We’re back with another installment of SR’s book picks. Here are some of the books the SR staff is reading right now along with some of our all-time favorites. Happy reading everyone!
What we’re reading right now:
Our trainee Guillerly is reading Cthulhu Mythos Tales by H.P. Lovecraft. She likes “The in-depth descriptions of the environment. She says “it’s very immersive.”
Teri, our Content Coordinator, is reading Fever Dream by Samantha Schweblin because “The exclusive use of dialogue to tell a mind-bending and eerie story is unique and striking.”
For her fiction writing class, Hannah, one of our Fiction editors, is reading The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera. “I like that Kundera looks at the novel as something profound and an exploration of the self,” says Coleman.
Bailey, our trainee, is reading The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins. She says, “I like the Hunger Games series and was excited to see the prequel come out. It’s been on my list to read for a while.”
What we’re reading next:
Daniel, a Fiction Editor, is going to read The Treasury of the Fantastic edited by David Sander & Jacob Weisman. He says that he’s “recently become interested in reading fantasy stories that were published before Tolkien’s time. This anthology brings together fantasy stories written by the greatest writers in the 19th and 20th centuries.”
Our Advertising Coordinator Au’jae says that she is, “reading The Source of Self Regard by Toni Morrison next because she is one of my favorite authors, and as someone who struggles to be immersed by nonfiction, this book of essays should be immensely interested given Morrison wrote it.”
Khanh, our Editor-In-Chief, says, “I’ve been reading non-fiction for a while now, so I’d like to return to fiction with On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong.”
Taylor, the Blog Editor, will be reading The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer by Sandra Scofield. “I’m excited to read this to gain better insight on how to become a better writer and how to write a great scene,” she says.
What we recommend:
Ashley, our Art Editor would recommend The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. “I just finished this book and it changed my perspective on life. It also calmed my anxiety and stress more than I thought it would,” she says.
Interview Editor Veronica recommends Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner. “It was an incredibly touching, lyrical memoir, and I cried in every single chapter. It explores Zauner’s relationship with herself, her mother, and her experience as an Asian American woman. The complexities of that exploration were something that I definitely resonated with, and I think even those who don’t identify as Asian American would still love this stunning memoir.”
Anna, a trainee, says her favorites are The Host by Stephine Meyers “because it was my first starter sci-fi type book” or the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull “for people who like more realistic fantasy.”
Kate, a Social Media Coordinator, “recommend[s] Eckert Tolle’s novel The Power of Now. It offers valuable tips on how to practice mindfulness, which has been helpful given my busy schedule!
We hope that you enjoyed our book choices and gain inspiration for what to read next. Tell us what you’re reading in the comments below!
Here at SR, we love celebrating the ongoing accomplishments of our contributors. That’s why we’re so excited to announce that this year the L.A. Times Book Prizes event features one of SR’s past contributors, Mai Der Vang, as a poetry finalist! The Los Angeles Times Book Prizes are dedicated to discovering new voices and celebrating the highest quality of writing across the spectrum of book publishing. This year’s ceremony will mark 42 years of recognizing literary achievement. The event will be hosted by Julia Turner, Managing Editor of Arts and Entertainment, and feature remarks by Executive Editor Kevin Merida, and Books Editor, Boris Kachka, among many others. Congratulations Mai!
If you’re in the Los Angeles area on April 22 at 7 pm (PT) and want to attend, tickets to this event go on sale today here!
Poetry Finalist – Yellow Rain: Poems by Mai Der Vang (Graywolf Press, 2021).
“What Really Happened,” an interview with Mai Der Vang is featured on Issue 28.
Congratulations to Eileen Pollack for the release of her new book Maybe It’s Me: On Being the Wrong Kind of Woman published by Delphinium Books. These humorous and emotional essays capture what it’s like to grow up in a world where females are more appreciated for their bodies instead of their minds. Eileen tells her stories of breaking the gendered rules laid out for a girl in the 1960s that still carry on today. With her experiences from pursuing a physics degree at Yale to a marriage of “supposed equals,” everyone can find truth in Eileen’s message of love, connection, and acceptance.
Eileen Pollack’s essays are striking for their tender, smart explorations of love and longing, fear and injustice, memory and history, and the everyday project of claiming one’s place in the world. An illuminating portrait of womanhood and all its sorrows, challenges, and triumphs, Maybe It’s Me is a marvelous collection with a bold, powerful sensibility.
Natalie Bakopoulus, author of The Green Shore and Scorpionfish
Congratulations to Adam Tavel and his two new upcoming poetry collections, Green Regalia from Stephen F. Austin State Press and Sum Ledger from Measure Press. Adam says that he is “excited to have two books coming out roughly at the same time, yet these books couldn’t be more different in scope, tone, and arc. Sum Ledger is a collection of poems about money and social class, whereas Green Regalia centers on questions of ecology, the body, aging, and grief.” We couldn’t be more excited to get our hands on both of these wonderful new collections.
Sum Ledger is a powerful and wide-ranging meditation — via a dazzling array of poetic forms and sources — on money, class, and poverty, that complicates the narrative of late-stage capitalism in America. Weaving together the personal with the historical, imaginative, and political, Adam Tavel’s masterfully wrought poems empathize deeply with people in distress, be it turn of the century child laborers and almshouse residents, or his own family members and hard-working community college students. I can’t think of a book more appropriate for our current moment of political upheaval and economic crisis, or a better poet to lead us through it, with his unflinching eye, muscular language, and huge heart.
Check out more information about Sum Ledger on the publisher’s website and preorder Green Regalia from Amazon.
Adam Tavel is the author of five books of poetry, including two forthcoming collections: GreenRegalia (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2022) and SumLedger (Measure Press, 2022). His most recent book, Catafalque, won the Richard Wilbur Award (University of Evansville Press, 2018). His recent poems appear, or will soon appear, in North American Review, Ploughshares, The Georgia Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Ninth Letter, The Massachusetts Review, Copper Nickel, and Western Humanities Review, among others. He is a professor of English at Wor-Wic Community College, where he also directs the Echoes & Visions Reading Series. You can find him online at http://adamtavel.com/ and on his Twitter.
You can also find his poem, “Our Lady of Crabapple Hill” in Issue 13.
Congratulations to Quintin Collins for his latest collection of poems, Claim Tickets for Stolen People. This range of poetic forms shows “the resilience of Blackness in a colonized world.” The stories about his daughter, life in Chicago and Boston, and white violence all come together to honor “Black grief, Black anger, Black resistance, Black hope—and the persistence of Black love.” It was published by Mad Creek Books and was selected by Marcus Jackson as the winner of The Journal‘s 2020 Charles B. Wheeler Poetry Prize.
Reading Claim Tickets for Stolen People creates the feeling one has studying a transcendental sonogram: Collins’s poetry brings inner life into focus. Blackness is reclaimed, celebrated, embodied. He can give shape to Barack Obama’s tan suit and Jimi Hendrix’s guitar. He can be furious, funny, and fatherly in a single poem, with a range as broad as his compassion. This is a marvelous book. Claim Tickets for Stolen People gives shape to our magical, mercurial world.
Claim Tickets for Stolen People is available now! Use this link to get 30% off and free U.S. shipping with the code TICKETS.
Quintin has upcoming spring reading dates that can be found here. The next two coming up are April 5 at 7 pmEDT: Poetry Night at Sitwell’s Reading Series & Open Mic with Chris L. Butler (Virtual) and April 23 at 7:30 pm EDT: The Notebooks Collective Reading with Daniel B. Summerhill and José Angel Araguz (Virtual).
Collins deftly speaks back to every accusation, rumor, and lie America has flung across his back, devours every myth America trembles behind, and reclaims history in every ordinary moment of these poems. In every ordinary thing he has spoken here, he re-discovers joy, wonder, sorrow, and fear.
His poem “Rules for Conducting Yourself in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston” can be found in Issue 26 and Quintin can be found on Twitter and on his website.
Jesse Lee Kercheval is a writer, translator, and graphic artist. Her recent books include the short story collection Underground Women and La crisis es el cuerpo, a bilingual edition of her poetry, translated by Ezequiel Zaidenwerg, published in Argentina by Editorial Bajo la luna. Her recent essays and graphic narratives have appeared in The Sewanee Review, Blackbird, Brevity, The New England Review, and The Quarantine Public Library.
This interview was conducted by Paress Chappell, our Nonfiction Editor for Issue 28 via email. This post also features one of Jesse’s essays, Typhoid Blue. We’re so excited to share her work and the inspirations behind it!
Paress Chappell: What have you been writing during the pandemic?
Jesse Lee Kercheval: I think my illustrated essay, “Typhoid Blue,” that you are featuring is the answer to that question. I started writing essays. I’d already written a whole memoir, Space, about growing up during the moon race so I am not new to nonfiction, but I had always been frightened of essays. Then suddenly I was locked down in Montevideo, Uruguay in the first days of the pandemic and I just started writing essay after essay. One of the first, “The New Troy,” about Montevideo and all its plagues was published in Guernica with a photo of my neighbors tango dancing on the roof of their high-rise.
The other thing I took up was drawing—just to get away from my computer and have something to do while confined to my rented apartment. I bought a box of colored pencils at the supermarket and started drawing—really, for the first time in my life.
Then I began putting the drawings in my essays. “Typhoid Blue” is one. It deals with a long time interest of mine in the life and poetry of the French surrealist poet Robert Desnos. His life story is important in my novel, My Life as a Silent Movie. And I have written a number of poems inspired by his work. One, “Next Tuesday” appears in my poetry collection, America that island off the coast of France. Robert Desnos even has a connection to my interest in silent films. He wrote a long poem “La complainte de Fantômas” based on the popular crime novels about a master thief. The Fantômas books were also turned into an equally popular silent movie serial by the great French director Louis Feuillade. That movie had this amazing poster.
Another of my illustrated essays (“The Fox Sister”) just won an Editor’s Choice Award will be out soon in New Letters. It is about actual foxes, the early spiritualist Fox Sisters, and a Korean folk tale about a changeling fox sister who eats her human brothers. And another, a full graphic essay or comic, “Falling” —about breaking my back when I was ten, 9/11, and the pandemic—was published in Waxwing.
Now I am easing off the essays a bit and back into poetry. I have a new collection of poems, I Want To Tell You, coming out from the University of Pittsburgh Press. But I am still drawing like mad. Art was the one gift the pandemic gave me.
PC: Why did you decide to become a translator and how has that opened doors for you in the literary world?
JLK: In 2010, I decided I wanted to learn Spanish. I had a sabbatical and, for completely random reasons, I choose Montevideo, Uruguay as the place I would live and study. I did not set out with the intention of translating poetry—learning Spanish over fifty seemed challenge enough! I spent the sabbatical just going to language classes and trying to live a normal life in a different language. But I did begin reading Uruguayan poetry. Then, when I returned to visit Uruguayan friends, I began going to poetry readings. Uruguay is a small country (3.3 million people) but one FULL of poets. In Montevideo, there are poetry readings or events most of the nights of the week. It is also country with a strong and unbroken chain of poetry by women.
As I quickly discovered, almost none of this work was available in English translation. So I started work on my anthology, América invertida: An Anthology of Emerging Uruguayan Poets (University of New Mexico Press, 2016) which features the work of young Uruguayan poets, each paired with an American based poet/translator. That book turned out to be a whole wonderful project. I placed many of the poems in literary magazines. I took three of the poets on a reading tour around the U.S, including the Library of Congress and the Associated Writing Programs annual conference. We were even featured on Chinese television. Many of the individual poets in the anthology have gone on to have books published in the U.S. And I have gone on to translate books by Uruguayan poets such as Idea Vilariño, Circe Maia, Tatiana Oroño, to co-translate others and edit several more anthologies as well.
Translation opened the doors to not one, but two new literary worlds for me. The world of Uruguayan poets, which is very much my second home now, but also the world of translators, who are wonderful, generous people. I tell my students it is worth studying translation just to be able to spend time with other translators.
And translating made poetry gave me another great gift. It made poetry come alive for me again. After years of reading, teaching, writing poetry—I think I had become a bit numb to it. But reading, hearing, really trying to understand poetry in another language brought the magic back. I also love this moment where, perhaps because we are living through this pandemic, literature is getting wonderfully hybrid, in all the senses of that word.
So maybe to tie all these obsessions of mine together, I should write an illustrated lyric essay about an Uruguayan silent film. Honestly, that is a very tempting idea!
PC: What’s the connection between your writing and your interest in silent films?
JLK: Ah, there you touch on an obsession of mine that predates drawing. My husband was a special archivist at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research. He first went to a Le Giornate del Cinema Muto/ The Pordenone Silent Film Festival in 2000. The festival is the premiere location for screening silent films made from 1880s into the 1930s. He suggested I might like to go the next year. I thought, Italy! Of course, I want to go! But I thought I would sit in a cafe and write poems, not attend the movies. Instead, I ended up watching films from 9 am to 1 am—nearly without stop—for the entire eight days of the festival. It was like finding the lost world of Atlantis. And then I began writing poems about the films. These eventually became my book Cinema Muto (Southern Illinois University Press, 2009) which takes the form of the eight days of the festival.
I attended Le Giornate del Cinema Muto every year right up until the recent pandemic pause—eighteen years. And I still love silent films.
Do poems exist? After a plague year, nothing is a poem to me anymore. Or everything is.
In 1924, in his surrealist manifesto, André Breton said, “We are living under the reign of logic, but the logical processes of our time apply only to the solution of problems of secondary interest.”
But we are not living in logical times. Breton, writing four years after WW I, a decade and pocket change before WWII, was not either.
Now, everything I draw is blue.
Blue lips. I am giving everyone blue lips.
The poet Robert Desnos was a surrealist before Breton expelled him from the movement. In 1945, he died of typhoid in Terezín concentration camp a month after the camp’s liberation. In severe cases of typhoid, the lips and fingernails may turn bluish in color.
Or so it says in a very old article, as old as Desnos’ last poem, said to have been found on him when he died:
Le Dernier Poème
J’ai rêvé tellement fort de toi, J’ai tellement marché, tellement parlé, Tellement aimé ton ombre, Qu’il ne me reste plus rien de toi.Il me reste d’être l’ombre parmi les ombres D’être cent fois plus ombre que l’ombre D’être l’ombre qui viendra et reviendra dans ta vie ensoleillée.
Except his poem never existed.
A Czech newspaper published his obituary, which ended with a part of Desnos’ poem, “J’ai tant rêvé de toi” (I Dreamt About You So Much), translated into Czech by a Czech poet, Jindřich Hořejší. When it was republished in France, the sentence was retranslated into French again.
A poem that never existed—existed. And made people weep.
The French newspaper said he had written “Le Dernier Poème” for his wife Youki Desnos. Youki means snow in Japanese. When I draw snow—I add blue. White, white alone is never cold enough. Except Desnos’ wife wasn’t Japanese. Her name was Lucie Badoud and Youki was a nickname given to her by her lover Tsuguharu Foujita before she left him for Desnos.
In his portrait of Youki, Tsuguharu Foujita uses on the slightest touch of pale blue for her eyes.
The poem Desnos never wrote Youki from Terezín ended up engraved on a wall behind Notre Dame Cathedral that is the memorial to the 200,000 French deportees to Nazi death camps. President Charles de Gaulle inaugurated it in 1962, before anyone discovered the mistake of the double translation.
Once a poem is engraved in on a wall, can there be any doubt it exists?
The poem is even famous in English:
I have dreamt so very much of you, I have walked so much, talked so much Loved your shadow so much, I have nothing left of you. All that remains to me is to be the shadow among shadows To be a hundred times more of a shadow than the shadow To be the shadow that will come and come again into your sunny life.
And there is also no doubt that a shadow of a shadow of shadow is blue, blue, blue.
Wave after wave.
André Breton’s surrealist novel Nadja is dotted with photos, most of them random, found art that make a story even more surreal—perhaps not unlike the illustrations in this essay. But Nadja also includes these photographs by Man Ray of Robert Desnos sleeping.The young Czech medical student, Josef Stuna, who cared for Desnos’ last days in Terezín, recognized him from the book. The caption on the photos in the book reads: “Once again, now, I see Robert Desnos . . . ”
It didn’t save him.
Besides the story about the fictional last poem, there is another one from the camps about Robert Desnos, this one probably true. The scholar Susan Griffin tells it in her article “To Love The Marigold: Hope & Imagination.”
I am thinking of a story I heard a few years ago from my friend Odette, a writer and a survivor of the holocaust. Along with many others who crowd the bed of a large truck, she tells me, the surrealist poet Robert Desnos is being taken away from the barracks of the concentration camp where he has been held prisoner. Leaving the barracks, the mood is somber; everyone knows the truck is headed for the gas chambers. And when the truck arrives no one can speak at all; even the guards fall silent. But this silence is soon interrupted by an energetic man, who jumps into the line and grabs one of the condemned. Improbable as it is, Odette told me, Desnos reads the man’s palm.
Oh, he says, I see you have a very long lifeline. And you are going to have three children. He is exuberant. And his excitement is contagious. First one man, then another, offers up his hand, and the prediction is for longevity, more children, abundant joy.
As Desnos reads more palms, not only does the mood of the prisoners change but that of the guards too. How can one explain it? Perhaps the element of surprise has planted a shadow of doubt in their minds. If they told themselves these deaths were inevitable, this no longer seems inarguable. They are in any case so disoriented by this sudden change of mood among those they are about to kill that they are unable to go through with the executions. So all the men, along with Desnos, are packed back onto the truck and taken back to the barracks. Desnos has saved his own life and the lives of others by using his imagination.
And at least one of them lived to tell this story.
It wasn’t Robert Desnos.
“I have walked so much, talked so much”—an imaginary Desnos says in his imaginary “Last Poem.”
I think he would have loved being that imaginary, to be honest.
Not all blues are dark blue.
I should draw Desnos and color his eyes the same light blue as Youki’s. Instead I draw this.
How Strange a Season isthe ingenious product of a writer with real experience in the field of climate change journalism. Written by Megan Mayhew Bergman, this book shows her ability to write stories that reflect both subtle and profound changes to landscapes, and the way these changes to landscapes impact the quality of human lives.
When asked about the inclusion of climate change topics throughout How Strange a Season, MMB said, “No one wants to read a manifesto or be preached to, so when it comes to fiction, story has to come in front of principle, even if it’s principle that brought me to the page.”
In this thoughtful blend of contemplation and imagination, Megan Mayhew Bergman writes about the lives of strong women with topics including a modern glass house on a treacherous California cliff, a water-starved ranch, and an abandoned plantation on a river near Charleston. Bergman works to answer the question: what are we leaving behind for our descendants to hold, and what price will they pay for our mistakes?
This collection of stories will be released on March 29 published by Scribner. Preorder from Battenkill Books, your local bookstore, or any of the places listed here.
These are extraordinary stories. They’ll make you think deeply, maybe uncomfortably, always interestingly.
Over the last decade, MMB has been focused on substantive and compelling environmental narratives – working as an environmental journalist with The Guardian and an environmental essayist at The Paris Review. She also works with scientists, lawyers, and academics to help them share environmental stories in a way that reaches the hearts and minds of readers in her role as a Senior Fellow at the Conservation Law Foundation and as Director of Middlebury’s Bread Loaf Environmental Writers’ Conference.
Megan Mayhew Bergman is one of the best authors out there for chronicling our tangled, intimate, complicated relationship to the natural world; her elegant, lyrical prose documents an evolving crisis and our incorrigibly human responses to it…
“That Tingling of Inspiration,” an interview Megan Mayhew Bergman is featured in Issue 16 of SR. You can find out more about Megan and her work on her website and Twitter.
The wait for Allegra Hyde’s debut novel, Eleutheria is almost over! Join Allegra on her upcoming book tour in March as she dives deep into conversations about Eleutheria coming March 8 published by Vintage.
Eleutheria follows Willa Marks on her travels to the island of Eleutheria in the Bahamas to join the author of Living the Solution, a guide to fighting climate change, and his group of ecowarriors at Camp Hope. However, she quickly learns that things at this camp are not quite as they are expected. On this journey to rediscover hope, Willa Marks finds adventure and inspiration.
Eleutheria is a gorgeous, tender book. Allegra Hyde is a dynamic, powerful writer and her first novel is truly something special.
Kristen Arnett, author of With Teeth
You do not want to miss these events or Eleutheria. Register and preorder her new book today! It is available at your local independent bookstore and the retailers listed here. You can also request it at your local library and add it to your Goodreads shelf.
Allegra’s essay “Things I Don’t Tell My Mother” appeared in Issue 12 and she was interviewed for Issue 18. To learn more about Allegra, check out her website and Twitter.
Teague von Bohlen is an Associate Professor of Fiction at the University of Colorado Denver, where he runs the student newspaper The Sentry and serves as Fiction Editor for the literary magazine Copper Nickel. He works the literary, pop-culture, and social/political commentary beats for the alt-weekly Westword, and his short fiction has been seen nationwide. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award, and he’s the co-author of the student-strategy textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success. His first collection of stories, a flash fiction/photography mash-up called Flatland, was named a finalist for the Colorado Book Award in 2020. He’s currently shopping a completed ghost-story novel called The Normal Home, also set in the Midwest heartland, working on an ultra-nerdy LitRPG book with an old friend, and has started his next literary novel as well, this one set in both Tucson and Denver.
He makes a home in Colorado now and grew an abiding love for the desert in his time in Arizona. But his corn-fed heart never left Illinois.