The Staff Picks: Week of May 30th

Did you catch Lucia Silva on NPR yesterday morning? Listen to her talk about her picks for the summer, here.

Here’s what we’re talking about this week:

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Frank, Jr. Picks:

Twenty Thirty: The Real Story of What Happens to America, by Albert Brooks

June 12, 2030 started out like any other day in memory—and by then, memories were long.  Since cancer had been cured fifteen years before, America’s population was aging rapidly.  That sounds like good news, but consider this: millions of baby boomers, with a big natural predator picked off, were sucking dry benefits and resources that were never meant to hold them into their eighties and beyond.  Young people around the country simmered with resentment toward “the olds” and anger at the treadmill they could never get off of just to maintain their parents’ entitlement programs.

But on that June 12th, everything changed: a massive earthquake devastated Los Angeles, and the government, always teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, was unable to respond.

The fallout from the earthquake sets in motion a sweeping novel of ideas that pits national hope for the future against assurances from the past and is peopled by a memorable cast of refugees and billionaires, presidents and revolutionaries, all struggling to find their way.  In 2030, the author’s all-too-believable imagining of where today’s challenges could lead us tomorrow makes gripping and thought-provoking reading.

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Lucia Picks:

To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays, by Gertrude Stein

“Alphabets and names make games and everybody has a name and all the same they have in a way to have a birthday,” muses Gertrude Stein in To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays. Written in 1940 and intended as a follow-up to her children’s book The World Is Round, published the previous year, To Do is a fanciful journey through the alphabet. Each letter is represented by four names (including Gertrude for “G”) and features a short story told in verse. “[This is] a birthday book I would have liked as a child,” said Stein of To Do.

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Julie Picks:

Faithful Place, by Tana French

Back in 1985, Frank Mackey was nineteen, growing up poor in Dublin’s inner city, and living crammed into a small flat with his family on Faithful Place. But he had his sights set on a lot more. He and Rosie Daly were all ready to run away to London together, get married, get good jobs, break away from factory work and poverty and their old lives.  But on the winter night when they were supposed to leave, Rosie didn’t show. Frank took it for granted that she’d dumped him-probably because of his alcoholic father, nutcase mother, and generally dysfunctional family. He never went home again. Neither did Rosie. Everyone thought she had gone to England on her own and was over there living a shiny new life. Then, twenty-two years later, Rosie’s suitcase shows up behind a fireplace in a derelict house on Faithful Place, and Frank is going home whether he likes it or not.

Getting sucked in is a lot easier than getting out again. Frank finds himself straight back in the dark tangle of relationships he left behind. The cops working the case want him out of the way, in case loyalty to his family and community makes him a liability. Faithful Place wants him out because he’s a detective now, and the Place has never liked cops. Frank just wants to find out what happened to Rosie Daly-and he’s willing to do whatever it takes, to himself or anyone else, to get the job done.

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BJ Picks:

Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon

Longing to get on with his life, Miles Cheshire nevertheless can’t stop searching for his troubled twin brother, Hayden, who has been missing for ten years. Hayden has covered his tracks skillfully, moving stealthily from place to place, managing along the way to hold down various jobs and seem, to the people he meets, entirely normal. But some version of the truth is always concealed.

A few days after graduating from high school, Lucy Lattimore sneaks away from the small town of Pompey, Ohio, with her charismatic former history teacher. They arrive in Nebraska, in the middle of nowhere, at a long-deserted motel next to a dried-up reservoir, to figure out the next move on their path to a new life. But soon Lucy begins to feel quietly uneasy.

My whole life is a lie, thinks Ryan Schuyler, who has recently learned some shocking news. In response, he walks off the Northwestern University campus, hops on a bus, and breaks loose from his existence, which suddenly seems abstract and tenuous. Presumed dead, Ryan decides to remake himself–through unconventional and precarious means.

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Aida Picks:

Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry, by David Orr

For most readers, contemporary poetry is a foreign country. And because they’ve barely visited poetry, let alone lived there, readers struggle to enjoy the art for what it is, rather than what they imagine it to be.

In Beautiful & Pointless, award-winning critic David Orr provides a riveting tour of poetry as it actually exists today. Orr argues that readers should accept the foreignness of poetry in the way that they accept the strangeness of any place to which they haven’t traveled—they should expect a little confusion, at least at first. Yet in the same way that we can, over time, learn to appreciate the idiosyncratic delights of, for instance, Belgium, we can learn to be comfortable with the odd pleasures of poetry by taking our time and pursuing what we like.

Reading poetry, Orr suggests, is more a matter of building a relationship than proceeding systematically through a checklist. Beautiful & Pointless provides the foundation for such a relationship by examining the things poets and poetry readers talk about when they discuss poetry, such as why poetry seems especially personal and what it means to write “in form.” Orr, by turns acerbic, incisive, hilarious, and keen, is what every reader hopes for: that perfect guide who points the way, doesn’t talk too much, and helps you see what you might have missed. Stimulating, amusing, and utterly engrossing, Beautiful & Pointless allows us to see how an individual reader engages poetry, so that we may feel better equipped to appreciate it in our own way.

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Lilly Picks:

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

Arguably the most influential, imaginative, and provocative designer of his generation, Alexander McQueen both challenged and expanded fashion conventions to express ideas about race, class, sexuality, religion, and the environment. Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty examines the full breadth of the designer’s career, from the start of his fledgling label to the triumphs of his own world-renowned London house. It features his most iconic and radical designs, revealing how McQueen adapted and combined the fundamentals of Savile Row tailoring, the specialized techniques of haute couture, and technological innovation to achieve his distinctive aesthetic. It also focuses on the highly sophisticated narrative structures underpinning his collections and extravagant runway presentations, with their echoes of avant-garde installation and performance art.

Published to coincide with an exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art organized by The Costume Institute, this stunning book includes a preface by Andrew Bolton; an introduction by Susannah Frankel; an interview by Tim Blanks with Sarah Burton, creative director of the house of Alexander McQueen; illuminating quotes from the designer himself; provocative and captivating new photography by renowned photographer Sølve Sundsbø; and a lenticular cover by Gary James McQueen.

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