What We’re Reading: November 2019

We editors love reading at HFR—and talking books, writing, and publishing around the clock—so we decided to catalog our selections every month as the new feature “What We’re Reading.” Following are our recommendations for the month.

 

Novels

The Thowback Special
By Chris Bachelder

“Here is the absorbing story of twenty-two men who gather every fall to painstakingly reenact what ESPN called ‘the most shocking play in NFL history’ and the Washington Redskins dubbed the ‘Throwback Special’: the November 1985 play in which the Redskins’ Joe Theismann had his leg horribly broken by Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants live on Monday Night Football.”

 

Dawn (Xenogenesis Book 1)
By Octavia E. Butler

“Lilith lyapo awoke from a centuries-long sleep to find herself aboard the vast spaceship of the Oankali. Creatures covered in writhing tentacles, the Oankali had saved every surviving human from a dying, ruined Earth. They healed the planet, cured cancer, increased strength, and were now ready to help Lilith lead her people back to Earth—but for a price.”

 

Cosmos
By Witold Gombrowicz (Translated by Danuta Borchardt)

Cosmos is a metaphysical noir thriller narrated by Witold, a seedy, pathetic, and witty student, who is charming and appalling by turns. On his way to a relaxing vacation he meets the despondent Fuks. As they set off together for a family-run pension in the Carpathian Mountains they discover a dead bird hanging from a string. Is this a strange but meaningless occurrence or is it the beginning of a string of bizarre events? As the young men become embroiled in the Chekhovian travails of the family running the pension, Grombrowicz creates a gripping narrative where the reader questions who is sane and who is safe?”

 

Short Stories

14 Stories
By Stephen Dixon

“Stephen Dixon’s stories and novels have an original, immediately recognizable sound and feel—a weird blend of Franz Kafka and Frank Capra. Readers of his previous work will find in 14 Stories that same wry, inventive, knife-edged humor that has come to characterize his distinctive style. With an adroit use of language and a keen eye for the quirky, offbeat side of human nature, Dixon creates a world as viewed through a fish-eye lens–slightly distorted and off-center, yet recognizable and often familiar.”

 

Black Light
By Kimberly King Parsons

“With raw, poetic ferocity, Kimberly King Parsons exposes desire’s darkest hollows—those hidden places where most of us are afraid to look. In this debut collection of enormously perceptive and brutally unsentimental short stories, Parsons illuminates the ache of first love, the banality of self-loathing, the scourge of addiction, the myth of marriage, and the magic and inevitable disillusionment of childhood.”

 

Soft Fruit in the Sun
By Oliver Zarandi

“In this provocative debut collection, Oliver Zarandi introduces a new hybrid genre perhaps best defined as ‘tender body-horror’, in which frank and naturalistic explorations of familial, romantic and sexual relationships are juxtaposed with characters who bleed incessantly, or live in other people’s bodies, or eat furniture, or casually conspire with their lovers to kill families and animals alike (‘Fuck reptiles too, I say … Fuck ducks and geese’).”

 

Poetry

Robert Duncan: Collected Early Poems and Plays
Edited by Peter Quartermain

“This volume includes the celebrated works Medieval Scenes and The Venice Poem, all of Duncan’s long unavailable major ventures into drama, his extensive ‘imitations’ of Gertrude Stein, and the remarkable poems written in Majorca as responses to a series of collaged paste-ups by Duncan’s life-long partner, the painter Jess. Books appear in chronological order of publication, with uncollected periodical and other publications arranged chronologically, following each book. The introduction includes a biographical commentary on Duncan’s early life and works, and clears an initial path through the textual complexities of his early writing. Notes offer brief commentaries on each book and on many of the poems.”

 

Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry
Edited by Camille T. Dungy

“Camille T. Dungy has selected 180 poems from 93 poets that provide unique perspectives on American social and literary history to broaden our concept of nature poetry and African American poetics. This collection features major writers such as Phillis Wheatley, Rita Dove, Yusef Komunyakaa, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sterling Brown, Robert Hayden, Wanda Coleman, Natasha Trethewey, and Melvin B. Tolson as well as newer talents such as Douglas Kearney, Major Jackson, and Janice Harrington. Included are poets writing out of slavery, Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, and late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century African American poetic movements.”

 

Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God
By Tony Hoagland

“Tony Hoagland’s poems interrogate human nature and contemporary culture with an intimate and wild urgency, located somewhere between outrage, stand-up comedy, and grief. His new poems are no less observant of the human and the worldly, no less skeptical, and no less amusing, but they have drifted toward the greater depths of open emotion. Over six collections, Hoagland’s poetry has gotten bigger, more tender, and more encompassing. The poems in Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God turn his clear-eyed vision toward the hidden spaces―and spaciousness―in the human predicament.”

 

Incubation: A Space for Monsters
By Bhanu Kapil

“In Incubation: A Space for Monsters, Bhanu Kapil ‘explores/creates a shiftful place for she who is neither one thing nor another. Girl as hybrid of light and dark, of human and machine, of baby and mother, of all motherless, body-bound things. Laloo is a traveler, hitchhiking through landscapes American and otherwise. A frightening, transforming, longing book.'” —Rebecca Brown

 

The Octopus Museum
By Brenda Shaughnessy

“Informed by Brenda Shaughnessy’s craft as a poet and her worst fears as a mother, the poems in The Octopus Museum blaze forth from her pen: in these pages, we see that what was once a generalized fear for our children (car accidents, falling from a tree) is now hyper-reasonable, specific, and multiple: school shootings, nuclear attack, loss of health care, a polluted planet. As Shaughnessy conjures our potential future, she movingly (and often with humor) envisions an age where cephalopods might rule over humankind, a fate she suggests we may just deserve after destroying their oceans. These heartbreaking, terrified poems are the battle cry of a woman who is fighting for the survival of the world she loves, and a stirring exhibition of who we are as a civilization.”

 

Hysteria
By Kim Yideum (Translated by Jake Levine, Soeun Seo, & Hedgie Choi)

“‘Next to the burning police station / I want to tear out my womb and kick it to heaven.’ Kim Yideum’s second collection to appear in English continues to evoke the grotesqueries of her first work, while simultaneously delving further into the materiality of everyday life. Through an overflowing that echoes fellow feminist poet Kim Hyesoon, and a blunt, down to earth language that is unique to the poems, Hysteria rides through the surface of wage labor, patriarchy, and subsistence, proceeding through a varieties of personas, human and otherwise, along an intensity that demands to be seen as it is, to be taken at face value.”

 

Song for His Disappeared Love
By Raul Zurita (Translated by Daniel Borzutzky)

“‘I sang the song of the old concrete sheds. It was filled with hundreds of niches, one over the other. There is a country in each one; they’re like boys, they’re dead.’ In this landmark poem, written at the height of the Pinochet dictatorship, major Chilean poet Raul Zurita protests with ferocious invention the extinguishment of a generation and the brutalization of a nation. Of the role of poetry and of his own treatment by the military under this regime, Zurita has said, ‘You see, the only thing that told me that I wasn’t crazy, that I wasn’t living in a nightmare, was this file of poems, and then when they threw them into the sea, then I understood exactly what was happening.’ This elegy refuses to be an elegy, refuses to let the Disappeared disappear.”

 

Nonfiction

Coventry: Essays
By Rachel Cusk

Coventry encompasses memoir, cultural criticism, and writing about literature, with pieces on family life, gender, and politics, and on D. H. Lawrence, Françoise Sagan, and Kazuo Ishiguro. Named for an essay Cusk published in Granta (‘Every so often, for offences actual or hypothetical, my mother and father stop speaking to me. There’s a funny phrase for this phenomenon in England: it’s called being sent to Coventry’), this collection is pure Cusk and essential reading for our age: fearless, unrepentantly erudite, and dazzling to behold.”

 

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places
By Colin Dickey

“Colin Dickey is on the trail of America’s ghosts. Crammed into old houses and hotels, abandoned prisons and empty hospitals, the spirits that linger continue to capture our collective imagination, but why? His own fascination piqued by a house hunt in Los Angeles that revealed derelict foreclosures and ‘zombie homes,’ Dickey embarks on a journey across the continental United States to decode and unpack the American history repressed in our most famous haunted places. Some have established reputations as ‘the most haunted mansion in America,’ or ‘the most haunted prison’; others, like the haunted Indian burial grounds in West Virginia, evoke memories from the past our collective nation tries to forget.”

 

Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives
By Susan Howe

“A haunter of archives, for whom manuscripts and marginalia and indexes are muses, Susan Howe often works with the materials she finds there. The result may be a textual collage or a ground-breaking work of criticism, or both.” The Paris Review

 

Unspeakable Acts: Women, Art, and Sexual Violence in the 1970s
By Nancy Princenthal

“The 1970s was a time of deep division and newfound freedoms. Galvanized by The Second Sex and The Feminine Mystique, the civil rights movement and the March on Washington, a new generation put their bodies on the line to protest injustice. Still, even in the heart of certain resistance movements, sexual violence against women had reached epidemic levels. Initially, it went largely unacknowledged. But some bold women artists and activists, including Yoko Ono, Ana Mendieta, Marina Abramovic´, Adrian Piper, Suzanne Lacy, Nancy Spero, and Jenny Holzer, fired up by women’s experiences and the climate of revolution, started a conversation about sexual violence that continues today. Some worked unannounced and unheralded, using the street as their theater. Others managed to draw support from the highest levels of municipal power. Along the way, they changed the course of art, pioneering a form that came to be called simply, performance.”

 

 

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Image: bravotv.com

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