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.
The word ‘heart’ means nothing to the heart. –Dionne Brand
Ricardo Alberto Maldonado calls his poems incantatory: they are meant to be sung or recited, to gather sense through their sounds. I felt this reading The Life Assignment: the enormous power of words–flat on the page and threatening permanent inertness–rising up animated and alive when given mouth and breath and ear, like fallen leaves swirled up by the wind. The collection opens with “I Give You My Heart / Os doy mi corazón,” written the week of September 20, 2017, after Hurricane Maria, the Category 5 superstorm that devastated the island and killed thousands in the Caribbean, made landfall in Puerto Rico. Maldonado’s speaker – perhaps living at a distance from the island, in New York City, at the time, like the poet himself – intones:
In this special, mid-month edition of Friday Reads, Issue 20 contributor LaToya Faulk shares her recent recommendations and reflects on motherhood in the pandemic, entering discussions on race and queerness with her daughter, and the life-altering power of babies. Take a read and make sure to grab your copy of Issue 20 here.
Recommendations: Little Labors by Rivka Galchen; The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert; Memorial Drive by Natasha Tretheway; Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journey into Race, Motherhood, and History by Camille T. Dungy
Since March, I’ve been home with my precious and verbose seven-year-old girl. It’s mostly me and her, so mothering feels more immediate. Such immediacy has a way of repositioning the self-as-reader, and I’ve found refuge in the declarative work of writers who incite new ways of understanding how to parent in the blissfulness of childrearing and the failures of it too, especially under the precarious times of a pandemic. With this, books like Rivka Galchen’s Little Labors, Brandy Colbert The Only Black Girls in Town, Natasha Tretheway’s Memorial Drive, and Camille T. Dungy’s Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journey into Race, Motherhood, and History bring me closer to understanding the many ways we imprint ourselves upon our children, and how they equally imprint themselves upon us.
I first encountered the phrase “victim of hospitality” in the Republic of Georgia, where after many elaborate toasts in their honor, plates of food pushed their way, and cups of wine pressed into their hands, tourists begin to sense the impossibility of turning something down. As generously good-natured as these offers are, at some point the visitors’ inability to reject them represents their larger lack of control within the unfamiliar setting.
In Marie NDiaye’s novel That Time of Year, translated from the French by Jordan Stump, a schoolteacher from Paris experiences a more ominous loss of control over his life while on vacation. The character, Herman, becomes the victim of a much darker kind of hospitality, and he is eventually so numbed by local good manners, glacial bureaucracy, and gloomy weather that he loses his desire to escape his hospitable captors.
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.
Early in quarantine, I subscribed to the Criterion Channel with the optimistic thought that I would have more time to watch old and obscure movies. But it took me a while to turn away from the news and Netflix’s latest offerings. At some point, however, a nostalgic desire for the past crept in. I started perusing Criterion. Losing Ground wasn’t the first thing I watched, but it was the movie that got me hooked on the channel, for the way it brought me into what felt like a lost world.
The year is 1950 in Kiev. A twenty-year-old college student, Maya Klotsvog, falls in love with her professor, Viktor Pavlovich. He’s eight years older and married. One day, the professor’s wife, Darina Dmitrievna, catches up with Maya at the tram stop and reveals that her husband loves Maya and has asked for a divorce. He wants to marry Maya and have children with her. But Darina Dmitrievna adds something else: “You’re Jewish and your children would be half Jewish. And you yourself know what the situation is now. You read the papers, listen to the radio. And then that shadow would fall on Viktor Pavlovich himself, too. Anything can happen. Don’t you agree? Babi Yar over there is full of half-bloods.”
“There were moments when I didn’t need to tell my body how to move,” poet Marcelo Hernandez Castillo writes in the opening passage of his memoir, Children of the Land. He’s introducing a scene in which armed ICE agents arrive at his house. He’s a senior in high school. The agents are looking for his father, who isn’t there. They leave. Yet their presence, a longstanding threat finally realized, creates a shift. Hernandez Castillo can no longer act without thinking. He explains, “Even laughter required some kind of effort. I had to remind myself: this is funny, this is how you laugh—laugh now, laugh hard, spit out your food.”
Review: Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
Mark your calendars! For the fifth year, The Common is preparing for LitFest, a weekend of events to recognize and celebrate contemporary literature. In conjunction with the National Book Awards and Amherst College, The Common will celebrate extraordinary voices such as Jesmyn Ward, Susan Choi, Laila Lalami, and Ben Rhodes.
LitFest will be held on the campus of Amherst College from February 27th through March 1st. For more details, visit the LitFest website. But first, read on for recommendations from the participating authors.
Recommendations: Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward; Trust Exercise by Susan Choi; Battle Dress by Karen Skolfield, and The World as It Is by Ben Rhodes.