Friday Reads

Friday Reads - May 17, 2019

Welcome to another guest edition of Friday Reads. We invited the charming Sierra Dickey to share her current read with us. If you haven’t had a chance to read her essay, “The Lives of Plovers”, we highly recommend it. Thank you, Sierra!

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There are some feelings that seem real only when you are experiencing them. Once they pass, or the situation that conjured them dissipates, you look back on those emotional states like a tourist reminiscing on a long-past trip.

For instance, when I worked as a live-in Nanny in Spain for a summer when I was 17, I vaguely remember feeling at once disgusted by and in love with the family. I felt captive a lot of the time but not so oppressed that I had to quit and flee. I was kept, or I kept myself in the fraught space between kin and staff that inevitable gets condensed with domestic labor.

In The Perfect Nanny, Leila Slimani hovers over social situations that are long-past for me, stirring up a micro-clime of forgotten feelings. The short and heady novel follows the foreshortened arc of one family and their nanny. The new parents begin desperate, they hire Louise and gain their lives back, the children fall in love with their caretaker and she even joins them on vacation. Then, Louise, who is destitute and gravely mentally ill, begins to transgress more and more boundaries. She does so slowly, quietly, and with a lot of tact. The parents don’t realize that she is troubled until it’s much too late—she is practically living in their house by this point. If you have heard about this novel you probably know that the children die on page 1. This fact makes the book scandalous before you even pick it up, but I insist that the real sensation is how Slimani excavates the complicated feelings involved in care work.

Slimani has written a sly and horrific page-turner that takes readers into the living tissue of a feminist labor politics. In one of the most quietly devastating passages, Wafa, a Moroccan nanny who befriends Louise at the park, wonders about her weary future and the class-bound cycles that her life and the life of her white French charge will likely follow:

“Wafa sometimes feels afraid that she will grow old in one of these parks. That she’ll feel her knees crack on these old frozen benches, that she won’t be strong enough to lift up a child anymore. Alphonse will grow up. Soon he won’t set foot in a park on a winter afternoon. He’ll follow the sun. He’ll go on vacation. Perhaps one day he’ll sleep in one of the rooms of the Grand Hotel, where she used to massage men. This boy she raised will be serviced by one of her sisters or her cousins, on the terrace with its yellow and blue tiles.”

The perils of growing up, of having babies, the facts of the infant and senile body, and the need to hire other people to “service” those bodies are the rigging on which Slimani has hung a sexy, dark, and salacious story.

Sierra Dickey is a writer, organizer, and educator currently teaching ESL in immigrant and refugee populations in Vermont and Western Massachusetts. She writes a weekly literary newsletter called Stay Fluent and collects her other writing work on sierradickey.com.

Friday Reads - April 26

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My husband, knowing how obsessed I’ve become about whales since reading Moby-Dick last year, gave me Philip Hoare’s Leviathan for my birthday. If you have the same fascinations—Melville and his novel; the history of whaling and the economies that depended upon it; the delicate relationship between whales, the ocean, and the climate; and the miraculous private lives of the great animals themselves—I think you’ll love this book, too. Part memoir, history, biography, literary criticism, and nature writing, this beautifully written book ticks all the boxes. —Rebecca

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Elizabeth Rush’s book, Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, is harrowing, thoughtful, personal and important. Her description of “endsickness” is something I think about daily. “What I used to call climate anxiety has become more like a disease. I call it endsickness. Like motion sickness or seasickness, endsickness is a physical response to living in a world that is moving in unusual ways, toward what I imagine as a kind of event horizon.” —Shari

Friday Reads - April 19, 2019

We asked our friend, poet Rena Mosteirin, to recommend a book for Friday Reads. She chose We Begin in Gladness by Craig Morgan Teicher.

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Craig Morgan Teicher’s We Begin in Gladness is a must-read for poets and lovers of poetry. He begins the book by looking at the style of poem known as the Ars Poetica; then moves through the works of Sylvia Plath, John Ashberry, Susan Wheeler, francine j. harris, W.S. Merwin, Louise Glück, W.B. Yeats, Robert Hayden, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Delmore Schwartz and Lucille Clifton.

Teicher refuses the stereotype that all the best work happens early in a poet’s life. He charts the lives of these poets as journeys, shows us where the work surges and where it subsides. He shows us poets looking at themselves in the mirror. We see the mechanics of the poem taking off, and how the best of them land. This is criticism that makes itself available, and is very readable. This is a lively thinker and an accomplished poet at his best.

Friday Reads - April 5, 2019

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I’ve enjoyed picking up Daily Rituals: Women at Work by Mason Currey each morning to read about the creative habits of a fascinating, talented woman. It’s the perfect inspiration I needed for spring.—Shari

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Reading Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic is like reading a grim fable that has come true. These poems speak of horror and love, of war and heartless policy, and of real and imagined humans suffering and finding comfort from each other. Once I started reading it I found it impossible to stop until I’d reached the end. Many of you may have already read the unforgettable first poem in the book, “We Lived Happily During the War.” The final poem acts as a perfect bookend to the first. I won’t link to it here. You have to earn it by reading the book—Rebecca

Friday Reads - March 22, 2019

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I’ve been making my way slowly through Jamel Brinkley’s impressive debut short story collection, A Lucky Man, since the beginning of the year. I’m reading slowly because each story invites reflection. The stories haunt me for days and sometime weeks, and I like staying with the imagery and characters until I feel like I’m ready to move on to the next story. Not to be missed!—Shari

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I've been waiting so many years for a new book by Barry Lopez (one of my very favorite writers) that I was a little worried I’d be disappointed by Horizon. Silly me. We’re in very capable, generous hands. Horizon is part autobiography, part travelogue, part nature writing, and part rumination on human history, the state of the world, and how we’ll ever save ourselves. Complemented with maps, illuminating notes, a list of scientific binomials, a compelling bibliography, and, glory of glories, an index—his book is beautiful and important and full of tenderness. I’m only 60 pages in out of more than 570, and I’m going to go slowly so I can stay in Lopez’s language for as long as possible. —Rebecca