Reviews — March 21

I know virtually nothing about the reboot of the late Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” other than that astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson hosts it and Sagan’s widow co-produces, which I find encouraging. (I can’t watch it, because we don’t have cable.) What to do until the inevitable Blu-ray hits the shelves? Curious, I went back to the original. Guess what? It’s still awesome.

Sure, the effects are dated, along with some (though not much) of the science. But the real draw of this 1980s series was always Sagan’s infectious enthusiasm for the natural world. One can’t help but admire his audacity: “Cosmos” was never simply about billions of stars; Sagan attempted nothing less than telling the story of literally everything. His area of expertise may have been astronomy and cosmology, but he was a polymath at heart.

Sagan later said he set out to “blow people’s minds,” and that he did, fully grasping the fact that science can appeal to one’s aesthetics, “tingling the spine” just as a piece of music or a great play might. I could never be pegged as a science nerd, but it was Sagan’s poetic sensibility that makes the original “Cosmos” such an absorbing, and at times even emotional, experience. Pop in a disc or two, and you might find, as I did, that the hour is suddenly quite late.

“Cosmos: A Personal Journey” (1980) Created by Carl Sagan and co-written with Steven Soter and Ann Druyan, who is a co-producer of “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.” Prior to Ken Burns’ “Civil War,” these 13 one-hour episodes were the most widely viewed series on public television.



Claudia Silver is a smart, wise-cracking recent college graduate pursuing her dreams in New York City, which also happens to be her hometown.

She had a weird upbringing with a classy, but rather dysfunctional mother, Edith, who kept two men around long enough to produce Claudia and her much younger sister, Phoebe, but not long enough to provide any stability. Now her mother has an ex-con live-in boyfriend.

On the eve of Claudia’s graduation, author Kathy Ebel writes, Edith tells her daughter, “I’m afraid I’m unable to offer you accommodation at this time.”

“‘Accommodation?’ Claudia echoed, disbelievingly. “Are you my mother, or Howard Johnson’s?’”

Rejected again by the mother she’s not sure she wants to see anyway, Claudia turns to her best friend, who has a seemingly perfect family: A father who’s generous with his advice and cash; a mother who enfolds strays in warm hugs; two odd but endearing sisters.

All this sets the scene for the next two years of Claudia’s life, an obstacle course through which she stumbles gamely, frequently falling face down in the mud.

She does some good things, like providing a life raft for her sister when their home port becomes especially turbulent, and, eventually, growing up a little (either or both of these things could be the “rescue” in the book’s title).

And she does at least one horrible, cringe-worthy thing, although it seems to her, at the time, that it’s 1. a good idea and 2. inevitable.

As you may guess, Claudia’s big mistake is one of the sexual references in this book, which is filled with adult themes. But it’s all in context — the details are fitting, given that the novel is set in the early 1990s among 20-somethings (and a few older folks who should know better) in New York. 

“Claudia Silver to the Rescue” reminds me of Gail Parent’s “Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York” — a book about a young woman trying to find her place near the intersection of Broadway and Family Tradition Street. Both are funny, touching at times, and timeles as well as being very much of their time.

“Claudia Silver to the Rescue,” by Kathy Ebel, Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, 2013.

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