"There is something both marvelous and hilarious," writes Lawrence Weschler, "in watching the humdrum suddenly take flight. This is, in part, a collection of such launchings." Indeed, the eight essays collected in "A Wanderer in the Perfect City" do soar into the realm of passion as Weschler profiles people who "were just moseying down the street one day, minding their own business, when suddenly and almost spontaneously, they caught fire, they became obsessed, they became intensely focused and intensely alive." With keen observations and graceful prose, Weschler carries us along as a teacher of rudimentary English from India decides that his destiny is to promote the paintings of an obscure American abstract expressionist; a gifted poker player invents a more exciting version of chess; an avant-garde Russian emigre conductor speaks Latin, exclusively, to his infant daughter; and Art Spiegelman composes Maus. But simple summaries can't do these stories justice: like music, they derive their character from digressions and details, cadence and tone. And like the upwelling of passion Weschler's characters feel, they are better experienced than explained.
A widely honored journalist, Lawrence Weschler is the director of the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University. He is the author of twelve books, including Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder, Vermeer in Bosnia, and, most recently, Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences.