There are books of poems that in their creation seem, for the poet, to rise out of a sheaf like an oasis, something unknown, unmapped, to be discovered in all its vivifying magic. Then there are books of poems that the poet always seemed to know the map to, where a central insight or trope allowed the book to unscroll itself in the poet’s tongue and brain and heart.
For this October round of Friday Reads, we spoke with two members of our volunteer reading team. Their recommendations feature two portrayals of California that dig beneath the sunshine and glamor often associated with the state.
Recommendations: When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain and Sex and Rage by Eve Babitz
I didn’t have much awareness of overnight childcare centers until I watched Through the Night, a documentary about a married couple, Deloris and Patrick Hogan, who run Dee’s Tots, a 24-hour daycare in New Rochelle, New York. Sadly, I don’t think my ignorance is unusual, and is likely shared by the many members of Congress who have consistently declined to fund public childcare, even after the pandemic revealed how necessary it is to working parents. Although not overtly political, Through the Night is quietly radical as it shines a light on the work of caregiving. It’s highly skilled labor that is essential to the health of children and families, yet childcare workers are often overworked and underpaid. To the extent that the government has childcare policies, they are designed to fit a model of a nuclear family with one stay-at-home parent. Director Loira Limbal shows the reality: many parents (usually mothers) are raising children on their own, and their jobs do not offer the pay, benefits, or flexibility to accommodate child-rearing.
Insomnia, the latest of the many volumes of poetry John Kinsella has published, is one of his strongest collections of the past decade. Kinsella is an Australian poet, now in his late fifties, who is at once one of the most widely recognized figures in contemporary poetry yet still too little known in some literary quarters. He is abundantly and buoyantly prolific, both on his own and with collaborators of many backgrounds and affiliations. He is at once committed to experimental, avant-garde styles and to a decolonizing, anti-racist, in his words ‘vegan anarchist’ politics. There is a third commitment that nestles aside these two, although less trumpeted: a participation in a lyric tradition and a lyric kind of ‘truth,’ the manifold, irreducible, unformalizable sort of truth Goethe (who would have enjoyed the poems in Insomnia placed in Tübingen) imagined when he spoke of Dichtung und Wahrheit (poetry and truth).
For our September round of Friday Reads, we spoke to two recent online contributors: Kaori Fujimoto, author of the dispatch “Shinjuku Golden Gai and the Midnight Diner,” and Sophie Crocker, author of the story “Lyuba Boys.” Their recommendations both speak to the power of language; an American author journeys toward writing in Italian, and a new collection of poems challenges English as a weapon of colonialism.
Recommendations: In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri and Pilgrim Bell by Kaveh Akbar
For our August round of Friday Reads, we spoke to three alums of The Common’s Literary Publishing Internship. Their recommendations delve into trauma, failure, and purposelessness, but all include notes of hope.
In our July edition of Friday Reads, two TC interns and one volunteer reader recommend transportive summer reading, ranging from a novel about a trip to Greece to a good old-fashioned western. Read onward for discussions of a braided Faulkner novel, a flâneur novelist, and two cowboys down on their luck.
Recommendations: If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem by William Faulkner, Outline by Rachel Cusk, Hanging Woman Creek by Louis L’Amour.
JinJin Xu’s first chapbook, There is Still Singing in the Afterlife (Radix Media, 2020), collects twelve poems of multivarious forms, charting equally vast emotional territory–from birth to death, from one language to another, through words and subjects that are too dangerous to be said or written. This expansive collection demands a nimble, heightened attention and rewards the reader with language of great texture and depth. I first came to know Xu as an undergrad and it was a distinct pleasure to be challenged again by her work, to feel the push and pull of the poet engaging and rejecting her reader.
Review: There is Still Singing in the Afterlife by JinJin Xu
In Tara Westover’s bestselling 2018 memoir, Educated, a wildly intelligent young woman finds herself stuck working in her family’s junkyard, unable to leave her isolated Idaho town even as she longs to go to college. Public school is forbidden by her fundamentalist Mormon father, so she is homeschooled with her siblings and forced to scrap metal in illegal and unsafe conditions. Westover’s gripping story of escape captivated readers across the country, and I found myself thinking of it as I watched Nicole Riegel’s directorial debut, Holler, which concerns a young woman facing similar challenges.
In the June edition of Friday Reads, our Managing Editor and two of our volunteer readers recommend books that have refreshed and engaged them as the start of summer creeps closer. Read onward for reflections on translation, the lasting and often problematic legacy of novels, and the importance of maintaining hope.
Recommendations: Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri, Without a Map by Meredith Hall, Lolita in the Afterlife edited by Jenny Minton Quigley