Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Brilliant, Jane Brox, 2010

Here's a summer book I'm very excited about: Brilliant, a history of artificial light, by one of the best nature writers I know, Jane Brox. I met Jane a few years ago during a residency at the MacDowell Colony, in Peterborough, New Hampshire. I had to commute down to NYC once a week to teach a literary nonfiction seminar at NYU. One night I drove back to Peterborough in the mid-evening, not noticing until I was pretty far north how dark it was. One doesn't notice the permanent glow of artificial light until it's gone. The effect is all the more powerful in the country, on a winding road between a cliff and a long black lake, where you'd assumed there was no artificial light, anyway. There was. But this night, it was gone, and so the tree branches in the road weren't just the fallen soldiers of a windstorm but sudden, lurching creatures that sprang into the headlights and into the underbelly of the car on a road with no room to swerve. By the time I got to MacDowell, I understood the power was gone, and that big trees had fallen. But from the big house at the heart of the colony I saw a dim glow. Not some warm, welcoming, Thomas Kinkade nostalgia smear, but a flickering light. Inside the main hall I found the artists and writers, meeting by candlelight and oil lantern. And there was Jane, working on her new book, a history of artificial lighting.

That was three or four years ago. I've been waiting for this book eagerly ever since. I'll have more to say when I lay my hands on it.