Here at Public Books our editorial staff and contributors are hard at work to provide readers with compelling, thought-provoking articles, but when the workday is done, what is actually on our nightstands? Here we bring you, in our own words, a new behind-the-scenes look at what we have been reading this month.
Sarai Walker, Dietland
Imagine a mashup of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal and Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room. Or imagine Andrea Dworkin with a wicked sense of humor. Or … hell, stop imagining and read this book, in which a fat woman decides to give up dieting while, around her, an underground feminist movement called “Jennifer” wages war on the war against women.
Tim Howard, The Keeper: The Unguarded Story of Tim Howard
Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
“It’s about a lot more than sports!” With this surprise and a smile, my now nine-year-old son handed me The Keeper to read for our book swap. He’s still a little bit young for The Boys in the Boat which I’m reading in preparation for a summer of rowing. But with its story of Depression-era America, the injuries of class, the redemption of physical discipline, and the geopolitics of sports, he would be right about this story too.
Sophie Jaff, Love Is Red
The fact that the author is a good friend of a friend led me to this, my first foray into the thriller-fantasy-romance genre. It’s a page-turner, all right, but so far what I’ve enjoyed most is the novel’s recognizable portrait of the trials and absurdities of 30-something dating in today’s ultra-consumerist New York City.
Charles Portis, Norwood
A strange habit of mine is that I like to revisit certain books when the seasons change. In the spring it’s often Norwood, a product, I think, of my antipathy for the looming summer heat. The titular Norwood Pratt makes his way from Ralph, Texas, to New York, on the hunt for $70 he’s owed by an old friend from the Marines. Along the way he gets hustled by a disbarred lawyer called Grady Fring the Kredit King into transporting a stolen car, falls in love, rescues Joann the Wonder Hen, a college-educated chicken, from a sideshow act, pursues musical stardom, etc. etc. Portis is a master of the comic novel, never condescending or cruel—behind the absurdity is a deep well of compassion that gives his work, however madcap it can be, considerable heft. It’s a combination I never get tired of.
Lorraine J. Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity
I’ve been reading this beautifully illustrated book on the history of objectivity in the scientific community. Daston and Galison wrap this history in another history, that of scientific atlases and their epistemic conundrums. Should the naturalist represent the unique specimen or redact it to render an archetypal example? In this book, we encounter heated debates among 19th- and 20th-century scientists over issues of “epistemic virtue” and representation. Come for the pictures (truly spectacular), but stay for Daston and Galison’s revealing account of scientific history.
César Aira, The Hare, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor
Ever since my professor read César Aira’s short story “The Cart” to me and a few classmates in a crowded bar, I’ve been hooked on the Argentine novelist’s mesmerizing prose, and have determined to make my way through Aira’s considerable oeuvre. I just today finished The Hare, and can’t wait to get my hands on another one of his books. Poetry school doesn’t allow me a whole lot of time for fiction, so this summer, I’ll be dedicating myself to Aira’s fascinating and delightfully confounding words. Next on my list: The Literary Conference.
Ciarán Carson, Belfast Confetti
I spent a pretty significant portion of my life secretly hating poetry, largely because I didn’t know how to read poetry. It always felt really inaccessible and basically just made me angry as I tried to read it. Then I took a class on Seamus Heaney and fell promptly in love with his poetry, to the point where I was almost defensive of all criticisms of Heaney. So by the time I found Ciarán Carson, who not so lovingly called Heaney the “laureate of violence,” I was determined to not like poetry again. But Carson’s book is fantastic. It resembles a very confusing map—there’s violence at every corner and you never know where it’s coming from. I think it captures the feeling of an era perfectly.
Clarice Lispector, Água Viva, translated from the Portuguese by Stefan Tobler
I don’t have a nightstand, but Lispector’s tiny book has lived in my pocket for the past several weeks. She is one who, for me, holds answers.