What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? I lost my favorite toy airplane, a little die cast metal F-16 Falcon painted like the Thunderbirds, when I was about 8 years old. I never forgot about it. I loved that thing. When I was 30 years old, for my birthday that year, my stepfather replaced it for me. He scoured ebay looking for the EXACT same one. I was blown away. And still loved it just as much as when I was a kid. It's on my writing desk at home now. A place of prominence.
Are you a dog person or a cat person? I prefer my dogs at home and my cats at work.
Would you rather be poor and happy, or rich and miserable? Well, I'm poor and happy now so I'll stick with what I'm good at.
Garrett Graff must've put his entire life on hold to put this book together. The sheer scope of its research, sourcing, and analysis is incredibly impressive. Beyond that, the context in which it places the FBI, not only in the perpetual "war on terror" but also in the ethical trajectory of modern American history, is vital to understanding our current Trumpian crises. The detailed workings of Robert Mueller (his mindset, his scruples, his dedication to a non-partisan constitutionality, his honor) should prove reassuring to anyone who doubts that there could be honest Americans in law enforcement. You'll finish this book sobered by the burden of responsibility on the men and women of the FBI and confident in the investigatory rigor of the former FBI Director and now Special Counsel.
"We tell ourselves stories in order to live." In 1979, Joan Didion released this collection of essays that re-contextualized the tumultuous events of the preceding two decades and forced everyone who read it to ask themselves which stories they had told in order to live with the world they'd wrought. The White Album is perfect from start to finish, much like The Beatles record which inspired its name, and similar as well are the disparate pieces of a generation racked by drugs, war, poverty, sex, and race, that come together to form a cohesive and incisive narrative about America sucking in the 70's.
Upon completion, a mere 27 hours after I began, I set this book down and thought, "That was one of the finest books I've ever had the pleasure to read."
Salter's last novel spans a lifetime, from the last days of WW II where our main character is about to land in Okinawa, through the hey day of the Manhattan publishing industry, through to his lonely twilight years. Imagine all the pensive, novelistic aspects of Mad Men, except, you know, an actual novel.
The author passed away the year after he published All That Is and it can absolutely stand as one of the best representations of his incredible legacy of letters. The sentences are simple and emotionally incisive. The tracing of the characters as they change, bruise, and bitter over the years is gorgeous. And Salter does not shy away from highlighting the darker, borderline despicable, acts of a lonely, heartbroken man. People rarely write books like this anymore, or maybe books like this are just rare in general. That what makes it so resonant and beautiful.
A. Van Jordan happens to love poetry, comic books, theoretical physics, stand up comedy, and classic cinema all at once. That breadth of knowledge mixed with a mastery of stylistic form means that his poems aren't mere verse and meter, they are short films, one act plays, splash pages, and hot button bits all at once. In Quantum Lyrics, Jordan writes about love, the theory of relativity, and DC Comics characters with equal expertise and ease. He leaves you laughing and with emotion caught in your throat within the space of a stanza. On top of it all, you know not only is this a poet of many, many interests, but also a poet who is unabashedly full of heart.
Sharon Olds has made a long, illustrious career for herself by standing naked in front of all the world to see. She has used her poetry to confront the physical and psychic abuse she endured at the hands of her parents, her sexual independence in the 60's and 70's, the rise and fall of her marriage, or the highly criticized intimacy with which she discussed her children's lives. Now, entering the elder stateswoman era of her career as America's foremost "confessional poet" (I sure do hate that reductive term), Old's creates a book both whimsical and lite through its chosen poetic form, but also one which see's her soberly owning up to previous criticism and shifting certain attitudes about her Mother, Motherhood, and what it means to be a woman of a certain age. This book is simultaneously vintage Olds and something stylistically fresh, a beautiful collection for a poet who has never failed to be herself.
Joan Didion's first collection of essays gave us this incredible passage, from On Keeping A Notebook, "I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not." She writes with such confidence and such a sharp morality (and not preachy self-righteousness, I mean ACTUAL MORAL JUSTNESS) that she cuts through all of society's B.S. Published in 1968, the words in this book are as relevant as the day they were written and will continue to be as years go by. We may find that Didion ends up being the foremost woman of American letters in the 21st century as well.
Shaughnessey has made, in my opinion, the best collection of poetry 2016 had to offer. It was almost impossible to force myself to slow down and savor each piece in this book. Her writing is so kinetic, truthful, heartwrenching, and fun, that you never want it to end. So Much Synth is soaked in the colors, sounds, and attitudes of the recent past. The 80's and 90's coming of age of the poet on full display; homages to Annie Lennox, Depeche Mode, and more mixtape classics, shitty apartments in the San Francisco lesbian grunge scene, and then in conclusion, an impassioned plea for the future to be slightly more easy on the generation we're leaving it to. It's a tall order to have a poet engage your head, heart, and humor all at once, but that's exactly what you get with So Much Synth.
Ankiel writes about the bizarre twists and turns of his already well documented career. But there is nothing like hearing it straight from the source. On the page, he is far more emotionally open and vulnerable than any HBO or ESPN documentary could possibly get. He doesn't hold back on his troubled upbringing, his fragile psychic state as he struggled to maintain his career and sanity, and his use of substances, self-help books (and pretty much anything he could think of) to try and deal with the repercussions. Ultimately though, below all the hub bub of the Yips and getting back to the majors, this is a book about healing old wounds and learning to trust and love again, trust and love of others and yourself. Ankiel takes on this issue with surprising candor for a major leaguer.
This is the first young adult novel I've ever read, partly because, from the premise alone, I had no idea it was a young adult novel. This is not to say that I think YA is bad and I neglect it intentionally. I just have never had much interest. But Sarah Nicole Lemon's novel caught my interest fast and did not relent. This novel reads like a Joan Jett record. Dingy, crass, fun, but also expertly crafted and far smarter than first glances let on. Hidden below the narrative of biker gang intrigue, mismatched southern gal pals, and nefarious drug dealers is sly, subtle social commentary. Lemon's characters play out scenarios that take on progressive matriarchal roles, millennial frustration with outmoded racial stereotypes, and quick but important analysis of the cost of combat for our young veterans returning from the Middle East. Oh and a lot of sex. Cause, you know, biker gangs and southern gals. Needless to say, this is a definite edge of PG-13/R rated book. It's for teen readers who have already seen some things. Best bestowed with the aforementioned Joan Jett record. maybe also AC/DC if you want to bridge any generation gaps.
This book is essential reading for anyone concerned with contemporary poetry. And by that I mean anyone who has read any contemporary poetry. And by that I mean anyone who reads. At all. David Orr is dark humored and sharp, but not cynical. He's a realist and a skeptic, but not bitter. He writes about poetry (an art form he knows full well is neglected to the point of near hatred) so that all might benefit, even if no one chooses to. He believes greatly in the democracy of poetry, even if actual poets, MFA program faculty, and the publishing industry do not. He trusts that the literary world, the regular everyone world at that, has a certain sense of morality, a faith in right or wrong, good or bad, and a need for words to foster that faith, even if we as a society refuse to acknowledge it.
James Arthur's first full length collection of poetry reads like an X-Ray, making flesh invisible so all the inside bits can be seen so clearly that you'd almost wish not to have seen at all. He writes of a very specific time of early adulthood, the coming to terms with a past weighing heavy so that forward momentum can take hold. Encompassing emotions and actions that aren't always so virtuous or characteristically poetic, I appreciate that Arthur's narrative voice isn't afraid to admit failings of character in order to grow past them. Composed over long walks and endless recitations, Arthur's poems achieve an unvarnished honesty, not a hint of pretense. That in and of itself is an accomplishment, but thankfully, also, the poems are just that good.
John Berryman was a really "complicated" man. The go to euphemism for any alcoholic, mid-20th century, lecherous, confessional poet who simultaneously lifts your soul with his art but kind of grosses you out with his personality. The Heart Is Strange collects the best poems from his experimental and influential career. His early more formal works, his adultery love letter Sonnets series, the "Henry" Dream Songs greatest hits, and most wonderfully his later works from Love & Fame and Delusions, Etc., not as widely discussed but probably his finest poems. Berryman became harder on himself in the last years of his life. While that self-critique inspired his tragic leap from the Washington Avenue bridge, it also led to the most empathetic poetry he'd ever written and hopefully this beautiful book can help promote analysis of those forgotten works. Each of these FSG editions is beautifully put together with insightful introductions and gorgeously minimal design, but this one makes for the perfect overview of one of the 20th centuries finest poetic voices.
Jane Mayer's incredible reporting provides context for our current Post- Citizens United political system by showing the skeletons in the closet of the American Right. While Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Hearst, and Carnagie are household names synonymous with the greed and exploitation of the Industrial Revolution, Jane Mayer shows us how the uber rich got wise to public displays of excess and went underground in their efforts to roll back 20th century protections of the average American. This book details the manipulation of the American psyche through billions of dollars of strategic spending by the new generation of robber barons; Olin, Scaife, Koch, and Bradley. It also details the hypocritical roots of their wealth, with riches accumulated through support of totalitarian governments and massive corporate welfare. This is the kind of in depth reporting that makes sense of the current state of things but also crystallizes just how massive a task systemic reform will be.
Tim Weiner details the grotesque history of the CIA, from it's off the books and unauthorized financial origins to the continued paranoia inducing civil rights violations and war mongering throughout the Cold War and through to the post 9/11 torture of civilians in the name of counter-terrorism. Weiner's level of access to former agents and declassified and/or leaked documents means this isn't some sort of tin foil hat, paper pants activist pandering. This is, unfortunately, the truth. And more people need to know about it. The CIA has always let flawed ends justify reprehensible means and this well researched book shows the level of corruption and failure baked into their very founding.
This no hold's barred examination of the FBI is a frustrating chronicle of both their inexcusable missteps and their misunderstood heroism. The propaganda pushed out during the J. Edgar era that saw the FBI as comic book & film serial heroes led down a dark path of civil rights violation as the FBI became an instrument of the Right during the tumultuous Johnson/Nixon/Ford administrations. However, during the later 20th century, rigorous and active reform from within the rank and file and leadership of the FBI transformed the agency into a crucial resource of international law enforcement. It's no coincidence that the FBI is now targeted by the very same people that used to wield the agency as a weapon. This book goes a long way to explaining why.
Karyna McGlynn's poetic voice is so sharp and searingly sexual that this book feels dangerous in some moments. She is not messing around. Whether its drunken desire or desperate destruction, she paints all the detail with quick, biting lines that will stick with you long after you finish a poem. A lot of people try to write about sex and relationships and the unflattering aspects of adult life in a vibrant poetic fashion. Most of them fail. McGlynn not only succeeds but she transcends. By the end of this book you realize that she was using all that erotic bluster to paint a far, far broader picture. And it's so much more beautiful and intimate than mere sex.