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Time and place

Amid the tragedies of September, we focus on books. In the last month we have seen too many and too great barbarities. The  line of dead bodies has lengthened—through the long-planned siege at Beslan, the  bombs outside the Australian Embassy in Djakarta and outside countless police stations and homes in Iraq, and through the famine and flight from Darfur.

Then there are the lesser barbarities—the rough trading of election campaigns in Australia and the United States, and the anxious reading of entrails by people who expect us to believe that wisdom or illumination is to be found there.

In the midst of all of this, it might seem an indulgence to review books. Yet books provide a bridge between our personal lives and the public world. They also, better than almost anything else, stress the importance of the person in the public world.

But even the most serious of books dedicated to the most public of issues evoke the small and intimate delights of being human. The weight of a book in your hand, the texture of the pages, the design on the cover, or the feel of the cloth binding of an old book all hint at the promise of what is to come. Words and ideas find their proper place in the broader human context.

So even light-hearted and ephemeral books matter because they affirm the obvious: the essential place of light-heartedness and forgetfulness in human life. To be forever serious and focused only on the eternal may be an appropriate attitude in the streets of Iraq, threatened as you are by exploding cars and helicopter missiles. But it is an attitude from whose necessity you would wish your children to be delivered. Playfulness is a gift.

We make no apology for reviewing a full range of books—earnest, frivolous, curious, and bright. We hope you enjoy the reviews and the books. We are glad that we can all take for granted the space in which to write and to read, even as our hearts find space for those to whom these things are luxuries.



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