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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
What We’re Reading
Rebekah Bergman (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): After reading (and becoming enamored with) Elena Ferrante’s novel The Days of Abandonment earlier this year, I started the first of her three “Neapolitan Novels,” My Brilliant Friend. The series follows two girls from Naples through childhood and into adulthood as their friendship and identities are challenged, stifled, and nourished by familial and societal expectations. Ferrante is an elusive figure. Though she (he?) has 9 novels to her name, the Italian author writes under a pseudonym and refuses to make public appearance. This, I think, serves her immensely. She holds nothing back from her portrayal of gender and culture and her writing is able to truly speak for itself. My Brilliant Friend is a deeply intimate portrayal—not only of Lila and Elena, but of their families, their city, and the changing world of the 1950s. It lacks the intense, psychological drama of the scorned lover in Days of Abandonment, but its power is more subtle and therefore, I expect, more sustainable over the course of the two subsequent books. I will soon find out if this is true. When I finished My Brilliant Friend, I bought the second novel in the series immediately.
Sophia Archibald (Editorial Intern, Tin House Books): I just started You Don’t Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem, and I can already tell it’s gonna be a good one. Even when he is not writing about fantastical worlds or occurrences, Lethem always has an element of magic in his words. This book exposes the magic and paradoxes of love, with music as its core. An unnamed band ties most of the main characters together, two of whom recently broke up but are still playing nice. Lucinda, one half of this former duo, develops an odd relationship with a regular voice on The Complaint Line, where she works answering phone calls. I have barely scratched the surface, but the characters, dialogue, and even exposition are already rich and captivating. I can’t wait to delve deeper.
Molly Dickinson (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): In Cadaver, Speak Marianne Boruch has a distinct way of capturing a preoccupation with the past—not just a personal past but the past, the distant Roman past, the artistic past, the spiritual past—while rooting it in what is in some ways one of the most uniquely present objects: the physical, living, or recently living, body. She conceives of the body as more than a physical casing to be inspected in an anatomy class. It is a vessel for self-reflection and wisdom; it is a source of meditation and truth. I was drawn to Boruch’s collection because of my own attachments to the body, in all its gruesome details, and I stuck around for her ability to call our attention to the unnoticeable ways we build intimacy with the world around us. Cadaver, Speak is both a book that connects us to our surroundings and a wonderful source of thoughtful isolation and meditation.
Miles Jochem (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): In a throwback to my freshman humanities class at college, I have been reading The Iliad (tr. Richmond Lattimore). It’s amazing how well the story of the strong-greaved Achaians, swift-footed Achilleus, and Hektor, breaker of horses holds up by modern standards (and I love me some Homeric epithets!). Sure, there are dry moments. All but the most stalwart classicist will be bored to tears by the catalogue of ships. But there’s more than enough excitement to counterbalance the mustier of the epic conventions. Lust-driven, jealous gods fighting over arrogant, adulterous kings, more epic battle scenes than all the Die Hard movies combined, and the downright soap opera that plays out between angry Achilleus and proud Agamemnon over a pilfered girlfriend all combine to ensure the millennia-enduring popularity of Homer’s great poem.
Allyson Paty (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): I’ve never read anything quite like Mei-Mei Berrsenbrugge’s Hello, the Roses. The poems have an essayistic quality in their deliberate, attentive movement. However, unlike many discursive modes, Berrsenbrugge’s poems don’t seem preoccupied with fixing an idea in language; rather, language provides a medium for the material world to open out into sensation, emotion, and thought. Her images evoking the experience of sight as crisply as they evoke their referents.
Take this passage from “Pure Immanence”:
It makes of my experience a critique of innateness, the way a pink plastic chair, a mannequin in a pink bunny suit holding a painting of sunset accretes virtual rouge defining a space that doesn’t refer to objects or belong to me.
I could mistake it for something fractal, shattered; it’s the opposite of that.
No matter how close to two sensations, passing from one to another pink is the slice through.
Innateness spreads like sunset across mountains.
I connect with sensation now as to pink petals forming toward me, those who love me in another life responding to me
There’s no time, so at sunset love from others can look like one rose.