[Editor's note: John Freeman
is president of the National Book Critics Circle. Last fall the NBCC introduced its Most Recommended List
. On the heels of their Winter Reading List
, we're pleased to offer the following author comments on titles for the list. And on Monday, February 11th, don't miss our NBCC Best Recommended Books event
at Powell's City of Books on Burnside.]
Diane Ackerman, author of The Zookeeper's Wife and A Natural History of the Senses, recommends:
The Shadow Factory
by Paul West, Lumen Books, Santa Fe, 2008
Prose maestro, Paul West, the author of twenty-two books of fiction and seventeen of nonfiction, sad to say, was struck down by a stroke in June 2004, and is still receiving treatment for Broca's Aphasia. He cannot do mathematics or clocks, and he has only three hours of fluency a day, after which language escapes him.
Fortunately, by some miracle, and through superhuman tenacity, he has written a book about his experiences, including the humor, tragedy, and successes of regaining speech. The language is golden, as of old; the humor is infectious and ribald; and the prose style on show is very much his own. In short, this work from a writer who refused what fate handed out to him, is a unique document and extraordinary. Nothing like it exists in the annals of medicine or literature. It's a fascinating, account, both heartbreaking and uplifting, a powerfully moving book.
(Read our interview with Diane Ackerman here.)
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Abby Frucht, author of Life Before Death and Are You Mine?:
Swimming in A Sea of Death
by David Rieff
by Evan Fallenberg
David Rieff's unfortunately titled Swimming in A Sea of Death is inappropriately called a memoir; it's actually a strangely disturbing essay about medicine, guilt, and the balance between body and mind in the context of mortality.
Light Fell, Israeli author Evan Fallenberg's elegant first novel just out from Soho, observes a single family Sabbath dinner prepared by Joseph Licht, a father of five who twenty years earlier traded the life he'd been living for a homosexual love affair with a famous Rabbi. Fallenberg, also an acclaimed translator of the Hebrew into English, wrote Light Fell while a student at the Vermont College of the Fine Arts.
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Ed Park, author of the forthcoming Personal Days:
Bad Bad by Chelsea Minnis
Kill All Your Darlings by Luc Sante
The Meat and The Spirit Plan by Saleh Saterstrom
Bad Bad: Chelsey Minnis returns to rescramble my brain, in a wickedly sophomoric sophomore effort.
Kill All Your Darlings: "Commerce" alone is worth the price of admission, a lyrical essay composed on the premise that the New York of the author's memory is the new Atlantis.
The Meat and Spirit Plan, Selah Saterstrom: A relentlessly beautiful word world that eats you like a fever.
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Grace Schulman, author of The Broken String:
Failure by Philip Schulz
Coltrane by Ben Ratliff
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
Philip Schultz: Failure: Schultz writes of the heartbreak of simply being alive, and of the friction between raw grief and unexpected happiness. His music is entirely new, an odd combination of jazz, Bach, and hasidic melody.
Ben Ratliff: Coltrane, The Story of Sound: He joins Whitney Bailliet in achieving beautiful prose on jazz. A few analogies to the other arts, especially literature, are never false, always geniune. Most original and right is his "monotony of the sublime," a phrase he borrows from Lowell, and applies to Coltrane.
Denis Johnston: Tree of Smoke. Well, I read it because of its acclaim, and found to my surprise that its 614 pages made me feel that I was reading a short poem, so fine is its prose.
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John Mark Eberhart, books editor of the Kansas City Star, and the author of Broken Time, a collection of poems, and Night Watch, a chapbook:
I don't know of any form more overlooked than the poetry chapbook. Sometimes this is justified, actually; there are, like all books out there, examples that should not have seen print. But I have one to recommend wholeheartedly: Superman: The Chapbook by Oregon poet Dorianne Laux.
In six fine poems ? including the title piece, "Late Night TV" and "Cher" ? Laux surveys pop culture without ever letting it overwhelm her sophisticated, thoughtful style. The poems are neither fashionably bleak or overly sentimental; Laux, as always, finds a wonderful balance between emotional realism and gentle hope.
Bonus: Production value was obviously a consideration; this is a simple but handsome little book. Price $15. Don't see it on amazon; readers can order directly from Red Dragonfly Press.