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This Week's Reading

Staff Picks: Trollope, Švankmajer, and Trevor

January 7, 2011 | by

Over the break I read what is now my very favorite Trollope novel, and the one I was saddest to finish: Framley Parsonage. I’m coming down off it with DeLillo’s Running Dog, Henry Petroski’s history of the bookshelf, and The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. —Lorin Stein

I watched Jan Švankmajer’s Little Otik and Alice in one night; both films are hilarious and nightmarish. Švankmajer is best known for his use of stop-motion and his exaggerated and bizarre sound editing, which reminds me a bit of David Lynch. I love the dialogue of his characters, especially that of the young girl in Little Otik, Alžbětka, who is perfectly vulgar. —Natalie Jacoby

I have been enjoying William Trevor’s Selected Stories for that moment of calm at the end of each day. I’m about a quarter way through the enormous book, but my favorite story is still the first, “The Piano Tuner’s Wives.” It begins: “Violet married the piano tuner when he was a young man. Belle married him when he was old. There was a little more to it than that, because in choosing Violet to be his wife the piano tuner had rejected Belle, which was something everyone remembered when the second wedding was announced.” —Thessaly La Force

It might not happen often, but it’s always good to agree with Christopher Hitchens when it comes to a matter of enormous diplomatic consequence: making the perfect cup of tea. Hitchens has some stern words about the American interpretation of the Great British cuppa. But as is ever the case with The Hitch, there’s a subtext. Replete with digs at Jimmy Carter, John Lennon (‘a turncoat to more than a century of sturdy Liverpool tradition’) and Yoko Ono, this polemical recipe takes its cues from George Orwell’s own piece on the subject and serves as a gently irreverent tribute from one great journalist to another. —Jonathan Gharraie

For the fourth time, I read Akhil Sharma’s short story, “Cosmopolitan.” At this point, I can recite Sharma’s lines from memory, but he still catches me off guard with his terse and emotional writing: “At some point, in a burst of self-hate, Gopal moved his clothes from the bedroom closet to a corner of the living room, wanting to avoid comforting himself with any illusions that his life was normal.” —Sam Dolph

I sometimes tune out when people attempt to justify art—poetry in particular—in terms of anything other than itself. But with The Human Eye: Essays, Adrienne Rich uses her considerable insight into the craft of writing as a starting point for intense thought about how and when to empathize, protest, engage, and serve. Warning us against “the reification of poetry, whether as iconic or irrelevant,” she quotes Muriel Rukeyser: “A poem is not its words or its images, any more than a symphony is its notes or a river its drops of water. Poetry depends on the moving relations within itself … expressing the moving relation between the individual consciousness and the world. The work that a poem does is transfer of human energy, and I think human energy may be defined as consciousness, the capacity to make change in existing conditions.” Rich’s call to action transcends the political, and she is, as usual, both credible and inspired. —Kate Waldman

4 COMMENTS

3 Comments

  1. John Williams | January 10, 2011 at 2:06 am

    “The Piano Tuner’s Wives” is a great story, and its last line is a beautiful heartbreaker.

  2. Georgia | January 14, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    History of the bookshelf! I didn’t even believe you until I clicked the link. And so I learned that THE BOOK ON THE BOOKSHELF is available for Kindle–nice. I actually do love my Kindle, but that praise for Amazon.com aside, why don’t you guys choose an indie book retailer to link to whenever a book is mentioned? I have been meaning to ask. Amazon doesn’t need any help, and it’s nice to help the little guys (or even a not-so-little one–what about Powells?).

    Also, let’s not forget the day that Amazon removed the “Buy” button from all of the Holtzbrinck titles–really unfair to authors.

  3. Thessaly La Force | January 14, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    I love that last line.

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