In Muriel Spark’s Memento Mori, a cast of quirky, petty, and endearing septuagenarians struggle with aging while death lurks offstage. Rheumatism, hearing loss, dementia, creaky bones, leaky bladders, and missing teeth afflict this alternately lofty and low-class group. These 70-plus-year-olds muse and gossip over long-gone affairs of the heart, assorted past sexual liaisons, and engage in “the Will game,” dangling the promise of inheritance in front of their offspring and former household help. Meanwhile, enduring desires, scads of regrets, and still fuming resentments crowd their thoughts.
A few days ago, a friend sent me an article about a black hole at the center of the Milky Way, which scientists recently captured on film for the first time. The author writes: “despite its ‘supermassive” designation, is not very large in the grand scheme of things.”
In 2017, I decided to read every day. A simple task, unqualified by subject or quantity. I thought I could be successful. To an extent, I was. Though I missed often, my days began to arrange themselves around reading. I took books everywhere. Metro-rides, restaurants, grocery stores. Eventually, office spaces. You see, 2017 was also the year my mental health decided to abandon me. It took me forty-two days to read my first full-length book in many years (Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.) When I finished reading it, I inscribed the month—August, I think–—on the first page.
Alan King’s newest poetry collection, Crooked Smiling Light, (Plan B Press, 2021) moves from punch to caress, offering the lie of easy and sudden transformation, but in the hard-fought, zig-zag feint of everyday effort. Along the way, the reader encounters metaphors from boxing and marathon, giants of history like Nelson Mandela and Amiri Baraka, Whitman’s Learn’d Astronomer, the Bible’s Goliath, Roy Hargrove and the Black Lives Matter protests. All illustrate a man’s life as he moves from son to father, seeking what we all do—love and a meaningful place in the world.
Poet Marilyn Nelson has said “when you go to listen to a poet read, you leave having learned not only about the poet’s reality but also about the reality you are living.” She calls this “communal pondering.” Through Rachel Eliza Griffiths’ exquisite fifth book, Seeing the Body, we are invited into communal pondering about the physicality of grief, silence and absence, as the poet grapples with her mother’s death, its effect on the poet’s body and psyche, and the necessity of living beyond such a monumental loss.
This year, my resolution is to rest more, which is why we’re truly easing into 2022. In our first round-up of the year, we’ve got a little of this and a little of that—a true hodge-podge to appease our sleepy winter brains. From high fantasy to graphic essays, we’ve got something for everyone this month.
This collection of microreviews is a little more eclectic than usual. But these books, which range from history to YA to literary fiction and beyond, share a common thread: the way they ask readers to see the world in new ways. These books offer fresh perspectives through reinvention and retelling, but also by simply narrating from points of view that are rarely heard or respected. This month’s books include a stunning queer retelling of the Peter Pan myth, a genre-bending memoir-cum-historical-treatise on slave revolts, a graphic novel for kids that tackles chronic illness, race, and Latinx culture, and much more. In each story, we are asked to reconsider our old ways of knowing, and make space for new narratives.