Naples Declared: A Walk Around the Bay

Naples Declared: A Walk Around the Bay

by Benjamin Taylor
     
 

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It is a city of seemingly irreconcilable opposites, simultaneously glorious and ghastly. And it is Ben Taylor’s remarkable ability to meld these contradictions into a whole that makes this the exciting and original book it is. He takes his stroll around the bay with the acute sensitivity of a lover, the good humor of a friend, and the wisdom of a seeker who

Overview

It is a city of seemingly irreconcilable opposites, simultaneously glorious and ghastly. And it is Ben Taylor’s remarkable ability to meld these contradictions into a whole that makes this the exciting and original book it is. He takes his stroll around the bay with the acute sensitivity of a lover, the good humor of a friend, and the wisdom of a seeker who has immersed himself in all aspects of this contrapuntal culture. His curiosity leads him to many byways, both real and metaphoric, and his passion for this ancient city and its people becomes, in his graceful prose and amusing anecdotes, irresistibly contagious.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Compared to that parvenu Rome, southern Italy’s metropolis is “more ancient, less well-off…wiser, grander…glorious ghastly,” as well as the ideal setting for shaggy-dog repartee and philosophical ruminations, to judge by this beguiling travelogue. Taylor (Into the Open: Reflections on Genius and Modernity) offers a meandering, conversational account of 3000 years of Neapolitan history, one that veers off on interesting digressions on the origin of the alphabet to the fate of a lost American bomber crew but which always circles back to gossipy anecdotes about Roman emperors, medieval potentates, and latter-day literary figures and sexual outlaws. Meanwhile he leads readers on a journey through the modern city’s cathedrals, poets’ tombs, and famously finicky concert halls—a chorus of boos erupts when a harp recital strays into the avant-garde modernism—and periodically repairing to some café for impromptu debates with locals about everything from Faulkner to CIA conspiracies. (Naples’s buried Greek heritage provokes Taylor’s own opinionated musings on the superiority of pagan spirituality, which he greatly prefers to Christianity’s “masochistic preoccupation with suffering, death and putrefaction” and “untragic view of life.”) Steeped in off-hand erudition and raptly attuned to the city’s scruffy allure, Taylor makes a charming guide to an under-toured city. Photos. Agent: Irene Skolnick. (May)
From the Publisher
"Splendid." -- Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra: A Life-

There is no more witty, worldly, cultivated or amiably candid observer imaginable than Benjamin Taylor.- This book belongs on the shelf of the very best literary travel guides.

Phillip Lopate, author of Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan

Erudite and charming, Naples Declared is remarkable book; it's about place and history and survival; it's fresh, it's wise, and it's not to be missed.-

Brenda Wineapple, author of White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson

"From novelist/essayist/editor Taylor, an idiosyncratic, atmospheric portrait of ‘the great open-air theater of Europe.' The author wears his formidable erudition lightly as he cites classical authors and 20th-century travel writers with equal zest and acuity. Yet some of his most enjoyable pages are present-day encounters with a fervently communist doctor, with a chain-smoking student of Faulkner, and with novelist Shirley Hazzard, one of Naples many devoted longtime, part-time residents. Packed with elegant apercus and vibrant with the author's rueful understanding that ‘Naples the glorious and Naples the ghastly have always been one place," [in his] highly personal book the Neapolitan spirit is palpable."-Kirkus starred review

"Taylor's book, like his subject, Naples, is a lot of things at once; there are lengthy discussions of history, philosophy, religion, art, culture, literature, customs.- The book meanders between past and present, wanders in stream-of-thought fashion through the Naples streets, delves deeply into the city's stories, lives, and lore, and drops in for conversations with locals; it is an accurate representation of what travel is and what it means.- Scholarly and insightful and balanced with wit and levity, [Naples Declared] is written with an effortless poeticism."-Library Journal

"Superb . . . What Chatwin did for Australia and Mathiessen for the Himalayas, Taylor now does for the storied city of Naples.- I-will steal a line from Leon Wieseltier's review of Taylor's previous book, "Saul Bellow: Letters" to describe his newest one:- "an elegantissimo book."- [In Naples Declared,] Taylor deftly sums up more than 3,000 years of history, ranging from the establishment of a Mycenaean entrepot in 1800 B.C.E. to the signal event of 2011: "Renewed garbage crisis."-Like all great travel memoirs, however, "Naples Declared" owes some of its best moments to the firsthand experiences of the author in the place he writes about.-He is a watchful traveler and a charming raconteur, and so we are treated to accounts of his successful effort to cure the hiccups of an aristocratic Englishwoman known to the hotel staff as "Lady So-and-So," his inventory of the cast-off items and the poignant graffiti that he spots in an ancient aqueduct used as a bomb-shelter during World War II . . . Taylor's book offers a full measure of history and reportage. "My modus operandi," he explains, "has been to walk a knowledge of Naples into my bloodstream." But the book is also a reverie. "In this place, my dream said, trust to the promise of renewable wonder," he concludes, "every lover's hope and prayer." There is no better way to sum up what Taylor has captured in "Naples Declared," a wholly delightful example of what the literary travel memoir can achieve."-Jonathan Kirsch, JewishJournal.com

Stacy Schiff

“Splendid.”  - Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra: A Life 

Library Journal
This book contains no itineraries, advice on getting around, or hotel or restaurant recommendations—in fact, novelist Taylor (The Book of Getting Even) hasn't so much penned a literal guide as one literary—but there is a chronology of Naples (from c.1800 B.C.E. to the present) that proves useful when planning a walk through the city. Taylor's book, like his subject, Naples, is a lot of things at once; there are lengthy discussions of history, philosophy, religion, art, culture, literature, customs. The book meanders between past and present, wanders in stream-of-thought fashion through the Naples streets, delves deeply into the city's stories, lives, and lore, and drops in for conversations with locals; it is an accurate representation of what travel is and what it means. VERDICT Scholarly and insightful and balanced with wit and levity, this is written with an effortless poeticism. It has drawn comparisons with Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia and Eleanor Clark's Rome and a Villa, but there is the potential for cross-genre (and media) appeal as it shares a cinematic pace with Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise and Before Sunset films as well as Chris Marker's Sans Soleil. Recommended.—Ben Malczewski, Ypsilanti Dist. Lib., MI
Kirkus Reviews
From novelist/essayist/editor Taylor (The Book of Getting Even, 2009, etc.), an idiosyncratic, atmospheric portrait of "the great open-air theater of Europe." Once considered Italy's pleasantest city, second only to Rome in importance, Naples today is as noted for its dire poverty and malevolent Camorra crime syndicate. "Its residents know themselves by instinct to be different from other European citizenries," writes Taylor: "more ancient, less well-off, more skeptical, less clean. But wiser, grander." Those sentences resonate with the author's attractive blend of romanticism and realism as he plumbs Naples' Greek roots and the pagan sensibility that still underpins its Catholic surface. Taylor's scope is as all-embracing as the stroll he takes around the Bay of Naples. He connects the magnificent wall paintings in the Villa of Poppaea with Italian art of the 15th century. He notes his "fear and dislike" of Christianity "because it sets the flesh against the mind and denies the brevity of our expectations; because, in a word, it is so un-Greek." Taylor finds Neapolitans of every generation deeply Greek in their tragic sense of life, borne out by centuries of foreign domination, climaxing with the brutal Nazi occupation in the final years of World War II. The author wears his formidable erudition lightly as he cites classical authors and 20th-century travel writers such as Norman Douglas with equal zest and acuity. Yet some of his most enjoyable pages are present-day encounters with a fervently communist doctor, a chain-smoking student of Faulkner and novelist Shirley Hazzard, one of Naples' many devoted longtime, part-time residents. Though this is a highly personal book, the Neapolitan spirit is palpable: "the being-visible-now, the quasi-divinity that flows from a fundamentally theatrical sense of life," as Taylor puts it in a characteristically ecstatic, evocative assessment. Packed with elegant aperçus and vibrant with the author's rueful understanding that "Naples the glorious and Naples the ghastly have always been one place."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780399159176
Publisher:
Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
05/10/2012
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
5.66(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.92(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Superb . . . What Chatwin did for Australia and Mathiessen for the Himalayas, Taylor now does for the storied city of Naples. I will steal a line from Leon Wieseltier's review of Taylor's previous book, "Saul Bellow: Letters" to describe his newest one: "an elegantissimo book." [In Naples Declared,] Taylor deftly sums up more than 3,000 years of history, ranging from the establishment of a Mycenaean entrepôt in 1800 B.C.E. to the signal event of 2011: “Renewed garbage crisis.” Like all great travel memoirs, however, “Naples Declared” owes some of its best moments to the firsthand experiences of the author in the place he writes about. He is a watchful traveler and a charming raconteur, and so we are treated to accounts of his successful effort to cure the hiccups of an aristocratic Englishwoman known to the hotel staff as “Lady So-and-So,” his inventory of the cast-off items and the poignant graffiti that he spots in an ancient aqueduct used as a bomb-shelter during World War II . . . Taylor’s book offers a full measure of history and reportage. “My modus operandi,” he explains, “has been to walk a knowledge of Naples into my bloodstream.” But the book is also a reverie. “In this place, my dream said, trust to the promise of renewable wonder,” he concludes, “every lover’s hope and prayer.” There is no better way to sum up what Taylor has captured in “Naples Declared,” a wholly delightful example of what the literary travel memoir can achieve."—Jonathan Kirsch, JewishJournal.com

Meet the Author

Benjamin Taylor is the author of two acclaimed novels—The Book of Getting Even and Tales Out of School—and the editor of Saul Bellow: Letters, called by The New York Times Book Review  “an elegantissimo book. Our literature’s debt to Taylor is considerable.”

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