Staff Picks: Reading Aloud, Rayon Dresses, Red Phones


This Week’s Reading


Straight to Moscow.

Our Summer issue this year included Garth Greenwell’s story “Gospodar.” Though I didn’t then know that Greenwell is also a poet, it now seems obvious: his language in the story is economical and precise and yet so fluid. Two and a half years ago, Greenwell’s friend, Max Freeman, a filmmaker and photographer, filmed him reading three of his poems. Greenwell is a superb reader, and I was transfixed by the movement of his face on camera—“enthralled like a bird before a snake,” as he says in the first poem. (Actually, I had to watch the video a couple times because I forgot to pay attention to the words the first time.) The oddly touching “Faculty Meeting with Fly” is the second poem, in which a fly provides interest and pleasure during an otherwise dull moment: “No one before has traced precisely that path / along the thinner vein of my wrist, yet you take / such delight there / … while / beneath you subterraneously my blood must roar / and thrum you like a lyre.” But it’s the last poem, “An Evening Out”—wistful, gorgeous, and sad—that makes the video, and Greenwell’s face, so compelling. —Nicole Rudick

I haven’t read many novels as spooky and sublime and psychologically acute as Forrest Gander’s The Trace. It’s the portrait of a couple in crisis and their misguided road trip through the Chihuahua desert, on the tracks of the writer Ambrose Bierce. Gander’s landscapes are lyrical and precise (“raw gashed mountains, gnarly buttes of andesite”), and his study of a marriage on the rocks is as empathetic as it is unsparing. —Robyn Creswell

Sarah Lazarovic sat down with her brushes and did not stop painting until she’d revealed her entire messy, colorful, and witty journey from a teenaged “fashion-maybe” to a bona fide adult shopping ambassador. In her charmingly illustrated new book, A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy, Lazarovic explains how a mall-lovin’ middle-schooler’s early obsession with scrunchy socks later ballooned into a full-blown consumer obsession with clothes of every possible description. Lazarovic’s story will especially resonate for the late Gen Xer who may have similarly cycled through the Gap Girl to Thrift Girl to Goth Girl to I-just-can’t-have-enough-little-rayon-dresses-for-under-twenty-bucks Girl, who along the way also made good use of the venerable scrunchie and the ubiquitous safety pin when the outfit or occasion called for it. Lazarovic meditates on the “ill-defined distinction between fashion and shopping,” stating that “in childhood we create fashion with very little shopping (except you, Suri Cruise).” Her adult self craves a minimal wardrobe and a spare closet. She writes, “What I love best is how time often reveals a solution to what I need that doesn’t involve buying.” She closes her diary with expert tips on how to fill your own closet with quality over mass quantity. —Charlotte Strick

I’ve just read this bit from Paul Ford’s latest piece on Medium, which seems too good not to quote. His friend once told him a story: “He was working for a huge old engineering firm and one of the firm’s weird jobs is to keep the line open between the United States and Russia — to maintain the ‘red phone.’ He’d visit the facility sometimes. There is—still, even now—an underground, bomb-resistant facility with rows of blinking machines. It is staffed around the clock by graduate students in Russian literature. They’ll read quietly, occasionally checking the line. I guess someone is on the other side, in Russia. There aren’t many calls, of course. I guess they could, and probably should, shut it all down. Then again, the line is open and it works fine.” —Dan Piepenbring

Paul Harding’s Tinkers won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2010, and at the risk of being late to the party, I must say it’s brilliant. Harding’s is a fusion of two worlds: this one and the one of memory. His protagonist, George Washington Crosby, is eight days shy of dying when we meet him—a sojourner, as he is for the entirety of the book, of his living room, in a rented hospital bed. Lying there, George slips in and out of a realistic, albeit fantastical, reprise of his New England youth and relives his childhood from his deathbed. Through quiet and unsettling prose, we follow the impoverished Crosby family and their banal life: a wife aching to be loved, a husband drowning beneath his wife’s expectations, and the children watching it all from the dinner table. In Tinkers, death and daydream coalesce, sentences pulsate with regret, and we are moved not by some outrageous grievance but by the poignancy with which Harding writes about loss, particularly the loss of a father: “And that other world that you first dreamed is always better if not real, because in it you have not jilted your lover, forsaken your child, turned your back on your brother. The world fell away from my father the way he fell away from us. We became his dream.” —Caitlin Youngquist