Figures in a Landscape is his third collection of essays that have already appeared, from 2001-2016, in slightly different forms in various publications (The Washington Post, Harper's Bazaar, The Guardian, The Smithsonian, New York Times Magazine, etc.) or as book introductions. With travel pieces, literary critiques, people profiles, and personal essays, the 30 pieces here cover a wide range of subjects and are, together, his most polished collection yet. They give us everything we have come to expect from Theroux in his nonfiction: the attentive traveler's sharp eye and canny ear for everything that goes on around him and, to a certain extent, what goes on in his mind as he engages fully with life and everything that comes at him. Whether he's being seriously earnest or ironically satirical, Theroux's prose manages to hit just the right notes so that, at the end of any particular essay, even if we might not be in agreement, we want him to continue on.
As regulars here will know, since 2015, I have used this day to highlight one woman who has been inspiring to me and others. Like many other women, I also had to get past my annoyance with the Hallmark-ey and consumerist mindsets that this day has generally proliferated. What I decided, though, is that women, overall, have had to struggle a lot to get here — from voting rights to patriarchal societal rules to sexism and misogyny, and a lot more. So if we take one day a year just to celebrate how far we have come and how much further we intend to go, that's definitely worthwhile. Beware of settling for the awful social media forwards/shares that celebrate women for doing so well per patriarchal norms and expectations. These faux feminism stances do a whole lot more to harm than bolster the position of women in our cultures.
This week, Ursula K. Le Guin, the renowned science fiction writer who died in January, was awarded the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for No Time to Spare, a collection of ruminations on aging and the universe. I wrote an essay to explore this collection and more of her legacy over at The National Book Review.