What are you reading this summer? Each year, we ask our staff and authors to tell us what books they’d recommend—or are looking forward to reading themselves—as summer comes to Gambier. We hope you’ll include KR in your summer reading, but here are some suggestions of books we think you’ll enjoy.
KR Staff Summer Reading Suggestions . . .
David Lynn, KR Editor
- W. S. Merwin, The Shadow of Sirius, Copper Canyon.
If you haven’t read Merwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection you’re in for a treat. These poems resonate with a stark, deep elegance and simplicity. They are wise, often startling, quiet. Merwin is one of our great treasures.
- Tom Rachman, The Imperfectionists, The Dial Press.
This first novel is hilarious and beautifully written. It’s a portrait in short sections of the various characters—and I mean characters—involved with producing an international newspaper based in Rome. It also creates the history of that paper over 50 years. Funny, yes, and sometimes poignant. Great fun.
- Zachary Mason, The Lost Books of the Odyssey, FSG.
Another first book, this a series of very short pieces, “alternatives” to or variations on scenes from Homer. Often brilliant, always playful, sometimes quite dazzling, this is a book of accumulating power.
- Colm Toibin, Brooklyn, Scribner.
Toibin is one of our contemporary masters of the novel. He writes with a vividness, a calm that are entirely persuasive. Brooklyn sometimes feels like a novel out of the 19th Century, yet at the same time it doesn’t feel at all dated or stylized. This is the story of an Irish girl who immigrates to America in the second half of the 20th Century—one expects it to to be familiar. And I suppose in some ways there are recognizable incidents. Yet it is also unpredictable and deeply moving.
- Elif Batuman, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, FSG.
A treat and a surprise, this is a nonfiction look at life in the academy. Funny and vivid, it shows us characters and passions from the cloisters of scholarly enterprise.
- David Benioff, City of Thieves, Plume.
This novel creates a vivid—wow, is it vivid—portrait of Leningrad during the Nazi siege. Two entirely unlikely young men set off on a quest to find a dozen eggs for a wedding cake. Their lives depend on it. Does a plot always have to be plausible? This would be a great beach read.
Tyler Meier, KR Managing Editor
- The Irrationalist by Suzanne Buffam, Canarium Books. Pure delight, packed with the authoritative power of the declarative sentence rubbing up against a mind with a penchant for felt observation, for humor, for desire and what comes after. They are little commentaries on our romantic interiors. These poems ever so slightly weird the world, and the world is better for it.
- Self-Portrait with Crayon by Alison Benis White, Cleveland State University Press. How do these poems do what they do? Degas-rich, fear-rich, memory-rich, the tone of the book feels beautiful and rendered while simultaneously impulsive and storming; these poems always seem to me to have it both ways. I can’t get this book out of my head.
Anna Duke Reach, KR Director of Programs
- A Whaler’s Dictionary by Dan Beachy-Quick. The text of Moby Dick is reconsidered as Beachy-Quick continues Ishmael’s abandoned cetological dictionary in alphabetical order. Each definition is a prose poem to the power of reading-an original approach to philosophic content.
- Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay. John Keats complained that Newton “destoryed all the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to prismatic colors.” Victoria Finlay argues that color is an invention of the human mind and that “poets should not thank nature but themselves for the beauty and rainbows they see around them.” She travels extensively to research the history of each color in her paintbox and creates a rich, complex study of color and culture.
- The Wolf in the Parlor by Jon Franklin. Around 15,000 years ago, wolves and humans began hanging around the campfire together. Jon Franklin considers this relationship symbiotic (which seems a bit extreme) but his scientific ramble about canine companionship offers a new perspective on puppy love. Warning: must love dogs to enjoy this one.
- Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. A young, Irish girl immigrates alone to Brooklyn in the 1950’s and strives to balance an opportunity for a new life in America with her dedication to family. The book seems an old-fashioned, happy-ending novel of that era, yet the tie that binds becomes a knot.
David Baker, KR Poetry Editor
- Robert Hass’s The Apple Trees at Olema (Ecco) is this important poet’s longwaited “new and selected.” The generous selection of poems measures Hass’s great achievement in lyric variety, political aptitude, and sheer readability.
- Atsuro Riley’s Romey’s Order (Chicago) is a first book with rare, powerful distinction—experimental in its forms and syntax, yet familiar as an old-time fiddle for its Appalachian twang, landscape, and imagery.
Geeta Kothari, KR Fiction Editor
- The Girl from Foreign: A Search for Shipwrecked Ancestors, Forgotten Histories, and a Sense of Home, by Sadia Shepard (Penguin). The subtitle nearly stopped me; people searching for their roots is nothing new and the title is compelling enough on its own. Shepard weaves together several different yet complementary stories, and her writing is vivid and engaging. I liked the combination of memoir and history and the strong sense of place. Shepard travels to Bombay to find her grandmother’s small Jewish community, the Bene Israel, and record their customs and rituals. But her quest for her grandmother’s roots turns into an exploration of her own religious beliefs (she was raised in a Christian/Muslim household) and sense of belonging.
- Guilty Pleasure: Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life by Carol Sklenicka (Scribner). Well-written and very compelling, largely because Sklenicka establishes Carver and his friends and family as clearly as characters in a big sprawling family saga. I was surprised by how much his first wife supported him, and Carver’s ambivalence about children and family was heartbreaking.
G.C. Waldrep, KR Editor-at-Large
A rich palette and gorgeous language make the poems in Colin Cheney’s Here Be Monsters (Georgia, 2010) shimmer. For a more challenging take on our species’ relationship with the environment, try the complex lyrics in Evelyn Reilly’s Styrofoam (Roof, 2009). The eclectic sonorities of Andrew Joron’s Trance Archive: New and Selected Poems (City Lights, 2010) evoke Hopkins at his most recondite, or perhaps Edward Lear; they should earn his work a much wider audience.
Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky, KR Associate Editor
I’ve got a stack of books on my desk to get me through the painful process of revising a novel. The ones I’m looking forward to most are Anna Journey’s lush, surprising first book of poems, If Birds Gather Your Hair For Nesting (Georgia 2009). I gather I’ve come late to the Anna Journey parade, but her poems have caught my imagination with their cheerful savagery. I plan to savor these poems, and I can’t help feeling that it might be strange fun to go back and forth between them and Anne Carson’s brilliant new translation of An Oresteia (Faber and Faber, 2010) comprised of three different versions of the tragedy of the house of Atreus in plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. These translations are breathtaking in their boldness and wit: any distance between our world and these ancient stories vanishes in a single sharp turn of phrase. Finally, the writer I always feel compelled to reread as I work is Virginia Woolf: this summer, I’m going back to Mrs. Dalloway, taking it slowly, one or two pages a day to clear my head of my own dull voice and inhabit—if only briefly—Woolf’s sparkling, merciless prose. What a lark! What a plunge!
Abby Wadsworth Serfass, Associate Director of Programs and Production
- I don’t think of myself as a short story aficionado, but The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis may turn me into one. These short, searing portraits are perfect in their brevity, their depth, and their characterization. Davis should be required reading for anyone embarking on the writing life.
- My two other discoveries this year, while not the most recent publications, are both books that make me want to go back and read everything else their authors have written. Ivan Doig’s The Whistling Season is both a moving portrayal of life on the frontier and also a darn good story. Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book blends mystery, historical fiction, religion, and love into a compelling and thought-provoking narrative.
From Our KR Bloggers . . .
Tamiko Beyer, KR Blogger
- )((ECO(LANG) (UAGE (READER)): the eco language reader, edited by Brenda Iijima. These days, I’m pretty much obsessed with how innovative poetry must/can respond to our eco(nomic)(logical) crises. The essays here engage deeply and surprisingly with such questions. I had just read Leslie Scalapino’s essay in the reader and had been pondering her words/ideas when I read that she had passed away. I’m reading the book now as a kind of tribute to her life-work.
- Tsim Tsum by Sabrina Orah Mark. It’s a weird world Mark creates and I’m completely hooked. Weeks after finishing the poems, I find myself wondering how the characters—Walter B. and Beatrice and the Oldest Animal—are fairing. I’ve never read a book of poetry like this.
- Middlemarch by George Eliot. I spent the last few months with this novel—one that I always felt like I should read and never actually picked up. My surprise: I couldn’t stop, wrapped up as I became in the soap-opera-like drama of the characters’ lives.
Cody Walker, KR Blogger
- I started reading Laurence Goldstein’s A Room in California one recent evening, and then, like magic, I found it was two in the morning: that’s how fully I’d been absorbed by Goldstein’s re-imaginings of Los Angeles and Ethiopia. I exited the collection a bit bleary-eyed, but with brain abuzz.
- Geoffrey Brock’s Weighing Light and Catherine Wing’s Enter Invisible share interests in the springiness of rhyme and the heft of cathedral tunes. Brock writes movingly of the way “wonder . . . [f]ills the cage of your ribs with a riff of wings.” Wing riffs: “Add me to the ribs of your dome, and / arch my back.”
William Walsh, KR Blogger
- The French Exit by Elisa Gabbert (Birds, LLC). The poems in The French Exit explore ideas and concepts in favor of emotion. Elisa Gabbert looks closely at her subjects: her language is precise and there’s just no arguing with her lines. You read a line and think, yes, that is so. When she writes emotion, it’s found in dream or within an image presented for its perplexity. “My emotions are all set to default,” she writes. That default might be guffaw but it is not glib. She is a poet of appraisal and she can be acutely dismissive. Gabbert writes smart and knowing poems that show the evolution of an idea. And I’m sure this is the only collection published in 2010 that puts the word “retronymically” to work.
- Say, Poem by Adam Robinson (Awesome Machine Press) Part One of Say, Poem by Adam Robinson, the man behind Publishing Genius, is constructed in the form of a poetry reading, including introductions of poems and related patter. It’s a charming format. The text between the poems made me think of Adam’s blog posts on publishing at HTML Giant. The poems are plainspoken and funny and profound. Part two of the collection, “Say, Joke” is a conflation of jokes (and riddles), focused on set up and delivery. Just like poetry. Robinson works here on themes of race, religion, blondes. Interesting what can be said of/with these topics when at the start you say: joke.
And from our Authors . . .
Frank Stanford’s selected poems, The Light the Dead See (University of Arkansas Press, 1991). This volume brings together selections from all seven books of poetry by Stanford, who died a suicide, in 1978, at the age of twenty-nine. The Light the Dead See offers readers the dark, obsessive surrealism of Stanford’s grotesque yet vibrant American South where mythologized boys wander the backwaters with friends named “Born In The Camp With Six Toes” and where Death emerges as a character in the late poems. Stanford, called the “Swamprat Rimbaud,” is an unusually gifted and feverish metaphor and simile-maker: “I saw the black seam of your stocking / Running down the side of the mountain like a creek”; “Death was like a man in a bow tie / Looking for a hubcap”; “So many ships in the past // their bows bearing women / as stalks bear eyes”; “When Death’s bread rises / Out of its grave”; “The past / Is like a woman // Who ran off / With everything / But your belongings.” As you enter Stanford’s world, “You cast your shadow like dice.”
Allison Hedge Coke
Looking forward to a hot summer rainfall, one that erases any speculation, worry, or conjecture made manifest into blocking my reading time. Here are some of the books I’ve picked to go: Jon Davis, Preliminary Report, Copper Canyon; Chris Abani, Sanctificum, Copper Canyon; Eddie Chuculate, Cheyenne Madonna, Black Sparrow Books; M. L. Liebler, Working Words, Coffee House Press; and Aaron Michael Morales, Drowning Tucson, Coffee House Press. Tons more on the wish. Right now I am in repeat readings of Lee Ann Roripaugh’s On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year (Crab Orchard Series) and Miko Kings by LeAnne Howe (Aunt Lute), both crazy beautiful works.
- The books I look forward to spending time with this summer are Henri Cole’s Pierce the Skin: New and Selected Poems, Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire, and Garry Will’s Henry Adams and the Making of America.
- The book I’ve been recommending to all poets is Jim Longenbach’s The Art of the Poetic Line. Hey, for a lot of us, this is great summer reading. Another one I’m currently in love with is George Wright’s Shakespeare’s Metrical Art.
Sandra Beasley’s I Was the Jukebox.
Sara Marie Ortiz
I’m on a cold-war science fiction kick this summer, and have just finished
reading John Wyndham’s 1955 novel The Chrysalids (reprinted by The New York
Review of Books, 2008). This is a wonderful, paranoid adventure set in a
post-nuclear rural dystopia, a community guided by a scary sort of genetic
fundamentalism. Really terrific stuff, as is George R. Stewart’s 1949 novel
Earth Abides, which tackles similar themes.
- I’m making my way through Richard Holmes’ The Age of Wonder: How the
Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science. That’s a
mouthful of a title, but this is a hefty book—not only in size but in
ambition. Holmes seeks to bring alive western intellectual culture in the
late 18th and early 19th century, a time when science was coming into its
own, yes, but also a time when poets and painters were undertaking
exploration and experiments of their own. And, as Holmes shows, some of the
scientists were also poets, and vice versa; the disciplines weren’t
estranged, as they are now.
- Holmes has a historian’s discipline and a novelist’s eye for character,
scene, and detail. If you don’t think of the history of science as material
for a “beach read,” try this book: it’s a page-turner, enlightening and (dare
I say?) entertaining, as well.
I’d recommend The Beach of Falesa, a brilliant novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, which was surely a model for Heart of Darkness; plus The Last Weekend, chilling tale of male rivalry, by Blake Morrison.
I highly recommend reading I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali, with Delphine Minoui (Three Rivers Press, 2010).
For many years the books of William Maxwell stood on my shelf with the aura
of straight-A students; they were in fact too highly-recommended by others
and I thought I should save them until the clamor died down and I could find
my way toward them for myself. This summer, at the quieter and more
insistent suggestion of a young poet, I started with the 1937 novel, They
Came Like Swallows and now am in the midst of its sequel, published over
forty years later, So Long, See You Tomorrow. They deserve all the praise
they’ve been given, and they deserve any reader’s calm attention. Reading
them is an experience of anguish and wonder—often, almost unbearably, at
the same time.