it earlier. Parts of this book went right over my head. I couldn't tell if his poem of bird sounds is his translation of the Conference of Birds (coincidentally I just picked up a nice edition simultaneously with Fitzcarldo Editions coming out with one of their own) or his take on it or some sort of homage or (unofficial) sequel. For the essays that did make sense (in this category I group just about all the prose in here, down to the last sentence) I loved them unconditionally.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    The almost unclassifiable Weinberger is back and stronger than ever. Almost essays, Almost poems, he is one of the very few writers who leave me searching for the words to talk about what he does- which is, by the way, his own searching for words, looking beyond the word. The few truly great essayists, like William Gass, Guy Davenport, Anne Carson -are a good starting point to reference when thinking of Weinberger's work, but I feel he often transcends them, and the essay itself. Stephen Spera The almost unclassifiable Weinberger is back and stronger than ever. Almost essays, Almost poems, he is one of the very few writers who leave me searching for the words to talk about what he does- which is, by the way, his own searching for words, looking beyond the word. The few truly great essayists, like William Gass, Guy Davenport, Anne Carson -are a good starting point to reference when thinking of Weinberger's work, but I feel he often transcends them, and the essay itself. Stephen Spera

  13. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Half of this book its not essays -- it's short stories. They're OK. The essays are pretty good, though the one that is a mock review of a book ghostwritten by George W. Bush is the only one that truly stuck with me, as of this this writing about a month after reading. Half of this book its not essays -- it's short stories. They're OK. The essays are pretty good, though the one that is a mock review of a book ghostwritten by George W. Bush is the only one that truly stuck with me, as of this this writing about a month after reading.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    "A young man spends all of his time reading, but he's not very bright and cannot understand what he reads." A few parts of a few of the essays in part II sour things a bit, I think. Part I is *****. "A young man spends all of his time reading, but he's not very bright and cannot understand what he reads." A few parts of a few of the essays in part II sour things a bit, I think. Part I is *****.

  15. 5 out of 5

    flannery

    A few different times in my life I tried to read "The Golden Bough" straight through, I wish I'd known then about Eliot Weinberger. How can every sentence of an essay on STONES be better than the one before it? Like the blurb on the back says: "who is this guy and how does he know all this stuff??" A few different times in my life I tried to read "The Golden Bough" straight through, I wish I'd known then about Eliot Weinberger. How can every sentence of an essay on STONES be better than the one before it? Like the blurb on the back says: "who is this guy and how does he know all this stuff??"

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sem

    The essays in the second half didn't always mix comfortably with the 'essays' in the first half. Somewhat of a disappointment for that reason (ie it wasn't what I wanted). The essays in the second half didn't always mix comfortably with the 'essays' in the first half. Somewhat of a disappointment for that reason (ie it wasn't what I wanted).

  17. 5 out of 5

    Richard Anderson

    Mysterious, erudite, poetic.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Мария Кувшинова

    a blink of escapism

  19. 4 out of 5

    Clayton

    Weinberger's still got it. Weinberger's still got it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kasey Rackowitz

    "We are not made of metal and stone, why should we dream of outlasting the trees and grass?" Weinberger's collection of essays is an ode to the interconnectedness of Earth and its residents across the spans of time. Enter his consciousness and let him take you on a tour of the Universe. The Ghosts of Birds is split into two volumes. The first is a continuation of Elemental Things, an assortment of poems, translations and essays made up of document clippings. He makes the reader contemplate the co "We are not made of metal and stone, why should we dream of outlasting the trees and grass?" Weinberger's collection of essays is an ode to the interconnectedness of Earth and its residents across the spans of time. Enter his consciousness and let him take you on a tour of the Universe. The Ghosts of Birds is split into two volumes. The first is a continuation of Elemental Things, an assortment of poems, translations and essays made up of document clippings. He makes the reader contemplate the connection between Adam and Eve's fall to Earth, the significance of stones, and ancient Chinese poetry, ending with the story of William Sharpe and the question, "Can humans be isolated from everything to avoid crises?" No, of course not. It's unnatural. The second volume is a series of essays and book reviews Weinberger has written over the years. My two favorites are Bush the Postmodernist and Khubilai Khan at the Met. I liked Volume 2 more because of his witty (and sometimes cheeky) writing style. I love how he can share a lesson or give his opinion without outright saying them. He lets the stories he pulled out of history do the talking. It's your job to find the answers. What I also loved about it was it reminded me of wine tasting. Each story is so brief, but loaded with countless references I've been partially aware of or have known nothing about at all. His glasses of tidbits made me want to grab the whole bottle for myself. I want to get drunk off these topics - theosophy, marine life, Chinese strange stories, and Herbert Read in particular. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys modernism and untraditional essay writing.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Robbie Maakestad

    I <3 Eliot Weinberger. This is a continuation of "An Elemental Thing," literary criticism, experimental essay, book review - all elevated beyond their form. Exquisite use of fact to elucidate meaning. Essayistic perfection. I <3 Eliot Weinberger. This is a continuation of "An Elemental Thing," literary criticism, experimental essay, book review - all elevated beyond their form. Exquisite use of fact to elucidate meaning. Essayistic perfection.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    Bedtime reading. I met the author at Brown U around the time he was collaborating with Forrest Gander and later read an interview they shared in BOMB. His style varies with the subject, sometimes poetic, never prosaic, smooth and easy right up to a sudden boulder of insight, information, or plain surprise, rather like river-rafting--"A Journey on the Colorado River [1869]" (pp. 27-42) conveys the idea exactly, making it more than a trope. This collection held some fascinating moments for me in "A Bedtime reading. I met the author at Brown U around the time he was collaborating with Forrest Gander and later read an interview they shared in BOMB. His style varies with the subject, sometimes poetic, never prosaic, smooth and easy right up to a sudden boulder of insight, information, or plain surprise, rather like river-rafting--"A Journey on the Colorado River [1869]" (pp. 27-42) conveys the idea exactly, making it more than a trope. This collection held some fascinating moments for me in "A Calendar of Stones," "The Great Wall" and "The Wall," "Bush the Postmodernist," "Khubilai Khan at the Met," "The I Ching," and essays on Balazs, Herbert Read, and Charles Reznikoff. The eponymous essay charms in a variety of ways, from the names of the birds to their associations: "The birds of ghosts, the ghosts of birds, calling their own names: The koukou, the Morepark owl, hoots koukou. It lives by night, it belongs to the Underworld, its frightening eyes a sign of evil. A thin film covers its unblinking eyes, a thin film made from the fingernails of corpses" (p. 81). This suggests the menagerie as it is offered to the reader, a menagerie carrying much information of strange and remote kinds, like the birds themselves. Herbert Read as an anarchy-Marxist has always interested me; Weinberger's discussion of Read's great influence and wide range of writings in an essay ostensibly about his short novel The Green Child led to this passage from Read: "One of the most curious characteristics of [Americans] is their complete misunderstanding of democracy. They do not believe in equality, but in "equality of opportunity." They confess that again & again, with pride, without realizing that "equality of opportunity" is merely the law of the jungle, that they are not egalitarians but opportunists . . ." (pp. 177-78). That there appear numerous other nuggets throughout the collection should go without saying, as we say, but for a literary person some of the comments and implicit suggestions for reading are golden.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Graychin

    Weinberger’s pieces are billed as “essays” but I hardly think they count. They’re more often prose poems, catalogs of trivia, miscellaneous observations. His prior collection, An Elemental Thing, I enjoyed quite a lot. The Ghosts of Birds not so much. Weinberger needs to quit trying so hard to be fancy and intellectual.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Celia Cunningham

    A few short stories were great. I could’ve skipped the rest.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Andy Iakobson

    Loved this, Weinberger's got this awesome dryly eclectic style. The 'Changs Dreaming' collection and 'The Ghosts of Birds' poem were my favourite pieces. Loved this, Weinberger's got this awesome dryly eclectic style. The 'Changs Dreaming' collection and 'The Ghosts of Birds' poem were my favourite pieces.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ned Booth

  27. 4 out of 5

    David Hill

  28. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

  29. 4 out of 5

    Alison Hiam

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ajay

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