Issue Forty-One - Winter 2023

What We’re Reading, Winter 2023

By The Editors

Here’s what SHARK REEF editors have been reading lately.

Managing Editor Stephanie Barbé Hammer
I have been absolutely fascinated by the giant new history of humanity, titled THE DAWN OF EVERYTHING by David Graeber and David Wengrow. Apparently we’re wrong about all kinds of things, including the development of cities, social evolution, and the inevitability of domination. I am also loving Nobel Laureate Annie Ernaux’s quasi-diary, Things Seen and Hélène Cixous’ memoir Osnabrück Station to Jerusalem. A beautiful, troubling book about her family and the Holocaust.

Fiction Editor Shari Lane
Once again I find myself in an impossible conundrum. Like most avid readers, every space I own is littered with piles of books. (Our founder, Lorna, stopped by one day for a chat and noted the odd absence of books – that was only because I’d tidied before she arrived). Books I’m reading, books I’m planning to read, books I feel I should read (books I’m writing) . . . My heart and mind are full to overflowing with books. So when asked to pick just one? Or even three? Whew. But here goes. Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St. John Mandel (Knopff 2022). This is a book whose plot makes you stay up all night, and whose pages are full of sentences that make you stop and re-read them, sigh, and re-read them again. Like this one: “I’ve been thinking a great deal about time and motion lately, about being a still point in the ceaseless rush.” In non-fiction I am in the middle of Ingrid Rojas Contreras’s memoir The Man Who Could Move Clouds (Doubleday 2022). I was hooked from the beginning: “Nono was a curandero. His gifts were instructions for talking to the dead, telling the future, healing the ill, and moving the clouds. We were a brown people, mestizo. European men had arrived on the continent and violated Indigenous women, and that was our origin: neither Native nor Spanish, but a wound. We called the gifts secrets.” For poetry I’ve been meandering through local author Abigail Morgan Prout’s Walk Deep (Wayfarer Books 2022). Her poetry is gentle and accessible and simultaneously emotionally challenging (as all good literature should be).

“Contrary to what your mind says, nothing is more important
when you step out of your car carrying too many gravid grocery
bags than to sit on the frozen gravel driveway, lean your head
back and look up and out—Oh the dazzling splendorous night!
—before going in.”

Poetry Co-Editor Richard Widerkehr
I enjoyed Elizabeth Strout’s novel in short stories, Olive Kittredge; also a non-fiction book, God’s Hotel, by Victoria Sweet, about the last almshouse in the U.S., a large hospital in L.A. I also liked Tony Hoagland’s book of poems, both serious and sometimes funny, Therapist Treats Fear of God. If you look on line for his surprising poem, “Why I Like Hospitals,” you can find it.

Poetry Co-Editor Linda Conroy
I was recently drawn to the Scottish poet John Burnside by his poem, The Myth of the Twin, and have since read two of his eleven poetry collections, The Asylum Dance (2000,) and Black Cat Bone (2011.) He appears to write about place with such ease, “whenever we think of home…the handful of birds and plants we know by name, rain on the fishmonger’s window,” he says, and takes us to many places in his life. As well as poetry, he’s written short stories, nonfiction, memoir; A Lie About My Father, (2007) and a thoroughly captivating book some reviewers classify as literary criticism, which makes it sound a bit dry, but it isn’t. In The Music of Time: Poetry in the Twentieth Century (2019) Burnside writes not only about the work of poets and poetry within a cultural and historical framework, but how they impact his own daily existence. He brings much of himself into all his writing and states, “Writing a poem is an act of hope, the music of what happens, the daily bread, the ordinary, the commonplace, the life of home and circumstance that we receive by grace.” I have just received his latest poetry collection and can’t wait to start it.

Publisher Iris Graville
I went for variety this winter. A big fan of Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, I was delighted and awed by Ozeki’s 2021 novel, The Book of Form and Emptiness. At over 500 pages, this imaginative, heartbreaking, strange, and hopeful story is perfect for winter reading. In contrast, I also read and re-read the charming new book written by Sharon Mentyka and illustrated by Ellen Rooney, The Heart of the Storm: A Biography of Sue Bird. I was inspired by the account of this outstanding professional basketball player. When the days and the news are gloomy, this children’s book lifts my spirits.

Guest Non-Fiction Editor Aaisha Umt Ur Rashid
I have just finished reading The Last White Man (2022) which is an astounding novel by Mohsin Hamid who is a renowned Pakistani fiction writer based in the United Kingdom. The very title of the novel alarmed me when I first got hold of it. The fact that it is written by a brown man settled in a foreign land intrigued me even more and I had to finish it in one sitting to satisfy my curiosity. This novel is an amazing read for readers who are looking for texts that invite them to build their own perceptions. The narrative stance is simple and detailed, the imagery used is quite appealing and the length of the novel makes it even more attention-grabbing.

Editor Emerita Lorna Reese
Without meaning to read anything dystopian, I have read and enjoyed three novels set in a somewhat dystopian future. Julia Glass’s Vigil Harbor, set on the East Coast ten years after the pandemic, when climate change is becoming more devastating, political polarization continues to heighten, and terrorist attacks are multiplying. Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and Sea of Tranquility, the former (published in 2014) is set in “Year Twenty” – or 20 years after a pandemic caused the complete collapse of civilization. Sea, set in times ranging from the early 1900s to the 2400s, goes back and forth in time and is not easy to put down. Elizabeth Strout’s Lucy By the Sea is set in the first year of the pandemic. I was drawn to these books because the authors are among my favorites and was not disappointed by the worlds they created and how those worlds reflect the one we’re living now. In poetry, I’ve loved The Path to Kindness, Poems of Connection and Joy, edited by James Crews and including poems by beloved and new-to-me poets.

Copyright 2023 The Editors