What We’re Reading, Summer 2022

Here’s some of what SHARK REEF editors have been reading in recent weeks.

Managing Editor Stephanie Barbé Hammer
When not perambulating the wonders of In Search of Lost Time, I am reading Anara Guard’s touching historical novel about early 1970’s Chicago. Like a Complete Unknown (New Wind Publishing) braids the misadventures of Katya, a 16 year old runaway, with the story of the middle-aged doctor who tries to help her. The history of the Janes, the underground abortion network, plays an important role. And, earlier this spring, I devoured Juanita E. Mantz’s alternatingly heart-breaking and hilarious short stories in her collection Tales of an Inland Empire Girl (Los Nietos Press). A compelling read.

Poetry Co-Editor Richard Widerkehr
During our second winter of Covid lockdown, I’ve been enjoying CJ Box thrillers about a game warden in a small town in Wyoming; Barbara Bloom’s Pulling Down the Heavens; Jenifer Lawrence’s A Thousand Steps From Shore; and Zelda Mishkovsky’s The Spectacular Distance. A cautionary tale about poets, love, and ambition by Lan Samantha Chang, All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost, was very absorbing during the cold, gray spring. Also, Her Life and Diary by Hannah Senesh. This July, which is sometimes still Junuary, I plan to reread some of Joe Stroud’s book of new and selected poems, Of This World. When I’m not ‘distracted by distraction from distraction,’ (TS Elliot), I’ve been working on my fifth book of poems. And sometimes, like now, I put it away for a while. Night Journey, my fourth book, came out this spring from Shanti Arts Press. I enjoy singing, playing guitar, two cats, walking, watching basketball, and want to see the ocean.”

Poetry Co-Editor Linda Conroy
I was captivated by British author Sarah Moss’s The Fell, (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021) a story of the pandemic, the ordinary, as well as the not-so-ordinary details of the lives of three neighbors during a mandatory quarantine when lives were stilled and re-examined, and interior monologues sought answers to hard questions as well as pondering how to bake the bread and dry the laundry. Moss also wrote Summerwater, a 2021 NPR Best Book of the Year. My favorite poet this season is January Gill O’Neil whose Rewilding, 2018, brings us the loveliness of the natural processes of breaking and rebuilding, of “rocks being thrown into a swollen sea” and “a strand of cobweb hanging loose.”

Editor Emerita Lorna Reese
Given the state of the wider world, I’ve been reading lighter fare. I recently finished All Adults Here by Emma Straub, a book I picked up because the jacket blurbs were by Elizabeth Strout and Ann Patchett, two of my (many) favorite writers. The book deals with issues such as gender identity, marital infidelity and even predatory behavior, and the characters are all real with deep inner lives. And speaking of Ann Patchett, I also enjoyed Patchett’s excellent book of essays, These Precious Days. Patchett’s essay, There Are No Children Here, dives deep into her decision not to have children but to devote her life to writing. I laughed through Pretend Plumber by SR managing editor, Stephanie Barbé Hammer. It’s a rollicking coming-of-age journey about smart and sassy Jewish teen Sarassine Anfang’s convoluted series of summer adventures, all kicked off by a plumbing disaster at her family home. The book is peppered throughout with Jewish terminology and traditions in boxes and magical realism, too. In poetry, poetry co-editor, Richard Widerkehr’s recent book, Night Journey, is at the top of my list.

Social Media Coordinator and Guest Fiction Editor Shari Lane
I am so fortunate to live a few blocks from a wonderful bookstore and library, and to have the opportunity to poke around bookstores on the San Juan and Gulf Islands. Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale (Atria Books 2006), discovered on a recent trip to BC, is such a marvelous example of gothic romance, I had to check the publication date—twice!—to be sure I wasn’t reading some long-lost story by one of the Brontë sisters. In this page-turner, a reclusive dying author brings a young woman to the misty moors to reveal and memorialize sordid family secrets. (Tip for bibliophiles on boats: marinas almost always have a Leave a Book Take a Book area, where you can find everything from classics to bestsellers to hidden gems from indie- or self-published authors, the pages stained with others’ coffee and tea and cookies, their spirits lingering over and urging you to take note of certain passages like members of an invisible book club.) Closer to home, SHARK REEF publisher Iris Graville’s Writer in a Life Vest (Homebound Publications 2022) presents the plight of the Orcas and their deteriorating ecosystem in a series of engaging and creative essays and vignettes, and shares concrete steps we can all take to mitigate the problems we non-Orcini have created for the Orcinus orca whales and the rest of the Salish Sea ecosystem. SHARK REEF Managing Editor Stephanie Barbé Hammer’s A Pretend Plumber: An Adventure (Inlandia Books 2022) is a rollicking story about a queer-curious teen, Jewish mysticism, the effect of the dysfunctional families we’re born into, and the healing power of the families we make for ourselves. I’m also looking forward to reading Stephanie’s new poetry collection City Slicker (Bamboo Dart Press 2022). Last but not least Hope Adam’s Dangerous Women (Berkley 2021) chronicles the unlikely advent of hope and friendship on a prison ship bound for Australia in 1841. Here’s to another year of the lyrical and the ludicrous, the cynical and the optimistic, the fiery and the serene—here’s to glorious books!

Copyright SHARK REEF 2022