One of the pleasures of summer in Gambier is having time simply to read. We hope you’ll include KR in your summer reading, but we also thought it might be fun to ask our staff and authors to tell us what books they’d recommend—or are looking forward to reading themselves—on those long summer evenings to come.
KR Staff Summer Reading Suggestions . . .
David Lynn, KR Editor
- Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, a quiet, subtle narrative and meditation of growing force.
- The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, absolute inverse of the above: full of energy; frenetic; vivid; powerful—a contemporary multicultural novel of great promise.
- The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer, a perfect beach read—spies and treachery and memorable characters. Great fun.
- Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans by Dan Baum, absolutely wonderful literary nonfiction, bio’s of an assortment of memorable New Orleans characters across forty years. Brilliant writing!
- August: Osage County by Tracy Letts, the Pulitzer Prize winning drama now in print, reads unusually well on the page, full of searing dialogue.
- The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, beautiful and moving chronicle of a few days of the terrible siege of Sarajevo.
Tyler Meier, KR Managing Editor
- Revolver, Kevin Connolly, House of Anansi Press. That book that makes me wish I was a son of a gun. Play and pathos in equal parts, weird and wise. Is it coincidence it is on the shortlist for the Griffin Prize? Not at all.
- Map of the Folded World, John Gallaher, Univ. of Akron Press. For any of us that love a declarative sentence more than we probably should. If saying it can make it so, then the best poems in this book are bellwethers.
- Pacific Shooter, Susan Parr, Pleiades Press. Absolutely delightful little lyrics, discursive and dreamy. Susan Mitchell called them magic on the dust jacket blurb, and I’m not sure there’s a better way to describe them. Parr is not a poet who needs to wind up in a poem and work toward the good stuff–her poems are just the good stuff. Every page.
- The Dance Most of All, Jack Gilbert, Knopf. This is really two recommendations: one needs to read Views of Jeopardy (Yale), Gilbert’s first book from 1962, to go along with this very late-in-life collection. Let us all write lovely poems for such a long time.
- An Oresteia, Anne Carson, Faber and Faber. Do I seek brownie points by recommending ancient Greek translation for summer reading? Of course! Carson’s work here is tremendous; if you choose this adventure, hold on. It’s numbingly good. Roethke reminded us of the shapes a bright container can contain; O the shapes here!
Anna Duke Reach, KR Director of Programs
Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles. A rant by a father stranded in the airport due to a cancelled flight transcends from fictional memoir to philosophical musings on love, life and a wide array of contemporary issues. It is a verbal cocktail, a quick but powerful read by the NY Times cocktail columnist.
Dangerous Laughter: Thirteen Stories by Steven Millhauser. Dutch still life painters once observed every flower petal, beetle wing and dog hair with painstaking detail. Steven Millhauser observes hysterical adolescents, the hidden self, and high school friendships with a similar eye for detail that slows time under a magnifying glass which he passes to the reader in these stories.
Then There was No Mountain: The Parallel Odyssey of A Mother and Daughter through Addiction by Ellen Waterston. A very compelling tale of honest emotion through a painful period of life—an antidote for those who feel overcome by taking this journey with their child. The setting is the desert, and the return to normalcy is like the rising sun bringing ever-longer periods of daylight.
Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky, KR Associate Editor
The Kindly Ones, Jonathan Littell. “Oh my human brothers, let me tell you how it happened . . . ” One summer, one book. A 975-page tour de force, winner of the Prix Goncourt and the Académie Française’s Prix de la Littérature, narrated by an unnervingly frank SS man who gently takes your hand and leads you through hell.
Geeta Kothari, KR Fiction Editor
Generation Loss, Elizabeth Hand.
Cass Neary, a has-been photographer and drug user, goes to an island in Maine hoping to interview the reclusive Aphrodite Kamestos, another former photographer–and alcoholic. Cass is an unlikeable narrator, full of rage and given to impulsive behavior and paranoia, but Aphrodite is not much better. She only cares for her dogs and for drinking and accuses Cass of stealing her vision for no (initially) apparent reason. I might have given up on this, but the writing is terrific, especially when Hand focuses on the setting, and the story becomes more and more creepy and disturbing as it progresses. I’m not quite sure the writer pulls off the plot; Cass’s motives are too clouded by drugs to make much logical sense. But the secondary characters, especially Aphrodite’s adult son, are more likable, and the growing mystery of the missing local kids is compelling. And in the end, we’re left with the inevitable questions about life and art, and how far some people are willing to go.
G.C. Waldrep, KR Editor-at-Large
I’d planned to spend this summer and early fall reading or rereading pretty much all of Wallace Stevens (in the Library of America edition) and Edmond Jabès, with some Maurice Blanchot thrown in for good measure. That said, some interruptive light:
- It has taken long enough for Jack Spicer to re-enter general literary circulation. The single book I’m looking forward to the most this summer is Spicer’s My Vocabulary Did This To Me (Wesleyan, 2008).
- In a completely different register, also Agha Shahid Ali’s The Veiled Suite: Collected Poems (W.W. Norton, 2009). Also Geoffrey Hill’s new Selected Poems (Yale, 2009), in spite of the terrifying photograph of Hill that appears on the cover.
- Some of Alice Notley’s books that I’ve missed in recent years, starting with Alma, or the Dead Women (Granary Books, 2006).
- China Mieville’s The City and The City (Del Rey, 2009). In the absence of an epic-length novel from Kelly Link, Mieville is who and what we have—and glad for that.
Abby Wadsworth Serfass, Associate Director of Programs and Production
Summer reading always makes me think of long, serious books I’ve never gotten around to (I spent a lovely, if cold and gray, summer in San Francisco reading Anna Karenina) or of swift and absorbing reads which overtake a weekend but hold onto my imagination all summer (read Julie & Julia, and try not to plan your next over-the-top dinner party). With this in mind, I’ll offer a few recommendations. One of my favorite “serious” authors is Willa Cather. Her Death Comes for the Archbishop is probably my favorite, but My Ántonia runs a close second. For swift and absorbing, I’ve been telling everyone I know to read Tana French’s linked novels In the Woods and The Likeness: two tense, psychological thrillers which portray some of the most genuinely human protagonists I’ve met, while also engaging fascinating questions of perception and identity.
And from our authors / readers . . .
- Farrah Field’s volume of poetry from Four Way Books, Rising.
A volume that focuses largely on the death of the speaker’s sister, these poems, at their best, manage to be about anything other than death and loss, manage to be simultaneously elegant and visceral, humble and crushing. There is an honesty here that is rare among writing of any kind; it’s simply instinctive.
- Ambrois Pare’s On Monsters and Marvels (University of Chicago Press).
This chief surgeon to both Charles IX and Henri III compiled this illustrated encyclopedia of “curiosities, of bizarre beasts, monstrous human animal births, and natural phenomena.” The simple fact that Pare is able to bypass the beast fable in preference for simply accepting a human “monster” with four legs and four arms as being as natural as a starling or yew is fascinating, as are his ideas on why these “monsters” came to pass at all.
Sweet Mother of De Lawd. You are asking ME for a summer reading list?
ME, the most opinionated litry bonehead in the history of ink-spouting?
You are asking me, who lectures his children daily about the paramount
duty of every American to read Twain’s Roughing It and Life On The
Mississippi and his undeservedly unsung autobiography, all of which are
so much better than his fiction that it’s a sort of zen joke, and DON’T
start with me about Huck Finn, because YOU know and I know that Twain
totally PUNTED the end of that otherwise good book, and DON’T keep
asking me about stuff people should read in summer, because soon I will
be OFF and RUNNING about how my gawd EVERYONE has to read Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine in summer, it’s the great american summer novel, and summer also means rereading David Carkeet’s genius baseball novel The Greatest Slump Of All Time, and summer to me always means Kon Tiki for some (summ) reason, I think because I first read it in summer at age ten sprawled in the moaning and glorious grass. Also summer’s a great time to read whole series of books like salmon runs, so really you should read the late George Macdonald Fraser’s glorious Flashman novels, all eleven of them, in no order, BECAUSE I SAID SO, and I am the dad.
Linda Bierds’s most recent collection, Flight: New and Selected Poems (Putnam, 2008), is a stunning compilation of work drawn from her seven
previous books of poetry. Flight reflects Bierds’s ongoing commitment to extracting history’s peculiarly luminous details, which she interrogates through her fierce balance of lyricism and gracefully woven narratives. These poems are haunting, vigorous, lushly imagined, and there is an earnestness, an urgency, to Bierds’s poems that make them a refreshing alternative to much contemporary poetry’s easy irony.
Michael Czyzniejewski’s debut fiction collection Elephants
in our Bedroom
Czyzniejewski is as funny—in that skewer-through-the-heart kind of
way—as anybody writing today.
I recommend the newish online magazine The Rumpus, edited by San Francisco literary dynamo Stephen Elliot. It’s a culture magazine that covers, in its wide-open, witty way, books, politics, music, art, film, and, most important, sex (articles range from “The Last Poem I Loved” to “The Science of S&M”). Bookmark it!
Couldn’t be easier. Kevin Wilson’s Tunneling To The Center Of The Earth.
Stories Done: Writings on the 1960s and Its Discontents by Mikal Gilmore would be my choice for stray quiet corners of a summer day. At this particular historical moment, there is a fascinating gleam and resonance to these heartfelt portraits of revolutionary artists such as Phil Ochs, John Lennon and Alan Ginsberg. (Simon and Schuster, 2008)
A book I highly recommend is Donald Ray Pollock’s Knockemstiff. Pollock always allows his charactors their humanity, but he never sentimentalizes them. This collection is an outstanding debut.
- Andrew Hudgins. Shut Up, You’re Fine! Poems for Very, Very Bad Children.
With illustrations by Barry Moser.
Hudgins’s newest book of poetry is formally brilliant and appallingly funny,a parody of the sweet, instructive, and cautionary types of poetry written for children, punctuated by equally dexterous, witty, and appalling pencil drawings by the great Barry Moser. It’s hard to resist a book whose poems have titles like “We Buried the Cat But the Dog Dug Her Up.” Warning: Do not read aloud to anyone imbibing liquids.
- Philip Roth. Indignation. Just out in paperback, Roth’s latest novel shows him working on a smaller scale but with no diminution of his imaginative powers. A Jewish college student escapes his home in 1950 Newark to enroll at WASPy Winesburg College in Ohio and suddenly finds everything going disastrously wrong with his life.
- Sabrina Jones. Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography. Hill and Wang.
This entertaining and incisive biography of Duncan addresses several major critical questions about her life and art, while keeping us enthralled by its narrative, presented in a linear drawing style as confident and flowing as Duncan’s dances.
- Nancy Goldner. Balanchine Variations. Univ. Press of Florida.
Longtime dance critic Goldner discusses some twenty ballets by George
Balanchine, founder and ballet master of the New York City Ballet. While the essays make excellent introductions to the dances, Goldner’s powers of observation and analysis will help even the lifelong ballet fan see new things in Balanchine’s work.
I’m looking forward to Lydia Peelle’s debut story collection, Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing (Harper Perennial, July)–most of the stories have been previously published in journals, are all very different, and definitely show that this writer has chops.
And for those who like to really sink into a big novel during the summer, I heartily recommend Salvatore Scibona’s debut The End (Graywolf), which came out last year and has since been a finalist for the National Book Award, among other honors. This is the kind of thing so good, so epic, so smart, so beautifully written, and so moving that it just doesn’t come around very often.
I’m looking forward to reading, some of these belatedly:
- Operation Wandering Soul, the 1993 novel by Richard Powers
- A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Martin Johnson Heade by Christopher Benfey (2008)
- The Invisible Dragon: Essays on Beauty, Revised and Expanded by Dave Hickey (April 1, 2009). His Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy (1997) is sensational.
- Armenian Golgotha by Grigoris Balakian, Peter Balakian, and Aris Sevag (Mar 31, 2009)
- Oh, always interesting is Jonah Leher’s blog, The Frontal Cortex.
Lisa Russ Spaar
Charles Wright, Sestets (FSG, 2009). A series of elegant, six-line
meditations, each resembling an intricate cipher or Chinese character and offering a meditation at the same time each evening over the course of a year, in which Wright quietly dazzles the reader with his inimitable mix of God-hunger, sidereal jones, “metaphysics of the quotidian,” and prodigal consolation of the ear in the heart: “There comes a time in one’s life when one wants time, / a lot of time, with inanimate things. / Not ultimate inanimate things, / Of course, but mute things, / beautiful untalkbackable wise things. / That’s wishful thinking, cowboy. / / Still, I’d like to see the river of stars / fall noiselessly through the nine heavens for once, / But the world’s weight, and the world’s welter, speak big talk and big confusion” (“Cowboy Up”).
Ron Slate, The Great Wave (HarperCollins, 2009). With prescient clarity, each of these poems in Slate’s powerful second collection is ravished and ravaged by depths historical, personal, cultural, material, spiritual. Despite their rich, complex matrix of worldly and cerebral knowledge, the speaker never once uses his wisdom against the reader, preferring, as Rilke would say, to lean into the questions rather than the answers. Each poems is rife with Keatsian soul-making. beauty, and humility: “Like a blood oath / between brothers, my soul and I sing a song / to each other, such as ‘My Old Flame,’ / ardently flubbing the lyrics.”
- The New Valley, by Josh Weil. A collection of three beautiful novellas.
- Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry. An amazing novel. A favorite.
- The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards, by Robert Boswell. My pick for best book title of the year.
- Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich. Newly reprinted, still a classic, a fascinating and damning exploration of class differences.
- One Flea Spare, by Naomi Wallace. One of my all-favorite plays. I wish I could see this staged. It’s a joy to read.
- The Mercy Papers, by Robin Romm. A wonderful, tough memoir, by my partner, about the last three weeks of her mother’s life.
- “I Married a Novelist,” an essay by Eric Puchner:
I love this essay. True, funny, and recognizable, especially for anyone who lives with another writer.