All posts tagged: Friday Reads

LitFest Friday Reads: February 2019

It’s that time again—The Common and Amherst College will be hosting the fourth annual LitFest at the end of the month. For three days, February 28th to March 2nd, award-winning authors, poets, and critics will descend on Amherst to read, discuss, teach, and celebrate great writing. This year the lineup includes two National Book Award finalists, two Pulitzer Prize winners, and a New York Times bestseller. View the full list of participating writers and a calendar of events here.

The Common staff and interns are busily reading in anticipation of LitFest, so February’s Friday Reads feature is a selection of new work by the writers who will be visiting us in Amherst soon.

Recommendations: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson, The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, and A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley.

 
book cover Where the Dead Sit Talking

Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson; recommended by Jennifer Acker, Founder and Editor in Chief

Where the Dead Sit Talking carries a profound emotional resonance all the way through, without ever being sentimental or maudlin. You could forgive the narrator, Sequoyah, a 15-year-old Cherokee boy, for being both: his mother is in jail and he is scarred, both physically and figuratively, from her neglect. Unlike a lot of fictional teenagers, Sequoyah is thoughtful, off-beat, and relatable, and he is in mourning over the death of his foster sister, Rosemary, with whom he had grown close while living with the Troutt family. There is such dignity and human consideration in Hobson’s magnetic prose, one is captivated from the beginning by these authentic teenagers and the rural Oklahoma landscape, and we want the best for him long after the book is over.

Manhattan Beach cover

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan; recommended by Julia Pike, Thomas E. Wood ’61 Fellow

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan begins with three characters standing at the edge of the water on a gray winter day in Brooklyn in 1934. Anna, the book’s protagonist, is eleven at the time, and has accompanied her father Eddie on a business call to Dexter Styles, a Brooklyn gangster. The opening scene is brief, but neatly sets up the rest of the book—the reader comes to expect the succinct, gorgeous prose Egan is known for, gets a sense for the book’s lasting preoccupation with the sea, and meets the three characters whose intertwining lives will form the net upon which the book rests.

Manhattan Beach takes readers on a journey through New York in the ’30s and ’40s, exploring the ins and outs of crime syndicates and high society, and delving deep into the difficulties faced by women working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Perhaps the book’s most impressive feat is the way it immerses the reader in vastly different spaces. We sense the weight of the East River above us, smell the musty inside of a diving suit, hear the pulse of music and chatter in a smoke-filled nightclub, gaze out at the endless ocean horizon. The depth of imagination and research necessary to bring the space of the book so fully to life is mind-boggling, but the book is so immersive that this thought didn’t even strike me until I’d reached the last page.

A Lucky Man cover

A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley; recommended by Emily Everett, Managing Editor

Jamel Brinkley shies away from nothing in these nine stories, but the thread of masculinity, in many forms, runs through all of them. The characters look inward and the reader follows, gazing in on their uncomfortable self-reflections: sex, aging, faith, failure, race, privilege, grief, and vulnerability. Brief, specific moments—a high school reunion, a commute to work, a summer camp trip to the country—offer a lens through which to view the whole length of a life, running back into the past and forward into the future from that scene. It’s almost dizzying. These are the types of stories that come to mind again and again, long after you’ve put down the book. I was never quite done with the characters, and so I still feel them moving through their lives—taking the subway to work, dozing in class, starting conversations they can’t quite bring themselves to finish.

6th extinction cover

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert; recommended by Elizabeth Witte, Associate Editor

“As soon as humans started using signs and symbols to represent the natural world, they pushed beyond the limits of that world.” It is here, in the final chapter of Kolbert’s primer on the rise and fall of the Anthropocene, that the human power to irrevocably change the world comes undeniably into focus. “If you want to think about why humans are so dangerous to other species,” Kolbert continues, “you can picture a poacher in Africa carrying an AK-47 or a logger in the Amazon gripping an ax, or, better still, you can picture yourself, holding a book on your lap.” It is not that people don’t care, but that, in this present moment, “we are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will be forever closed.”

In this chapter by chapter exploration-elegy for the extinction or near-extinction of individual species—golden frog, brown bat, Sumatran rhinoceros—Kolbert maps not only species-by-species loss, but the impact of these events upon vast and deep ecosystems. We stand in the shadow of rhinos and at the openings of caves piled with dead bats. We stand, too, in the shadows of the myriad scientists striving to understand what is happening, what will be—looking at microsystems to understand the larger, forthcoming picture. Kolbert brings forward not only the long-term evolutionary history that preceded and brought forth this present era but the evolution and acceptance of the very concept of extinction—that there were things here before us that are not here now—as shattering as the concept of “zero.”

For further reading, I suggest “Climate Signs” by Emily Raboteau, and “As We Approach the City,” a companion photo essay for The Common by Mik Awake—signs and symbols, indeed.

Emily EverettLitFest Friday Reads: February 2019
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Friday Reads: November 2018

Curated by: SARAH WHELAN

Thank you to everyone who bought Issue 16, subscribed to receive a copy, or attended a launch event! To celebrate, this month we have three more contributors are here to give us peak at their bookshelves. Whether you’re in the mood for a classic novel, a contemporary essay collection, or an upcoming book of poems, our writers have you covered.

Recommendations: Hybrida by Tina Chang, Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner, Frantumaglia by Elena Ferrante.

Tina Chang

Flavia MartinezFriday Reads: November 2018
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Friday Reads: October 2018

Curated by SARAH WHELAN

October Friday Reads has arrived, which means Issue 16 is not far behind! This month, check out reading suggestions from a selection of contributors from this month’s upcoming issue. Then, be sure to preorder to get Issue 16 in your mailbox. 

Recommendations: Shameless Woman by Magdalena Gómez, Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination by Sarah Schulman, The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud, A Portrait of the Self as Nation: New and Selected Poems by Marilyn Chin, and This Little Art by Kate Briggs.

Shameless Woman 

Flavia MartinezFriday Reads: October 2018
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Friday Reads: September 2018

Curated by: SARAH WHELAN

Though we love a quiet summer, nothing makes us happier than the hustle and bustle of a new semester. This month, we’re reaching for recommendations from the pillars of our academic community—the professors themselves. Please enjoy these recommendations from the Amherst College English Department!

Recommendations: Let Me Be Frank With You by Richard Ford and Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi

Flavia MartinezFriday Reads: September 2018
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Friday Reads: August 2018

Curated by: SARAH WHELAN

This month, we’re celebrating our wonderful summer interns who work tirelessly to ensure The Common’s excellence despite the heat. As Amherst College students, these three readers ask us to look towards the margins; the lines between civility and scandal, poetry and prose, black and white.

Recommendations: Passing by Nella Larsen, On Poetry by Glyn Maxwell, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Flavia MartinezFriday Reads: August 2018
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Friday Reads: April 2018

Curated by: SARAH WHELAN

We can’t believe that we’re on the brink of publishing our FIFTEENTH Issue! If you couldn’t make it to our Launch Party, you can still mingle with our Issue 15 contributors in this month’s Friday Reads. When you’re done reading, be sure to purchase your copy of Issue 15 here!

Recommendations: The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, In Full Velvet by Jenny Johnson, Plainwater: Essays and Poetry by Anne Carson,  The Pilgrim Hawk by Glenway Wescott

Flavia MartinezFriday Reads: April 2018
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Friday Reads: February 2018

Curated by SARAH WHELAN

Once again, The Common and Amherst College are honored to welcome a selection of visionary authors to our third annual LitFest–a weekend long series of events celebrating literary brilliance and nuanced expression. The talks, workshops, and panels will include, among other voices, 2017 National Book Award Finalists. This month, our staff and interns have chosen their reading in anticipation of our guests, and we present here our thoughts on just a few of these dazzling works. For more information on LitFest, please visit the Amherst College website.

Recommendations: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz.

Flavia MartinezFriday Reads: February 2018
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Friday Reads: December 2017

Curated by SARAH WHELAN

This month, our Issue 14 contributors are reading works that examine the seams of time, from the construction of a fleeting impression, to the scaffolding of a historical drama. Whether it be a poem read from a pulpit or a paperback fished serendipitously from a pile of freebies, these recommendations celebrate literature’s ability to break through temporal boundaries.

Flavia MartinezFriday Reads: December 2017
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Friday Reads: November 2017

Curated by SARAH WHELAN

Whether you’ve already read Issue 14 twice or you’ve been stealing guilty glances at the untouched copy on your night stand, enjoy a little bonus content from our Issue 14 contributors! This month, our recommendations probe the supposed linear formation of our lives by questioning how we conceptualize our tasks, societies, and time itself. Poetic, comedic, and tragic, these reads shed light on contradictory forces often taken for granted.

Debbie WenFriday Reads: November 2017
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