Weekend Reading

SacksIn this edition, possibly the last work from the late, great Oliver Sacks, vacation and back to school reading, viva la Western, and more.

Erin Kodicek: I'm going to read The River of Consciousness--one of the last two books Oliver Sacks was working on when he died. Sacks's ceaseless pursuit to figure out what makes us human is on full display in this fascinating collection of essays, as is his infectious enthusiasm. 'River' is not released until late October. Fortunately we can all revisit Sack's prolific oeuvre, and I also highly recommend the wonderful memoir Insomniac City, penned by his partner, Bill Hayes. In it, Hayes pays tribute to their relationship, and provides a paean to one of the other loves of his life: New York City.

Adrian Liang: School begins for many students over the next few weeks, and I admit that I found myself skimming through Teen Vogue and Seventeen online so I could check out the new fashions before I hit the stores with my daughter for back-to-school shopping. Then I reminded myself: Yo, Adrian—strong is the new pretty. And I picked up Kate T. Parker’s photo book Strong Is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves as a visual inspiration for letting my kid decide what she wants to do—if anything—about the back-to-school rigmarole instead “helpfully” saying, “You know, I think lace is in this year.” Check out the photos in a blog post Seira Wilson wrote on this marvelous book a few months back. I’m also rereading Svetlana Chmakova’s Brave, a graphic novel for kids about a boy in middle school who is brave in his imagination but not so much IRL, especially when picked on by the school bullies. Chmakova’s earlier graphic novel, Awkward, is a favorite in our house, and I love her new story about learning to stand up for yourself even when it’s really scary. Maybe the results aren’t what you expect,  but every time you try, the braver you become.

Jon Foro: The Western in cinema might be dead (or at least at a very low ebb), but in fiction, the Western is thriving. And it isn't Cowboys & Indians pulp (not intended as a pejorative here), but a darker, morally unsettled, and often violent strain more easily traced to Cormac McCarthy. Philipp Meyer's The Son comes to mind, as does Patrick deWitt's The Sisters Brothers, and anything by Ron Rash or Wiley Cash. Robert Olmstead's latest novel, Savage Country, fits comfortably into this category, as well. It's 1873 and Elizabeth Coughlin - widowed and bankrupted when a headstong horse kicks her husband in the forehead - ventures into Indian Territory with her enigmatic brother-in-law on the "last buffalo hunt," a desperate attempt to salvage something of her former life. The country is indeed savage and the hunt is brutal and demoralizing, its realism heightened by Olmstead's precise and original prose. This is a lot to say about a book I haven't yet finished, but so far, it's this good.

Seira Wilson: A few weeks ago I decided on Spoonbenders for a new audio book and after 14 hours of listening pleasure, I’m down to my last 15 minutes. I’ve taken to walking around the house with headphones on just to hear a little more of Darryl Gregory’s story about the amazing, lovable, mixed-up Telemachus family. The narrator of the audio does a great job of bringing the characters to life so the bar is high for my next choice… For some weekend morning couch reading I’m looking at Mira Bartok’s The Wonderling. Bartok’s first novel for young readers (she won the National Book Critics Circle award for her memoir, The Memory Palace) is a high adventure fantasy about a fox-like orphan who finds courage, makes a loyal friend, and goes on a journey that leads to his true destiny. Sounds like a perfect escape read right now.

Sarah Harrison Smith: Daisy Johnson is one of those writers whose voice is so rich, intense, and unexpected, that a story’s worth is about all you can handle in one sitting. Take “Blood Rites,” the second story in her debut collection, Fen, which Graywolf published this spring. A pack of feral, foxy girls settle in a small village in the Fens—marshy countryside in the East of England -- and begin to slake their thirst for men. Already, you’re taken aback, aren’t you? But the girls have miscalculated: they soon find they’re taking on the qualities of their prey. “…Fen men were not the same as the men we’d had before. They lingered in you the way a bad smell did; their language stayed with you.” When one eats an animal-loving veterinarian, it starts an internal civil war. Johnson is fascinated with metamorphosis, and once you dip into these extraordinary stories, you will be too.

Alison Walker: I'm on vacation this weekend, driving up the California coast, so I'm listening to Pierce Brown's Red Rising (Book 1) as I wend my way north.  It's one of those atmospheric books that is perfect for a long trip, and Tim Gerard Reynold's narration only adds to the mood. 

Once I'm done driving, I look forward to reading Peter Manseau's new book, The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost, which brings together the history of spiritualism, photography, and Abraham Lincoln. 

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