The Sellout (2015), Paul Beatty. Biting social commentary in this novel. Laugh-out-loud moments alongside scenes that singe to read. Still amidst.
Fortune Smiles (2015), Adam Johnson. I was introduced to Johnson by Matt Bondurant (now in the Ole Miss Creative Writing dept.). I heard Johnson speak Spring ’18 on his experience researching The Orphan Master’s Son. I’ve only read the first story, but Johnson’s warp and weft create tight, enchanting worlds. This book sits on my “to-do” list.
Lincoln in the Bardo (2017), George Saunders. I had to see what all the hype was about. This collage of historical documents (journalism, letters, biographies, diaries, etc.) alongside the literature’s imagined world is having its resurrection—see Tracy K. Smith below.
The Poems of T. S. Eliot (2015), Christopher Ricks, editor. What can I say? I’m always re-reading Eliot for ongoing research and pleasure. Right now, I’m focused on “Little Gidding” as an environmental picture of what human implies in its sensual, spiritual, and socio-political wholeness.
Wade in the Water (2018), Tracy K. Smith. Shouldn’t we all read the PLOTUS? (fyi: Poet Laureate of the United States). What she’s doing with the palimpsests of historical documents from the Civil War reminds me of Ezra Pound’s use of Adam’s revolutionary writings in the Adams Cantos. I particularly like the fourth section: “Dusk,” “Urban Youth,” and “Refuge.”
Autumn (2016) and Winter (2018), Ali Smith. Autumn initially displaced me and then enthralled me in the range of what it calls us to think about justice and our own humanity, as a depiction of how we should be in the world, basically a query of what love is (and isn’t) in various forms. I want to find a similar connection to Winter, but I will need to re-read it to see if it grows on me.
Kingdom Animalia (2014), Aracelis Girmay. Autobiographical and confessional, these poems ply their pain and loss through an intelligent lyricism that catches me. Her section headings gesture to evolution’s relentless march (a book of dirt, a book of beautiful monsters, a book of graves & birds, a book of erased cities), and then find the penultimate and ultimate sections returning to a single poem on art: a fable (“On the Shape of the Sentence”) and the book of one small thing (“Ars Poetica”).
Lab Girl (2017), Hope Jahrens. I loved this memoir with its pairing of chapters biological and biographical. I’m into green and gender empowerment anyway, but this book told me things about plants I didn’t know, and maybe also about persons. I recommended this book for a summer common reading for incoming university first years and am disappointed and a little piqued that the author stood us up on a scheduled speaking engagement—without rescheduling.