If, like me, you have an app on your cell phone in which you list the titles of books you want to read, open it up! I think you’re going to want to add one or more of this month’s Literary Mama staff reading recommendations to it.
Kelsey Madges, Profiles Editor, recommends this novel for some glamorous escapism: “I recently received an early copy of Nina Revoyr’s latest novel, A Student of History, and it was a perfect book to have with me over spring break. Whether I was reading poolside or while sitting (as a passenger) in heavy traffic on I-75, Revoyr’s novel swept me away to Los Angeles and wrapped me up in a world of unimaginable wealth. The novel centers around Rick, a directionless doctoral candidate who is still recovering from a breakup and is no longer interested in the subject he is supposed to be writing his dissertation about. Tired of scraping by, Rick takes a friend up on a job lead and finds himself employed with the task of transcribing a wealthy woman’s handwritten journals so they can be bound and preserved for her family. The job ends up being more than just transcribing the journals as Rick becomes a sort of companion to the older woman, accompanying her to events and gatherings that showcase dizzying wealth. The story evolves into a mystery as Rick tries to make sense of the gaps in Mrs. W’s family history and begins to uncover a secret she has worked hard to bury. Revoyr gives readers a glimpse into the world of the Los Angeles elite, their fabulous taste, seemingly limitless wealth, and questionable morals. In the end, no one remains unscathed and not all of the wrongs can be righted. I respect that Revoyr resisted a neat and tidy ending, and I thoroughly enjoyed this decadent diversion.”
Andrea Lani, Senior Editor and Literary Reflections Editor, was impressed by the poetry of this author: “I recently had the good fortune to attend a reading by the poet Martin Espada. Espada taught in the MFA program I attended, and though I wasn’t a poet I always looked forward to hearing him read a poem or two on faculty reading nights. His poems lend themselves to being read aloud, and he reads as no one else can. He appears to be about ten feet tall, with long, expressive arms and a booming voice that carries his poetry, by turns humorous and heartbreaking, through the auditorium and into the very marrow of the bones of those of us watching and listening. Espada’s metaphors are surprising and exactly perfect (‘night burst the dam of day’), his subject matter personal and universal—immigrants, dementia, love, landlords, injustice, and fathers and mentors. His poetry speaks for the voiceless, makes ‘the invisible visible.’ He opened the reading with ‘Alabanza,’ a poem in praise of the food service workers of the World Trade Center, many undocumented, most unremarked by the rest of the world, who perished on 9/11. I came home from the reading with two of Espada’s books—Alabanza and Vivas to Those Who Have Failed—as well as the November 2018 issue of Poetry Magazine which includes six poems by Espada (who is also winner of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.) I’ve been dipping into each of the collections over the weeks since the reading trying to channel Espada’s voice as I read, and the poems, by turns, make me laugh and cry.”
Christina Consolino, Senior Editor and Profiles Editor, shares this moving account: “One of my favorite professors in graduate school studied the CFTR chloride channel, which is faulty in the disease cystic fibrosis (CF). Since then I’ve been on the lookout for books that mix the science behind cystic fibrosis with personal experience. Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life by Mallory Smith fits easily into that category. The book, published posthumously by the author’s mother, Diane Shader Smith, is based on more than ‘2,500 pages of [Mallory’s] reflections over ten years.’ It’s breadth isn’t daunting, in part because it begins with an introduction that describes cystic fibrosis in easily digestible terms and then moves directly into a narrative told in a 15-year-old’s voice. The diary entries are peppered with footnotes provided by Shader Smith, which explain some of the more technical aspects of CF and the treatments that Mallory experienced. As Smith ages her writing style matures and deepens, and from a writer’s perspective I found the evolution of the writing fascinating. Despite her young age—Smith was only 24 when she passed away—she doesn’t hold back her raw truth, and as a reader I appreciated her honesty. At the end of the book Smith writes, ‘I want to create a piece so moving that people are in disbelief. And I want it to be like handing people a pair of glasses, giving them a way of seeing something they didn’t even realize they weren’t seeing.’ In my opinion, Smith succeeded.”
Over to you. Which book do you recommend we read this month? We’d love to hear your picks in the comments or tweet us @LiteraryMama. You can also follow us on Instagram @Literary_Mama and Goodreads for more recommendations.