Monday, June 22, 2015


To call a book 'readable' is to say nearly nothing about it. Little Golden Books, Dan Brown novels, and the collected ghostwritten works of Sarah Palin are all 'readable,' at least theoretically. The real test, the acid test for aesthetic value, is re-readability. Does a given book demand to be read again? That, not the hammy man's hoary to be or not..., is truly the question. And Mark Doty's Still Life with Oysters and Lemon answers it with a resounding affirmative. It's a short book about still life paintings, but to describe it thus is to reduce it to unrecognizability. Doty's is 'a book about still life' in the same way John Berger's great "A Story for Aesop" is an essay about Velazquez. In his book's brief but packed 70 pages, Doty does indeed adumbrate a theory of still life as a vision of the material world seen in the light and against the darkness of mortality and transience, but his meditation also vibrates outward from aesthetics, embracing reflections on recollection and representation, memory and mortality, life and death. This is a book as compressed as a poem and written in a lovely poet's prose. And like a good poem*, it demands re-reading.

*I'll point out footnotedly that Doty, an accomplished poet, has written some very good poems indeed. I recommend his volume of selected poetry, Fire to Fire.

1 comment:

Corey said...

Thanks for this recommendation.