"come to think
how well a coffin
comes at last
to fit a person"
These poems fall like snowflakes. Crisp, beautiful, unique yet familiar. They will make your skin tingle. Readable in one short sitting yet hauntingly memorable, this work examines a breathtakingly thorough range of the human experience in a “meditation on the possibility of translation.” Inspired by Old Mennonite hymns collected and nurtured in Ontario since the mid-19th century and by the associated community cemetery with gravesites whose spare tombstones precisely recorded the “years, months, and days” of their inhabitants’ lives, Jernigan creates a testament to the wonder of living and dying which honors both her own secular worldview and the Mennonite hymnal tradition from which her words were selected.
“I would remind you that what is made cannot be unmade.”
Often, short stories provide variations on a theme. Not so in “Exhalation,” as Chiang provides nine lovingly crafted short stories, each written in a unique voice and within its own original world. Primarily sci-fi and fantasy, these stories are universal enough to be attractive to general fiction readers.
Although all (or, at least, 8 out of 9!) of these stories are exceptional, of particular note for me were “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” and “The Great Silence.” “The Merchant” follows a medieval Baghdadi merchant as he is offered the opportunity of time travel in an unchangeable world, weaving in various tales-within-tales to examine what happens when we are tempted by open-ended desire. “Silence” juxtaposes the search for extraterrestrial intelligence with the destruction of terrestrial intelligence in an emotionally wrenching, quick-burst text written from the perspective of parrots near the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.
“How do you say 'We come in peace' when the very words are an act of war?”
What would it look like, really, to encounter within the solar system an extraterrestrial intelligence? How would an attempt to communicate be perceived? What is the relationship between intelligence and consciousness? A PhD marine mammal biologist, Watts brings in the seriousness of hard sci-fi and uses this work as a vehicle for various critiques, including critiques of popular notions of what’s possible for intelligent life and what interspecies relations might be like throughout the universe (a topic covered differently but with similarly fascinating theoretical underpinnings in Cixin Liu’s “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” trilogy).
But also, there’s a vampire.
A difficult speculative fiction read, but an entirely worthwhile one. For the sci-fi fan.
“Thinking holistically like this, rebuilding systems with natural processes rather than setting end points, measuring function as much as outcome, could change our whole relationship with the land.”
Tree and her husband inherited a country estate in Sussex, England. Try as they might, they struggled to keep their farm afloat using intensive agricultural practices, so they took a nearly unprecedented leap for British farmers: they let their farm revert to nature. Over the years, as their experiment grew and they introduced large grazing animals (cows, deer, pigs) to their burgeoning natural landscape, the entire ecosystem on their acreage changed. Rare species, such as turtle doves and purple emperor butterflies, found sanctuary. A variety of shrubs and plants which would have been systematically destroyed under an intensive farming regime were allowed to flourish. By maintaining the discipline to keep their interventions minimal (such as managing initial grazing animal populations) and by avoiding targets and plans in favor of letting nature run its course, Tree and her husband developed one of the most successful nature preserves in England.
This well-written case study will provide food for thought in the fields of conservation and sustainability and will challenge us to question the true impacts of the actions we take and plans we impose across our various endeavors.
“Far from such din, when blessed silence returns, I can listen to the butterflies that flutter inside my head. To hear them, one must be calm and pay close attention, for their wingbeats are barely audible.”
If you read this book and didn't know that the author composed it over the course of 10 months solely via dictation by blinking his left eyelid due to a stroke that left him with locked-in syndrome, you'd probably think it was quite a thoughtful, funny, and good book. If you read this book and did know that, it might blow your mind. An utter triumph of the human spirit.
“My niece, Madelyn, who is twelve and has a heart made of frozen concrete, usually wins.”
Funny, raw, real. A page turner that will keep you thinking, and filled with real-life characters presented in all their hilarity and humanity. Sedaris brings his wit to bear on everyday experiences like no one else. You’ll find everything from daily step goal obsessions to freewheeling benign tumor removal to poignant moments with an aging parent.
“But this was an age when a lie was not a lie if a man had the audacity to keep asserting the lie was true.”
I am typically skeptical of those who draw parallels with history generally and those who draw parallels between Rome and the US specifically. That said, readers in America today will likely sympathize with the times described. Excellently researched yet not mired in detail, this work from Duncan (of “History of Rome” podcast fame) details the final decades of the late Roman Republic. Set in a transitional period during which historical governance norms were eroded and political violence was increasingly employed, “The Storm Before the Storm” sets the stage for Julius Caesar, Augustus, and the rise of the Roman Empire.
“Well, hello. Welcome to this planet. We call it Earth.”
Gorgeously written and gorgeously illustrated. I’ll just tell you that I cried while reading this children’s picture book which welcomes and orients kids into the world they’re entering. If there are young children in your life or in the lives of your loved ones, buy them this book.