Books!

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A few recent acquisitions that I’m excited about:

Nonfiction

Kio ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the research and initial print run of her book, Don’t Go Back to School: A Handbook for Learning Anything. She interviewed 100 people (full disclosure: I was both a backer and an interviewee) and profiled about 20 of them about self-education. I recommend this for anyone who wants to learn independently or is considering going back to school (the perpetual “Do I need an MFA?” question).

I fully admit that I bought Peter Turchi’s Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer for the pictures. It’s a gorgeous hardcover — full color maps on heavy, cream paper — definitely a book that benefits from physicality. Turchi’s text is a meditation on the parallels between writing and cartography, such as what we include in our worlds, what we leave out, and why. It isn’t a deep craft book, but I’m enjoying his examples and, of course, the pictures.

YA

Amy’s book, Chantress, was released last week! Huzzah! I’m working through my NF queue before returning to YA, but I’m very excited about this. From the blurb:

“Sing, and the darkness will find you.” This warning has haunted fifteen-year-old Lucy ever since she was eight and shipwrecked on a lonely island. Lucy’s guardian, Norrie, has lots of rules, but the most important is that Lucy must never sing. Not ever. Now it is 1667, Lucy is fifteen, and on All Hallows’ Eve, Lucy hears a tantalizing melody on the wind. She can’t help but sing—and she is swept into darkness.

Cool, huh? Alternate history, magic, and music — sounds like a perfect read for me (and ashfae and zalena!).

Continuing the musical YA theme, Sara Zarr’s latest is a contemporary novel. The blurb for Lucy Variations:

Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. The right people knew her name, her performances were booked months in advance, and her future seemed certain.

That was all before she turned fourteen.

Now, at sixteen, it’s over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. That leaves her talented ten-year-old brother, Gus, to shoulder the full weight of the Beck-Moreau family expectations. Then Gus gets a new piano teacher who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy rekindle her love of piano — on her own terms. But when you’re used to performing for sold-out audiences and world-famous critics, can you ever learn to play just for yourself?

This description hit close to home. I danced for over 20 years, and in high school, all I wanted was to stop. I resented daily practices and the pressure and felt like I was dancing for everyone but myself. That’s part of why I got into theatre and then voice lessons — those were entirely mine. In college I started to do some choreography for cultural shows and musicals, and that experimentation and play made dance mine again, and I kept going until my knees demanded that I quit. So I’m doubly excited to read Zarr’s latest — she’s brilliant at contemporary YA and she’s writing about the mess of making art on demand.

Poetry

Everyone knows I love Louise Gluck’s poetry. How many times can I quote Vita Nova? I own all of her poetry collections from the mid-90s to now, but I’ve never read her early work, from 1968-1990. In poetry school, Robert Pinsky encouraged us to read entire bodies of work to see how poets develop and revisit ideas and themes in new ways. In one of his workshops, I read all of Emily Dickinson’s poems because I’d been scared off of her in a high school English class, and I focused on different editions of her work to examine how the same poem could be transformed by editorial decisions. To me, Gluck is a study in compression. She takes epic mythologies and distills them into the essential, and I’m curious to see whether she has always written like this and how her style developed.

And, of course, I got the new Frank Bidart — I’ve read all of his work. One of the joys of reading a former teacher is hearing his voice again. Bidart’s a brilliant writer, and as a reader he’s sublime. His reading of The Third Hour of the Night, a 45-page poem, may be the best reading I’ve ever attended. We were in a packed room at Harvard — the furniture pushed out so students and listeners were sitting on the floor and lining the walls and doorway. He’s rather shy and unassuming, and occasionally as he’d read, he’d stop to warn us about a graphic part and to apologize and then would continue, and that was the only release in the hour that he read. When he finished, there was a long pause, like at the end of a symphony, and then the room erupted, and his shyness returned. Bidart’s first love was cinema, and his poetry is dramatic and oversized — the opposite of Gluck’s (funny that they’re friends — Pinsky, too — who all live close to each other in Cambridge). Reading his new work is always pure joy, and there’s an added resonance of workshops and seminars and thesis work and meetings in a coffee shop in Harvard Square. On the last day of class, he’d always bring dessert, and I’m sure that’s in part why my synapses pair chocolate with literature. We were conditioned in our formative years.

So that’s my immediate TBR pile. What’s in yours?

© 2016 Anindita Basu Sempere. 
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