Staff Picks: Sarah Bakewell, Vladimir Sorokin


This Week’s Reading

For the last few months I’ve been rereading—very slowly and very late at night—Montaigne’s essays. All thanks to Sarah Bakewell (who won a National Book Critics Circle Award last night for her biography of Montaigne: How To Live). —Lorin Stein

Several years ago I read Vladimir Sorokin’s Ice and found its matter-of-fact sci-fi narrative intriguing but its conclusion quite disappointing. Turns out it’s the second book in a trilogy, which, thankfully, NYRB has published in a single volume—the way it ought to be read. I haven’t reached the end yet, but so far it’s wonderfully weird. —Nicole Rudick

The reviews of Margaux Fragosos’s Tiger, Tiger gave me the chills. It’s a memoir of her relationship with Peter, a pedophile forty-four years her senior. When a copy of the book was slipped on my desk this week, I had to pick it up. —Thessaly La Force

As an undergraduate, I remember catching my necromantic tutor in Old Icelandic obliviously reciting poems from the language on the top deck of the city bus. This week, I’ve been putting those extracurricular lessons to use by whipping out Basil Bunting’s Collected Poems on the subway. It doesn’t take long for the short, incantatory lines of “Briggflatts”—studded with monosyllabic words that Bunting excavated from Anglo-Saxon and his regional Northumbrian dialect—to achieve the twin effect of making me forget my surroundings and baffling my fellow passengers. I mean, what on earth is an oxter? —Jonathan Gharraie

Catholic and Jewish art rage is impossible to ignore. Orthodox Jews object to the “Pornucopia” show on the Lower East Side, while repurposed Virgin Mary statuettes are causing a stir in France.  —Angela Melamud

I’ve just come across this illuminating essay on the challenges of writing biofiction by David Lodge, whose latest novel dramatizes the life of H. G. Wells, “a prophet of the sexual revolution [who] believed in free love and practiced it tirelessly.” —J. G.

At the reading for the National Book Critic Circle nominees, Kay Ryan read aloud a particularly enchanting poem called “Stardust.” “I wanted to read this,” she explained onstage, “because there are so many writers here tonight.”—T. L.