Originally published in the poet's collection, The Afterlife (1977), and collected in The Selected Levis (2000).
Originally published in the poet's collection, The Afterlife (1977), and collected in The Selected Levis (2000).
-- Breakfast at Tiffany's, the weird and wonderful Truman Capote novella that was (heavily) adapted into the famed Audrey Hepburn film, is opening as a Broadway play. On WBUR's "On Point," Tom Ashbrook revisits the classic with the director and two culture writers, questioning what has given the story "such staying power, such magnetism."
-- "Capote's Co-conspirators." Via The New Yorker.
-- The letters of Willa Cather were once banned. Next month, all will be revealed.
-- Stephen King and his wife Tabitha pledge $3 million to their local library in Bangor, Maine.
-- "In the Kingdom of the First Person." Looking back and forth between James Baldwin and the New York Review of Books.
-- Amazing news: Independent bookstores are doing better than they've done in years.
-- "Do-It-Yourself Language." On the inventions of languages -- including the language of mathematics.
-- Please, no more "Found in Translation" headlines! That said, here's an account from a woman learning Vietnamese-to-English translation. Mentions Ezra Pound as a translator of Chinese literature.
-- The Authors & Translators blog specializes in the relationship between ... well, you know.
-- "Looting: Mary Jo Bang’s Dante and Anne Carson’s Sophocles show that translation can be more creative than dull obedience to an original text." Via The Boston Review.
-- "The thing is, I do feel like growing up in Detroit sort of naturally forces most of us to deal with trauma. ... I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Detroiters are not spoiled. We are used to disappointment in a weird way, so we don’t go through life thinking everything has to go our way. We’re OK with change. With deterioration. And I mean, in that transcendental way. We know things die. We love them while they last. I think that kind of familiarity with decay is somewhat particular to Detroit. It allows for a kind of duende in the art, I think." Poet francine j. harris, people.
-- Arcadia: author Lauren Groff speaks with Guernica about "the art of optimism, gender bias in the literary world, and donning public personas."
-- "Around the liberal arts there is this horrible self-regard and complacency that art is always good and therapeutic." It's about time: The Tim Parks Interview.
-- Good work from The Investigative Fund: "Inside Baseball's Dominican Sweatshop System."
-- The making of the Black Panther Party.
-- I always look forward to Evgeny Morozov's smart, incisive tech criticism and "work of creative destruction" -- so decidedly unflustered by fads and assumptions.
-- Hello, writers: here's a great residency opportunity at the Thurber House.
-- Katherine Boo, artist of narrative nonfiction that she is, thinks you should read these three books.
-- Taiye Selase, author of "the eagerly anticipated novel, Ghana Must Go," write in The Guardian: "The Afropolitan."
-- "We're thrilled to hear that Marianne Boruch has been awarded the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for 2013, while Heidy Stiedlmayer has won the $10,000 Kate Tufts Discovery Award."
-- "Working Girl." On the life and work of Edna St. Vincent Millay. "... she wrote and she wrote and she wrote."
-- I am so excited to have in my hands an early copy of Muriel Rukeyser's previously unpublished novel, Savage Coast, released this year for Rukeyser's centennial by The Feminist Press.
-- Looking back at Angela Carter, and her harnessing of the power of fairy tales.
-- "The Missing Half of Les Mis" ... that is, revolution.
-- "Neil deGrasse Tyson is stepping up his game, roaring, cajoling, stomping his big, considerable, eloquent self to say we have got to, got to, GOT TO, step off this planet and go places, back to the moon, on to Mars, that we can't afford not to, that if we don't, if we don't support a manned space program, we are robbing ourselves, we are stepping on 'the foundations of tomorrow's economies,' without which, 'we might as well slide back to the cave, because that's where we're headed now, broke!'" With video.
-- This, then, is the final act of Nora Ephron.
-- How designers over the years have interpreted the cover of Andre Breton's very strange book, Nadja.
-- At The New York Times: "Favorite Book Cover Designs of 2012."
-- "Poshlost Highway." Celebrating the writings of Dubravka Ugresic, alongside Nabokov, Mandelstam, Plato, Michael Jackson, Isaac Babel, and Buster Keaton.
-- Libraries win in a Supreme Court case about books published overseas.
-- The Paris Review celebrates sixty years of literary livelihood, in part with a special issue featuring an "Art of Fiction" interview with Deborah Eisenberg that I am salivating over already.
-- Kevin Smokler on "why you should revisit the classics from high school."
-- A fabulous literary center called City of Asylum is opening in Pittsburgh next year.
-- How novelists bring to life the past, for better and worse.
-- It became hot news after it was horribly taken out of context. But regardless of that nonsense, you should read Booker-winner Hilary Mantel's marvelous and haunting speech, Royal Bodies, in full in the London Review of Books. Reading Mantel makes me want to be a better writer. Her mind and her honesty both shimmer.
I found out that Chinua Achebe died, a writer and thinker that made a real imprint on my heart, just moments before I found out that John died -- the man who was a grandfather to me my whole life, who salted his beer and cheered for Notre Dame, and who I dearly love. I'm feeling all kinds of things right now, not all of which I feel like articulating just yet. But as I reflect on loss and change, the different textures of it, I thought I might offer a toast to Achebe by turning to the essay I wrote for the Los Angeles Review of Books on the emergence and cultivation of African literature, with Achebe at its beating heart.
Chinua Achebe's life is as interesting as I've ever encountered. And he did as much as anyone to both write and cultivate literature by and about Africa.
IN THE MIDST of a continent’s roar of independence, the African Writers Series was launched 50 years ago by Heinemann, a London publisher. This was the same year Uganda, Algeria, Burundi, and Rwanda emerged from colonial rule. Tanzania and Sierra Leone did the same the year before; Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia were next. It is no coincidence that the cascading declarations of independence came just as African writers were afire with their own stories. Unsatisfied with a colonial canon that filtered stories of Africa through the perspective of white Westerners and pretended those were the only stories worthy of the printed page, the independence generation of artists claimed space for their own voices, their own leaps of imagination, their own fanciful styles.
An ambitious group gathered in that pivotal year, 1962, for the African Writers Conference at Makerere University in Uganda. Among the attendees were Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka of Nigeria, as well as Ngugi wa Thiong’o of Kenya (then James Ngugi) and Rajat Neogy, a Kampala native who would soon launch Transition Magazine. Langston Hughes, who had a particular interest in anthologizing African writers for publication in the US, made the trip from America. The young and thoughtful group discussed the formidable legacy of colonialism for African writers. How do you cultivate emerging literatures? Is it inauthentic for African writers to write in colonial languages like English and French, rather than indigenous languages? Are there certain kinds of stories that are more or less ‘African’?
These questions are hardly settled today, but the literary experiments attempting to resolve them reached a global audience thanks to the unprecedented African Writers Series. The series published authors like Achebe, who advised the project for its first 10 years. Indeed, the first title published was Things Fall Apart, a new issuing of the book that first appeared in 1958, just shy of Nigeria’s independence. Shortly after the AWS launch, Things Fall Apart became required reading by the Cambridge School Certificate Examinations for overseas students in the United Kingdom. This singular move led to Heinemann immediately selling 20,000 copies.
AWS published fiction, poetry, plays, and nonfiction, including reprints and original work, from a list headlined by authors like Ngugi, Ama Ata Aidoo of Ghana, Tayeb Salih of Sudan, Bessie Head of Botswana, Dennis Brutus of South Africa, Ayi Kwei Armah of Ghana, and Nuruddin Farah of Somalia. While many titles were written in English, others were translated from French, Arabic, Portuguese, Swahili, Achioli, and Yoruba. While the series brought international attention to the diversity of literature in Africa, Heinemann paperbacks were primarily designed in affordable editions for African students. Achebe, in his collection of essays Home & Exile, writes:
The launching of Heinemann’s African Writers Series was like the umpire’s signal for which African writers had been waiting on the starting line. In one short generation an immense library of new writing had sprung into being from all over the continent and, for the first time in history, Africa’s future generations of readers and writers — youngsters in schools and colleges — began to read not only David Copperfield and other English classics that I and my generation had read but also works by their own writers about their own people. The excitement generated by this […] was very great indeed and continues to delight many people to this day, in Africa and beyond. The British poet and broadcaster Edward Blishen said of the African Writers Series, “I saw a whole new potentially great world literature come into being.”
The taste and scrutiny of the editors is evident in the number of authors who went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature: every African Nobel laureate in literature, save one — J.M. Coetzee — is an AWS author. (As well, AWS published one of the earliest books by Peace Prize-winner Nelson Mandela.) Wole Soyinka became the first African writer — in fact, the first black writer — to win the Nobel Prize in literature in 1986. Two years later, Egypt’s Naguib Mahfouz won, a first for a writer in Arabic. South Africa’s Nadine Gordimer took the prize in 1991, and Doris Lessing in 2007. While Lessing is now a British citizen, her roots are in Zimbabwe. The series published her novel, The Grass is Singing, in 1972. Lessing’s Nobel lecture discussed the dream deferred for writers raised with a dearth of literary resources. She spoke of a Zimbabwe library she visits, where the only books on the shelves are “tomes from American universities, hard even to lift, rejects from white libraries, or novels with titles like Weekend in Paris and Felicity Finds Love.” In such a context, Lessing said, there are bound to be “books never written […] Voices unheard. It is not possible to estimate this great waste of talent, of potential.”
The last of about 350 AWS titles published by Heinemann came in 2000. By then, books were appearing sporadically under quick-shifting ownership. But after more than a decade of silence, and now in its 50th anniversary year, the African Writers Series was revived this June by Penguin Classics, with the release of two early novels by Ngugi wa Thiong’o: Weep Not, Child and A Grain of Wheat. There is nice symmetry in Penguin picking up the mantle of the legendary series. As James Currey writes in Africa Writes Back, a history of the Heinemann project:
The Series was to become to Africans in its first quarter century what Penguin had been to British readers in its first 25 years. It provided good serious reading in paperbacks at accessible prices for the rapidly emerging professional classes, as the countries became independent.
The original AWS paperbacks visually gave a nod to Penguin by borrowing its distinctive orange color for the covers.
For its part, Penguin (which shares a parent company with Heinemann) publishes Ngugi’s novel Petals of Blood, which John Siciliano, series editor, told me is a “steady seller.” It seemed natural to relaunch AWS with two additional Ngugi titles. As they get the Penguin Classics treatment, AWS titles will appear with introductions (unlike the Heinemann books) from prominent writers. The cover design gives no indication that AWS titles are distinct from traditional black-spined Classics, but their first page features a “Message from Chinua Achebe,” in which the series’ former curator gives his endorsement to Penguin’s project: “Through the series, the creative exploration of those issues and experiences that are unique to the African consciousness will be given a platform, not only throughout Africa, but also to the world beyond its shores.”
The new AWS will be ongoing, rather than finite. Siciliano “aims to make the series as diverse as possible” while ensuring that selections are driven by editorial quality. He’s also interested in titles in translation and, if necessary, would consider commissioning new translations that would put the novels “in the best possible light.”
“This is not a passive thing,” Siciliano said about launching AWS with Penguin. “This is something I pursued […] This is about enlarging the canon.”
Read Things Fall Apart (again, anew). Read Home and Exile. Read Arrow of God and Anthills of the Savannah. Read There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra and The Education of a British-Protected Child. These stories that he put in the world, both flawed and monumental, are worth your attention.
UPDATE: All day, I've caught myself trembling.
As Isak nears its sweet seventh anniversary(!), it's time for the Isak Reader Survey -- a crucial and joyful way to hear back from you. Whether you've been here since the beginning, or just discovered this space an hour ago, I want to know what you think! As always, and in the spirit of transparency, your feedback will be integrated into the public sharing that is the Isak birthday post/annual report.
Please fill out this easy and brief survey ... and, as a sign of my gratitude for your candidness, this year I'm giving out three book prizes. I'll use a random number generator, based on what survey number you are, to raffle off three works of fiction to three respondents, which I'll personally mail at no cost to you. The first winner will have a choice out of all three books; the second winner will have a choice of the two that are left; and the third winner will receive the final book.
Up for grabs in the reader prizes are:
Acclaimed author Alex Espinoza, whose writing Lisa See has called
“fresh, magical, beautiful, and evocative,” returns with a captivating,
unforgettable novel set in Hollywood’s Golden Age, as a gifted and
determined young man leaves Mexico—and everything he’s ever known—to
follow his dreams.
Growing up in a rural village at the height of the Mexican Revolution, Diego León has many first loves: singing, dancing, and hearing the stories of his ancestors, the P’urhépecha. But when tragedy strikes, young Diego is sent to the city to live with his aristocratic grandparents, who insist he forget his roots and groom him to take over the family business. Under pressure to enter a profession—and a life—he cares nothing for, and haunted by the violence once again erupting all around him, Diego flees his war-torn country to forge his own destiny.
Diego arrives in Hollywood in 1927, when silent films are giving way to talkies, Prohibition is in full swing, and “Latin lover” types are sought out even as they are looked down upon. Working his way up in the movie business with talent and ingenuity, Diego soon figures out that getting one’s face on the silver screen has as much to do with what goes on behind the camera as what goes on in front of it. But the closer Diego comes to stardom, the more he finds that the past is not so easily escaped, as he is drawn again and again to the painful legacy of history and the wounds of his homeland.
A sweeping, sensual novel of love, ambition, and identity, The Five Acts of Diego León bears all the marks of a classic Hollywood story: romance, betrayal, glamour, and an underdog hero to root for till the end.
ALEX ESPINOZA was born in Tijuana, Mexico. He came to the United States with his family at the age of two and grew up in suburban Los Angeles. Author of the novel Still Water Saints, he received an MFA from the University of California, Irvine. A recipient of the Margaret Bridgman Fellowship in Fiction at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Espinoza is currently an associate professor of English at California State University, Fresno.
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (2009; paperback)
From the internationally best-selling, Pulitzer Prize–winning author, a superbly crafted new work of fiction: eight stories—longer and more emotionally complex than any she has yet written—that take us from Cambridge and Seattle to India and Thailand as they enter the lives of sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, friends and lovers.
In the stunning title story, Ruma, a young mother in a new city, is visited by her father, who carefully tends the earth of her garden, where he and his grandson form a special bond. But he’s harboring a secret from his daughter, a love affair he’s keeping all to himself. In “A Choice of Accommodations,” a husband’s attempt to turn an old friend’s wedding into a romantic getaway weekend with his wife takes a dark, revealing turn as the party lasts deep into the night. In “Only Goodness,” a sister eager to give her younger brother the perfect childhood she never had is overwhelmed by guilt, anguish, and anger when his alcoholism threatens her family. And in “Hema and Kaushik,” a trio of linked stories—a luminous, intensely compelling elegy of life, death, love, and fate—we follow the lives of a girl and boy who, one winter, share a house in Massachusetts. They travel from innocence to experience on separate, sometimes painful paths, until destiny brings them together again years later in Rome.
JHUMPA LAHIRI was born in London and raised in Rhode Island. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and author of two previous books. Her debut collection of stories, Interpreter of Maladies, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the PEN/Hemingway Award and The New Yorker Debut of the Year. Her novel The Namesake was a New York Times Notable Book, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist and was selected as one of the best books of the year by USA Today and Entertainment Weekly, among other publications. She lives in Brooklyn, New York
Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman (2010; paperback)
A rich and rewarding story of love, loss, and the power of family from the bestselling author of Bad Mother and Love and Other Impossible Pursuits.
In the aftermath of a devastating wedding day, two families, the Tetherlys and the Copakens, find their lives unraveled by unthinkable loss. Over the course of the next four summers in Red Hook, Maine, they struggle to bridge differences of class and background to honor the memory of the couple, Becca and John. As Waldman explores the unique and personal ways in which each character responds to the tragedy—from the budding romance between the two surviving children, Ruthie and Matt, to the struggling marriage between Iris, a high strung professor in New York, and her husband Daniel—she creates a powerful family portrait and a beautiful reminder of the joys of life.
Elegantly written and emotionally gripping, Red Hook Road affirms Waldman’s place among today’s most talented authors.
AYELET WALDMAN is the author of Daughter’s Keeper and of the Mommy-Track mystery series. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Believer, Child Magazine, and other publications, and she has a regular column on Salon.com. She and her husband, the novelist Michael Chabon, live in Berkeley, California with their four children.
Sound good? I can't wait to hear from you.
"Every place is a place for a poet to be, and every town needs its poets. Washington is a marvelous mix of contradictions in people. It's a town with beautiful white buildings and incredible slums. I find it exciting, but I also often find it indifferent to everyday life -- reflected, for example, in the immense violence in this city and also in this thick skin that doesn't want to admit it or do anything about it.
"As a child reading was very physical for me -- I really felt I was chewing my way through the book, and I also associated reading with eating because I would take snacks and match them to my books. The summer when I was twelve I decided to read all of Shakespeare -- I didn't make it -- but when I began to read the plays, I found I couldn't read them in one sitting, so I would have to get snacks. I remember going through Macbeth and thinking that it was so dark and bleak that I should only eat toast or dried bread, nothing extravagant: I got pulled so deeply into that world that I wanted to feel a little like it, too. I was trying to engage all my senses. So it became a kind of game: what snack am I going to eat when I read Romeo and Juliet?"
-- Rita Dove, speaking to Bill Moyers in The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets. The book had a corresponding eight-part television series, some of which you can view here. See also the riches in the "pure poetry" collection of "Moyers & Company"
Image credit: Reed College
Big things are happening in Detroit. And I take a tricky stance on it in The New Republic. From my article:
It's hard not to feel like a failure. Detroit, my home since 2007, will soon be taken over by an emergency financial manager, hand picked by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. Detroit's difficulty in financing public services over 139-square miles is well known, and the state-declared emergency is not surprising. I knew the EM was coming, which is why I am surprised at how tremendously sad I feel. For decades, talented people have worked so hard. There is more that is inspiring in Detroit than people realize when their acquaintance with the city is as thin as a headline. But it has not been enough to thwart the city's long decline. Which is why, despite my sadness, I find myself cautiously optimistic about temporary emergency management.
Because it is an emergency in Detroit. The scale of the disaster is scarcely comprehensible. Saddled with billions of dollars of debt, the current system can't do much beyond treading water. There are a lot of reasons for this—the auto industry, urban sprawl, white flight and institutionalized racism, revenue-sharing cuts, political corruption, disinvestment. Mayoral candidates like Mike Duggan and Lisa Howze are contesting the EM decision. (So did the city council, which officially challenged the state's conclusion.) However Detroit's current mayor, Dave Bing, stood alongside Snyder at yesterday’s press conference announcing Kevyn Orr, a Washington lawyer, as EM. "I'm happy that now I've got a team," Bing said. "Now I've got partners. Our citizens obviously deserve more than they're getting. … Today marks the beginning of bringing health back to the City of Detroit."
To my astonishment, I find myself agreeing. Snyder, a Republican, appointed Orr as EM, a self-described "lifelong Democrat" who helped guide Chrysler through its 2009 bankruptcy. If his time here is appropriately limited—he says he could complete his job in 18 months—he could be a crucial part of this city's future. Michigan's long track record with emergency management has some noteworthy successes, after all. The best hope for Detroit is that Orr learns from this history.
About the image: Nice light on a walk this past autumn. Looking towards the Fisher Building on Second Avenue in my neighborhood, New Center. That's the old General Motors world headquarters on the right.
Mr. Zip, a gangly cartoonish figure with wide friendly eyes and a neat blue mail carrier's uniform, emerged fifty years ago to help the U.S. Postal Service promote its newest idea: five numbers added to our addresses to more clearly designate our locations. In 1963, the post office was overwhelmed with billions of pieces of mail each year, and suburban sprawl was spreading Americans farther and farther away from each other. At most post offices, people still sorted mail by hand, putting letters one by one into pigeonholes. The best employees could sort faster than one piece of mail per second, but it wasn't enough. What was needed was machine sorting. And machines read numbers, not handwritten addresses.
"Put ZIP in your mail!" exclaimed a cheery promotional poster. Another ad, featuring a certain yellow-hatted detective, read: "Dick Tracy says: 'Protect your mail! Use ZIP codes!'" But the number that began as a sorting utility has since expanded far beyond our addresses. Today, our ZIP code determines how we are read by policy-makers, politicians, statisticians, pollsters, insurers, businesses, organizers, and marketers. Governments use ZIP codes to determine who gets what—and this, in turn, stokes our political divisions. Private companies use ZIP code information to determine if they will, or will not, move into our communities. Retailers collect ZIP codes from customers, which can protect against fraud, but also helps a consumer database marketer collect personal information on us without our permission.
ZIP codes, in other words, have evolved from finding where we are to defining who we are—far beyond our mailbox. "Organizations—business, government—can look at the mass of people we've become and break us down into usable points," says Nancy Pope, curator at the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum. "While it was designed to help our letters travel faster, it's become like an ID system we all agree to and all use."
UPDATE: Thanks to Nina I. for pointing me to a fascinating story of a failed $2 billion development called Bloomfield Park that straddled two cities. The debacle gets at the crux of ZIP code strangeness.
Although about 95% of Bloomfield Park was in Pontiac, the Free Press reported that the U.S. Postal Service let the property keep a "Bloomfield Hills" mailing address and ZIP code, considered more attractive.
The wealthier Bloomfield Hills community 2 1/2 miles away became crucial to marketing Bloomfield Park as an exclusive, upscale community. The development's website made repeated references to Bloomfield Hills without mention of the Pontiac geography, schools and city services.
"It's the best of Bloomfield Hills, 48302," the website declared.
This is far and away the most high-profile newly-released book that I've ever reviewed. The media conversation about Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead has been hot enough that even though my article for The Christian Science Monitor is published today -- three days before the book is officially released -- it somehow already feels dated.
But I do have thoughts on the book. Here's an excerpt from the review:
The “lean in” mantra is easily co-opted or misunderstood as suggesting that the lack of women with power in the richest country on earth is the fault of women themselves: They just don’t want it enough. "Lean In" skewers this limp rationalization by examining how women are selected out of the pool of talented leaders.
The pay gap itself can be justification for a woman to quit, or settle for a mid-level position, even if her husband might prefer to take on the at-home duties. Men are more likely to be mentored and sponsored by both male and female leaders. US childcare and parental leave policies are ridiculously old-fashioned. Men are more likely to be evaluated on future potential, while women are evaluated on past accomplishments. Sandberg spotlights a study, which distributed identical resumes, the only difference being the name: one version was for “Heidi,” the other, “Howard.” While both were viewed as equally competent, Howard was liked, while Heidi was seen as “selfish” and not “the type of person you would want to hire or work for.” Success and likeability go hand-in-hand for men; if a woman is successful, both men and women like her less.
"Lean In" serves as a kind of philosophical and practical toolkit for women with ambitions of all kinds, and an education and inspiration for men who are aware that their workplaces and home lives are diminished when women are only a fraction of who they can be. Sandberg offers women dictums that sound simplistic – “sit at the table,” “don’t leave before you leave,” – but have radical consequences.
(Also, I'll work on getting this corrected, but the paragraph beginning "In 1970" should be indented -- that's a quote from Sandberg's book, not my own words.)
I've come to Boston for writerly and readerly things (also, there will be dancing, I'm assured.) As always, when I return to this city that was once a home to me, I'm attentive to the whisps of stories that sing from the bricks, the trains, the benches in the parks where I once sat and read. This is a city where I transformed in exciting and difficult ways. When I visit, I sense that personal combustion and creation spilling in the streets like an ink stain, marking me again.
Here is one of those stories.
There was a big man called J.B. who came to our breakfasts at Haley House. He was in his early sixties, I'd guess, with a graying beard (neatly trimmed) and a balding head that he covered with a baseball cap. His knees were bad, though he pretended otherwise. He came from the mountains in North Carolina; at the time, I was going regularly to Asheville to study fiction, and he liked to regale me with stories about how, as teenagers, he and his buddies used to flirt with the Warren Wilson girls. J.B. liked to cook and often helped us in the kitchen on those keening early mornings when we made breakfast for about 70 or so guys at our house. He made grits with an obscene amount of butter. I couldn't look as he dropped it in the pot in one heave, and then turned the tall wooden stirrer through the yellow mass. He'd often narrate his actions to the young Boston College volunteers, seeing part of his duty as teaching them to cook. J.B. also exerted a lot of control over our morning soundtrack, preferring boisterous soul music that might soon lure us to dance, soft-shoeing across the tile. When it was time to clean up from the meal, he was suddenly nowhere to be found.
J.B., who was homeless, made some money by washing windows on Newbury Street, which wasn't far from Haley House. It's a posh boutique street, a cozier version of Fifth Avenue. One of the places he washed was Kashmir, a wonderful Indian restaurant at the corner of Newbury and Gloucester. As part of his deal with them, he could eat lunch at the buffet, and occasionally bring a guest. One by one, J.B. took each of us in the Haley House live-in community out for Indian food. I can't stress enough how thrilling this was, on just the level of having a good meal. Our community relied on the same food that we served in the kitchen, largely from the local food bank, which meant a glut of one kind of foodstuff or another, vegetables that had about a day or so of edibility left in them, and altogether minimal choice. Much creativity, experimentation, and skill went into bringing love and goodness into whatever we served to others or ourselves -- but the long slog of a season of excess canned peas, say, wears on you. And we weren't paid at Haley House: it was an intentional community, so we received room-and-board and a $50/month stipend. Going out to eat was a special occasion. I'd feel very illicit when I would sneak out for a meal on my own, when I'd just had it with the grits: I needed aloneness, a good book, and a healthy serving of Thai food before returning to the Haley House milieu.
J.B. took me out for lunch on a Friday afternoon in summer, maybe in August, not long after we'd wound down the morning shift. He nodded his recognition to the staff at the restaurant, and invited me to eat anything I liked. He heaped his own plate mostly with the meat dishes on the buffet. We sat by the window and squinted in the sun as we looked back at one another. We talked about North Carolina. We talked about the guys and the volunteers at Haley House breakfasts. He was shyer with me than when we talked in the kitchen. We ate til we were more than full. And today, seven or so years later, I ate lunch in that same restaurant, and I thought of him.
Adam Thirlwell: The Delighted States: A Book of Novels, Romances, & Their Unknown Translators, Containing Ten Languages, Set on Four Continents, & Accompanied by ... Illustrations, & a Variety of Helpful Indexes
This nonfiction book of blinding brilliance and rare pleasures -- one that I will easily name as a favorite -- orients itself on questions of literature in translation. How does style translate, or not translate, across not only language, but also time and country, politics and personality? How does the map of the imagination match up with the map(s) of our literal world?
Read the review here.
Joe Kelly: I Kill Giants
Here it is: a compilation comic of striking artwork and an unnerving story of fantasy, monsters, and disaster. Barbara Thorson is the eccentric and geeky young girl of great confidence who guides us through the pages. I Kill Giants is a work of beauty.
Read my brief review here.
Bonnie Jo Campbell: American Salvage (Made in Michigan Writers Series)
These stories shake in the bones. Their telling is agile and nuanced; while concise, each story has a sort of lingering feel about it. One reads this book feeling as if we, like the characters peopling a post-industrial land, are on the edge--a way of life ended, or begun; the ground shaking beneath our feet; lives strained and transformed; the smallness and bigness of it all.
Read the review here.
Junot Diaz: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Yes, I hear you, I get it: I’m several years behind in joining the clamor of appreciation for Junot Díaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel – his only novel (so far) and the slow-coming follow-up to the magnetic story collection, Drown. All the same, reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao feels like a discovery. This is a wild, soaring, stylized, hilarious, heartbreaking, and highly-voiced novel, one that indulges in tale-telling and, in the ample footnotes, passionate essaying.
Read my review here.
Norman Mailer: Miami and the Siege of Chicago (New York Review Books Classics)
Let me be sure to not bury the lede: This book is a lit fire.
Read the review here.
Josh Neufeld: A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge
The author's passion for documenting these tales is evident, as is his honest concern for the failures that trapped citizens in a winless game of futility and danger. But I don't really like the book he made.
Read the review here.
Rainer Maria Rilke: Duino Elegies: A Bilingual Edition
Rainer Maria Rilke began writing Duino Elegies one hundred years ago this year while visiting -- I am not making this up -- a princess.
Read the review here.
Carla Speed McNeil: Finder: Voice
McNeil shifts between humor and the grotesque with unnerving dexterity. She plays with our expectations of gender. Class reigns heavily on the story. McNeil collects myth and futuristic technology, and collides them together in a way that dis-locates the reader.
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