The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘recommendations’

Western Reading; Should I Write a Memoir?

April 29, 2011 | by

Dear Mr. Stein,
This summer my husband and I will be taking a train from Portland, Oregon, to Whitefish, Montana. Can you recommend any novels set in that region? I’ve read Jim Harrison, Michael Dorris’s
A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, Stegner’s Angle of Repose and am hoping there are many good novels I’m not yet familiar with set along our route.
Nora Brzyski

Ms. Brzyski, you’ve landed on a blind spot the size of, well, Idaho. So I’ve asked an expert, Philip Connors. Apart from working as a fire lookout (and many other things), Phil is the editor of New West Reader: Essays on An Ever-Evolving Frontier. He writes:

Happily, the natural beauty along that train trip is matched by the beauty of more books set on or near your journey than I can name. If I were at home, staring at my bookshelves, I’d probably give you a slightly different list, but since I’m on a grand tour of my own, currently in Santa Fe, this will have to be off the top of my head. A list of the great Oregon novels would include David James Duncan’s The Brothers K and Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion. The indispensable book on eastern Oregon is a memoir with the sweep and grandeur of a great novel—William Kittredge’s Hole in the Sky, a story of paradise found and paradise lost on his family’s Warner Valley ranch. Washington is Sherman Alexie country: check out his novels Reservation Blues and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Crossing over into Idaho, you absolutely must read Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, which plays out in the town of Fingerbone, a fictional analogue to Robinson’s hometown of Sandpoint; it’s a masterpiece of twentieth-century American fiction. Finally, perhaps the best book set in western Montana is Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It—two novellas and one story, the title novella being among the most beautiful and haunting tragedies written by anyone, anywhere, in any time.

Finally, if you find your attention for long prose works flagging, make sure to have handy the collected poems of Richard Hugo, Making Certain It Goes On, which contains some of the finest poems of place—from western Washington to western Montana—that I have ever read.

Read More »


Staff Picks: Franzen’s Pot Stash, Fire Season

April 22, 2011 | by

Elif Batuman describes life after writing a best-selling book and tells how she asked Jonathan Frazen if he had any weed. “There’s some in my freezer,” Franzen replies. “But it’s all the way uptown.” —Thessaly La Force

Having stretched Philip Connors’s Fire Season out over two weeks of late nights, for the pleasure of coming home to it, I tore through Samuel R. Delany’s The Motion of Light in Water in a day. I can’t stop talking about it, because I can’t stop thinking about it. It evokes bohemian New York in the fifties and sixtiesgay, straight, and othermore vividly than anything I’ve read. —Lorin Stein

When I saw that Maurice Manning was a finalist for a Pulitzer this year, I went and reread much of his poetry—psalms and pastorals, a philosophical ode to Daniel Boone. If you don’t know his work, you now have no excuse. —Nicole Rudick

What got me about Martin Amis’s The Information were the quick, declarative sentences that suddenly appear in otherwise bleak and descriptive paragraphs. At the start of the novel, Amis skirts around our main character until tying everything together with “He was forty tomorrow, and reviewed books.” The economy of language here is divine. —Rosalind Parry

Jennifer Egan, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this week, discusses her early hopes of becoming a doctor, life as a struggling writer in New York, and the importance of self-criticism and perseverance in a candid interview with The Days of Yore. —Elianna Kan

This letter from Sebastian Junger to Tim Hetherington, the photographer who was killed in Libya this week, is heartbreaking. —T. L.


Staff Picks: Cycling, Skiing, and an Island of Solitude

April 15, 2011 | by

Jeanne Mackenzie’s anthology Cycling is a collection of lighthearted, cycle-related selections from various literary figures, including James Boswell, Mark Twain, H. G. Wells, and P. G. Wodehouse, to name but a few. The book is beautifully printed—who could resist its cover?—and the selections delightful, and it's endearing to see so many writers brought to rapture by so similar and elegant a sensation. As George Bernard Shaw fittingly concludes: “Yes, bicycling’s a capital thing for a literary man.” —Stephen Andrew Hiltner

John Swansburg, this week’s culture diarist, pointed me in the direction of an interview that Slate’s Michael Agger conducted with James Salter last year about Solo Faces and Downhill Racer. —Thessaly La Force

Ted Hughes’s translation of Jean Racine's Phèdre absolutely crackles. It's a poem about envious royals and epic feuds, but to me it was at its best when Hughes captured the private dilemmas of these very public figures. When Phèdre denies her throne, insisting that she cannot rule a country if she cannot rule herself, it is an incredible moment that pits person against state and soul against country: “Me? Rule? Me take control/Of a state flying to pieces/When I cannot control myself?”—Rosalind Parry

I’ve been reading Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole’s Sacred Trash, a book about the Cairo geniza—that small storehouse where, for centuries, local Jews deposited their shopping lists, letters, wills, and personal libraries. Cole and Hoffman’s book tells the story of how the geniza was “discovered” by European scholars, transplanted to Cambridge, England (also St. Petersburg, New York City, and Budapest), and eventually changed the way we think about Jewish history. I can’t think of another work that succeeds so well in making archival research into gripping adventure. —Robyn Creswell

Jonathan Franzen on David Foster Wallace in this week’s New Yorker is an item you simply cannot ignore. Oh, and did you see his vacation pics? —T. L.


Staff Picks: Terry Castle, Jane Smiley, Ramona Ausubel

April 1, 2011 | by

Diary of Sophia Peabody Hawthorne (1809–71).

Do not take Terry Castle to bed if you plan on getting any sleep. I keep trying to savor The Professor, her memoirs of love and friendship in the academy. It’s like trying to savor cocaine. The title essay, about a formative affair Castle had as an undergraduate, is now up there on a short shelf in my mind alongside Adolphe and First Love. —Lorin Stein

In the Morgan Library’s exhibition “The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives,” Bob Dylan sketches a hotel-room table and then uses it to ink out a poem; JP Morgan has a first-rate time with the girls at dancing school; Charlotte Bronte struggles to write in between her studies; John Ruskin graphs out “pretty” chess moves; and Albert Einstein thinks “about the gravitation-electricity problem again” even though he knows he should be doing other things. The show comes complete with a brochure of carefully typed out diary entries, but I found it much more rewarding to squint my way through the diaries, wondering at the tiny scribbles and neat printings, and feeling just a bit closer to these beloved authors and figures. —Rosalind Parry

I have a girl crush on Ramona Ausubel, whose short story “Atria” was published in The New Yorker this week. I can’t wait to read her forthcoming novel, No One Is Here Except All of Us. Of it, Ausubel admits, “I have been trying not to think too hard about what it will be like to release this story to the great big world.” (P. S. Don’t miss her story in The Daily last week.) —Thessaly La Force

Read More »


Staff Picks: The Wrong Place, Modernist Cuisine

March 25, 2011 | by

Belgian artist Brecht Evens’s The Wrong Place, a graphic novel done in watercolor, is a jewel box. The formal chaos of social interaction—at a dinner party and in a crowded Moroccan-themed night club—comes alive in the book’s riotous melding of clothing and decor patterns and luminous, vivid color. I read it straight through; its gorgeous pages are burned into my brain. —Nicole Rudick

This Wednesday, I attended a demonstration for the Modernist Cuisine, which could have only been written by a crazy person. Or, in this case, several crazy people. Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet have written five volumes covering everything from sous vide to shit. As The New Yorker’s John Lancaster puts it: “In its packed state, it weighs forty-six pounds. The scale and ambition of the project—and maybe at least one of the egos behind it—are Pharaonic.” At the demonstration, I was served a striped omelette, and like Amanda Hesser, I wish that I had booked it to Myhrvold’s headquarters in Bellevue, Washington, five years ago and joined the effort. —Thessaly La Force

Earlier this year, Edmund White introduced British readers to his top ten books about New York. I enjoyed the list very much—it featured the expected classics alongside neglected curiosities—but couldn’t help feeling that he’d missed a trick by omitting the complete writings of Whitney Balliett, who was the jazz critic at The New Yorker for fifty years. Balliett’s tastes lean a little too much toward the conservative—goodness knows what he’d make of my predilection for this kind of nonsense—but the perfectly weighted cadences of his prose are as tight and agile as the rhythm section of the slickest combo around. Check out his profiles of Big Sid Catlett, Ben Webster, and Ornette Coleman in particular. This, for me, is the sound of New York. —Jonathan Gharraie

Read More »


Staff Picks: Ibrahim Aslan, Tina Fey

February 11, 2011 | by

When I’m able to tear my eyes away from al-Jazeera, which isn’t often, I’ve been reading Ibrahim Aslan’s classic The Heron. Set on the eve of the 1977 bread riots, in a working class Cairene neighborhood, it’s essential reading for anyone who’s been riveted—as who has not?—by the uprising in Egypt. It’s also a great read, expertly translated by Elliott Colla. And if you can get your hands on the film adaptation, al-Kitkat, you’re in for a treat. —Robyn Creswell

I read every word of Tina Fey’s essay in The New Yorker this week. “I know older men in comedy who can barely feed and clean themselves, and they still work. The women, though, they’re all ‘crazy.’ I have a suspicion—and hear me out, because this is a rough one—that the definition of ‘crazy’ in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore.Thessaly La Force

In preparation for our forthcoming Ann Beattie interview, I decided to check out her collection What Was Mine. Beattie is a master of the short story. I could imagine her as being much like a character in her story “Windy Day at the Reservoir,” writing characters and stories that “declare their necessity, so she would not feel she was just some zookeeper, capturing them.” —Janet Thielke

Anne Enright’s graceful reminiscence of her former tutor, Angela Carter, isn’t just a fitting tribute to the woman Salman Rushdie once described as “the benevolent witch-queen” of English letters. It’s a vicarious travelogue, a wry investigation into the significance of mirrors and a tartly candid disquisition on the firm difference between wanting to write and needing to write. Clearly somebody was paying attention in class! —Jonathan Gharraie

Poetry editor Robyn Creswell’s essay for The New York Times Book Review on the writer in Egyptian society. —Lorin Stein

I like to imagine I’m an ambitious reader, but for the true book nerd, try keeping up with the National Book Critics Circle’s “31 Books in 31 Days.” If anything, it makes one appreciate how good criticism can be an excellent excuse not to read the book! —T. L.