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Jude's Picks

Thorsen, Karen
James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket

This documentary from 1990 seems so relevant right about now, with African-Americans (and others) expressing rage over the recent killing of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American, in Ferguson, Missouri. The documentary shows how Baldwin, a poor, African-American homosexual, fled the country in 1948, going to Paris to have a fighting chance at development as a person and as a writer. He couldn’t tolerate merely watching from afar as the Civil Rights Movement began, so he came back to the States and played a major activist role. Baldwin was such a powerful human, as well as writer, and people like Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelou testify to this in the film. It's so worth watching to learn about Baldwin as a person, about his writing, and about race in the U.S., both then and now.
Recommended December 2014

Layne, Vivienne (Editor)
Hijab: Empowerment or Oppression?

I found this zine from 2007 when looking for zines about Muslim culture to offer as part of our Muslim Journeys activities this year. I discovered it during a visit to Barnard College’s zine library and received permission from the editor, Vivienne Layne, and Barnard’s zine librarian, Jenna Freedman, to add it to our zine collection here at CLP. This zine is really wonderful. Vivienne interviewed six other Muslim high school girls living in New York City like herself, three of whom were born here in the U.S. and three of whom were born in other countries. She asked them primarily about their thoughts and feelings about wearing, or not wearing, the hijab, or Muslim veil. Their perspectives are varied, which I think accurately reflects the complexity of the issue. Some of the girls found it freeing or empowering to wear the hijab. One young woman talks about advertising in the U.S. dictating “how a woman should be, ‘she should be thin, she should be tall, she should be you know a sex symbol’, they portray her as a sex symbol and that’s like just degrading a woman but in Islam you know it puts women in a very high place. When she’s covered it shows that she’s well respected, that you know she’s someone and not an anything, she’s not a sex symbol for you…” Another young woman says, “I don’t choose to wear it because I personally don’t need it to identify myself as a Muslim. I think I can be just as great a Muslim as one who does wear it.” She also asks the girls about reactions to women in veils after 9/11, the 2004 French ban on all forms of head coverings and their thoughts on a Muslim Barbie doll that wears a hijab. A wonderfully smart and enlightening zine! I have felt irritated when I hear people who are not Muslim women expressing their opinions on whether or not Muslim women should wear a veil, and I very much appreciated hearing these young women talk about making their own choices about it — for themselves.
Recommended August 2013

Book Cover for Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Winterson, Jeanette
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

I’ve loved Jeanette Winterson’s work for a long time now. I love the breadth and depth of it. She’s able to write more experimentally, like in Written on the Body, in a more classic narrative style, like in The Passion, and she’s even written science fiction with Stone Gods. I find her language creative and gorgeous and powerful, and her explorations of human experience moving.

Reading her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, it’s amazing to me that she survived her childhood, let alone went on to produce such smart, loving work. I had some sense of how difficult her childhood was because I read her 1985 autobiographical novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which won her the Whitbread Prize for a First Novel. She shares more in this memoir about how abusive her childhood was, and it really was. The title is what her mother said when Jeanette came out at 16, explaining to her mother that the girl that she was in love with made her happy. Her mother made her choose between living as a heterosexual or leaving home. Jeanette left home.

Winterson ended up living out of her car and going to university, and eventually got herself a scholarship to Oxford. She has written something like 18 works of fiction and short stories. She says on her website: “The books are the best of me. When people ask me why I write I tell them it's what I'm for. It really is as simple as that.” Two things are most powerful for me about her story: one, the power of books and the library in her life, and two, the ability that she and other people have to not just forgive people who’ve treated them badly, but to become generous people themselves. About books she says, among other amazing things in this memoir:

“Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines. What they heal is the rupture reality makes on the imagination.

I had been damaged and a very important part of me had been destroyed – that was my reality, the facts of my life; but on the other side of the facts was who I could be, how I could feel, and as long as I had words for that, images for that, stories for that, then I wasn’t lost.”

I think that this memoir is particularly special for fans of Winterson, but is a great read for pretty much anyone with a beating heart. It’d be difficult not to be interested in and moved by her story and her writing of it.
Recommended January 2013

Tesnohlídek, Rudolf
The Cunning Little Vixen

The Cunning Little Vixen was originally written in 1920 in Czechoslovakia by Rudolf Tesnohlídek as a newspaper serial. In 1923, Leoš Janácek composed an opera (which until the 1970s was also known in English as Adventures of Vixen Sharp-Ears) based on the story. The source text by Tesnohlídek was “discovered” surprisingly late; finally translated into English and published in 1985, Tesnohlídek's tale is accompanied by the stunningly sweet illustrations that Maurice Sendak had done for the New York City Opera's 1981 production of Janácek's piece. This is a story for older children and adults. It’s a very earthy fairy tale that mainly tells the story of the antagonistic relationship between a young, female fox named Vixen Sharp Ears and the forester, Bartos. Bartos captures Sharp Ears early one morning and presents her as a gift to his wife, in order to avoid her wrath for the latest of many nights that he has spent drinking with friends in the village pub. The forester and his son treat Sharp Ears horribly, and she finally escapes. She comes back later for revenge and robs the henhouse, and later the pantry. The forester ensnares her in a brutal trap, and again she finds a way to flee… There are interesting side stories along the way involving the characters of this small village, and nice reflections on nature and time and love. I think this would be best read aloud this winter – in front of a fire if you can arrange that!
Recommended November 2012

Nichols, John
The Sterile Cuckoo

I found a copy of the movie The Sterile Cuckoo at a thrift store recently and decided to buy it. I hadn’t heard of it, but saw that it starred a very young Liza Minnelli (the movie is from 1969) and was intrigued. I enjoyed the movie — even, or especially, in its darkness and awkwardness — enough to want to read the book. I completely agree with "Anonymous" from the DataLounge (where you can "get your fix of gay gossip, news and pointless bitchery"), who feels that "the movie, compared to the book, was very unfair to Pookie." In the movie from 1969, Pookie’s mother dies right after she is born, leaving her emotionally fragile and desperate for attention, while at the same time completely hostile and untrusting of others. Pookie’s mother doesn't die in the 1965 novel, and the decline of Jerry and Pookie’s love affair is slower, and due to preferences or issues that both of them have. I find both stories interesting as two very different ones. I’d recommend checking out both and not expecting, as I think is generally good advice, the movie to reflect the novel.
Recommended September 2012

Book Cover for What is Stephen Harper Reading? Martel, Yann
What is Stephen Harper Reading?

In 2007, Canada paid tribute to the previous 50 years of Canadian Arts with a reception and acknowledgement in Parliament of a select group of 50 Canadian artists who had achieved something significant in each of those 50 years. Yann Martel, winner of the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Life of Pi, was one of the artists in this group. 27 of 306 invitees showed up for the reception. The acknowledgment ceremony in Parliament was sandwiched between everyday parliamentary business, and took less than five minutes. Martel said that he didn’t think that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper even looked up. Harper describes Canadian arts funding as “bare bones”. He sees the lack of ability to be still and reflect as both a result and a cause of this lack of commitment. He decides to take action, and since the Prime Minister has a huge impact on arts funding and policy, he chooses to focus on him: "For as long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada, I vow to send him every two weeks, mailed on a Monday, a book that has been known to expand stillness. That book will be inscribed and will be accompanied by a letter I will have written. I will faithfully report on every new book, every inscription, every letter, and any response I might get from the Prime Minister, on this website []." Martel didn’t get one response from Harper in the four years that he sent him 101 books. The book What is Stephen Harper Reading? contains the letters that Martel wrote to go along with the first 55 books that he sent Harper. His letters contain some of the most interesting book reviews I’ve read, and they contain what may be some of the most powerful words I’ve read about the significance of books and of reading. Here are some: "Any book – trash to classic – makes us live the life of another person, injects us with the wisdom and folly of their years. When we’ve read the last page of a book, we know more, either in the form of raw knowledge – the name of a gun, perhaps – or in the form of greater understanding. The worth of these vicarious lives is not to be underestimated. There’s nothing sadder – or sometimes more dangerous – than the person who has lived only his or her single, narrow life, unenlightened by the experience, real or invented, of others." Or this, about Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God: "Some voices are barely heard. They are left to speak among themselves, worlds within worlds. Then someone listens, gives them artistic expression, and now the loss is lesser, because those voices have become eternal." The book list itself is a great one I think, mainly because of its breadth and depth. All books are under 200 pages so as not to overwhelm the busy Harper. There are a number of Canadian authors represented, but the author list is international. There are fiction, non-fiction and poetry books as well as a few graphic novels and children’s books. I am definitely going to buy a copy of this book to keep with my other reference books, and would love to participate in some form of a What is Stephen Harper Reading? book club with others. I feel very grateful for this book and for the way that it has moved and inspired me.
Recommended July 2012

Book Cover for Giovanni’s Room Baldwin, James
Giovanni’s Room

Giovanni’s Room is James Baldwin’s second novel (the first being Go Tell it On the Mountain). When Baldwin showed his publisher the finished manuscript, he was told to throw it in the trash. I’m so grateful that he didn’t. This is a very powerful novel which moved me and made me think, the two things that I want from my reading. On a more superficial level, this is the story of an American man, David, who lives in Paris in the 1950s and comes to struggle intensely with his sexuality and his choices in terms of his romantic relationships. David’s American girlfriend has gone to Spain and they are both trying to decide if they should get married when he meets Giovanni, a young Italian bartender. David and Giovanni become involved and spend the next few months living together in Giovanni’s room. A Black author not just hinting at but truly depicting a homosexual experience in the 1950s is interesting enough, but the intelligent and gorgeous use of language, as well as the serious wrangling with what I consider very relevant and important questions about morality (Is moral behavior simply adherence to social norms? What is loyalty? What does real love look like?), make this novel truly great.
Recommended June 2012

Book Cover for Possum Living Freed, Dolly
Possum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and With (Almost) No Money

Dolly Freed wrote this book as an 18-year-old in 1978. At the time, her parents had divorced and she was homesteading and homeschooling with her dad in the country outside of Philadelphia. It was reprinted in 2010 by Tin House Books out of Portland, Oregon, publisher of another progressive homemaking book entitled A Householder's Guide To the Universe: A Calendar of Basics For the Home and Beyond by Harriet Fasenfest. Possum Living is chock-full of interesting information about living the self-sufficient life, including some fascinating but gross instructions such as those on skinning a rabbit. This is not a lightweight skimming-over of the now-fashionable topic; this is real, useful information shared by someone who actually did live this way and for a substantial period of time. I particularly like the drawing of their wood stove, constructed from a 55-gallon drum. Though I do find the book to be really informative, what I like best is the sassy way that this 18-year-old delivers the information. Her writing is bright and funny, and her political opinions are definitely food for thought or at minimum not boring to read about. Freed ‘s suggested responses to people who take issue with people who lead an anti-consumerist lifestyle: “I am too being useful! You can always use me as a bad example!” or “While I’m not contributing to economic growth, a dubious good, I’m also not contributing to pollution, a definite evil.”
Recommended May 2012

Book Cover for Roseanna Sjowall, Maj and Per Wahloo
The Martin Beck Series

Swedish poet Maj Sjöwall and partner Per Wahlöö wrote a series of ten mysteries between 1965 and 1975 that have come to be known as the Martin Beck mystery series. Beck is the detective protagonist around which the series centers. I have never read a book labeled as a mystery, but had an inkling that the Martin Beck series would be less formulaic than I imagine traditional mysteries to be. The story lines are gripping, and the series grew more interesting as the authors delved further into the social and political context in which the various crimes took place and as they developed the main characters. Though the authors take socially critical stands on capitalism, social welfare, the Swedish police force and more, a somewhat creepy focus on women’s bodies in every book in the series can be read as a manifestation of sexism. The translations of the earliest book or two were not good, but the next seven or eight read very well. I enjoyed this series so much that I plan to read more Scandinavian mysteries, but also German, Austrian and Icelandic mysteries. We have a number of these authors in our collection including, among many others, Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbø, and Arnaldur Indriðason.
Recommended April 2012

McElroy, Kelly
Biophile #2, Biophile #3, Biophile A Pocket Guide to Evolution: A Biophile Special

At University of Iowa Libraries, Kelly McElroy is the Undergraduate Services Librarian as well as a zine librarian. She also writes a wonderful science zine entitled Biophile. Biophile #2 is all about the scientific method. This wonderfully accessible yet smart zine is handwritten and illustrated with clip art and drawings. McElroy very clearly explains the major components of the scientific method: observation, question, hypothesis, test/revise, and theory. She also makes an important point when she cautions scientists about bias, citing the example of Samuel George Morton’s racist cranial size research. Biophile #3 is an interesting look at an interesting animal, the eel. With a resource list at the end, this is an entertaining and informative zine. A Pocket Guide to Evolution: A Biophile Special is a lovely handwritten and drawn mini-zine. My favorite part is the Common Misconceptions section. In “It’s Survival of the Fittest!” McElroy writes, “Remember! Fitness = reproductive success. This doesn’t mean the Arnold Schwarzeneggers will rule the world." Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's zine collection is located on the First Floor.
Recommended October 2011

Book Cover for Cruddy Barry, Lynda

Lynda Barry’s Cruddy is a novel illustrated with one black ink murky-feeling drawing per chapter. The tone of the novel is also dark and somewhat muddled, or rather the situation of the girl protagonist is dark and muddled. She, however, remains amazingly clear about what is happening around her, which includes extreme physically and emotionally abusive treatment by her parents, and she's clear about what she wants to do about it. This makes a terribly sad story bearable for the reader. The girl’s name is Roberta Rohbeson, though her father, who wants a son, calls her Clyde. Cruddy is Roberta’s suicide note in which she describes how her father basically holds her hostage on a trip he takes to track down some money. Along the way many strange and violent things happen, but Roberta survives only to end up being abandoned along with her younger sister by her hideous mother. Barry is really funny at times, the way she is both funny and dark in her Ernie Pook's Comeek and Marlys/Freddie graphic novels, which are of course more illustration-heavy. Cruddy could be both triggering and deeply affirming for young adults and adult readers who have suffered abuse at some point in their lives. It's an absolutely touching and captivating read.
Recommended August 2011

Book Cover for Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang Oates, Joyce Carol
Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang

Oates knows the situations and characters that she creates so deeply that the words ring absolutely true. I am captivated, I care about the people in the work, and I don’t stumble over any words because they’re so fitting. The title is straightforward and accurate: Maddy, the narrator, was one of the members of a girl gang called Foxfire in the early 50s, who as an adult has deep regrets and needs to come clean. The girls are led by Legs, a powerful young feminist with a deep commitment to social justice. They have exhilarating success with creative tactics, to punish sexually abusive men, for example, and people who mistreat animals, and they create a supportive refuge for themselves in their own household. Their friendships are beautifully deep. This all makes it very painful when things go south. I’m not sure what Oates intended with the ending. Nonetheless, I didn’t end up deciding that the girls’ resistance was justly punished. I’m grateful that Oates' writing is not so simplistic.
Recommended April 2011

Book Cover for Lucy Kincaid, Jamaica

Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy tells the tale of a 19-year-old woman who leaves the West Indies to come to New York City and work as an au pair for an affluent young couple with four children. Lucy has very powerful feelings of love and hate for her mother. As she leaves home she struggels to explore and develop separately from those conflicting feelings. Kincaid uses wonderful, powerful language to express Lucy’s experience, exploring how colonialism and class issues show up on a personal and interpersonal level, primarily in interactions between Lucy and the well-meaning but privileged mother and wife Mariah. I find the novel full of truth as Lucy experiences it. Both Lucy and the novel are smart, honest, and interesting.
Recommended March 2011

Book Cover for The Girl Who Played With Fire Larsson, Stieg
The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl Who Played With Fire is probably the most relaxing kind of read I could find. I started the first novel in the series, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but didn’t finish it because I left the book on the bus and then saw the Swedish movie. It wasn’t hard to re-connect with the story line in the second book. The writing isn’t particularly impactful or innovative, and I wonder if the translation has something to do with the somewhat flat and awkward prose. The content of the book, though interesting, is not very challenging or deep. It’s a thriller set in Sweden about a strong female protagonist who is a sexual abuse survivor, brilliant researcher and hacker, and various intrigues she gets involved in. The novel has a clearly feminist point of view, is critical of the media, against dominance culture, and depicts gay and lesbian relationships in a respectful way. It held my attention without too much effort, like an easy knitting project can do—lovely.
Recommended January 2011

Book Cover for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter McCullers, Carson
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Carson McCullers is one of the most tender writers. I’ve read The Ballad of the Sad Café, The Member of the Wedding, and now her first work, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. All of these pieces are full of moving compassion for her fellow human beings. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter includes a large cast of characters who live in a small Southern town in the 1940s, so her empathy ranges wide. Main characters include a young girl, Mick Kelly, who is driven by a love of music, and Mr. Singer, a deaf mute onto whom many of the town’s residents project their longing. Through her exquisite language, McCullers helps us understand how people long for each other and for very individual dreams. Because her characters often end up alone in their longing, the title of this novel is apt. Despite the pain of poverty, racism, and variations on loneliness, this is not a depressing book. McCullers’ love and respect for her characters make their struggles bearable.
Recommended December 2010

Book Cover for The Member of the Wedding McCullers, Carson
The Member of the Wedding

I love Carson McCullers. I’ve read her Ballad of the Sad Café and found the writing beautiful and the story captivating. The same holds true for The Member of the Wedding, the story of Frankie and her strange and heartbreaking twelfth summer. Frankie’s brother is getting married in another town and leaving the country to serve in the military. Frankie feels lonely and jealous and hatches various plans to deal with this situation. McCullers brilliantly captures adolescent confusion and desire and the pain that they can cause. She also touches on race issues, as one of the main characters is the African-American maid and nanny in Frankie’s 1940s Southern household. This is gorgeous writing.
May 2010

Book Cover for Through Another Lens: My Years with Edward Weston Wilson, Charis
Through Another Lens: My Years with Edward Weston

Charis Wilson and Edward Weston were a couple from 1934 to 1945. They lived together most of that time, and worked together the entire time. Wilson details their photography projects (he photographer, she model and writer), as well as the dynamics of their relationship. It's interesting how gender plays out in this relatively progressive relationship during a time when gender roles were often traditionally-defined. For example, the couple shared housework completely, but equal artistic ownership of collaborations was not always seamlessly achieved.
Recommended March 2010

Book Cover for A Place to Stand: The Making of a Poet Baca, Jimmy Santiago
A Place to Stand: The Making of a Poet

I talk to strangers more than most people. Nonetheless, the fact that this book made me say things like “This book is killing me!” to strangers on the bus means something. Poet and teacher Jimmy Santiago Baca was born in 1952 in New Mexico to a Chicana mother and an Apache Indian father. He was abandoned by his parents and later placed in an orphanage, then sent to a juvenile detention center after running away from that orphanage. At age 21 he was sentenced to six years in a maximum-security prison in Florence, Arizona, on drug charges. A Place to Stand is a powerful example of how cultural identity can ground one, as well as how literacy and the written word can give one a strong sense of voice. Baca’s account makes clear that in the U.S. prison system as it exists today, emotional survival and intellectual and spiritual growth is extremely improbable. He regains the sense of belonging he lost as a person of color (e.g. 90% of the inmates are Chicano) by taking ownership of his peoples’ stories and through telling his own. This is one of the most powerful books I’ve read in a very long time.
Recommended January 2010

Wrekk, Alex
Brainscan 21: Irreconcilable Differences

Adult Zine Collection
It can be an extremely difficult process to admit one's partner is abusive. The author writes a detailed description of her experience with emotional abuse. Wrekk shares in great detail how she came to define abuse for herself. This zine is highly recommended for anyone grappling with similar issues. And...
Prescription for Change: Community Response to Substance Use

Adult Zine Collection
Prescription for Change is an incredibly insightful and helpful look at substance use and abuse. Includes critique of 12 step programs and straight-edge moralism; overview of the idea of harm reduction and its applications, not just to chemical addiction but to other acts; and suggestions for community efforts to reduce judgment and isolation of conventionally-defined addicts and raise awareness of abusive behavior by anyone moving at any point on the addiction spectrum. Finally, it's a call to stay connected and safe as a community. A powerful zine.
Recommended August 2009

Book Cover for Parable of the Talents Butler, Octavia
Parable of the Talents

Science Fiction
Parable of the Talents is the second in a two-part series of novels by Octavia Butler. She published Parable of the Sower in 1993 (see March Staff Picks), and Parable of the Talents five years later. Parable of the Sower focuses on teenager Lauren Olamina, who is trying to survive life in dystopian California in the 2020s, while founding the religion she created called Earthseed. Parable of the Talents begins in this religious community and chronicles Lauren and her fellow community members’ brutal encounters with Christian Fundamentalists who have taken over the country and federal government in the 2030s. Unlike Talents, Sower gets repetitive in the second half. Nonetheless, like Sower it offers important commentary on current issues by vividly portraying the consequences of environmental destruction and the violence that can stem from religious dogmatism.
Recommended May 2009

Book Cover for Parable of the Sower Butler, Octavia
Parable of the Sower

Science Fiction
Parable of the Sower, published in 1993, is the first in a two-part series of sci-fi novels by Octavia Butler. The story focuses on teenager Lauren Olamina who lives in dystopian California in the 2020s. Society has broken down so severely – economically, socially, environmentally – that people either live in walled-in communities trying to defend themselves, or live on the outside in extremely desperate conditions including drugs, crime, prostitution, new forms of slavery and more. The walls come tumbling down and Lauren, at 18, ends up on the perilous road trying to survive. Lauren is a sort of spiritual prophet. For years she has secretly transcribed verses of a religion she calls Earthseed. On the road she recruits devotees to fulfill Earthseed’s destiny of life on another planet. What makes this book worth reading is a captivating story that’s also a powerful commentary on very important issues of our time including race, gender, the environment, religion, community. It reminds me of the way Star Trek episodes could be such good commentary.
Recommended March 2009

Pollitt, Katha
Learning to Drive

Yikes this book is interesting. A lovely patron told me how much she likes Katha Pollit and made me want to give this book a try. Among other things, Katha Pollitt is a thinker, writer, feminist, mother, wife and poet. She’s probably most well-known for her pieces in a column called “Subject to Debate” in The Nation. In this collection of essays, Pollitt writes about the personal, the political, and the intersections between the two, touching on very relevant topics like communism, women and aging, motherhood, pornography and web stalking. She expresses herself so clearly and with so much feeling that I felt that I was gaining some good insight into the topics while also being moved and having fun. These essays reminded me of a warmer, happier Joan Didion. I’m taking out her Virginity or Death next.
Recommended October 2008

Book Cover for The White Album Didion, Joan
The White Album

Joan Didion’s White Album is not unlike the Beatles’ White Album in a number of ways. Some of the similarities are obvious. Both objects are white (the first edition of Didion’s book is white, anyway). The album was originally released in 1968; some of Didion’s pieces in her book were written in 1968. A less obvious and more interesting similarity is that Didion wrote about the 1969 Manson Family murders and Charles Manson was supposedly obsessed with the Beatles’ White Album (the misspelt song title “Healter Skelter” was written in blood at one of the Manson Family murder sites). Paranoia runs through both works, evident in the song “Happiness is a Warm Gun” or in Didion’s account of her struggles with mental illness and irrational fears. They both critique at least some of those in power, in “Piggies” and “In Hollywood”, as well as social movements. Didion’s White Album is harder to swallow, though, since it definitely does not contain any love songs. It’s worth a read, nonetheless, as a smart account of those years. I suggest reading it while listening to the Beatles' White Album for a dose of hope and emotion as counterbalance.
Recommended May 2008

Book Cover for Best American Non-Required Reading Series Eggers, Dave ed.
Best American Non-Required Reading Series

Short Stories
I was sooo excited to discover this series, and also sort of ticked off that no one had told me about it before. But since I’m an unusually and extremely nice person, I will let you in on it. This series is awesome. It’s awesome because each volume has such a wide variety of things to read. It has short stories in it, and non-fiction pieces, and each volume also has a graphic novel excerpt. There’s a great excerpt from Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons in the 2003 volume. Lynda Barry is so funny and touching. The fiction is so varied that it never bores. Also from the 2003 volume is a piece by Jonathan Safran Foer called “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease." In it, he uses a symbol like a square or maybe three periods, to represent a way that his family does or doesn’t communicate. Some silences are peaceful, some silences are heavy and angry. Some questions are really commands. His symbols beautifully illustrate the many things that happen in conversations that are wordless, how big our desire to connect with each other is, and how painful our bumbling attempts at it are. Other writers include David Sedaris, Sherman Alexie, Chuck Klosterman, J.T. Leroy, and Michelle Tea. The series starts in 2002 and a 2007 volume was just published. It’s part of the larger Best American series, and according to Houghton Mifflin, it’s now the most popular of the series. So get to it!
Recommended March 2008