Staff Picks: Sleepless in a Sleeper, Murdered Beavers


This Week’s Reading

I have been reading Richard Holmes’s Footsteps. If you’re ever sleepless on a sleeper train at two o’clock in the morning crossing southern Illinois (or shunning breakfast conversation in the diner six hours later), I recommend it. —Lorin Stein

George Saunders’s masterful short story “Commcomm” in The New Yorker. An acidic workplace satire that somehow free-falls into a Christian redemption myth. Plus, it features one of fiction’s most memorable headlines: MURDERED BEAVERS SPEAK OF AIR FORCE CRUELTY. —Kate Waldman

I reread Mrs. Dalloway last Sunday. Kept coming back to parts of it all week, underlying here, circling there. This line sticks out to me today: “For in marriage a little license, a little independence there must be between people living together day in day out in the same house …” —Thessaly La Force

After seeing a selection of Stones, the late-fifties lithographic collaboration between Larry Rivers and Frank O’Hara, in a sneak preview of MoMA’s new “Abstract Expressionist New York” exhibition, I’ve been perusing my much-thumbed copy of O’Hara’s Collected Poems and the wonderful In Memory of My Feelings, a collection of poem-paintings (originally created in 1967) that pairs O’Hara’s verse with works of art by more than two dozen of his contemporaries. O’Hara worked as a staff member and curator at the Museum of Modern Art during much of the fifties and early sixties, when many of the works in this show were being created. It’s perfect that his art is there among them. —Nicole Rudick

In lower moments, I have also been relishing David Rakoff’s essay collection Half Empty. Tough, suave, dry, and very funny. —L. S.

This week, two articles have been helping me think through the dreary and troubling sameness at the core of today’s “diverse,” “multicultural” literary community: Tim Parks’s cogent piece in The New York Review of Books and Evert Cilliers’s flawed but stimulating polemic at 3quarksdaily. —Mark de Silva

I revisited Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, which explores the repercussions of pain’s inexpressibility. It dredged up memories of emergency-room visits past, when the doctor entreats you to describe your pain on a scale of one to ten. “A three?” I would say, unconvincingly. As Scarry points out, pain (sadly) can only be expressed by its agents— the hammer, the burning flame, the wrenching wrench. —Alexandra Zukerman

My friend gave me When You Reach Me because the main character and I have the same first name, but that’s by no means the only reason to read this excellent novel. Sure, it’s a children’s book, but its themes—the fumbling processes by which we attempt to assert independence; the challenges of expressing affection; that moment when you begin to understand how things work—remain resonant. Bonus: It’s also about time travel, and the chapters are very short—perfect for brief subway rides and five-minute waits. —Miranda Popkey

Hurry! The Naipauls are coming to dinner. —David Wallace-Wells