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What We’re Reading

 

Desiderata

Heather Hartley (Paris Editor, Tin House Magazine):Poet and screenwriter Jacques Prévert wrote, “Even if happiness forgets you a little bit, never completely forget about it.” These past weeks I’ve been reading Paroles: Selected Poems with translations by Lawrence Ferlinghetti from the City Lights Pocket Poets Series. Prévert’s poems are unadorned and vibrant and often talk about Paris just after Second World War and many of his titles make their own heady spring impression—“To Paint a Picture of a Bird,” “The Red Horse,” “Breakfast,”“The Return to the Country,”  “Birds, At Random,” and “Sleeping In.” In English or French, Prévert’s poems make for lovely company on a terrace or in a writer’s study or on a park bench.

Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer): I’m rereading Tom McCarthy’s Remainder, a novel about a man who endeavors to feel authentic through increasingly bizarre reenactments of the mundane. After an accident, the details of which he is not allowed to disclose, he finds himself hyperaware of (and displeased with) the way in which he moves through the world. He uses his settlement money to buy and renovate a tenement building, which he inhabits with a staff of characters, cast from a vision. In orchestrating this environment, he tries for moments of pure ease and grace, moments in which he feels a slight buzz of the sublime. I return to Remainder again and again for McCarthy’s odd story and engaging prose, but also because I relate to the protagonist and his obsessive drive for authenticity far more than I’d like to admit.

Meg Storey (Editor, Tin House Books): At the 2005 Tin House Writer’s Workshop, I bought a copy of Charles D’Ambrosio’s debut collection, The Point, had him sign it, read it (or so I have assumed for many years), and tucked it away in my bookshelves. This fall, Tin House Books will publish an expanded edition of D’Ambrosio’s essay collection and so, a couple of weekends ago, I decided to reread The Point. Turns out, I hadn’t read it—it’s been sitting on my shelves for so long, I just assumed I had. It also turns out that The Point surprised me. I’ve read the stories in the second collection, The Dead Fish Museum, several times (of this, I am 100% certain), and the earlier stories feel different to me—grittier, seedier, sparser, though still carefully crafted and emotionally poignant. D’Ambrosio’s work has been described as “tightly controlled,” but for me The Point was almost claustrophobic, in that it hit closer to home: many of the stories are set in Seattle—a Seattle that no longer exists, that has already changed in the ways that I am now watching Portland change—and several of them feature characters struggling with the idea of faith and how Catholicism defines a family (like D’Ambrosio, I grew up in a Catholic family). But the claustrophobia was comforting, somehow, like the blanket I was wrapped in as I lay on my couch reading, occasionally looking up at my bookshelves and wondering how many other of my books I only assume I’ve read.

Tony Perez (Editor, Tin House Books): As I wait for contracts to be signed, and prepare to dig into edits on a (great!) new memoir, I’m reading Sven Birkerts contribution to Graywolf’s unflaggingly excellent “The Art of” series, The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again. He crystalizes what I appreciate about the genre and the type of books I find myself drawn to, and he’s instructive about weaving “the now and then (or many thens)” to approximate the “sensation of lived experience, of recollection merging into the ongoing business of living.”

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