February 18, 2007
Books to curl up with
We're seasonal animals, even in our reading habits. When the weather turns sultry, we migrate to the beach with light "summer reading." But what books do we reach for when we're cocooning in front of the fire under a cozy throw, red wine or hot chocolate at hand? I asked a few people who've appeared before in City Type for their recommendations.
Edith Pearlman: (Most recent book, How To Fall; her story, "Self-Reliance" is in Best American Short Stories 2007) Here is a fine new book, Deerskin, by Robin McKinley. Books written for children and young adults give us much of what books written for adults try to: conflict, betrayal, faithfulness, love, adventure – and they do it without the baggage of realism; they avoid contemporary settings in favor of timeless ones; they dispense with that overvalued element motivation. As the poet Amy Clampitt says: "who knows what makes any of us do what we do?" Deerskin is a powerful example of the genre. There's an unforgettable heroine and a superb dog.
Joyce Peseroff: (Most recent book, Eastern Mountain Time; teaches creative writing at the University of Massachusetts at Boston) My recommendation isn't a book, but a magazine. Ploughshares' Winter 2006-2007 issue, edited by Rosanna Warren, includes poetry and fiction that reflect the infinite variety of contemporary subjects and styles. There's something for everyone in this issue, and plenty to muse on before spring beckons.
Fred Marchant: (Director of the Creative Writing Program and Poetry Center at Suffolk University; author of Full Moon Boat and co-translator, with Nguyen Ba Chung, of From a Corner of My Yard, poems by the Vietnamese poet Tran Dang Khoa) Carnets, by George Kalogeris. These poems are based on the journals of the great modern French philosopher Albert Camus, and follow the life of this writer whose thoughts about conscience and art in relation to political life are all the more relevant in these times.
Marcie Hershman: (Author of the novels, Tales of the Master Race and Safe in America, and the memoir Speak to Me; teaches in the writing program at Tufts University) This list of "winter-recommendeds" sounds like a good idea now that the cold winds are blowing. And so: For the thrill of visiting over-heated, exotic locations and the great pleasure of getting there via sentences wrought with intelligence, wit, and mystery, I could hardly do better than to select Peter Carey's enormously entertaining My Life as a Fake. Set in Australia and Kuala Lumpur, this literary whodunit tosses up questions of what is authentic and what is fake, and what, in the end, our pursuit of the "authentically" poetic may cost us. Another choice is the stories of Isaac Babel, set on the edge of the winter steppes or the summer shore of the sea, against a background sweetness not of birdsong but of clinking of glasses of vodka.
Susan Donnelly: (Most recent book, Transit; contributor to new anthology of Irish American poetry edited by Daniel Tobin; poetry teacher) I am an inveterate re-reader, especially on a cold winter evening. I reread a Jane Austen just about every winter. Emma is my favorite. This holiday season I reread Dicken's A Christmas Carol and found a lot of tough social commentary beyond the "Bah, Humbug!" Authors reread recently have been the wonderful English novelist Penelope Fitzgerald (The Gate of Angels, The Blue Flower) and E.M. Forster (Where Angels Fear to Tread) . I even reread old mysteries, like Dorothy Sayers' Strong Poison. So many books, so little time . . .
Julia Collins: (My Father's War ) I always read four or five books simultaneously, because I constantly misplace them. Winter quiet suits such juggling. At the moment, scattered about my house are Jeannette Walls's memoir The Glass Castle, hard to read and hard to put down; Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals about my lifelong hero Abraham Lincoln and his relationships with three rivals he chose for his Cabinet; Jose Saramago's harrowing Blindness about an epidemic of blindness and how humanity responds; and Erik Larson's Devil in the White City, a truly astonishing account of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair focusing on two men, the architect who built it and the serial killer who used it for his cover.
I am reading both old and new books, including Tillie Olsen's sad and wise Tell Me a Riddle, Vikram Seth's Two Lives, and a beautiful new book of poems, In the Ghost-House Acquainted, by Kevin Goodan.