Happy new year! If you’re hoping to read more in 2023, we’ve got just the thing for you: exciting book recommendations from our contributors. From reportage that reads like a page turner to romance against the backdrop of political turmoil, these exhilarating books are perfect for cozying up somewhere warm.
Laura is expecting a baby. A twenty-four-year-old literature instructor, she lives with her partner Karl Peter in the heart of Bergen, a city in the westernmost part of Norway. She’s suffering from a strange sort of anxiety, which she suspects has something to do with the pregnancy: everything around her seems double, not quite like what it is.
Laura has more common anxieties as well, including a problem with her apartment. The buildings in her part of town are constructed of brick on the outside and wood inside, which makes them so flammable that they’re called “chimney houses.” If their chimney house were to catch on fire, there would be little chance of escape. Then, there are the noisy students living above and below, a drug dealer across the street, hypodermic needles littering the neighborhood. She decides that she and Karl Peter have to move before the baby comes, but this decision, too, seems to bring her nothing but anxiety.
A woman writes to her fourteen-year-old daughter. Not letters but a manual. She tries to offer advice on how to live in Germany in the early twenty-first century. There are the practical matters, the dos and don’ts that are imposed on each member of society depending on the stratus he or she belongs to. There are also the more nuanced aspects of human interaction such as friendship, why it matters, and how it could be lost. The woman writes in present tense, without much ornament, it flows and flows, and in the act of writing the woman is being transformed.
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 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
Amidst the warmer days and rainy weather, we at The Common are busy preparing to release our spring issue. In this month’s Friday Reads, we’re hearing from our Issue 21 contributors on what books have been inspiring and encouraging them through the long, dark winter. Read their selections, on everything from immigration to embracing loneliness in pandemic times, and pre-order your copy of the upcoming issue here.
Recommendations: The Poetry of Rilke by Rainer Maria Rilke, Transit by Anna Seghers, Stroke By Stroke by Henri Michaux, By the Lake by John McGahern.
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.
Here at The Common, we’re gearing up to celebrate our 10th anniversary with the release of our fall issue. In this installment of Friday Reads, we’re hearing from some of our Issue 20 contributors on the books they’ve been enjoying. Keep reading for their recommendations—from a Portuguese classic to a reflection on male friendship in New York City—and don’t forget to pre-order your copy of Issue 20 today.
Recommendations: Time of the Doves by Mercè Rodoreda; A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara; The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
In this month’s Friday Reads, we’re hearing from our volunteer readers, who consider submissions for print and online publication. Their book recommendations range from poetry collections to recent novel debuts and Flannery O’Connor short stories revisited through the lens of anti-racism. Read on for new quarantine entertainment and keep an eye out for a second round of recommendations from our volunteer readers, out later this fall.
Recommendations: Thin Girls by Diana Clarke; Shiner by Maggie Nelson; Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor; Cherry by Nico Walker, Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano.
The events of Clare Beams’ debut novel, The Illness Lesson,start with the founding of a school for girls in 19th-century New England, but the novel begins just before that with an omen. A flock of mysterious red birds visits the Massachusetts estate of Samuel Hood for the first time since the collapse of his previous social experiment decades earlier, a failed agricultural commune called the Birch Hill Consociation. Some find the birds beautiful, but to Samuel’s daughter, Caroline, their “shape might be a red so bright and so unexpected, so unlike the colors of her life, that it held a violence.” Samuel is a noted idealist in the tradition of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and he, Caroline, and his acolyte David live off the income of his Transcendentalist essays. The girls’ school is an attempt to prove his latest hypothesis: that girls can be ushered into the world of ideas as easily as boys.