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Matthew Dickman (Poetry Editor): The other day I was having a conversation with a friend who feels that the most human she ever feels is when watching Antonioni films. His art makes her feel brave and hopeful and complicated and found. I was thinking of art that makes me feel that way too. The first thing that came to mind was Mary Ruefle’s new book Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures. This is a book of lectures by an incredible poet though the lectures are more than talks on poetry: they are talks about humanity. Whenever I read one of Mary’s pieces I feel better about being alive, wiser and kinder…at least for a few hours! Even if you are not a poetry reader you need to check this book out! And if you’re interested (and you should be) we at Tin House are honored to have two new poems by Mary in our current Winter Reading issue. Madness! The Rack! Sweet Honey!
Tony Perez (Editor, Tin House Books): Houellebecq is one of my favorite living novelists, and though we excerpted the book last year, I’m somehow just now getting to his latest (Prix Goncourt-winning) novel. With the author’s attention turned (mostly) away from sex-tourism, and toward the world of contemporary art, The Map and the Territory is both savage and level-headed in that particular Houellebecqian meanness (maybe my favorite description so far is of a portrait of Jeff Koons, which captures “the basic cunning of the technical sales rep and the exaltation of the ascetic.”). The plot centers on a successful painter that wants a notorious writer, also named Houellebecq, to write the catalog for his newest exhibition. The book eventually molds itself into a riff on detective fiction, but doesn’t lean as heavily on the genre as his previous novel, Possibility of an Island, did on science fiction. My affinity for this writer seems to spark a fair number of arguments, but The Map and the Territory allows Houellebecq (the character and the author) to make an argument for himself.
Masie Cochran (Associate Editor, Tin House Books): I was recently gifted Jonathan Lethem’s first novel Gun, with Occasional Music. After reading the back, I thought I will never read this. But I did read it, in almost a sitting, and I loved it. Part sci-fi, part noir mystery, part dystopia, and part (strange) love story Gun, with Occasional Music forces you to believe, and invest, in a world full of drugs (Acceptol, Avoidol, Forgetol), genetically evolved animals (kittens in dresses, a sheep playing mistress, and a gun-weilding, windbreaker clad marsupial named Joey Castle), and characters with names like Delia Limetree, Walter Surface, Catherine Teleprompter, and our main player/ tough guy private eye Conrad Metcalf. Metcalf is all rough edges and his wisecracking, machismo narration is wildly amusing and addictive.
Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer): Harlan Ellison is a notorious asshole, but I love his stories all the same. The 1969 collection The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World features his usual disdain-worthy characters. These are self-loathing, desperate men for whom a final moment of awareness is often lethal (for themselves and for others). Like all effective science fiction, Ellison’s writing explores such heavy themes as ethics, humanity, and alienation through bizarre premises and remote settings. Here, he is mostly successful. As I made my way through, each story left me feeling unsettled, but committed to reading the next.
Though this volume contains one of my favorite stories, “Run for the Stars” as well as the classic “A Boy and His Dog,” it’s not Ellison’s finest work. For a more cohesive collection try Alone Against Tomorrow, though I don’t recommend reading it all in one go.