Staff Picks: Bear Circus, The Jungle Effect


This Week’s Reading

A surprise discovery at my local library’s book sale: our own William Pène du Bois’s 1971 children’s tale, Bear Circus. Koala bears discover the supplies from a crashed pink circus plane and put on a show to thank their friends, the kangaroos. Highly recommended for the juvenile set. —Nicole Rudick

Sometimes, I don’t know why, I want to read short stories—but like, a bunch of short stories. This week I’ve gone back to Joy Williams’s Honored Guest and sampled Justin Taylor’s first collection, Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever. —Lorin Stein

Nathan Heller has a beautiful essay in Slate about stuttering: “At 3, those sentences first met with some resistance on my tongue, the way a car moves off asphalt, onto dirt—and then, finally, across rocks that jolt the tires and make it hard to track where you are headed. Today, I am still being jolted, and the jagged terrain behind bears the track marks of my own innumerable small humiliations.” —Thessaly La Force

I started the week with this fantastic piece of reluctant Hemingway-ese by Libyan novelist Hisham Matar and then felt compelled to reread his rueful, angry, but ultimately dignified sliver of memoir, from last year, about his father’s abduction. His consummate poise attests to an extraordinary imaginative stamina in the most difficult of circumstances, but there are moments from that earlier piece where he almost anticipates the tumult and excitement of the past few weeks: “This is tremendous news. Tremendous in the way a storm or flood can be tremendous. Uncanny how reality presses against that precious quiet place of dreaming. As if life is jealous of fiction.” That new novel can’t come quickly enough! —Jonathan Gharraie

The Observer has a very fun story about how The New Yorker’s fact-checking and poetry departments get along. A line from Michael Robbins’s poem reads, “The idiot Swedes do a number on me/ They invent refrigeration and sleep in shifts.” To which the poetry editor Paul Muldoon responds, “If it’s important to you to know that the fridge, strictly speaking, was not invented in Sweden then here we have one piece of information. If by the line ‘the Swedes invented the fridge’ you mean that storage of spoilable food in a cold climate might be said as invented in the frigid climate of Sweden, then that’s also fine. It is and is not a fact.” —T. L.

I just finished Daphne Miller’s The Jungle Effect and found it fascinating. It’s part anthropological study, part cookbook that looks at certain disease “cold spots” around the world—Iceland, for example, has almost no cases of depression—and why those spots are different from their neighbors. The answer, she claims, is in the indigenous foods; a case study for “you are what you eat.” —Janet Thielke

Gary Panter on Jack Kirby. Reading bliss. —N. R.