Outer Space; Dad Books


Ask The Paris Review

I’m having trouble finding nature poems that deal with outer space (planets, galaxies, and weird phenomena like black holes, and so on). Has a true artist ever written on this theme? It would have to be someone with intellect and sensibility, not just a pop sci-fi writer. Thanks so much for any suggestions. —Alex

The book you are looking for—at least, one of them—is The Cosmos Poems, by Frederick Seidel. Weird phenomena abound.

A sample:

It is the invisible
Dark matter we are not made of
That I am afraid of.
Most of the universe consists of this.

I put a single normal ice cube
In my drink.
It weighs one hundred million tons.
It is a sample from the densest star.

I read my way across
The awe I wrote
That you are reading now.
I can’t believe that you are there

Except you are …

Dear Mr. Stein,

Recently my dear old dad has requested a “good book” for his sixty-first birthday. In the past, as far as fiction is concerned, he’s seemed especially drawn to the classics, such as Ulysses, Moby-Dick, the poetry of William Butler Yeats, and anything else one might read as an English-lit major. Understandably, he’s now going through a bit of a literary midlife crisis and is looking for some excitement. What contemporary works would you suggest to reawaken his intellectual spirit and introduce him to the fiction of the twenty-first century? Best Wishes, Jemima M.

If we start with your father’s predilection for Ulysses and Moby-Dick, and if by “good book” we assume your father means a big, ambitious novel with what Alex calls “intellect and sensibility”—and a real story to tell—I suggest Hilary Mantel’s Booker winner Wolf Hall, a historical novel about the court of Henry VIII that makes brilliant use of old-fashioned modernist stream-of-consciousness and at the same time, in its handling of private life between the sexes, is very much of our century. I suspect your father might also like either of Jonathan Franzen’s last two novels, The Corrections or Freedom. Or Péter Nádas’s complex, tricky, very inward family saga of Hungarian intellectuals in the late twentieth century, A Book of Memories. (My mother loved this one.)

At the very top of the list I’d put Norman Rush’s Mortals, the story of a middle-aged CIA agent, undercover as a Milton scholar at a university in Botswana, facing hard changes in his career and his marriage.

Read a few pages of each; I bet one will have his name on it.

Have a question for The Paris Review? E-mail us.