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What We’re Reading

Liz Lampman (Editorial Intern, Tin House Books): I’m reading, better yet wrestling with, Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. This meditational essay addresses Wiman’s own struggle with understanding the purpose of Art and of Faith within the context of his long battle with cancer. Wiman’s approach, not surprisingly, is both broad and deep, and he offers wisdom from Wallace Stevens to Simone Weil to Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Gerard Manley Hopkins and countless other prominent voices. I picked up this book at my mentor’s suggestion, and I continue to read it because it calls into question the imaginary barrier that’s been erected between the way that Art and Faith attempt to understand mortality and other, even more pressing, matters of the soul.

Sophia Archibald (Editorial Intern, Tin House Books): John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces is one of many classics I didn’t get around to until recently. And boy, have I been missing out! The story details a series of misfortunes of one Ignatius J. Reilly in New Orleans, simultaneously the most loathsome and lovable character in literature. The only thing motivating this perverse thirty-year-old—living with his mother but educated with a master’s degree, and the vernacular to prove both—to gain employment is his competitive correspondence with Myrna Minkoff in New York City, the equivalent of a ‘lover’ for our abstinent protagonist. I haven’t laughed out loud at a book in a long time, and with this one I can’t stop.

Victoria Savanh (Summer Writer’s Workshop Intern): In Portland the sun has been making brief appearances, and I’ve been spending more and more hours reading beside open windows and on sidewalk cafes. I’ve fallen under the spell of Joy Williams’s State of Grace recently, staying out reading it till sunset. Bound to her father in an intense, lurid relationship, the narrator Kate attempts to escape through college, sex, and marriage. Haunting and strange, the stream of consciousness narrative is so captivating that I often forget I’m holding a solid book in my hands. I’m strung along as she jumps from image to image, snapshot vignettes steeped in murky encounters and filled with repressed urgency. I close this book each time almost in a state of mourning. Simultaneously, perhaps naturally, that’s accompanied by an overwhelming sense of peace. “And things were always out of my hands. I have always been grateful for that.”

Miles Jochem (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): I have been wandering through the semantic labyrinths of Tom Blood’s The Sky Position. Not a text for the traditionalist, this winner of the 2007 Oregon Book Award is disconcerting, off-centering, and altogether intriguing. Be prepared for nouning verbs, verbing prepositions, and impossible fantasies set in the dark, liminal spaces above and below the normal use of language. But within the manic, surreal verses (ex: “ . . . but then the nevering in our dawn that sheets over as dragons/ in the under will where whales spawn to black dark butterflies/ and the bags unpack to our momentary sensation . . . ”) there can be found pathos, humor, a profound sense of wonder in the face of reality, and a lovely playfulness that takes advantage of a wide range of poetic devices. This is poetry at its furthest remove from standard prose and narrative, and Blood rejoices in the liberty of his medium. This book will shatter your conceptions of what words mean and do, and force you to accept and enjoy, if not always understand.

Brandi Dawn Henderson (Editorial Intern, The Open Bar): As someone who has dedicated a good portion of my life to the on-the-move pursuit of place and culture, I’m fascinated by the idea of what is left behind. Aren’t we all visited by the ghostly memories of old friends’ quirks, vague recollections of booths at favorite diners, the frustration of not being able to remember the name of those flowers that can turn inside out to make ladies in ball gowns? It was this curiosity that drew me to Ann Eichler Kolakowski’s poetry collection, Persistence: Poems of Warren, Maryland. The book is dedicated to Kolakowski’s grandmother who, at the age of 103 when she died in 2006, was the last known surviving resident of an underwater town.

For over a century, the town of Warren, Maryland was a thriving community until some sneaky folks (picture some real moustache-twirlers here) sold the town to Baltimore in a secret deal. As you might expect, the townsfolk were not thrilled about this, so the sale was delayed for about 12 years, but come 1921, all of the 900 residents had been kicked out and the town was flooded and gone forever.

Based on newspaper clippings, photographs, anecdotes, and her own imaginings of the folks of Warren, Maryland, Kolakowski weaves Warren back together, single-handedly, fascinatingly, restoring the image of the town her grandmother called home as a girl.

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