Stephen has always been a reader, even if sometimes the books are beyond his grasp.
To call J.A. Baker's book a book about birds is similar to saying Moby-Dick is a book about whales. This is so much more than ornithology. It's a marvelously textured, understated, and beautifully written account of a man's quest to learn certain aspects of the natural world--to become part of the corner of the universe he's come to inhabit. Baker's language is precise and poetic and his insights, on the behavior of birds and man, are remarkable. I love this book all out of proportion.
The horizon, in Barry Lopez's view, marks a perptually approachable--and never reachable--edge. It's not a boundary or a limit to knowledge, but an elusive and intangible line that urges humility, a characteristic that modern, Western humans seem to have in short supply. A deeply considered and magisterial examination of landscape, ecology, and our place within the natural world as it (and, of course, we) teeters on the brink of catastrophe, Horizon is the culmination of the career of one of our great moral visionaries. This is a book to contend with and to linger with, an undeniable masterpiece.
Heid Erdrich has put together one the most exciting collections of poems I have read in ages. Collecting 21 Native poets first published in the twenty-first century, New Poets of Native Nations offers a fresh and dynamic anthology of work that is destined to become a classic of American literature. As Linda Hogan says, this is a watershed moment.
Eliot Weinberger, a college drop-out turned tanslator (of Paz, Borges, Bei Dao, and others) writes essays unlike anything you've read. These pieces -- erudite, wide-ranging, poetic -- are of universal scope, touching on topics as diverse (and cohesive) as the varieties of Chinese wind, a history of the rhinocerous in Europe, the Nazca lines in the Peruvian desert, and a reverie on the stars that is breathtakingly beautiful. Weinberger's vast learning is matched by an equally encompassing sense of wonder, and his ability to draw the "exotic" closer, while still permitting it an air of mystery, is a thing to marvel at.
Jane Alison's reappraisal of narrative form is a delightful excursion into the craft of writing and an invigorating study of how plot can follow a whole range of patterns. Full of insight and excellent examples, this is a book to savor for all writers.
CLR James' classic study of Toussaint l'Ouverture and the Haitian slave rebellion is a gripping and, in times like ours when tyranny seems on the rise, inspiring read. Full of intrigue and drama, this epoch-making event is rendered in vibrant colors and with a clear-eyed understanding of its impact in the Caribbean and beyond.
Bold and elliptical, Outline does as much to reinvent the novel as anything published in the past twenty years, while still managing to be an unlikely page-turner about a woman who struggles simply to be present in her own life.
What a book this is! Written with a passionate exuberance that nearly makes the words jump off the page, A Country Called Childhood is a fierce cry against the (artificial) disconnect between children and the nature. Griffiths hones her righteous indignation, and a variety of examples from indigenous cultures and literature, to argue that children are healthiest when intimately entangled with animals, mud, and the untameable forces of the living world.
A novel dredged from the depths of the sea.
If the best books are those that make you itch for something new—or, in this case, something as ancient as walking—Robert Macfarlane’s poetic travel memoir is certainly one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Tracing his ramblings across moors and seas, up mountains, and along meandering paths, Macfarlane describes in lush, precise prose a natural (and human) world that reveals itself leisurely, step by step. Full of remarkable scenes and a memorable cast of characters, The Old Ways brings to mind recent memoirs like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and classic nature writing a la Peter Matthiessen. I recommend it with only one caveat: read it with your hiking boots on; it’ll make you want to get up and go.
Taking as his inspiration Borges' Book of Imaginary Beings, Caspar Henderson set out to investigate those seemingly too strange to be real creatures that are, in fact, alive on our strange planet. From the axolotl to the zebra fish, this book demonstrates just how wondrous biology is and how bizarre the journey to get to this point has been.
An unforgettable and haunting collection of thematically linked stories tracing the black experience in the new world. Written in a virtuosic range of styles, Counternarratives announces John Keene as one of our great--and seriously underappreciated--talents.
Lolly Willowes is utterly beguiling. A prim and proper British spinster decides unexpectedly to renounce the normality of her staid life and dashes off into the wilds, where witchy things await. Lolly is one of the most memorable characters I've had the pleasure of meeting.
Joy Williams is an American treasure and Ninety-Nine Stories of God, a collection of sharp-eyed, occasionally heartbreaking, and often mordantly funny short fictions has become for me an instant desert island book. Williams is no stranger to the darker, inexplicable currents of life, which gives this book a weight far beyond its slimness.
Jenny Xie’s award-winning debut, Eye Level, takes us far and near, to Phnom Penh, Corfu, Hanoi, New York, and elsewhere, as we travel closer and closer to the acutely felt solitude that centers this searching, moving collection.