january books

1. The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

I finally finished the Neapolitan Novels (about a year after everyone else) and I cannot get them out of my mind. I have started thinking of people in my life in terms of characters in the novels (i.e. he's being so Pietro right now). But more than that, I cannot get out of my mind the sort of "literary truth" that Ferrante speaks of in her interview with The Paris Review, the sense of unapologetic honesty in the world she creates, and particularly in the character of Elena. To be that intimate with a female mind felt like an awakening to my own mind, my own anger, fear, and desire that I often avoid confronting. I still have much more to process about these books.

2. Netherland by Joseph O'Neill

If I hadn't also read Ferrante this month, Netherland would be without a doubt the best book I read (and possibly still is). I started it knowing little about it except that it gestured towards The Great Gatsby while being set in post-9/11 NYC. The novel is narrated by Hans van den Broek, who finds himself in NYC with a failed marriage and "an instinctive recognition of an awful enfeebling fatalism, a sense that the great outcomes were but randomly connected to endeavors, that life was beyond mending, that nothing worth saying was sayable, that dullness was general, that disintegration was irresistible." You get the point. The story masterfully investigates the nature of despair and loss, and O'Neill's prose itself is worth the read.

3. Hammer Is the Prayer: Selected Poems by Christian Wiman

For a poet who doesn't believe in collected poems—because of how rare good poetry is—it is a funny thing to read their own collection of selected poems. Though I have read many of them before, it was a strange comfort to return to these poems, a sort of familiar space. I was especially delighted to re-read "Small Prayer in the Hard Wind," "2047 Grace Street," "We Lived," and "Hard Night."

4. The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner

A kind friend sent this book to A. and I over Christmas, having just read it himself. Not too unlike Hans in Netherland, the narrator of The Spectator Bird finds himself facing old age having fallen into a profession he did not want and a marriage that has become dull, not to mention that his only son died as a young man and left him without ancestors or descendants. Striving to find meaning in life, he returns to an old journal he kept while traveling to Denmark, which forces him to confront whether or not he had "gone through adult life glancing desperately sidelong in hope of diversion, rescue, transfiguration." He refused his one chance at just such a transfiguration, and in doing so, realizes that commitments—though not without pain—trump impulses.

5. Literacy and Justice Through Photography: A Classroom Guide by Wendy Ewald, Katie Hyde, and Lisa Lord

I am taking a course on the Literacy Through Photography curriculum this semester and couldn't be happier about it. We are reading this classroom guide and using it with students in Durham Public Schools. I have been a long-time fan of LTP and am excited to finally have a chance to get some hands-on experience. This is a great resource that I am sure I will keep returning to over the years.

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