One of the most powerful books in recent years, Peace is the latest from one of our greatest contemporary poets.
This is a powerful fiction debut. Set in Las Vegas, it is the story of returned war veterans, of immigrants fleeing political persecution, of suburban families, and of the ways we break and the ways we heal. Though that sounds like a big sprawling novel, it is actually a very focussed, refined, and intimate story of an 8-year-old boy and his family, along with the limited array of people an 8-year-old regularly interacts with.
It is a graceful, and gracefully written story. It is deeply touching, emotionally suspenseful, and curiously contemplative. The depth is stroked lightly. The surface is described exquisitely. It is as if it ends on a major chord with a minor note left hanging poignantly in the air. Real life is so carefully and compassionately rendered in a simple tale, in an exaggeratedly legendary town that proves itself as ordinary as the extraordinary quotidian is anywhere.
A fresh voice (straight from 1979), a fierce spirit, a compassionate heart, and a ready sense of humor—what's not to love in this intelligent and intimately probing interview with one of our finest critics and literary figures? It is a balm for anomie and a prompt to get out there and live a creative and engaged life. Go out there and get "involved in this task of lopping off heads—as Hercules did with the Hydra..."
*** August 2011 Newsletter Pick ***
Masterfully written and harking back to another time, in both style and subject, Rules of Civility is a richly enjoyable read. Memories of read pleasures past -- Somerset Maugham, Fitzgerald -- rise up to meet this new addition to The Novel's great writers. This lushly textured novel, which follows the social and emotional arcs of a small cast of characters through New York in 1938, is touching, nostalgic, and evocative. Relaxing back into the text of a capable prose stylist is one of reading's great joys. You quickly develop the trust and faith to sink deep into the story. Absorbing, delightful, thoughtful, and well-crafted, Rules of Civility deserves to become a bestseller and to be read on planes, in armchairs, and in bed.
*** March 2010 Newsletter Pick ***
Okay, so if you ride BART or the Metro, bus, carpool or ride in a car, and if you ever are waiting for five, ten, fifteen minutes, somewhere for someone sometime - then do you know what is the most expansive, freeing, delightful and productive use of your time in those situations? Yep, reading poetry. I'm not kidding - it is concise, direct, bears repetition, expands time, puts you in the zone of patience, waiting, and joy. It's dreamy, heartening, exciting, quickening, and gives you, your, own, sense, of, time. My recommendation for your next moment, your next wait, your next chance to extend your sense of time instead of contract it is: The Shadow of Sirius by Pulitzer Prize-winning W.S. Merwin. Just pick it up, carry it with you, find the moment where minutes are yours to kill, and read it. Read each poem three times, with breaks in between to feel your imagination breathe and stretch and grow. Then, read, another, one.
*** November 2009 Newsletter Pick ***
Many of the most compelling, engaging, and thrilling books of the last decade are what we now call narrative nonfiction. Books like Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City, Susan Casey's The Devil's Teeth, and Timothy Egan's own National Book Award winning The Worst Hard Time, are some examples. They manage to capture the visceral fascination of their subjects (murder, sharks, hurricanes, The Depression, fire) along with social history and, often, the history of an idea. All of this organized by sound storytelling structures, and you have a wonderfully fascinating read. Well-researched, compassionate, and vivid, Egan's new book tells the stories of: The Big Burn forest fire of 1910, the founding of the National Park system, the creation of the enduring idea of conservation, and the immigration and labor histories of the Rocky Mountain West. These gracefully interwoven stories create a memorable picture of the political, social, cultural, and natural forces at play at a pivotal moment in the nation's history. Add to this the powerful personalities of Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, and the wide array of characters who made up the first generation of forest rangers and you have a narrative nonfiction can't-put-down firestorm in your hands!
*** October 2009 Newsletter Pick ***
You'll know Peter Coyote's woody voice from countless commercials, often for nonprofits and environmental groups, or his accomplished acting in some 120 or so films. If you ever lived in the Bay Area you might know him also as a member of The Diggers or the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Lucky for us, he is also a writer. Sleeping Where I Fall charts the trajectory of a tribe of individual humans, the ideas they shared, and the communal life they created from roughly 1964 to 1980. It is beautifully written, painfully honest, and luminously revealing of the intentions, failings, strengths, and humanity of that radical wet edge of the counterculture called the Digger Family. Coyote wisely incorporates thoughtful, graceful, and probing chapters on fellow Diggers in this tribal memoir, attempting to more clearly reveal their collective culture, their creativity, their struggles, and their wild successes. Their impact on the wider culture, and influence on the counter culture, is well-known but has never been captured so clearly and so articulately. Part memoir, chronicle and cultural history, it is the most insightful, intelligent, on-the-ground transcription of the moments, events and intentions swirling through the hearts and minds of that era. Honoring their heroic, troubled, and energetic attempts to be fully human, the book is both testimony and inspiration, encouraging a compassionate, imaginative and active engagement with your life in all of its relations. For those who lived it, it will be a vivid flashback, and for those who are curious, a wondrous, literary immersion. Dont' miss it.
Only a master stylist of Just's abilities could create a contemporary political novel rivalling Graham Greene. Set in Vietnam in the early 60's, this is a gripping, elegant, insightful book of human character, politics, and history. He has all the subtlety and deceptive ease of the finest craftsman, generous and delightful.
The Palm-Wine Drinkard. Published to astonished acclaim in 1952, this surrealistic, modern African fable becomes more contemporary with each passing breath. Like hearing Sun House, or The Clash, or Thelonious Monk for the first time: forever changed.
Just reissued by California, this incredible anthology has literally transformed American poetry since its original publication in 1960. Still packing a powerhouse of poets and poetics, this is an excellent introduction to American poetry & a deep course in writing from the New York School to the San Francisco Renaissance, Black Mountain to Beat.
Not for the novice, this is the clearest and most generous book on the deep philosophy of Buddhism that I have ever read. It opens endlessly. Direct, intimate, supremely intelligent, it is for the serious student.
THE historical scholar on gnosticism that everyone is talking about. Elaine Pagels cites her as the current authority, and she's no slouch. It provides a history of the idea of gnosticism, its evolution in the last century and a clear assessment of the relationship of heresy to orthodoxy.
President of the Foundation on Economic Trends, Rifkin has penned a vitally important book on the Biotech Industrial Revolution. Part serious historical and political analysis and part clearheaded reportage, it is a thorough, thoughtful, and fact-laden treatment of contemporary science and business not to be missed.
A revolutionary of love and vision, Di Prima continues with still more wonderful poems following a life's passionate trajectory of great writing.
Musical, visual, graceful and honest, this a book of well-honed, precise, thoughtful and moving poems.
Always elaborating an aesthetic spirituality, Hirshfield's latest furthers her heartfelt poetic project.
Publisher and poet Morrison has penned an elegant and lyrical language poetry of quotidian revelation.