We’re starting 2021 with a Friday Reads packed with recommendations set everywhere from the wilderness of British Columbia to modern day Nigeria. Recommenders from the TC team reflect on how their recent reading tackles issues of gender and sexual identity, strained familial relationships, and of course, a classic murder mystery or two.
Recommendations: My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, The Reconception of Marie by Teresa Carmody, The Wild Heavens by Sarah Louise Butler, The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
A brave writer begins her novel with the deathbed. Instead of hooking a reader the way the proverbial gun on the wall might, opening with a death scene threatens her with the inevitable backstory.
Luckily, Narine Abgaryan is both a brave and an experienced writer. ThreeApples Fell from the Sky is her fifth full-length novel, which won Russia’s prestigious Yasnaya Polyana Literary Award in 2016. Maine-based Lisa C. Hayden translated this novel for Oneworld, and after a COVID19-based delay, the book was released in the UK in August 2020. The novel opens with Anatolia Sevoyants, the protagonist, as she lies down “to breathe her last.” Soon, though, we learn that while Anatolia fully intends to die, life is far from finished with her.
On October 21st, 2020, Editor in chief Jennifer Acker moderated a brief reading and conversation between acclaimed poets Tess Taylor and Dana Levin on the importance of place, resiliency, and writing during the pandemic. The virtual event, which served as a fundraiser to celebrate The Common’s 10th publishing year and launch the place-based magazine into its second decade, was streamed live via Left Bank Books in St. Louis. Below is a transcript of the discussion that followed the readings.
Pandemic Poets: A Conversation with Tess Taylor and Dana Levin
At the Mandraki I saw three medieval windmills standing on the pier like heavy friars with their brownish cloaks, also the statues of two Rhodian fallow deer, a buck and a doe, symbols of the island. A theory persists that Crusaders brought deer to the island because their antlers secrete an alkali substance that repels snakes. Standing at the marina I gazed at the platoni, which are smaller than other types of deer, reaching only one meter in height. Their brown coats acquire white mottles in summer, while in winter they darken. Rhodes’s ancient name was Ophiusa, which in old Greek means a place filled with snakes. “That’s why you see cats everywhere,” one of the islanders told me. “They are the guardians of the island. They kill the snakes.”
for my grandparents, who did not teach me
how to farm, and yet they scattered these seeds:
How a dunk into scalding water slips
the skin from a peach, leaves it unfuzzed, slick
for canning. How the trick to shucking corn
is one clean jerk. How jars of beet brine turn
eggs to amethysts that stain my fingers,
my lips. They left me to play in cellars
stocked with preserves and jam, in rows of trees
that released chestnut burrs for my bare feet
to find. What would they think of my pea shoots
left unlatticed, free to tendril one noose
after another around other plants,
my slapdash harvest, larder left to chance?
In the Garden of Invasive Species, I Offer Gratitude
In the final Friday Reads of 2020, we’re hearing again from our volunteer readers on what books have been keeping them engrossed and entertained as the weather gets colder. For this second batch, our readers highlight books set everywhere from an Anishinaabe reserve in Ontario to Sofia, Bulgaria and a city in 1950s Italy.
Read our first round of volunteer reader recommendations here.
Recommendations: Writers & Lovers by Lily King; Cleanness by Garth Greenwell; Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice; Marcovaldo, or The Seasons in the City by Italo Calvino, translated by William Weaver.
GOD Almightie first Planted a Garden. And indeed, it is the Purest of Humane pleasures. It is the Greatest Refreshment to the Spirits of Man; Without which, Buildings and Pallaces are but Grosse Handy-works.
—Francis Bacon, from his 1625 essay, “Of Gardens”
I open the garden on the morning of November 4, after sixteen hours of poll work the day before, sure Trump will be re-elected. The lawn is scattered with red and yellow leaves. The late roses are wan and bedraggled as chiffon ballgowns after a hard night of dancing. Shocking purple aconitum are the finale—their hood-shaped blossoms (hence their popular name, monk’s hood) visible from fifty feet away. The twisted apricot tree is filled with warblers; this English garden in Brooklyn makes a classy pit stop on their way to Guatemala.
Şükrü Erbaş was born when, as his mother said, “the vineyards were boiling”—that is, when the pekmez (a traditional grape syrup) was being made. He grew up among those vineyards and wheat fields and apple orchards, deep in the Anatolian countryside, in the town of Yozgat, not far from the ruins of the ancient capital of the Hittites.
Erbaş’s reputation in Turkish poetry hasn’t strayed far from the geography he grew up in, neither from its idyllic beauty nor from its brutal poverty and neglect. But while Erbaş doesn’t shy away from the politics or economic struggles of the long-suffering Anatolian people, he’s not reducible to a mere political or a nature poet. His reviewers usually accord him something like the status of a poet of witness. Poet-critic Şeref Bilsel calls Erbaş a socialist poet without slogans, one who doesn’t say “I need to speak” but rather “I have heard.”