Sven Birkerts in Agni:
Books, like people, have their unique fates—their zodiac. Written in one context, they arrive in another, and every now and then a special convergence takes place. Like now. A book that in some other time would be read as a quiet reflection on the general state of things—how it is with us—delivers its messages with an unexpected force.
Howard Axelrod’s The Stars in Our Pockets comes to us as a sequel to his previous book, The Point of Vanishing: A Memoir of Two Years in Solitude, a lyrical account of his retreat to the woods of Vermont after an accident that caused him to lose sight in one eye. He experienced, and described vividly, a prolonged shock of silence and slow time, followed by a gradual personal reclamation. Thoreau can’t be ignored here. He went to Walden because he wished “to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life,” to see if he could learn “what it had to teach.” Axelrod moves in the man’s shadow, and there are worse places to move.
The new book, in the same key as The Point of Vanishing, shows the difference context can make. The first appeared in 2015, in one kind of world, whereas The Stars in Our Pockets arrives in another. I don’t just mean our changed political configuration, but a world that is experiencing the radical intensification of so many previous crises—massive global displacements, ecological disasters, gun violence, and the burgeoning of surveillance culture. [To this list I must now obviously add the rampant spread of the novel coronavirus—see postscript.]