Are you up for a challenge? This month we’re reading books that test us as they enlighten us, seeking to explain the world on a grand scale—warts and all. We’re held rapt by catalogs of world travel, remembered across decades; the brutal pageantry of crisis erupting through daily rituals; the history of poverty and injustice; the intricacies of mental illness, personal and societal. Don’t turn to these titles for escape—we’re here to focus the lens of the human experience and find something as irascible as it is beautiful.
Photography, science, geo-politics, instruction manuals, and a good Springsteen song—this month we’re reading works of literature with foundations in other art forms. We’re also recommending a memoir, flash fiction, linked short stories, a novel, and a poetry collection—the greatest genre spread of any Friday Reads installment since the feature’s inception. So this June, as we move into summer at last, join us at The Common in trying something new, something varied, something complex. Spice up your reading list and genre-bend your life!
Hold Still by Sally Mann, A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin, The Spark and the Drive by Wayne Harrison, Barefoot Dogs by Antonio Ruiz-Camacho, Itself by Rae Armantrout.
We’re taking this month to revisit books from our pasts, and find new ones that will stay with us. Some of these titles are old favorites, which have found their way back to their recommenders after years apart. Others are books long unread but known by reputation, “by proxy,” finally experienced. We are reading both echoes built on classics and violent shifts from the familiar. These are books both for everyone and specifically for you. They will linger with their recommenders—with all of us—long after reading, into “every possible future.”
Junior College by Gary Soto, Karate Chop by Dorthe Nors, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Remembering Babylon by David Malouf, Aeons by Max Rivto.
This month’s books are full of surprises, for their characters and their readers. Whether it’s a world of whimsy, fantasy, or magic(al realism), or else a microcosm of grief either private (a family home) or public (a busy airport), we’re along for the ride as imagined worlds both playful and harrowing rise and fall on these pages.
Play for Me by Céline Keating, The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog by Alicia Ostriker, Munich Airportby Greg Baxter, Where the Bird Sings Best by Alejandro Jodorowsky,The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann
With the arrival of spring we’re leaping bravely into unfamiliar worlds—safe in the hands of experts, of course. An eerie peripheral dreamscape; quotidian life viewed from upside down or inside out, never as expected; the dark bureaucracy of the criminal underground; messages ferried to and from ghosts—these are unmapped terrains, and what better companions than these authors, their first cartographers? Expand your world(s) this month with these suggestions from our contributors and staff.
Bone Map: Poems by Sara Eliza Johnson, Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins, Blood and Money by Thomas Thompson, Self-Portrait in Greenby Marie NDiaye, Elegies for the Brokenhearted: A Novelby Christie Hodgen.
This month we’re playing in the borderlands, exploring the spaces between categories. Intercontinental love stories; strangers in strange lands; the struggle to remain constant in a world of transience. These books bend genre and their subjects navigate the passages between success and failure, present and past, public and private life—between where they are and where they have in mind.
Middle Men by Jim Gavin, The Shape of a Pocket by John Berger,Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questloveby Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Ben Greenman, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Belonging: A Culture of Place by bell hooks.
As we begin 2015, our recommenders are heading into the wilderness. These books range widely through time and space, each embracing its own unique heart of contradiction—exile and home; passion and failure; reason and chaos; doubt and confidence. Heavy with both fictional biography and memoir, we bring you familiar faces from the dark woods of alienation and obsession. Dive into the new year with these five maps by which to recognize yourself and find a path through the forest.
The Same Roads Back by Frank Dullaghan, The Season of Migration by Nellie Hermann, Swimming Studiesby Leanne Shapton, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines by Janna Levin, Fourth of July Creekby Smith Henderson
This month’s recommendations from The Common’s contributors and staff deal with the intersection of old and new, ancient and modern, on every level—personal, religious, political, even supernatural. Perhaps in the spirit of the season, we seem preoccupied by stories of intergenerational strife, love, and ambition. In their urgent focus on belief and truth-seeking, these books represent a literature of searching, a catalogue of quests across time and around the world.
To the End of June by Cris Beam, The Harafish by Naguib Mahfouz, We Others by Steven Millhauser, Hum by Jamaal May, High as the Horses’ Bridles by Scott Cheshire.