Mark your calendars! For the fifth year, The Common is preparing for LitFest, a weekend of events to recognize and celebrate contemporary literature. In conjunction with the National Book Awards and Amherst College, The Common will celebrate extraordinary voices such as Jesmyn Ward, Susan Choi, Laila Lalami, and Ben Rhodes.
LitFest will be held on the campus of Amherst College from February 27th through March 1st. For more details, visit the LitFest website. But first, read on for recommendations from the participating authors.
Recommendations: Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward; Trust Exercise by Susan Choi; Battle Dress by Karen Skolfield, and The World as It Is by Ben Rhodes.
I have friends who cried their way through Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, and I expected that I would, too, but I spent much of my first viewing in a state of mild agitation. I had re-read the novel a few days before seeing the film, and was distracted as I tried to figure out the mechanics of Gerwig’s complex temporal structure. Little Women was originally published as two books: Little Women and Good Wives, and Gerwig braids together these two volumes, going back and forth between past and present. As with Gerwig’s debut feature Lady Bird, the pace is galloping. Not only are there two separate timelines, Gerwig cuts rapidly between characters and locations within each timeline.
When I was nineteen and trying my hand at novel-writing for the first time, I found myself struggling with a story that alternated between two protagonists, a mother and a daughter. After reading my newest batch of pages, a beloved mentor observed that only the daughter was coming to life on the page. “There has to be more to this other woman than her role as a mother,” she said. I realize now that she was speaking from her own recent, still-raw experiences. “Try going back in time with the mother character,” she said. “Write a scene where she’s twenty, before she has a child, and see what she does. When you become a mother, your old self doesn’t disappear. All the parts of you that were there before are still there.”
Here it is, the final Friday Reads of the decade! This month, we’re sharing the audiobooks that have entertained and challenged us this year. If you’d like even more listening material, check out The Common Online’s Poetry Recordings here.
Recommendations: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett; The Vexations by Caitlin Horrocks; Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt; All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
In 1770, Brittany, France, a young female painter, Marianne, is hired to paint a wedding portrait of a noblewoman. But the assignment is unusual: she must make the painting in secret because the bride, Héloïse, is reluctant to marry. Héloïse and her mother live in an isolated seaside estate, and her mother explains to the young painter that the portrait is necessary to entice the bridegroom, who lives in Milan. Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) is arrestingly beautiful, and I can imagine many movies that might begin with the groom’s approving gaze upon receiving Héloïse’s portrait, kicking off a storyline that would take viewers into Milanese high society. But Portrait of a Lady on Fire instead focuses on the two weeks that Héloïse and Marianne spend together in a nearly empty house by the sea (the bridegroom in question never appears on screen). Written and directed by French filmmaker Céline Sciamma, and with a nearly all-female cast, Portrait is both a romantic story of two people falling in love, and a sensitive depiction of a female painter’s life and artistic practice in the eighteenth century.
Already done reading our latest Issue? Prolong the fun with these weekend reading recommendations from our Issue 18 contributors.
Recommendations: The Weil Conjectures by Karen Olsson; Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk; 7th Cousins: An Automythography by Erin Brubacher and Christine Brubaker; How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economyby Jenny Odell
The protagonist of Mahir Guven’s debut novel, Older Brother, is the son of a Syrian emigre taxi driver and a French mother who has died by the time the story begins. He is in his late twenties. An Uber driver addicted to hash, he is living in a suburban ghetto outside of Paris he calls “the dump of France.” He fears his ennui, induced by the indifference of the countless customers he ferries around, might kill him. But despite the jadedness, his caustic humor enlivens him, endowing his fulminations with a faint existential quality.
Issue 18 is almost here! Pre-order your copy today to enjoy brand-new fiction, poetry, essays, and artwork arriving on October 28th. If waiting by the mailbox isn’t your thing, countdown to the magazine’s arrival with book recommendations from some of our Issue 18 contributors.
Recommendations: Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard by Cynthia L. Haven; Loves You: Poems by Sarah Gambito; A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa; The Farm by Joanne Ramos; and Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors.
What does it mean to “rewrite the body?” To dive deeply and lose ourselves in Wyatt Townley’s fourth book of poems, we must think of “body” as physical human frame; body as door, as house; body as a lifetime’s work, needing to be revised, re-visioned, reclaimed. Rewriting is a daily task, a practice, and the body—the poem/house—source of both refuge and danger, of “both / basement and / torna- / do/,” is also a source of connection with the world.
If you’re already as excited as we are, please enjoy this month’s Friday Reads as a special treat – featuring reviews from editors at all the winning publications.
Recommendations: When You Learn The Alphabet by Kendra Allen; Two Lives: A Memoir by Vikram Seth; The Year of Blue Water by Yanyi; Shade It Black: Death and After in Iraq by Jess Goodell; A Feather on the Breath of God by Sigrid Nunez.