Poetry. It is 50 years since Atheneum published Anthony Hecht and John Hollander’s Jiggery-Pokery, a compendium of verses known as double dactyls. The double dactyl was the invention of Hecht and Paul Pascal, and is was aptly described on the jacket of Jiggery-Pokery as a devilish amalgam of rhyme, meter, name-dropping and pure nonsense. It caught on, too, just as the limerick and the clerihew had caught on, and has been testing the mettle of many a poet–and not a few aspiring poets–ever since. To celebrate Jiggery-Pokery`s half-century, Waywiser is delighted to be publishing JIGGERY-POKERY SEMICENTENNIAL, a wholly new compendium expertly edited by Dan Groves and Greg Williamson. The volume is dedicated to the memories of Hecht and Hollander, and it comes with a splendid introduction by Willard Spiegelman, Hughes Professor emeritus at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and a regular contributor to the Leisure & Arts pages of The Wall Street Journal. Spiegelman’s most recent books are Senior Moments: Looking Back, Looking Ahead (2016) and If You See Something, Say Something: A Writer Looks at Art (2016). The volume also comes complete with a cover by the celebrated graphic designer Milton Glaser, a singularly appropriate choice since Glaser (still going strong at the age of 88) designed the cover for and also illustrated the original Hecht-Hollander volume.
David Yezzi’s fourth book of poems considers what it’s like, during times of roiling change, to feel like a stranger on one’s own street and in one’s own country. This uprooting is partly geographic, partly psychic: what was familiar has become as foreign as the fabled Black Sea (the site of the Roman poet Ovid’s exile). The emotional pressure of this dislocation pushes his poems into lyric fragments and mordant humor. Home, once a comfort, now hides a threat.
On a dim winter afternoon, a young Irish immigrant opens the gas taps in his Brooklyn tenement. He is determined to prove―to the subway bosses who have recently fired him, to his badgering, pregnant wife―“that the hours of his life belong to himself alone.” In the aftermath of the fire that follows, Sister St. Savior, an aging nun, a Little Sister of the Sick Poor, appears, unbidden, to direct the way forward for his widow and his unborn child.
In Catholic Brooklyn, in the early part of the twentieth century, decorum, superstition, and shame collude to erase the man’s brief existence, and yet his suicide, although never spoken of, reverberates through many lives―testing the limits and the demands of love and sacrifice, of forgiveness and forgetfulness, even through multiple generations. Rendered with remarkable lucidity and intelligence, Alice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour is a crowning achievement of one of the finest American writers at work today.
“I’m still alive and now I’m in Bratislava,” says the speaker of one of Salter’s poems, as she travels with her unlikely late-in-life love, a military man. She never expected to be here, to know someone like him, to be parted from her previous life; how did it happen? Time is hurtling, but these poems try to slow it down to examine its curious by-products–the prints of Dürer, an Afghan carpet, photographs of people we’ve lost. The title poem, a crown of sonnets, takes up key moments in the poet’s past, the quirky advent of poetic inspiration, and the seemingly sci-fi future of the universe. Throughout, in a tone of ironic wonderment, placing rich new love poems alongside some inevitable poems of leavetaking, Salter invites the reader to weigh and ponder the way things have turned out–for herself, for all of us–in this new century, and perhaps to conclude, as she does, “That’s funny . . . “
A collection of fifteen stories, Jean McGarry’s No Harm Done, depicts family life at its worst, best, and funniest, as if the author had conjoined the lunacy of Cold Comfort Farm with the bitter grievances of Dubliners. As the author writes in “Strong Boy,” this might be “…because every family, rich or poor, is roughage.”
The characters, gallant, goofy, gifted, and grim, include sickly mothers of a dozen children, boozy fathers with a gift of the gab, kids aspiring to be nuns and priests, or just to get out of town with a whole skin.
A section is devoted to one marriage made in heaven: a Jewish psychoanalyst devoted to his ex-nun wife. Another set of stories reworks familiar fairy tales, setting them in the wild present. No Harm Done (whose title is Irish code for wishful thinking) concludes with a truce to the war between the sexes, and indeed a ‘solution’ to the tragicomedy that is marriage and family.
From the award-winning author of Music Through the Floor and Model Home, a riveting and profoundly moving story collection by a writer “uncannily in tune with the heartbreak and absurdity of domestic life” (Los Angeles Times).
A boy on the edge of adolescence fears his mother might be a robot; a psychotically depressed woman is entrusted with taking her niece and nephew trick-or-treating; a reluctant dad brings his baby to a coke-fueled party; a teenage boy tries to prevent his mother from putting his estranged father’s dogs to sleep. Ranging from a youth arts camp to an aging punk band’s reunion tour, from a dystopian future where parents no longer exist to a ferociously independent bookstore, Last Day on Earth revolves around the endlessly complex, frequently surreal system that is family.
Eric Puchner, the author hailed as “technically gifted and emotionally insightful” (The New York Times Book Review), and someone who “puts the story back in short story” (San Francisco Chronicle Book Review), delivers a gloriously original, utterly memorable collection that invokes both the comedy and tragedy of our lifelong endeavor to come of age.
Coming in to Land: Selected Poems 1975-2015
- January 2017, Ecco
- Andrew Motion, author
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From England’s former Poet Laureate, a collection of selected poetry spanning his celebrated career, presented for the first time by an American publisher
Andrew Motion has said, “I want my writing to be as clear as water. I want readers to see all the way through its surfaces into the swamp.” Though the territory of his exploration may be murky and mired—the front lines of war, political entanglements, romantic longing, and human suffering—Motion’s conversational tone and lyrical style make for clear, bold poems that speak to contradictions at the heart of the human condition.
Whether underground in an urban metro, in the poet’s home, on the steps leading up to Anne Frank’s annex, or wading in the Norfolk broads, Motion’s richly imagined landscapes contain unspoken mysteries underneath the poet’s candor. In the tradition of English pastoral poetry that includes Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, and William Wordsworth, these poems skate over sweeping empires and plumb emotional depths, settling in a meditative, understated register. As an introduction to one of England’s most lauded living poets, English Elegies offers a moving depiction of this writer’s career as a chronicler of modernity’s pitfalls and triumphs.
“Nicole wasn’t actually my stepsister, but no other word fit any better. My father and her mother had fallen in love on a church committee. Breaking up two families would have caused needless damage, and so the adults decided that all seven of us should move to a new house together….”
And so we’re introduced to the two unlikely stepsisters at the heart of Meantime. Katharine Noel– the award winning author of the national bestseller Halfway House–delivers a funny, wise and moving novel of the stories we tell about the past, and how they inform our understanding of the present as well as our choices for the future.
Claire Hood’s unconventional upbringing in the “Naked Family”– as they were infamously nicknamed by their suburban neighbors–taught her to embrace the unexpected. Now in her thirties, Claire has a husband, Jeremy, who longs to start a family, but Claire’s blueprint in life is to avoid an ordinary existence at all costs.
At the same time, her stepsister Nicole has set her mind to having a baby on her own. Just as Nicole needs Claire more than ever, Jeremy falls seriously ill and his high school girlfriend resurfaces to lend a hand in his recovery. Everything Claire thinks she values–and everything she imagines about the kind of person she wants to be– is thrown into question.
With grace, humanity, and humor, Katharine Noel examines the complex, delicate connections between parents and children, spouses, and siblings. Meantime is a heartfelt, insightful novel of how individuals shape and reshape their families– both given and chosen–while discovering their truest sense of self.
The Hole Story of Kirby the Sneak and Arlo the True
- September 2015, Waywiser Press
- Greg Williamson, author
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In this narrative poem, Kirby the sneaky, dog-genius steals the hole Arlo dug in the yard and the social order begins to break down. Kirby faces grave, injurious peril in restoring cosmic harmony. In rhyming couplets he reflects on the hole’s eerie influence, he contemplates spider webs, Newton, The Old West, Scottish history, Templars, the Roundtable Knights, the existence of dragons, and the nature of time, itself. This nimbly written, playful poem will delight children of all ages even the adult ones.
Washed ashore after escaping Treasure Island, young Jim Hawkins and his companion Natty find themselves stranded on the Gulf Coast of Texas. Their ship, the Nightingale, has been destroyed, and besides one other crew member, they are the only survivors. Before they can even grasp the full scope of their predicament, they realize they are not alone on the beach. When a band of Native Americans approaches the shore in a threatening fury, they brutally kill Jim and Natty’s last shipmate, rob their dead crew, and take the two desperate survivors hostage.
Suddenly, Jim and Natty are thrust into an adventure that takes them all across the unruly American South. Starting with a desperate escape from a violent chief who obsessively keeps close on their trail, they join up with a troupe of entertainers who take them to a thriving and dangerous New Orleans, and seek the closest port so they can set sail for home once again.
In magnificent, free-wheeling prose and in a high-flying style, Andrew Motion has spun a fantastic yarn that will win the hearts of adventure lovers everywhere.
It’s Hard to Say: Selected Poems
- January 29, 2015, Waywiser Press
- Mary Jo Salter, author
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“Only a few poets transcend the history of taste to participate in the history of art – and only in a handful of poems. Salter has been struck by lightning more than once.” So wrote the critic James Longenbach, and in It’s Hard to Say, which is Salter’s first UK Selected, one can see the proof of Longenbach’s statement. It’s Hard to Say gathers poems from each of Salter’s seven previous collections – Henry Purcell in Japan, Unfinished Painting, Sunday Skaters, A Kiss in Space, Open Shutters, A Phone Call to the Future, and Nothing by Design – and the accomplishment of this fine poet is on display at every point, in poems that are unfailingly well-made, and which move from the touching to the angry, from the humorous to the entirely serious, from the domestic to the universal.
Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs
- 2014 , Public Affairs
- David Grimm, author
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Dogs are getting lawyers. Cats are getting kidney transplants. Could they one day be fellow citizens?
Cats and dogs were once wild animals. Today, they are family members and surrogate children. A little over a century ago, pets didn’t warrant the meager legal status of property. Now, they have more rights and protections than any other animal in the country. Some say they’re even on the verge of becoming legal persons.
How did we get here—and what happens next?
In this fascinating exploration of the changing status of dogs and cats in society, pet lover and award-winning journalist David Grimm explores the rich and surprising history of our favorite companion animals. He treks the long and often torturous path from their wild origins to their dark days in the middle ages to their current standing as the most valued animals on Earth. As he travels across the country—riding along with Los Angeles detectives as they investigate animal cruelty cases, touring the devastation of New Orleans in search of the orphaned pets of Hurricane Katrina, and coming face-to-face with wolves and feral cats—Grimm reveals the changing social attitudes that have turned pets into family members, and the remarkable laws and court cases that have elevated them to quasi citizens.
The journey to citizenship isn’t a smooth one, however. As Grimm finds, there’s plenty of opposition to the rising status of cats and dogs. From scientists and farmers worried that our affection for pets could spill over to livestock and lab rats to philosophers who say the only way to save society is to wipe cats and dogs from the face of the earth, the battle lines are being drawn. We are entering a new age of pets—one that is fundamentally transforming our relationship with these animals and reshaping the very fabric of society.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Fiction: “An Almost Theatrical Innocence”
- 2014 , Johns Hopkins University Press
- John Irwin, author
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“Fitzgerald’s work has always deeply moved me,” writes John T. Irwin. “And this is as true now as it was 50 years ago when I first picked up The Great Gatsby. I can still remember the occasions when I first read each of his novels; remember the time, place, and mood of those early readings, as well as the way each work seemed to speak to something going on in my life at that moment. Because the things that interested Fitzgerald were the things that interested me and because there seemed to be so many similarities in our backgrounds, his work always possessed for me a special, personal authority; it became a form of wisdom, a way of knowing the world, its types, its classes, its individuals.” In his personal tribute to Fitzgerald’s novels and short stories, Irwin offers an intricate vision of one of the most important writers in the American canon. The third in Irwin’s trilogy of works on American writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Fiction resonates back through all of his previous writings, both scholarly and poetic, returning to Fitzgerald’s ongoing theme of the 20th-century American protagonist’s conflict between his work and his personal life. This conflict is played out against the typically American imaginative activity of self-creation, an activity that involves a degree of theatrical ability on the protagonist’s part as he must first enact the role imagined for himself, which is to say, the self he means to invent.
The work is suffused with elements of both Fitzgerald’s and Irwin’s biographies, and Irwin’s immense erudition is on display throughout. Irwin seamlessly ties together details from Fitzgerald’s life with elements from his entire body of work and considers central themes connected to wealth, class, work, love, jazz, acceptance, family, disillusionment, and life as theatrical performance.
A beautiful collection of verse––both light and dark, elegiac and affirmative––from one of our most admired poets.
The title Nothing by Design is taken from Salter’s villanelle “Complaint for Absolute Divorce,” in which we’re asked to entertain the thought of a no-fault universe. The wary search for peace, personal and public, is a constant theme in poems as varied as “Our Friends the Enemy,” about the Christmas football match between German and British soldiers in 1914; “The Afterlife,” in which Egyptian tomb figurines labor to serve the dead; and “Voice of America,” where Salter returns to the Saint Petersburg of her exiled friend, the late Joseph Brodsky. A section of charming light verse serves as counterpoint to another series entitled “Bed of Letters,” in which Salter addresses the end of a long marriage. Artfully designed, with a highly intentional music, these poems movingly give form to the often unfathomable, yet very real, presence of nothingness and loss in our lives.
“A fully realized portrait of one woman’s life in all its complexity, by the National Book Award–winning author”
An ordinary life—its sharp pains and unexpected joys, its bursts of clarity and moments of confusion—lived by an ordinary woman: this is the subject of Someone, Alice McDermott’s extraordinary return, seven years after the publication of After This. Scattered recollections—of childhood, adolescence, motherhood, old age—come together in this transformative narrative, stitched into a vibrant whole by McDermott’s deft, lyrical voice.
Our first glimpse of Marie is as a child: a girl in glasses waiting on a Brooklyn stoop for her beloved father to come home from work. A seemingly innocuous encounter with a young woman named Pegeen sets the bittersweet tone of this remarkable novel. Pegeen describes herself as an “amadan,” a fool; indeed, soon after her chat with Marie, Pegeen tumbles down her own basement stairs. The magic of McDermott’s novel lies in how it reveals us all as fools for this or that, in one way or another.
Marie’s first heartbreak and her eventual marriage; her brother’s brief stint as a Catholic priest, subsequent loss of faith, and eventual breakdown; the Second World War; her parents’ deaths; the births and lives of Marie’s children; the changing world of her Irish-American enclave in Brooklyn—McDermott sketches all of it with sympathy and insight. This is a novel that speaks of life as it is daily lived; a crowning achievement by one of the finest American writers at work today.
- A Publishers Weekly Best Fiction Book of the Year
- A Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction Book of 2013
- A New York Times Notable Book of 2013
- A Washington Post Notable Fiction Book of 2013
- An NPR Best Book of 2013
The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum
- 2013, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- Richard Panek, co-author
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A cutting-edge account of the latest science of autism, from the best-selling author and advocate
When Temple Grandin was born in 1947, autism had only just been named. Today it is more prevalent than ever, with one in 88 children diagnosed on the spectrum. And our thinking about it has undergone a transformation in her lifetime: Autism studies have moved from the realm of psychology to neurology and genetics, and there is far more hope today than ever before thanks to groundbreaking new research into causes and treatments. Now Temple Grandin reports from the forefront of autism science, bringing her singular perspective to a thrilling journey into the heart of the autism revolution.
Weaving her own experience with remarkable new discoveries, Grandin introduces the neuroimaging advances and genetic research that link brain science to behavior, even sharing her own brain scan to show us which anomalies might explain common symptoms. We meet the scientists and self-advocates who are exploring innovative theories of what causes autism and how we can diagnose and best treat it. Grandin also highlights long-ignored sensory problems and the transformative effects we can have by treating autism symptom by symptom, rather than with an umbrella diagnosis. Most exciting, she argues that raising and educating kids on the spectrum isn’t just a matter of focusing on their weaknesses; in the science that reveals their long-overlooked strengths she shows us new ways to foster their unique contributions.
From the “aspies” in Silicon Valley to the five-year-old without language, Grandin understands the true meaning of the word spectrum. The Autistic Brain is essential reading from the most respected and beloved voices in the field.
The Oldest Word for Dawn: New and Selected Poems
- 2013, Knopf
- Brad Leithauser, author
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From one of our most universally admired poets: a generous selection from his five acclaimed books of poetry, and an outstanding group of new poems.
From the outset, Brad Leithauser has displayed a venturesome taste for quirky patterns, innovative designs sprung loose from traditional forms. In The Oldest Word for Dawn, we encounter a sonnet in one-syllable lines (“Post-Coitum Tristesse”), a clanging rhyme-mad tribute to the music of Tin Pan Alley (“A Good List”), intricate buried rhyme schemes (“In Minako Wada’s House”), autobiography spun through parodies of Frost and Keats and Omar Khayyám (“Two Summer Jobs”).
In a new poem, “Earlier,” the poet investigates a kind of paradox: What is the oldest word for dawn in any language? The pursuit ultimately descends into the roots of speech, the genesis of art. “Earlier” is part of a sequence devoted to prehistoric themes: the cave paintings of Altamira, the disappearance of the Neanderthals, the poet’s journey with his teenage daughter to excavate a triceratops skeleton in Montana…
The author of six novels as well, Leithauser not surprisingly brings to his verse a flair for compelling narrative: a fateful romantic encounter on a streetcar (“1944: Purple Heart”); the mesmerizing arrival of television in a quiet Detroit neighborhood (“Not Lunar Exactly”); two boys heedlessly, joyfully bidding permanent farewell to a beloved sister (“Emigrant’s Story”).
The Oldest Word for Dawn reveals Brad Leithauser as a poet of surpassing tenderness and exactitude, a poet whose work, at sixty, fulfills the promise noted by James Merrill on the publication of his first book: “The observations glisten, the feelings ring true. These poems by a young, unostentatious craftsman are made to something very like perfection. No one should overlook them.”
Like Robert Frost’s North of Boston, David Yezzi’s Birds of the Air intersperses charged lyrics with longer dramatic narratives. His monologues explore the frenetic pressures of urban life, as a number of memorable characters take stage: the guy who is hired to clear out a dying man’s apartment; the actor stuck in an inadvertently hilarious production of Macbeth and his estranged girlfriend’s tragic end; and the short-order cook who elevates his work to an art form. Like the birds of the air described by St. Matthew, these threadbare denizens of the modern city subsist on the few scraps that fall to them.
“That feeling of becoming a new person in a different place, even if it’s an illusion, is intoxicating to me, and always has been. I love writing about places, but only places where I don’t belong.”—James Arthur
Awakening is the theme of this fiery debut about the “ghost world” of shadows and personae. A sense of history, politics, and place is an integrated and integral part of the whole, alive with stirring accounts of travel, intimate moments of solitude, and encounters with the ineffable. Romantic in spirit and contemporary in outlook, James Arthur writes exciting, rhythmical, elastic poems.
Andrew Motion’s new book opens with a sequence of war poems (first published as the pamphlet Laurels and Donkeys, on Armistice Day 2010), drawing on soldiers’ experiences of war from 1914 until today – beginning with a story about Siegfried Sassoon and moving via World War Two and Korea to the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of the poems are in the voices of combatants, others are based on memories of the poet’s father, who landed at D-day and fought in France and Germany. The poems combine understatement with a clear-eyed and unswerving candour.
The Customs House has other rooms: a group of topographies, mapping moments in a marriage against the contingencies of place and family history; and several ‘found poems’, in which the poet collaborates with his source, mixing what is there already with what is about to be there: whether a remarkable sonnet sequence on the last days of the Baroque genius Francesco Borromini, or in other poems a richly imagined extrapolation from the silent premises of a painting.
A rip-roaring sequel to Treasure Island—Robert Louis Stevenson’s beloved classic—about two young friends and their high-seas adventure with dangerous pirates and long-lost treasure.
It’s almost forty years after the events of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island: Jim Hawkins now runs an inn called the Hispaniola on the English coast with his son, Jim, and Long John Silver has returned to England to live in obscurity with his daughter, Natty. Their lives are quiet and unremarkable; their adventures have seemingly ended.
But for Jim and Natty, the adventure is just beginning. One night, Natty approaches young Jim with a proposition: return to Treasure Island and find the remaining treasure that their fathers left behind so many years before. As Jim and Natty set sail in their fathers’ footsteps, they quickly learn that this journey will not be easy. Immediately, they come up against murderous pirates, long-held grudges, and greed and deception lurking in every corner. And when they arrive on Treasure Island, they find terrible scenes awaiting them—difficulties which require all their wit as well as their courage. Nor does the adventure end there, since they have to sail homeward again…
Andrew Motion’s sequel—rollicking, heartfelt, and utterly brilliant—would make Robert Louis Stevenson proud.
Nuclear energy, X-rays, radon, cell phones… radiation is part of the way we live on a daily basis, and yet the sources and repercussions of our exposure to it remain mysterious. Now Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wayne Biddle offers a first-of-its-kind guide to understanding this fundamental aspect of the universe. From fallout to radiation poisoning, alpha particles to cosmic rays, Biddle illuminates the history, meaning, and health implications of one hundred scientific terms in succinct, witty essays. A Field Guide to Radiation is an essential, engaging handbook that offers wisdom and common sense for today’s increasingly nuclear world.
When members of a private club in Boston, led by Dr. Edward Shaw, create a chemical formula that will modify their DNA to ensure themselves eternal life, something goes horribly wrong. And the formula turns those who take it into zombies. Mayhem ensues.
Hart Crane’s Poetry: “Appollinaire lived in Paris, I live in Cleveland, Ohio”
- 2011, Johns Hopkins University Press
- John Irwin, author
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In one of his letters Hart Crane wrote, “Appollinaire lived in Paris, I live in Cleveland, Ohio,” comparing—misspelling and all—the great French poet’s cosmopolitan roots to his own more modest ones in the midwestern United States. Rebelling against the notion that his work should relate to some European school of thought, Crane defiantly asserted his freedom to be himself, a true American writer. John T. Irwin, long a passionate and brilliant critic of Crane, gives readers the first major interpretation of the poet’s work in decades.
Irwin aims to show that Hart Crane’s epic The Bridge is the best 20th-century long poem in English. Irwin convincingly argues that, compared to other long poems of the century, The Bridge is the richest and most wide-ranging in its mythic and historical resonances, the most inventive in its combination of literary and visual structures, the most subtle and compelling in its psychological underpinnings. Irwin brings a wealth of new and varied scholarship to bear on his critical reading of the work?from art history to biography to classical literature to philosophy?revealing The Bridge to be the near-perfect synthesis of American myth and history that Crane intended.
Irwin contends that the most successful entryway to Crane’s notoriously difficult shorter poems is through a close reading of The Bridge. Having admirably accomplished this, Irwin analyzes Crane’s poems in White Buildings and his last poem, “The Broken Tower,” through the larger context of his epic, showing how Crane, in the best of these, worked out the structures and images that were fully developed in The Bridge.
Thoughtful, deliberate, and extraordinarily learned, this is the most complete and careful reading of Crane’s poetry available. Hart Crane may have lived in Cleveland, Ohio, but, as Irwin masterfully shows, his poems stand among the greatest written in the English language.
The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality
- 2011, Mariner Books
- Richard Panek, author
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In recent years, a handful of scientists has been racing to explain a disturbing aspect of our universe: only 4 percent of it consists of the matter that makes up you, me, and every star and planet. The rest is completely unknown.
Richard Panek tells the dramatic story of how scientists reached this cosmos-shattering conclusion. In vivid detail, he narrates the quest to find the “dark” matter and an even more bizarre substance called dark energy that make up 96 percent of the universe. This is perhaps the greatest mystery in all of science, and solving it will bring fame, funding, and certainly a Nobel Prize. Based on hundreds of interviews and in-depth, on-site reporting, the book offers an intimate portrait of the bitter rivalries and fruitful collaborations, the eureka moments and blind alleys, that have redefined science and reinvented the universe.
Poetry. The poems in SAY SO are at once rigorously formal and wildly experimental. Human utterance—be it prayer or plea or pun or turn of phrase or epithet—is one of SAY SO’s primary pistons; poetic tradition—rhyme, meter, form, rhetoric—is another; the beauty and betrayals of the body, or bodies—echoed in the beauty and betrayal of language itself—is a third. Together, these forces provide the pressure that makes SAY SO move and brings these poems to life.
Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self
- 2010, Riverhead Books
- Danielle Evans, author
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When Danielle Evans’s short story “Virgins” was published in The Paris Review in late 2007, it announced the arrival of a bold new voice. Written when she was only twenty-three, Evans’s story of two black, blue-collar fifteen-year-old girls’ flirtation with adulthood for one night was startling in its pitch-perfect examination of race, class, and the shifting terrain of adolescence.
Now this debut collection delivers on the promise of that early story. In “Harvest,” a college student’s unplanned pregnancy forces her to confront her own feelings of inadequacy in comparison to her white classmates. In “Jellyfish,” a father’s misguided attempt to rescue a gift for his grown daughter from an apartment collapse magnifies all he doesn’t know about her. And in “Snakes,” the mixed-race daughter of intellectuals recounts the disastrous summer she spent with her white grandmother and cousin, a summer that has unforeseen repercussions in the present.
Striking in their emotional immediacy, the stories in Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self are based in a world where inequality is reality but where the insecurities of adolescence and young adulthood, and the tensions within family and the community, are sometimes the biggest complicating forces in one’s sense of identity and the choices one makes.
The stories of Ocean State roll over the reader like a wave. Family pleasures, marriage, the essential moments and mysteries of a seemingly ordinary world that break into magical territory before we can brace ourselves—Jean McGarry puts us in life’s rough seas with what the New York Times has called a “deft, comic, and devastatingly precise” hand.
Warren Ziller moved his family to Southern California in search of a charmed life, and to all appearances, he found it: a gated community not far from the beach, amid the affluent splendor of the 1980s. But the Zillers’ American dream is about to be rudely interrupted. Warren has squandered their savings on a bad real estate investment, which he conceals from his wife, Camille, who misreads his secrecy as a sign of an affair. Their children, Dustin, Lyle, and Jonas, have grown as distant as satellites, too busy with their own betrayals and rebellions to notice their parents’ distress. When tragedy strikes, the Zillers are forced to move to Warren’s abandoned housing development in the desert. In this comically bleak new home, each must reckon with what’s led them there and who’s to blame—and whether they can summon the forgiveness needed to hold the family together.
With penetrating insights into modern life and an uncanny eye for everyday absurdities, Eric Puchner delivers a wildly funny, heartbreaking, and thoroughly original portrait of an American family.
By turns playful and serious, the poems in Dora Malech’s long-awaited second collection, Shore Ordered Ocean, revel in the inherent tensions and pleasures of sense, sound and syntax, reveal the resonance in the offhand utterance, seek the unexpected in aphorism and cliché, and tap into the paradoxical freedom of formality. This is an extraordinary collection of highly idiosyncratic poems that explore place, politics, the body, love, art, and more.
In The Art Student’s War, his sixth novel, Brad Leithauser has brought off a double feat of imagination: a keen and affectionate rendering of an artist as a young woman and a loving historical portrait of a now-vanished Detroit in its heyday.
The story opens on a sunny spring day as a pretty woman, in a crowded wartime city, climbs aboard a streetcar. She is heading home, where another war—a domestic war—is about to erupt.
The year is 1943. Our heroine, Bianca Paradiso, is eighteen and an art student. She goes by Bea with friends and family, but she is Bianca in that world of private ambition where she dreams of creating canvases deserving of space on a museum’s walls. She is determined to observe everything, and there is much to see in a thriving, sleepless city where automobile production has been halted in favor of fighter planes and tanks, and where wounded soldiers have begun to appear with disturbing frequency.
The glorious pursuit of art and the harrowing pursuit of military victory eventually merge when Bea is asked to draw portraits of wounded young soldiers in a local hospital. Suddenly, bewilderingly, she must deal with lives maimed at their outset, and with headlong romantic yearnings that demand more of her than she feels prepared to give. And she must do so at a time when dangerous revelations—emotional detonations—are occurring in her own family.
Rich, humorous, and grippingly written, The Art Student’s War is Leithauser’s finest novel to date—a view both global and intimate in its portrayal of one family caught up in the personal and national drama of the Second World War.
Dark Side of the Moon: Wernher von Braun, the Third Reich, and the Space Race
- 2009, W. W. Norton & Company
- Wayne Biddle, author
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A stunning investigation of the roots of the first moon landing 40 years ago. This illuminating story of the dawn of the space age reaches back to the reactionary modernism of the Third Reich, using the life of “rocket scientist” Wernher von Braun as its narrative path through the crumbling of Weimar Germany and the rise of the Nazi regime. Von Braun, a blinkered opportunist who could apply only tunnel vision to his meteoric career, stands as an archetype of myriad twentieth century technologists who thrived under regimes of military secrecy and unlimited money. His seamless transformation from developer of the deadly V-2 ballistic missile for Hitler to an American celebrity as the supposed genius behind the golden years of the U.S. space program in the 1950s and 1960s raises haunting questions about the culture of the Cold War, the shared values of technology in totalitarian and democratic societies, and the imperatives of material progress.
The Swallow Anthology of New American Poets gathers the work of 35 of the most compelling and talented new poets writing today. Groundbreaking anthologies of this kind come along once in a generation and, in time, define that generation. The Swallow Anthology identifies a group of poets who have recently begun to make an important mark on contemporary poetry, and their accomplishment and influence will only grow with time. The poets of The Swallow Anthology do not constitute a school or movement; rather they are a group of unique artists working at the top of their craft. As editor David Yezzi writes in his introduction, “Here is a group of poets who have, perhaps for the first time since the modernist revolution, returned to a happy détente between warring camps. This is a new kind of poet, who, dissatisfied with the climate of extremes, has found a balance between innovation and received form, the terror beneath the classical and the order underpinning the romantic. This new unified sensibility is no watered–down admixture, no easy compromise, but, rather, the vital spirit behind the most accomplished poetry being written by America’s new poets.”Poets include: Craig Arnold, David Barber, Rick Barot, Priscilla Becker, Geoffrey Brock, Dan Brown, Peter Campion, Bill Coyle, Morri Creech, Erica Dawson, Ben Downing, Andrew Feld, John Foy, Jason Gray, George Green, Joseph Harrison, Ernest Hilbert, Adam Kirsch, Joanie Mackowski, Eric McHenry, Molly McQuade, Joshua Mehigan, Wilmer Mills, Joe Osterhaus, J. Allyn Rosser, A. E. Stallings, Pimone Triplett, Catherine Tufariello, Deborah Warren, Rachel Wetzsteon, Greg Williamson, Christian Wiman, Mark Wunderlich, David Yezzi, and C. Dale Young.
Brad Leithauser’s “most satisfying collection in years” (Library Journal), a bracing poetic journey that begins in a warm, peopled world and concludes in a cooler and more private place, embracing love of the human and natural world in all its states.
The Mower introduces the poetry of British poet laureate Andrew Motion to American readers for the first time. This selection, chosen by Andrew Motion himself, is an outstanding representation of the poet’s varied body of work elegies, sonnets, poems of social and political observation, and unsentimental poems about childhood, post-war England, and natural life composed over the course of three decades.
A significant and consistent feature of Motion’s work, throughout his shifts in style and changes in imaginative topogÂraphies, is his signature clarity of observation, his unÂwillingness to sacrifice intelligibility or embrace opacity. Instead, Motion employs the full power of the English language to do his bidding, and, in love with words as he is, the words cooperate, communicate transforming the intangible, the abstract into intelligible images, associations, and ultimately, knowledge.
In his role as poet laureate for the past ten years, Motion has worked to make poetry more widely available to the general public free of charge (through his online archiving of poets reading their work at The Poetry Archive).
This “wholly attractive volume” that brings together 25 years of “elegantly shaped and voiced creations” (William Pritchard, The Boston Globe) offers a generous sampling of Mary Jo Salter’s five previous award-winning volumes and a collection of superb new poems. A mid-career retrospective of one of the major poets of her generation.
There’s an extraordinary amount of wit and wordplay—outrageous puns, fractured homilies, garbled quotations, double entendres—in this short book. A Most Marvelous Piece of Luck recalls those planetarium shows that, in their vertiginous final minutes, whirl the audience through the cosmos. To say that Williamson is one of the three or four contemporary American masters of light verse may be a less grand pronouncement than it sounds, given how few serious poets these days would aspire to the title. Williamson’s rhymes are likewise dexterous, with a number of unexpected combinations and here and there he comes up with something so neatly preposterous that Byron might have been proud to claim it. The book holds up so well, richly repaying rereading, because there’s a somber, eerie iciness at its core.
Like a voyage to the Portuguese islands of the title, the poems in Azores arrive at their striking and hard-won destinations over the often-treacherous waters of experience—a man mourns the fact that he cannot not mourn, a father warns his daughter about harsh contingency, an unnamed visitor violently disrupts a quiet domestic scene. The ever-present and uncomfortable realities of envy, lust, and mortality haunt the book from poem to poem. Yezzi does not shy away from frank assessments of desire and human failing, the persistent difficulties of which are relieved periodically by a cautious optimism and even joy. Whether the poem’s backdrop is volcanic islands in the Mid-Atlantic or Manhattan Island at sunset, Yezzi examines the forces of change in the natural world, as w hether mundane or startlingly intimate. By turns plainspoken, caustic, evocative, and wry, these poems are, in matters of form, well-wrought and musical and, in matters of the heart, clear-eyed and always richly human.
On a wild, windy April day in Manhattan, when Mary first meets John Keane, she cannot know what lies ahead of her. A marriage, a fleeting season of romance, and the birth of four children will bring John and Mary to rest in the safe embrace of a traditional Catholic life in the suburbs. But neither Mary nor John, distracted by memories and longings, can feel the wind that is buffeting their children, leading them in directions beyond their parents’ control. Michael and his sister Annie are caught up in the sexual revolution. Jacob, brooding and frail, is drafted to Vietnam. And the youngest, Clare, commits a stunning transgression after a childhood spent pleasing her parents. As John and Mary struggle to hold on to their family and their faith, Alice McDermott weaves an elegant, unforgettable portrait of a world in flux–and of the secrets and sorrows, anger and love, that lie at the heart of every family.
The Leithauser brothers are at it again, which is cause for considerable celebration. The author and illustrator duo of Lettered Creatures have once more collaborated to produce another witty and worldly confection of light verse and delicate drawings. Toad to a Nightingale is a fantastic catalogue of creatures plant, animal, and object on whom poet Brad Leithauser has bestowed song and spirit and his brother Mark beauty and bodily form. The subjects, grouped under the headings Plant Creatures, Four from the Forest Floor, Periodic Riddles, Furnishings of the Moon, Cosmogonies, and Creature Creatures range from the lyrical but lowly (discounted cantaloupes of “Cantaloupes: ‘$1 Each, 3 for $2′”) to the utterly unexpected (“An Alarm Clock Powered by AAA Batteries”).
The verse is clear and charming, the drawings of extraordinary precision and invention. Framing this catalogue of surprises is a spirited exchange between the toad and nightingale, suggesting that a soiled toad can sometimes trump the celestial songbird. With the lightness and lyricism of Mozart and the fantasy and invention of Dalí, these verses and their figurations prove that sibling collaborations can certainly provide their rewards, especially for the reader.
Eric Puchner’s celebrated debut collection, a finalist for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award, established him as one of our most brilliant and promising new literary voices.
Writing from an impressive range of perspectives—men and women, children and adults, immigrants and tourists—Puchner deftly exposes the dark, tender undersides of his characters with arresting beauty and precision. Here are people fumbling for identity in a dehumanizing world, captured in moments that are hilarious, shocking, and transcendent, sometimes all at once. Unfailingly true, surprisingly moving, and impossible to forget, these stories make up an extraordinary and strikingly original collection.
One day, Angie Voorster—diligent student, all-star swimmer and ivy-league bound high school senior—dives to the bottom of a pool and stays there. In that moment, everything the Voorster family believes they know about each other changes. Katharine Noel’s extraordinary debut illuminates the fault lines in one family’s relationships, as well as the complex emotional ties that bind them together.
With grace and precision rarely seen in a first novel, Noel guides her reader through a world where love is imperfect, and where longing for an imagined ideal can both destroy one family’s happiness and offer them redemption. Halfway House introduces a powerful, eloquent new literary voice.
Siri is a legacy admission, rich and spoiled and destined to flunk out of her freshman year at college. Esther, her roommate, is a scholarship student from humble means, brilliant and driven to succeed.
Brought together by chance, the girls soon become partners in a struggle to find their way in a world where neither Esther’s brains nor Siri’s beauty is enough. Never having been forced to work hard at anything, Siri must rely on Esther to teach her to learn and attend class. But as Siri wakes from her dream world to discover the life of the mind, Esther begins shedding her rational bonds to explore the mysteries of the soul. For both, some of the most devastating lessons in the attainment of worldly knowledge come from love.
Deadpan funny and bittersweet, A Bad and Stupid Girl is above all else a moving portrait of two friends helping each other to uncover the potential splendor of their lives.
As Long As It’s Big: A Narrative Poem
- 2005, The Johns Hopkins University Press
- John Irwin, author
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Years in the making, As Long As It’s Big is a stunning and unique poetic achievement. By turns rollicking, funny, and deeply moving, this dramatic poem tells a tragic story—the collapse of a marriage after the suicide of a child—within the topsy-turvy venue of a divorce court ruled by an alternately cynical and sentimental judge. John Bricuth cleanly balances sensitive portrayals of painful lives with hilarity, chaos, and occasionally ribald caricatures. Hugely entertaining and immensely readable, Bricuth’s verse narrative will absorb anyone seeking to unravel the truths of modern family life.
The Invisible Century: Einstein, Freud, and the Search for Hidden Universes
- 2005, Penguin Books
- Richard Panek, author
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The Invisible Century is an original look at two of the most important revolutions—and revolutionaries—of the modern era. This dual biography of Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud— and their parallel journeys of discovery that altered forever our understanding of the very nature of reality. Einstein and Freud were the foremost figures in search of the next level of scientific knowledge—evidence we can’t see. Here on the frontier of the invisible, their investigations reached unprecedented realms—relativity and the unconscious—and spawned the creation of two new sciences, cosmology and psychoanalysis. Together they have allowed us for more than a hundred years to explore previously unimaginable universes without and within.
Brad and Mark Leithauser are brothers, born in Detroit in the 1950s. Brad is a bard and Mark has made his mark as a painter and draftsman. They share the same exquisite family wit, one born in precise observation matched with intellectual playfulness. This wit is on display on every page of this remarkable alphabet book, each spread of which is devoted to an emblematic creature an appetitive Anteater, an annoying Fly, an addled Joey, a prickly Porcupine, and 22 more. On the left of each spread is an eight-line poem; opposite it is a delicate, complementary pencil drawing, reproduced here in exacting duotone. The poems will remind readers sometimes of Marianne Moore, sometimes of Ogden Nash; the detail of the drawings will remind them of John James Audubon and their pointed humor of Tenniel’s Alice in Wonderland. But comparisons are odious here: this book is a duet by two great contemporary artists, a unicum by any description.
In Alice McDermott’s first work of fiction since her best-selling, National Book Award-winning Charming Billy, a woman recalls her 15th summer with the wry and bittersweet wisdom of hindsight.
The beautiful child of older parents, raised on the eastern end of Long Island, Theresa is her town’s most sought-after babysitter—cheerful, poised, an effortless storyteller, a wonder with children and animals. Among her charges this fateful summer is Daisy, her younger cousin, who has come to spend a few quiet weeks in this bucolic place. While Theresa copes with the challenge presented by the neighborhood’s waiflike children, the tumultuous households of her employers, the attentions of an aging painter, and Daisy’s fragility of body and spirit, her precocious, tongue-in-cheek sense of order is tested as she makes the perilous crossing into adulthood. In her deeply etched rendering of all that happened that seemingly idyllic season, McDermott once again peers into the depths of everyday life with inimitable insight and grace.
From the huddling men in a Rembrandt print to an image in a bathroom mirror that might be Christ or a mere smudge, David Yezzi, with his precisely carved and subtly cutting language, questions and considers the surfaces of our perceptions and the life they conceal-that which suggests, asks, demands to be seen. In this deeply philosophical book, Yezzi deploys a mobile intelligence that reaches from the world of art to the landscape of the mind’s cravings and demonstrates a capacious gift for using the formal techniques of poetry in unobtrusive and captivating ways, rendering verse that is both poetically rich and emotionally charged.
Impressionistic and dreamlike, the stories in Cake explore the complexities of love and relationships in contemporary society. Linked by a sense of regret, these characters are at the mercy of their desires and uncertain longings, often with disastrous results. A young couple experiences town politics, group dynamics, and their own insecurities through a seemingly innocuous holiday ritual in “Snowflake.” “Talent Show” introduces us to a series of unnamed women, their dreams and aspirations summed up in a few deceptively simple lines. One life leads into another, until we return to where we began, like a cinematic pan across a landscape of ambition gone awry.
The imagery in these compact and highly visual stories ranges from the everyday to the surreal. “Buena Vista Notebook” deftly blends language and word play with the story of doomed love affairs, culminating in a chance meeting that is random yet somehow not unexpected. And “Job” relates the story of what is perhaps the most unusual meeting of two naked people in recent fiction. Comic and yet sad, its hero experiences a moment of painful clarity in the most unlikely of circumstances.
Questions of identity, love, and the nature of existence may never be answered fully (in life or in fiction), but each of these stories presents a psychological turning point, often just a fleeting moment, sometimes more bitter than sweet. And in that moment the characters are brought that much closer to the answers to some of those questions. Emotionally taut and infused with poetic imagery, Cake is a bold debut and a portrait of the crisis of the modern relationship.
Mary Jo Salter’s sparkling new collection, Open Shutters, leads us into a world where things are often not what they seem. In the first poem, “Trompe l’Oeil,” the shadow-casting shutters on Genoese houses are made of paint only, an “open lie.” And yet “Who needs to be correct / more often than once a day? / Who needs real shadow more than play?”
Open Shutters also calls to mind the lens of a camera—in the villanelle “School Pictures” or in the stirring sequence “In the Guesthouse,” which, inspired by photographs of a family across three generations, offers at once a social history of America and a love story.
Darkness and light interact throughout the book—in poems about September 11; about a dog named Shadow; about a blind centenarian who still pretends to read the paper; about a woman shaken by the death of her therapist. A section of light verse highlights the wit and grace that have long distinguished Salter’s most serious work.
Fittingly, the volume fools the eye once more by closing with “An Open Book,” in which a Muslim family praying at a funeral seek consolation in the pages formed by their upturned palms.
Open Shutters is the achievement of a remarkable poet, whose concerns and stylistic range continue to grow, encompassing ever larger themes, becoming ever more open.
Just Let Me Say This About That: A Narrative Poem
- 2003, Overlook TP
- John Irwin, author
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This hilarious and lyrical narrative poem takes the form of a press conference, hosted by “Sir,” a ventriloquistic God who at turns is the Creator, the president of the United States, everybody’s father, psychoanalyst or sage—someone to go to with your problems. “Bird,” along with “Fox” and “Fish” are journalists, their questions veiled in rhetoric. They aren’t really asking political questions. No Sir. What they really want to know is no less than the meaning of life.
Just Let Me Say This About That is uncanny and familiar, wacky and eloquent and down-the-line American in its sense and sensibility. As J.M. Coetzee writes, “this is the kind of philosophical poem we have deserved but not been given before, confronting the closing years of the American century with bleak hilarity and an unblinking eye.”
The hero of this one-of-a-kind novel is Russel Darlington, a born naturalist and an unlikely romantic hero. We meet him in the year 1895—a 7-year-old boy first glimpsed chasing a frog through an Indiana swamp. And we follow this idealistic, appealing man for nearly 40 years: into college and over the Rockies in pursuit of a new species of butterfly; through a clumsy courtship and into a struggling marriage; across the Pacific, where on a tiny, rainy island he suffers a nightmarish accident; through the deaths of friends and family and into a seemingly hopeless passion for an unapproachable young woman.
Darlington’s Fall is ultimately a love story. It is written in verse that—vivid, accessible, and lush—imparts an intensity to the story and its luminous gallery of characters: Russel’s rich, taciturn, up-right, guilt-driven father; Miss Kraus, his formidable housekeeper; Ernst Schrock, his maddening, gluttonous mentor; and Pauline Beaudette, the beautiful, ill-starred girl who becomes his wife. Leithauser’s embracingly compassionate outlook invites us into their world—into a past so sharply realized it feels like the present.
In Darlington’s Fall, Brad Leithauser offers an ingeniously plotted story and the virtues long associated with his elegant stanzas: wit, music, and a keen eye for the natural world. His independent careers as novelist and poet come together brilliantly here, producing something rare and wonderful in the landscape of contemporary American writing: a book that bends borders, a happy marriage of poetry and fiction.
Jean McGarry has been praised for her “deft, comic, and devastatingly precise portraits” (New York Times Book Review) and as “a writer who honors the human condition” (Baltimore Sun). In her new collection of stories, Dream Date, she focuses her skills as a “gifted observer” (Publishers Weekly) on the delicate boundary that separates the real from the ethereal states we drift into and out of as we try to make sense of our relationships, romantic and otherwise, with the other sex. Funny and haunting in equal measure—and suffused with a hint of the surreal—McGarry’s stories explore the confusions, contradictions, and calamities of the modern relationship: in “Paris,” a woman tracks down her wayward husband in the City of Lights and ends up having a meeting of minds with his mistress that gives great satisfaction to both women; in “Moon, June,” a woman stalks the wardrobe of a wealthy socialite in a consignment shop, opening up a world of polymorphous delight and fashion envy; and in “The Secret of His Sleep,” a man wakes up after forty years to a reality that is at once strangely familiar and completely unexpected. In these wry fictions, real-world problems often have solutions fashioned with the stunning clarity and logic of a dream.
According to his obituary, Wesley Sultan died at the age of 63, leaving behind three children, a wife, an ex-wife, a brother, a sister, and a life-long business career. According to his obituary, Wesley Sultan led a quiet, respectable, and unremarkable life. Our narrator, however, is about to discover that nothing could be further from the truth.
Using Sultan’s obituary as a road map to the unknown terrain of the man himself, our narrator discovers dead-ends, wrong turns, and unexpected destinations in every line. As he travels from the bleak Michigan winter to the steamy streets of Miami to the idyllic French countryside, in search of those who knew Wesley best, he gradually reconstructs the life of an exceptionally handsome, ambitious, and deceptive man to whom women were everything. And as the margins of the obituary fill with handwritten corrections, as details emerge and facts are revised, our mysterious narrator—whose interest in his quarry is far from random—has no choice but to confront the truth of his own life as well.
Greg Williamson’s verbal wizardry is again on display in these funny and darkly serious poems. As Richard Wilbur said of his first collection, The Silent Partner, Williamson “is concerned with the fugitive nature of all orderings.” And here, in the latest title in the Sewanee Writers’ Series, the doubling and hidden dangers in life and language ricochet wildly, as in the quadruple look at people’s relationship to nature and metaphor in “The Dark Days” or in the group of twenty-six “Double Exposures” where each poem has to be read three times.
These obsessive themes lead to a final section about the difficulties of any artistic quest in these disordered times. We hear from a sesquipedalian security mirror and a disapproving muse, join in progress a medieval romance in a shopping mall, despair with Wile E. Coyote, and see the poet’s frustrated efforts at a life in art in the title poem, a meditation on modern times, filled with computer glitches, phone trees, and talk radio.
Providence—a city named in the hope that a direct compliment to God might place Him under some sort of obligation to its inhabitants—provides Jean McGarry with the fertile ground of her comic and gritty, harsh and touching cycle of stories. Weaving in and out of Airs of Providence is a novella telling the story of April and Margery Flanaghan, two sisters trying to grow up in this neighborhood and doing only a so-so job of it. And it is a job, in a world not clearly made for anyone, but better suited to an older generation. Surrounded by nuns and priests, uncles and aunts, biddies and oddballs, April and Margery do their best to be normal. They practice their penmanship, babysit, go to a prom, and try to be up to date. But how even to look normal in a world where you are always running up against uncontrollable mood swings, mysterious infirmities, unexplained sorrows?
Over a period of 35 years, they sniff out neighborhood scandals, get an “earful” of what the others are up to, and rest secure behind their sets of double curtains in the knowledge that everything human and frail is on the outside, everything blameless and perfect on the inside. If the Airs of Providence are sometimes rough, they are always funny. They may be sad too, but it is a dry-eyed melancholy that is no relation—or perhaps just a poor relation—to the air of “Danny Boy.”
From the first poem, which takes us up in a hot-air balloon over Chartres, to the last, in which a Russian cosmonaut welcomes an American colleague onto the Mir space station, Mary Jo Salter’s exhilarating fourth collection draws the reader into the long distances of the imagination and the intimacies of the heart. Poignant poems about her own past—such as “Libretto,” in which a childhood initiation into opera merges with a family drama—are set against historical poems such as “The Seven Weepers,” where a 19th-century English explorer in Australia comes face-to-face with the Aborigines his own people have doomed to decimation. The book’s centerpiece, “Alternating Currents,” juxtaposes real historical figures like Alexander Graham Bell and Helen Keller with their fictional contemporaries Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, as each of them plumbs the mysteries of perception. Along the way are poems on family life, on films (from home movies to Hollywood romances), on travel in France, and on works of art (from a child’s fingerpainted refrigerator magnet to Titian’s last painting).
In this splendid and engaging collection, Mary Jo Salter pays homage with wit and compassion to the precious dailiness of life on Earth, while gazing tantalizingly beyond its boundaries to view such wondrous events as a kiss in space.
Seeing and Believing: How the Telescope Opened Our Eyes and Minds to the Heavens
- 1998, Viking
- Richard Panek, author
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In 1609, Galileo fit two lenses inside a cylindrical tube, aimed it at the sky, and forever changed the world. With pith and charm, Seeing and Believing tells the story—era by era, visionary by visionary, technology by technology, and discovery by discovery—of how the telescope has changed the way we look at ourselves. In the tradition of Dava Sobel’s bestselling Longitude, it focuses on the often larger-than-life figures behind our cosmological odyssey—from Galileo and William Herschel (the musician-turned-astronomer who discovered Uranus) to the crazy brilliance of George Ellery Hale and the minds behind the mighty Hubble space telescope. Seamlessly fusing elements of philosophy, politics, literature, and religion, this fascinating narrative chronicles the humbling journey into a universe infinitely more vast than we ever imagined. Star- gazers, space enthusiasts, and curious minds of every sort will love this holiday and year-round gift.
Much of everyday experience takes place beyond the range of our senses. And in our contemporary predicament, where so much seems beyond personal control, what is invisible generates an index of what we are. A Field Guide to the Invisible is a layman’s guide to the inescapable stew we’re in, a thought-provoking catalogue of life’s ingredients that are literally out of sight and therefore too often out of mind.
In medieval times, everyone knew the air was rife with menacing spirits–the souls of unbaptized babies, graveyard ghouls, winged demons who could rip the unwary from the world of the senses. In our own age of chronic low-dose exposure to sundry radiations; of infections from exotic microbes; of a biosphere so radically changed by the hand of man that the natural protections it once provided are no longer assured, it is still the invisible that worries us most. A Field Guide to the Invisible maps points in a parallel world, ignored at our peril, that we inhabit simultaneously with the one before our very eyes.
In this witty and captivating blend of science, humor, metaphysics, and popular culture, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author catalogs the invisible sphere that surrounds us.
- 1st American ed edition (January 1998), Farrar Straus & Giroux (T)
- Andrew Motion, author
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Offering the first look at the poet John Keats (1795-1821) in a generation, Motion’s dramatic and astute narration pays close attention to the political and social contexts in which Keats came to maturity, and masterfully interweaves Keats’ life with his work, making incisive use of the young poet’s inimitable letters.
In this roomy, bawdy, exuberantly comic novel, Brad Leithauser takes us to an imaginary island-country, Freeland, during a crucial election year.
Freeland occupies its own place in the North Atlantic, somewhere between Iceland and Greenland. A geological miracle, it is desolate (“What green is to Ireland, gray is to Freeland”)—and inspiring.
The “friends” of the title are Hannibal, an expansive, lovable, unruly giant of a man who has been President of Freeland for 20 years, and Eggert, his shrewd, often prickly, always devious sidekick and adviser, who is Poet Laureate of Freeland and the book’s narrator.
As the book opens, Freeland—long happily isolated and stubbornly independent—is in trouble. The sins of the rest of the world have begun to wash up on its shores in the form of drugs, restless youth, and a polluted, fished-out ocean. And, to add to the complications, when Hannibal, who has promised to step down as president, decides to run again, the opposition imports three “electoral consultants” from the United States.
As the story unfolds, the histories of the friends are revealed. While Hannibal is Fate’s adored, Eggert travels perpetually under a cloud. Orphaned early, he must make his way by his wits. We follow him from his youth as he adventures Down Below (any place south of Freeland), collecting women, lovers, children, restlessly churning out fifty books in his search for love and admiration, returning home at last to raise a family and to serve his friend in his political hour of need.
This huge, stunning, magical book brims with pleasures: delicious satire as the independent-minded natives meet the U.S.-trained “spin doctors”; a vibrant comic-strip vitality; and an edgy poignancy.
Best of all, Leithauser has created a whole world, at once uncannily like and unlike our own. Readers who journey to Freeland will find it both a land of wonders and an ideal place from which to view the world they’ve left behind.
WAMPANOAG, R.I.—It’s the early 1970s and the golden age of the newspaper is drawing to a close. At big city dailies, computers have replaced manual typewriters and linotype machines. Calls from the managing editor to “Remake page one!” or “Stop the presses!” are now distant echoes. But in small-town New England, the Wampanoag Times still puts out newspapers the old-fashioned way. For Catherine Gallagher, an ambitious and eager college graduate, it’s the perfect place to begin a career as a reporter. Her first stories, however, are not exactly the stuff of Pulitzer prizes. Instead of the city beat, she’s assigned to the Woman’s Page, where she covers weddings and anniversaries. Then she starts writing stories that get her noticed, and when she’s offered a chance to work at a big-city newspaper, she shrugs off her fear and leaps at the chance. Once there, she finds that there’s a price for success.
Jean McGarry’s latest novel, Gallagher’s Travels, is a fast-paced, vivid tale set against a backdrop of late-breaking stories and colorful newsroom characters. With knowing insight, McGarry charts the emotional and vocational development of a woman determined to succeed in a profession rife with condescension and sexism. McGarry perfectly captures the rhythms of newspaper life and in Catherine Gallagher has created a character—inspired in part by the newshounds of The Front Page and His Girl Friday—both thoroughly authentic and wholly engaging.
The Mystery to a Solution: Poe, Borges, and the Analytic Detective Story
- 1996, Johns Hopkins University Press
- John Irwin, author
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John Irwin brilliantly examines the deeper significance of the analytical detective genre which Poe created and the meaning of Borges’ efforts to “double” the genre’s origins 100 years later. Combining history, literary history, and practical and speculative criticism, Irwin pursues the issues underlying the detective story into areas as various as the history of mathematics, classical mythology, the double-mirror structure of self-consciousness, the anthropology of Evans and Frazer, the structure of chess, the mind-body problem, the etymology of the word labyrinth, and dozens of other topics. Irwin mirrors the aesthetic impact of the genre by creating in his study the dynamics of a detective story—the uncovering of mysteries, the accumulation of evidence, the tracing of clues, and the final solution that ties it all together.
From the ravages of the Ebola virus in Zaire to outbreaks of pneumonic plague in India and drug-resistant TB in New York City, contagious diseases are fighting back against once-unconquerable modern medicine. Public concern about infectious disease is on the rise as newspapers trumpet the arrivals of new germs and the reemergence of old ones.
In A Field Guide to Germs, Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Wayne Biddle brings readers face to face with nearly one hundred of the best-known (in terms of prevalence, power, historical importance, or even literary interest) of the myriad pathogens that live in and around the human population. Along with physical descriptions of the organisms and the afflictions they cause, the author provides folklore, philosophy, history, and such illustrations as nineteenth century drawings of plague-induced panic, microscopic photographs of HIV and Ebola, and wartime posters warning servicemen against syphilis and gonorrhea.
From cholera to chlamydia, TB to HIV, bubonic plague to Lyme disease, rabies to Congo-Crimean encephalitis, anthrax to Zika fever, and back to good old rhinitis (the common cold), A Field Guide to Germs is both a handy reference work to better understand today’s headlines and a fascinating look at the astonishing impact of micro-organisms on social and political history.
Winner of the American Medical Writers Association’s Walter C. Alvarez Honor Award.
“Home” is the unnamed goal in this collection whose characters are somehow always searching for that ideal state of calm and warmth and perfect tolerance. Of course, that dream is quite unlike the hard world of Providence, where these dreamers really live—a world of wary neighbors and vague priests, of flinty teachers, of parents distant and irascible. Hungering for some better place, these sons and daughters of New England follow very different paths, and make very different—often shattering—discoveries. In “The Raft,” a 10-year-old boy struggles with the shock of his father’s leap from a ninth-floor window of the failed family business. A middle-aged woman invites her widowed mother to move in with her—and then the two of them must fight it out to see which one of them has made the greater “sacrifice.” A high school senior, more interested in boys than in fruit flies, uses her genetics project—”Sex-Linked Traits”—to probe the foibles of her own high-strung family. In “Uncle Maggot,” a little girl, unwilling to say goodbye at her father’s coffin, shocks the mourners with a very odd performance. Charged with dark humor and dramatic power, the stories in Home at Last are crafted with that rare stylistic purity which readers have come to expect from McGarry.
A third collection of poems highlights tones of playfulness, wisdom, compassion, and profundity while following a woman’s deeply personal journeys through love, family, place, and time.
Philip Larkin: A Writer’s Life
- July 1993, Farrar Straus & Giroux
- Andrew Motion, author
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A biography of the poet discusses his friendships with other aspiring writers, painters, and musicians, his repressive family life, his need for affection and fear of the encroachment on his writing that marriage represented, and his work.
A year after his beloved wife’s drowning, Terry Seward, a Washington lawyer and Princeton grad, spends a weekend in Virginia’s Dismal Swamp, where his wife appears to him in a glow of white light.
Lucy Dailey leaves suburbia twice a week with her three children in tow, returning to the Brooklyn home where she grew up, and where her stepmother and unmarried sisters still live. The children quietly observe Aunt Veronica, who drowns her sorrows in drink. Aunt Agnes, a caustic career woman, and finally Aunt May, the ex-nun, blossoming with a late and unexpected love, dutifully absorbing the legacy of their less-than-perfect family.
Alice McDermott beautifully evokes three generations of an Irish-American family in this “haunting and masterly work of literary art” (The Wall Street Journal).
Loretta Costello St. Cyr doesn’t want to kill time—she wants to save it, observing, reflecting but otherwise expending minimal energy; that McGarry creates a lively novel around so quiet a character is impressive. Loretta is married to the opinionated, brilliant, difficult Daniel, who is working on his philosophy dissertation. The story, set primarily in New York City’s East and West villages, picks up at different points during the 1970s and is interspersed with Loretta’s memories of her childhood. She spends her days drawing, rereading an old recipe book and visiting with Margaret, an artist who collects figurines and small statues as well as assorted boyfriends. Unable to get over her depression following a miscarriage, Loretta retreats to the suburban home of the aunt and uncle who raised her after her alcoholic parents died in a car crash when she was nine. Daniel, desperate and confused, waits for her return. McGarry’s deftly drawn characters—notably Loretta’s mother, a drunk who hates housework but has a special gift for ironing—give this poignant novel its vibrancy.
This panoramic history of the rise of the American aerospace industry traces the careers of the men whose names became synonymous with today’s military-industrial complex: Glenn Martin of Martin Marietta, Donald Douglas of McDonnell Douglas, Jack Northrop of Northrop, and Allan and Malcolm Loughead of Lockheed. Weaving together institutional history and individual biography, Wayne Biddle depicts the years of uncertainty after World War I, the bonanza of World War II, and the cutthroat postwar market. Unlike the automobile industry, the aircraft industry could never be sustained by the middle-class consumer economy, and these legendary founders had to depend on the federal government to keep their companies aloft. Barons of the Sky tells a thrilling story of obsessed men who, chasing their dreams of flight and success, created the modern aerospace weapons industry.
A 1991 New York Times Notable Book of the Year
A sidewalk painter who refuses to hurry his rendition of the Birth of Venus though it threatens to rain, the late-night crying of a daughter, the unexplained suicide of a friend: Salter’s perceptions in this Lamont-winning collection are both accomplished and deeply felt. The poet studs the path to an emotional and mental realm with earthly and physical markers.
It is high summer, the early 1960s. Sheryl and Rick, two Long Island teenagers, share an intense, all-consuming love. But Sheryl’s widowed mother steps between them, and one moonlit night Rick and a gang of hoodlums descend upon her quiet neighborhood. That night, driven by Rick’s determination to reclaim Sheryl, the young men provoke a violent confrontation, and as fathers step forward to protect their turf, notions of innocence belonging to both sides of the brawl are fractured forever. Alice McDermott’s That Night is “a moving and captivating novel, both celebration and elegy…a rare and memorable work” (The Cleveland Plain Dealer).
A Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award
Danny Ott, 23, on leave from Harvard Law School and a Wall-Street-firm internship, goes to Kyoto, Japan, to do research with a Japanese law professor. But Kyoto is bewildering, and Danny feels lucky when he happens two American trust funders who guide him through the chaos.
Elizabeth Connelly, editor at a New York vanity press, sells the dream of publication (admittedly, to writers of questionable talent). Stories of true emotional depth rarely cross her desk. But when a young writer named Tupper Daniels walks in, bearing an unfinished novel, Elizabeth is drawn to both the novelist and his story—a lyrical tale about a man in love with more than one woman at once. Tupper’s manuscript unlocks memories of her own secretive father, who himself may have been a bigamist. As Elizabeth and Tupper search for the perfect dénouement, their affair, too, approaches a most unexpected and poignant coda.
A brilliant debut from one of our most celebrated authors, A Bigamist’s Daughter is “a wise, sad, witty novel about men and women, God, hope, love, illusion, and fiction itself” (Newsweek).
Elegant, useful, and witty explanations of 160 words and terms shrouded in the professional mystery that makes people distrust whoever utters them. This lexicon, and a brilliant introductory essay in which Wayne Biddle takes on the perpetrators of scientific newspeak, make Coming to Terms a primer of the new science, and a trenchant commentary on language, culture, and our perception and manipulation of the world around us.
Illustrated throughout with David Suter’s ingenious drawings.
This brilliant poet treats the world in remarkably witty style—at times with rollicking good humor—and that in itself is a rare quality in poetry written in the 20th century. John Bricuth writes with a great gusto on a variety of subjects—with lightness and wit about the writing of poetry itself and with seriousness about Laurel and Hardy. Bricuth’s rare command of verse forms and his infinite range of tone makes this volume a distinct addition to Georgia’s Contemporary Poetry Series.