At this time of year, I seldom find time to read anything longer than a headline or a status update on Facebook. I have been picking my way through Robertson Davies’ hilarious Salterton Trilogy (for the third time, at least), but many is the night that I hopefully lift it from the bedside table only to replace it without having read a word. Although Davies has long been one of my favorite writers, even his charming prose and acerbic wit are helpless to keep my eyes open past 11:00 pm. The dark winter evenings will be much less busy in a few weeks, however; with that in mind, our editors have a number of recommendations to keep you entertained.
Kate Haas, Creative Nonfiction Editor, raves about At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson: “It is the best short story collection I’ve read in a long time, and I don’t want it to end. An engineer bridges a chasm of mist. Twenty-six monkeys disappear nightly into a bathtub. A writer invokes Dido and Aeneas to make sense of her own betrayal. A fox maiden seduces a nobleman. Each story is strange and enchanting, its own fully realized world. They’re all absolutely exhilarating reads, each uniquely wonderful.”
Fiction Co-Editor Suzanne Kamata writes, “I just finished reading A Violet Season by Literary Mama Fiction contributor Kathy Leonard Czepiel, which takes place in upstate New York in the early years of the 20th century. The story centers on Ada, a wet nurse and the wife of the black sheep of a violet farming dynasty, and Alice, her eldest daughter, who is put to work in order to pay for her father’s youthful indiscretions. Czepiel has done her homework, and the details about laundry and women’s work in the early 1900s made me appreciate my appliances more than ever. Although this is a novel about growing flowers, it’s far from bucolic. At heart, it’s about a mother and daughter and the hard choices they are forced to make in order to survive and to preserve a sense of self.”
“Perfectly Normal” Columnist Heather Cori shares, “I am 40 percent of the way through the book 11/22/1963 by Stephen King. While I stayed away from his horror writing on account of the images that it left with me, this book is very different. King invites us to consider fascinating and adventurous ‘what ifs.’ What if you could travel back in time? What if no one could know and you had to assimilate? What would happen if you changed small events? What would happen if you changed significant events in history? George Amberson, the protagonist, is both likeable and believeable as he transitions from his present-day life as a cell-phone-using educator and divorcé to a slower time before many social ‘-isms’ were addressed. It’s great to have a page-turner during the holiday season so that I am sure to make time to read. I have to know what’s going to happen next!”
Caroline Grant, Editor-in-Chief, recommends “Julie Otsuka’s quietly fierce The Buddha in the Attic. It begins as a delicate, poetic chorus of voices telling the individual stories of Japanese ‘picture brides’ and builds to a powerful conclusion as we follow them into World War Two internment camps. Otsuka has done an incredible job distilling her research, especially the women’s letters and diaries, into a haunting and beautiful novel.”
Fiction Co-Editor Kristina Riggle has been reading “The Books They Gave Me: True Stories of Life, Love and Lit by Jen Adams, compiled from the blog of the same name. Adams solicited stories about books given as gifts; the responses that poured in speak to the powerful connection between literature and the human spirit and the connections between us in our relationships. Many of the selections are romantic, not all are positive, but so far, they are all fascinating. One of the stories, in fact, is mine! But I won’t say which . . . . The stories are told anonymously, with contributors thanked in the back pages, unconnected to their anecdote. This would be a terrific gift for the book lovers in your life–a book you gave them! “
Katherine J. Barrett, Reviews and Profiles Co-Editor and “Of This Fantastic Peach” Columnist, suggests a literary snack: “I’ve been treating myself to Best Food Writing 2012. I read a chapter at a time, chosen by opening the book to a random page, and so far I’ve been delighted with what I’ve found. Elissa Altman’s ‘Angry Breakfast Eggs’ hilariously depicts mood (her mother’s) expressed through food (eggs, fluffed or scorched). Tom Mueller’s ‘Olives and Lives’ describes a luscious meal atop an olive mill and how a family’s livelihood teeters with capricious markets and public opinion. The range of writing styles, sources, and topics in this collection makes for tapas-style reading: bite-sized, varied, delicious.”
“Four Worlds” Columnist Avery Fischer Udagawa is enjoying light in the dark of the year: “I savor tea, breathe, and view interfaith relations differently thanks to Thich Nhat Hanh’s Living Buddha, Living Christ, now available in a handsome 10th Anniversary Edition. Martin Luther King Jr. called the author ‘an apostle of peace and nonviolence’ when he nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize; Oprah.com describes him as ‘a courageous warrior’ who nonetheless exudes a ‘deeply tranquil presence.’ Not a bad companion for the holidays.”