Staff Picks: Maps, Marvels, and Madmen


This Week’s Reading

Charles Lloyd and the Marvels. Photo: D. Darr.

Charles Lloyd, one of the living legends from the great era of sixties jazz, has ridden a late-career high with a sort of supergroup he calls the Marvels, consisting of himself on tenor sax, Bill Frisell on guitar, Greg Leisz on steel guitar, Reuben Rogers on bass, and the wizardly Eric Harland on drums. On their first two albums, the group offered a mix of classic Lloyd originals, jazzed-up folk and rock covers, and vocal collaborations with Lucinda Williams. This group doesn’t feel like a studio band; clearly they’ve played together and enjoyed it, learned each other’s tics and tricks. So their latest record, Tone Poem, seems to catch them in medias res, doing what they do—and since everyone here is a master musician, they’re doing it damn well. The album opens with two jaunty Ornette Coleman tunes that focus on the melodic beauty of the late avant-gardist’s compositions. Next, they offer a slow, hopeful take on Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem.” Other highlights include a lush and luxurious ten-minute version of “Monk’s Mood” and a look back at “Lady Gabor,” written by Lloyd’s long-ago collaborator Gábor Szabó, a major sixties innovator in his own right whose music is too little known now. Overall, this is a mostly relaxing album, with a seamless flow of sounds, thanks to Lloyd’s smooth, continuous voice on sax, Frisell’s incredible ability to create and sustain musical textures, Leisz’s subtle steel guitar work, and Harland’s light touch. After only a few listens, Tone Poem has whispered its way deep into my consciousness. —Craig Morgan Teicher 

Wendy S. Walters’s piece in the newest Ocean State Review addresses Pip, the “smallest soul of many lost ones” aboard the Pequod, with thoughtfulness and lyricism that open new doors in Melville’s masterpiece and make one want to reread it (or, rather, renew one’s eternal resolution to reread it). Not strictly essay or fiction or criticism, this is an invocation that pays mourning to Pip as written (except Ishmael, all hands on the Pequod are lost, but Pip is lost over and over again) and suggests the possibility of an alternate ending in which he “clung to some wooden box until a boat in search of its lost child finds you. But then it would be you, Pip, who represented a country’s hope for itself: a brown boy born into servitude meets the monsters and survives to tell the story. How that would change every ending.” Walters writes beautifully of the dead. In “Lonely in America,” which appears in her 2015 collection Multiply/Divide: On the American Real and Surreal, she confronts with careful grace the practical and emotional difficulty of connecting with people interred in African burial grounds in New England, whose lives are skimmed over in history books and whose grave sites are neglected or even paved over. After reading these two pieces, I look forward to digging into the rest of the collection, as well as a new piece Walters has in BOMB—and then maybe I’ll see about Melville. —Jane Breakell



The three novellas that make up Marie Vieux-Chauvet’s Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian Triptych may differ in form, moving between first person, third person, and even a few pages of play-esque dialogue, but they all depict the brutality of life under a dictatorship modeled on that of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier. The book was originally published in France in 1968, after a period of surveillance and censorship in Vieux-Chauvet’s native country, but the English version, translated by Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokur and featuring an introduction by Edwidge Danticat, appeared in 2009. I first encountered Vieux-Chauvet’s work via the Twitter account Women in Translation, which has been sharing an ongoing thread dedicated to promoting overlooked women writers in translation for every day of 2021. After reading Vieux-Chauvet’s Dance on the Volcano, an epic of the years leading up to the Haitian Revolution, I was hungry for more. Her prose is lyrical, and her depictions of twentieth-century Haiti’s struggles with corruption, its descent into authoritarianism, and its complexities of class, race, and gender are sharp. As Claire, the thirty-nine-year-old virgin who narrates Love, observes: “Freedom is an inmost power. That is why society limits it. In the light of day our thoughts would make monsters and madmen of us. Even those with the most limited imagination conceal something horrifying … It is a matter of will and action. Of choosing to be puppets or to be human beings.” —Rhian Sasseen

Watch jack-of-all-trades John Lurie roll tires down a hill, repeatedly crash his drone, and paint wonders with watercolors in HBO’s Painting with John. This is top-tier television. If I could suggest just one episode, let it be the fourth, “Fame Is Bad.” For saying so, I must issue a direct apology:

Dear John,

I did not comply when you demanded that I turn off your show. I almost did. I reached for the remote in that quiet tension between your demands because listening to you is so much like listening to a friend, and I forgot for an instant before you told me again to turn off your show that you were not sitting across from me in my living room. With so much virtual communication these days, who can bear to send another friend away with the push of a button? For that, I am not sorry. You followed by saying, “Or if you don’t turn it off, at least don’t tell anybody about it,” but I had already made up my mind to tell as many people as possible, and I knew then that my telling would partly take the form of an apology. The episode continued, and you had a conversation with the moon, and I realized the world desperately needed a friend like John Lurie. For even minimally contributing to your fame, I apologize. If this keeps us from becoming actual friends, I get that. If it helps in some small way to bring about a second season of Painting with John, I’ll save you a spot at the coffee table. —Christopher Notarnicola

Independent bookstores have done a truly incredible job keeping us all stocked with reading material throughout the past year, and for that we owe them an immense amount of gratitude. I’ve had no trouble staying flush in terms of new books thanks to these businesses’ efforts, and I know it’s been no small feat. Yet while my shelves have stayed full at home, there is a lot to be said for actually setting foot in a bookstore. Going in for one thing and leaving with something you didn’t know you needed. Finding something new, aided not by an algorithm but by an actual human being. Browsing. So this week, unable to head out to spend an afternoon at my local brick-and-mortar, I turn to Jorge Carrión’s Bookshops: A Reader’s History, translated from the Spanish by Peter Bush. Somewhere between a scholarly dive into the sociocultural history of bookstores and a survey of Carrión’s own travels, the book crisscrosses the globe in its exploration of the places people purchase books. What I find most endearing is Carrión’s obvious reverence for his subject matter. This guy loves bookstores! And he writes for his fellow literary patron, for anyone who has ever lost an afternoon to a well-curated selection. Carrión’s own ephemera amassed on pilgrimages to bookstores around the world serve as pins on his personal map, marking his travels throughout the narrative. And what did I find when I opened my copy of the book? A highlighter-orange bookmark from Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans, where, in the long-ago age that was 2019, I took a wonderful trip with wonderful friends and purchased this particular volume as we made our own pilgrimage to the city’s local independents. So while I continue with curbside pickup from my local and online orders from far-flung favorites, I’m reminded of time spent browsing with people I love. And I look forward to doing that again one of these days. —Mira Braneck


Jorge Carrión. Photo: Beto Gutiérrez, CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons.