Some books on my 2015 bookshelf; I’ll list by genre and say a few words about each. Not all are new or even newish. They’re recent discoveries or books I’ve wanted to read and plan to tackle in 2015. Reviews may result!
The Loft by Marlen Haushofer. A couple posts ago I briefly reviewed some of my 2014 reads, among them Haushofer’s The Wall. I’m still thinking about it. Haushofer writes isolated women coming to terms with their circumstances; past and present. In The Loft, a sixties housewife begins to receive pages from her old diaries in the mail. After finishing the housework for the day, she retreats to the loft to read the pages and then burns them. Sounds simple and I’m sure the simplicity will be a big part of its genius.
This House is Haunted by John Boyne. Written in the style of a classic nineteenth-century ghost story. Set in 1867 in Britain, the storyline involves a grand hall, a governess, unsupervised children. I’ve never read anything by John Boyne but this sounds promising.
Dora Bruder by Patrick Modiano. The French Modiano won the Nobel Prize in 2014. It’s unclear from reviews if this is a novel or piece of investigative non fiction. It’s the story of a girl gone missing in early 1940s Germany, who later appeared on a list of Jews deported to Auschwitz. One of the mysteries is why she ran away from the family hiding her.
The Green Road by Anne Enright. I loved Enright’s The Gathering, don’t know why it received such mixed reviews. This one is set in Ireland and covers 30 years in the life of a family from County Clare, specifically the matriarch.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. Set in a rural village in Chechnya, an eight-year-old is left orphaned and homeless when Russian soldiers abduct her father and set fire to her house. She and an older neighbor make their way to an abandoned hospital, seeking help from a doctor who still treats the wounded. The novel takes place over five days, during which the lives and the futures of the three become intertwined.
Maid as Muse by Aife Murray. The story of the relationships between Emily Dickinson and her servants; and how those servants made it possible for Dickinson to become the iconic poet we know. FYI: After Dickinson died, in her 60’s, it was the Irish servants who carried her coffin from the Dickinson homestead, through the fields (now a neighborhood) behind the house to the cemetery where she rests beside her parents and sister Lavinia.
Gracefully Insane by Alex Beam. Biography of the mental asylum McLean Hospital, from 1817 to the present. The history of the institution and some of its illustrious guests, as well as the romanticism of ‘madness’ in the nineteenth century as opposed to the stigma of mental illness today make this worth the read.
Merry Hall by Beverly Nichols. And now for something completely different…. Written after WWII, Merry Hall and the two books in the series that follow fall into that category of witty British garden writing. It’s a very narrow genre, and I love it! This first book in the series recounts Nichols’ adventures buying a Georgian country house with five acres. Both the garden and the house are in a bit of a shambles but that’s exactly what Nichols wants. He also inherits a stodgy gardener and some interesting neighbors. I’ll be reading the whole series.
“I lie still, play dead, am delivered decree:
our daughter weighs seven hundred dimes,
paperclips, teaspoons of sugar,
this child of grams”
but there were
veined with grace”
Trances of the Blast by Mary Ruefle. I love Ruefle’s poetry and essays. Also check out her essay collection Madness, Rack and Honey. As you can see, the lines below are completely different from the other poets.
“I think the tree is very much turned on
I can feel its sticky sap rising in my eyes
Its sticky sap is in my eyes
I do not think the tree wishes it were dead
I think the baby is very much turned on
Look baby a birdie in the tree
Say bye-bye birdie now go out and get a job
My job is writing poems and reading them to a cloud”
The Poem She Didn’t Write and Other Poems by Olena Kalytiak Davis. Bawdy, brash, honest, sharp and super smart. Davis loves the contradictions inherent in language, she exposes the weaknesses in language, slyly mocks the poetry establishment, turns the reader into her muse, lover, herself; and always writes the poems she wants to write. If you think all poetry is tame and academic and have never read a sex scene in a poem, check out Davis.
when she stopped
began in winter and, like everything else, at first, just waited for spring
in spring noticed there were lilac branches, but no desire,
no need to talk to any angel, to say: sky, dooryard, _______,
when summer arrived there was more, but not much
nothing really worth noting
and then it was winter again—nothing had changed: sky, dooryard, ________, white,
frozen was the lake and the lagoon, some froze the ocean
(now you erase that) (you cross that out)
and so on and so forth . . .”