Marilynne Robinson, Lila (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2014)

Marilynne Robinson writes loneliness better than any writer I know. Is loneliness the right word? It feels inadequate somehow. I’ll try again: Robinson writes what it means to feel the devastating singularity of one’s own existence in a void not even dust can touch.  But if Robinson were to put it in terms as inflated…

Clarice Lispector, Água Viva (1973; trans. Stefan Tobler, New Directions 2012) & Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta, The Easy Body (Timeless Infinite Light, 2017)

To be clear, I bought these two books at the same time, though the recommendations came from two completely different sources (Luboviski-Acosta from email spam I shouldn’t have opened [but glad I did] and Lispector from a very good friend’s reading wishlist), and I read them back-to-back, so if there seems to be something slightly…

V.S. Naipaul, A House for Mr. Biswas (1961; Vintage 2001)

We’re in British colonial Trinidad. Sugar plantations (only the most recent and enduring of Spanish, French, and English cash crop profiteering over the past five hundred years) sicken the island’s sweetness. Slavery’s legacy and indentured servitude cast a pall over the hardscrabble diaspora. And American military outposts, in the death spiral of a second world…

Olga Tokarczuk, Primeval and Other Times (1992; trans. Twisted Spoon Press, 2010)

Ordered this book Thursday, book arrived Friday, read first page Saturday morning, turned the last page Saturday night, couldn’t put it down. By Polish Nobel Prize-winner Olga Tokarczuk, Primeval and Other Times is one of those stories that spans decades of historical violence so obscene, so impossible to imagine, that only by making room for…

Nick Hayes, The Book of Trespass (Bloomsbury, 2020), Pt. 2

So much here that resonates with our moment now. An economy crippled by pandemic, and with its accompanying sorrows, the possibility—the demand—for real change, especially for the poor and working classes. Economic mobility and trespass are bound together by a kind of reciprocity, as Hayes beautifully portrays chapter after chapter. But that’s not the half…

Nicola Davies, Last: The Story of a White Rhino (Tiny Owl, 2020)

A story of hope against hopelessness. Extinction, maybe like death in general, is a tough thing to explain to a child. I’ll never forget the first time it hit me. Might sound silly, but remember the movie Short Circuit? With Ally Sheedy, Fisher Stevens, and Steve Guttenberg, circa 1986? It’s the “Reassemble, Stephanie! REASSEMBLE!” scene…

Nick Hayes, The Book of Trespass (Bloomsbury, 2020), Pt. I

I grew up in Louisiana. Lake Charles, in fact, where Hurricane Laura just broke the record for strongest landfall since 1856. Louisiana, like most Gulf Coast states, isn’t a walker’s paradise. It’s too hot and too humid to go traipsing around the neighborhood. Imagine waking up at what should be a cool, dark morning hour,…

Helen Macdonald, Vesper Flights (Grove Press, 2020), Pt. I

Almost anytime I read about someone wrestling with the notion of “home,” I’m instantly hooked. Especially if the idea of a fixed estate tied to kinship and property and a generation or two of Christmas holidays no longer feels home-like, somehow. There are more than a few of us wandering this floating rock that lack…

Jerry Saltz, How to Be an Artist (Riverhead Books, 2020)

How-to books are not usually my thing, especially when it comes to art. Even instruction manuals—what brush should I use? how much linseed in this medium? how do I draw a horse that doesn’t look like a chicken?—end up on my bookshelves unread, no matter how many times I say to myself, Today, I’m going…

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