Issue 133 |
Summer 2017

Book Recommendations from Our Advisory Editors

by Staff

Lauren Groff recommends Transit by Rachel Cusk: “Transit is the second in a projected three-book series of strange and elegant anti-novels from the radically undersung British writer Rachel Cusk. Most novels spark urgency with plot, but Transit’s urgency comes, instead, from the voices of the people the narrator spends her life listening carefully to. The book slyly expands the reader’s expectations of what a novel can be.” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017)

Jennifer Haigh recommends The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap by Gish Jen: “The novelist and short-story writer Gish Jen has long been interested in the rub of cultures. Her sharp, incisive nonfiction book sheds light on the misapprehensions and frustrations and mutual bafflement that often occur when East meets West. Last year, traveling for the first time to China, I would have loved to have this book in hand.” (Knopf, 2017)

Peter Ho Davies recommends Live from Cairo by Ian Bassingthwaighte: “A smart, vibrant novel that powerfully dramatizes the urgent question of refugee status from multiple perspectives.” (Scribner, 2017)

Jayne Anne Phillips recommends The Rope Swing by Jonathan Corcoran: “The Rope Swing, linked stories by Jon Corcoran, takes us inside quiet revolutions of the soul in towns far from Stonewall and establishes a new American writer whose unerring instincts are cause for celebration.” (Vandalia Press, 2016)

David St. John recommends At the Foundling Hospital by Robert Pinsky: “As a reader of Ploughshares, you probably already own this superb new book of Robert Pinsky’s; but if you don’t, shame on you. The mysteries of history and culture help form a tsunami of mortal reckonings in this truly dazzling collection, and Pinsky reminds us not only that we’re all interrelated members of a messy human family, but that many of us are forgotten foundlings as well.” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016)

David St. John recommends Self-Portrait with Dogwood by Christopher Merrill: “This collection of essays travels the worlds of ravaged political upheaval, as well as those of personal reflection on faith and loss (don’t miss the powerful and elegant piece on the death of his friend, Agha Shahid Ali). Chris Merrill is part naturalist, part cultural reporter, and always part literary bodhisattva—and this is a modest book of true beauty.” (Trinity University Press, 2017)

Gerald Stern recommends The Apollonia Poems by Judith Vollmer: “In anecdotes, narratives, serial statements, conversations; with wild ardor, clarity, obtuseness, unwashed memory, complexity, simplicity, and original mythology; Judith Vollmer creates a world I have not fully seen before. One practically all her own. Her city, her ward, her gender, her dreams, memories, and hopes. Here in Pittsburgh and Poland, little grandmothers, rolled stockings, memories of work, friendship, family, love. Here is (homemade) sour cream, with rye bread, burning bituminous, wild onions, gooseberries, filthy rivers, filthy air, mining, slave (Slav) labor, hatred of Frick. And through it all, a town or village, maybe a city, called Pollina (née Apollonia), the underbelly or spine of the book, where her grandmother (or her grandmother’s grand) married a Polish soldier fighting for Prussia—in Italy—and dragged her through Bari, then Turkey, then back to Poland, then to America. And here are her father’s letters from Italy in the late ’60s, and his fine mind; and hers. ‘Flower Meal’ and ‘In an Old Hotel.’ Incredible poems.” (University of Wisconsin Press, 2017)

Dan Wakefield recommends No Way Out But Through, by Lynne Sharon Schwartz: “This collection of new poems by the author of such distinguished novels as Leaving Brooklyn, and Disturbances in the Field, is not only insightful but also enlivened by a wry sense of humor. In ‘Collecting myself’ the author summed up for me all the nineteenth-century Russians in the lines ‘What flawed vision made me buy the book / of bilingual Russian stories, page three turned down / a year now, something by Gogol -/ traveler, inn, horse, the rest a blur…’ This book is a joy.” (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017)