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Culture of the Book
By Kevin Marchand, Connections Intern
Prodigals: Stories by Greg Jackson
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Writers like Greg Jackson continue to prove that the short story form is not dead. In his forthcoming debut collection, Prodigals, Jackson has strung together eight mind-shattering stories, a number of which formerly appeared in such publications as The New Yorker, Granta, and Virginia Quarterly Review. With sentences that drive on for half a page, and a lyricism you can almost taste, Jackson’s characters navigate the deceivingly mudded waters of today’s privileged elite. Out of the eight stories, six are told from the first-person perspective, and frankly, these narrators leave nothing unsaid. As readers, we are privy to every moment of their spiritual and philosophical unraveling, and we accompany them as their relationship to reality becomes more and more fragile, their disequilibrium increasingly jarring.
The terms of the ensuing ride are set in the opening sentence of the first story, “Wagner in the Desert” (previously published to much fanfare in The New Yorker). “First we did molly,” the narrator explains, “lay on the thick carpet touching the pile, ourselves, one another.” At this point we know to buckle up, and Jackson doesn’t disappoint. He keeps the pedal to the medal in every story, barely leaving enough room for breathing. Indeed, by the end of most these stories, it can feel like one has just run a marathon. So in the event of profuse sweating, don’t be alarmed—you are not alone.
Jackson demonstrates a fondness for picking his characters up by their ears and plopping them down in settings they did not entirely ask for, with people they do not necessarily want to be with. And, predictably, this technique tends to create immediate tension, a tension Jackson sustains line to line, page to page. In perhaps the most obvious case, “Epithalamium,” the protagonist, Hara, a youngish woman in the midst of a semi-mutual divorce, arrives at her beach house to find a stranger—a college-aged, free-spirited young woman, named Lyric—living in her home. Hara wanted time alone, and now, she’s got to deal with the presence of a young woman who could not be more different than her, and in turn serves as a constant reminder of all the aspects of Hara’s own personality that she is hoping to avoid. With his unique characters and his dazzling use of language, Jackson holds us rapt as the situation continues to escalate in the most unexpected ways.
In the final story, “Metanarrative Breakdown,” the narrator describes a feeling that over the summer he has “been on increasingly intimate terms with . . . A vertigo of disconnection.” If I had to pick a prevailing theme that carries through from “Wagner in the Desert” to “Metanarrative Breakdown,” it would have to be this: disconnection. Although almost all the characters in Prodigals are financially well-to-do—or at the very least, comfortable—they are all spiritually bankrupt. And this, it seems, is the point Greg Jackson is trying to make about our current predicament. It is becoming increasingly difficult to connect, really connect—to feel fulfilled. In “Tanner’s Sisters,” Jackson’s narrator announces, “I don’t think I’ve ever been present with another person as deeply as I was in that moment.” For him, this is everything; for each of Jackson’s characters, this is what they long for. Yet, in most cases, they fail. Frequently, it is a challenge to pin down precisely why it is that these characters can’t seem to connect, but it’s all too clear that their hold on life—their notion of existence—is dauntingly and increasingly “tenuous.”
These eight stories that make up Prodigals are remarkably unsettling and shockingly beautiful. Philosophically uprooting and spiritually crucial. Greg Jackson probes the very depths of our existence, highlighting the ever-lingering sense of discontent that’s always waiting to strike, shall we let our guard down and look past the hidden beauty of a life that so often appears to be anything but.
Hotels of North America, by Rick Moody
Rick Moody’s latest novel is the story of a one Reginald Edward Morse, a top reviewer on RateYourLodging.com. The novel is told through a series of Morse’s online reviews of hotels over several years. Each review offers its own story, while slowly building a larger narrative that gets pieced together through a series of revelations that come out over time in the postings. On the surface, Moody’s book is wildly funny, but once you settle in deeper, you find a very moving and brilliant account of what it means to search for dignity and love and family.
The Heart, by Maylis de Kerangal
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Originally published in France in 2014, The Heart (Réparer les vivants) was a widely lauded, including winning the Grand Prix RTL-Lire, and the Student Choice Novel of the Year. The novel, artfully translated by Sam Taylor, takes place over a twenty-four-hour period, from the moment of a fatal accident to the heart that is harvested from the victim and then transplanted. Stylistically, the prose explodes off the page, reflecting the urgency of the situation, where any and every pause is a question of life and death.
Interview conducted by Jacquelyn Voghel, Connections Intern
Hannah Goodall is the Learning Commons Coordinator, and has been at RWU for 2 years.
Hannah is currently reading The Martian by Andy Weir, which tells the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut who becomes stranded on Mars after his crew, assuming he is dead, evacuates the planet without him. Alone in a hostile environment, Mark must use all of his resources and scientific knowledge to accomplish the daunting task of returning home.
Hannah decided to read the novel after seeing a trailer for its movie adaptation, which was directed by Ridley Scott and stars Matt Damon. Hannah praised the novel for its use of humor, and expressed that while the movie looks impressive, she is confident that the book is even better.
Hannah regards J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series as among her favorite books. She was 11 years old when the first Harry Potter book was published, and she ardently followed the series as each new book came out, even taking two days off from work in order to have time to finish the final book without interruption. Although the series has now concluded, Hannah continues to reread books four through seven nearly every summer.
Aside from Harry Potter, Hannah also counts The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald as among her most memorable reads. She read both books as a teenager, but has since revisited them. While Hannah was initially lukewarm toward The Great Gatsby, it has since taken on new meaning to her.
For her next read, Hannah plans to pick up Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance: An Investigation. Ansari is an actor and comedian known for his work on shows such as Parks and Recreation as well as his stand-up comedy, and his book examines the interplay between technology and romance today.
Hannah was introduced to the works of David Sedaris when she read his book Me Talk Pretty One Day, and would now recommend any of his works. She recalls that the book was so humorous that she laughed out loud while reading it in public, and now regards Sedaris as her favorite author. In addition to his books, Hannah also called Sedaris’ personal essays “hilarious and also insightful and moving.”
The Givenness of Things, by Marilynne Robinson
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Marilynne Robinson’s new collection offers seventeen essays that probe the state of humanism, theology, and morality in our contemporary culture. Readers who know Robinson through her fiction (Housekeeping, the Pulitzer Prize winning Gilead) will not be surprised at the depth and intellect that Robinson brings to her essays (a thoughtfulness well on display in the November 5 issue of the New York Review of Books, in which Robinson is interviewed by President Obama on many of the issues addressed The Givenness of Things). In looking forward to the book, we will expect to find ourselves in states of contemplation, in states of rage, and in states of hope.
The Fate of Ideas: Seductions, Betrayals, Appraisals, by Robert Boyers
Columbia University Press
In his most current book, noted literary and cultural critic Robert Boyers brings us essays that are as much criticism as they are memoir. As someone who has been on the frontlines of much of the intellectual culture of the past half-century, Boyers is able to take his experiences with some of the great minds of the last century and fuse them into personal essays that address specific ideas that permeate our contemporary culture, asking why some fade into fashions of the time while others define us.
By Lindsey Gumb, Instructional Technology Librarian
Hopefully by now you know that you can borrow books from the University Library (you do know that, right!?), but did you also know there’s another great resource that provides free and discounted e-books for you to download directly to your e-reader? Introducing, BookBub, a service that will send you daily emails with either free or greatly discounted ($.99-$2.99) e-books that can be instantly downloaded to any device (think Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Android). The best part: even the free books are yours to keep! That’s right, unlike borrowing titles from the library, these books are yours to enjoy forever. The expert editorial staff at Bookbub serves up bestsellers and noteworthy reads every single day, but don’t hesitate if a book catches your eye! These deals are limited-time offers and usually expire within a few days. Bookbub is free to join, and you can edit your preferences to match the type of deals you’re interested in receiving, with dozens of categories to choose from. Biographies? Check. Sci-fi? Check. Romance? Check. Cookbooks? Check!
With your busy class schedules it may seem like pleasure reading is a thing of the past, but when things calm down, why not let Bookbub select and deliver your first free read; we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Students, faculty and staff are always asking the Learning Commons Librarians and Staff for suggestions about what books to read.
Here is a list of what we are currently reading and some of our favorite summer reads.
Betsy Peck Learned, Interim Dean of University Libraries
My current read is Euphoria by Lily King. It is a fictional account of the early life of Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, studying tribes in New Guinea.
My favorite summer read was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. She’s an amazing writer who tells a very dark and dramatic but human story of a boy named Theo who spends his life both trying to find and lose himself.
Susan McMullen, Professor – Research Services & User Engagement Librarian
I’m currently reading The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes. Through her vividly drawn characters and brilliant storytelling, JoJo Moyes immediately engages her readers in an emotional ride that spans two time frames and locations—a small village in France during the German occupation of World War I and modern-day London. In this gorgeous story of unwavering love and sacrifice, the romantic narratives of two compelling women are bound together through a fictional painting named The Girl You Left Behind. Their stories of love and sacrifice take the reader on a journey that explores the complexities of the human spirit and the power of art to resonate through the ages. Moyes has a unique talent for grabbing the reader’s attention and writing a story that makes a lasting impression.
Karen Jones Ethier, Director of Support Services – Information Technology
My current read is The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling.
My favorite is a tie:
- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: Fiction
- The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion: Fiction
I loved The Goldfinch because her writing just swept me right into the story and I loved The Rosie Project because it made me laugh out loud!
Lindsey Gumb, Instructional Technology Librarian
I’m currently reading No More Mulberries by Mary Smith (women’s fiction).
So far, this is a beautifully written novel about a Scottish-born midwife who finds herself married, widowed and remarried in Afghanistan amidst the civil war in 1995. She must learn to cope with the loss of her first husband while raising her two children and navigating her new marriage of convenience and her career as a midwife in a country with little to no resources.
My favorite summer read is Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman (fiction).
I just finished reading this book, and Aciman’s poetic writing moved me to tears and made my heart ache when I realized I had come to the end of this epically beautiful story of love and loss set in Italy. I’ve downloaded his next book Harvard Square, and can’t wait to delve in.
Barbara Kenney, Professor, Instructional Services and Campus Initiatives Librarian
My current read is 1776 (audiobook) by David McCullough. Listening to the author tell the thrilling and improbable story of the year our country was born is pure delight. It is a timely reminder that freedom comes at a cost, we should never take for granted that freedom, and the people who founded our country were dedicated patriots, something we could use more of these days.
My favorite (all-time) summer read: Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. For four summers, I listened to the author narrate these beautifully written, interwoven tales of life, love and the natural world in an Appalachian summer. I love this book!
John Schlinke, Architecture/Art Librarian
I’m currently reading The Island of Knowledge by Marcelo Gleiser. It is an exploration of the limits of scientific knowledge.
Nancy Jannitto, Learning Commons Administrative Assistant
Current read: Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand. I love the way she writes. It is about a woman who is planning her wedding on Nantucket Island and everything that goes wrong. It’s also very funny.
Favorite summer read: The Liar by Nora Roberts. This book had my attention from the beginning. It is about a woman who gets pregnant young and marries a man who she eventually finds out is not what he appears to be.
Linda Beith, Director of Instructional Design
I just finished Me Before You by JoJo Moyes—a romantic novel—so heartbreaking! It’s a love story but gives the reader a lot to think about around loving yourself as well (or more!) as another and the right to choose how you live.
My favorite summer read is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier— a gothic novel. I know it’s old but I enjoy revisiting it and the beautiful Manderley.
Mary Wu, Digital Scholarship and Metadata Librarian
I am fond of the classics. Right now I’m reading Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, recommended to me by my oldest son. Not long ago, I read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and saw outlines of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, though they are set nearly two centuries apart. So, my son may have thought it interesting to read a book about the Russian Revolution together with one about the French Revolution, to consider why one revolution led to a free, democratic France, while the other created a totalitarian Soviet regime.
Chris Truszkowski, Web and Digital Services Specialist
I’m reading Nemesis Games by James S. A. Corey. The fifth book in a series described as “the science fictional equivalent of A Song of Ice and Fire,” Nemesis Games sees a thousand new worlds opened up to humanity. During the initial waves of colonization, old governments start to buckle, ships go missing, private armies come to power and the crew of a small ship just wants to make it home through all of this.
Hannah Goodall, Learning Commons Coordinator
My current read is An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. My favorite summer read is The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. The Lotus Eaters is about an American female journalist in Saigon during the Vietnam War. I read this the summer after I had finished traveling in Southeast Asia so I felt a bit more connected to the places the book describes. I also liked the story of a lone female photojournalist in a man’s world and war, with a hint of a love story.
Stop in at the University Library for more recommendations and to check out some great books!
In the Shadow of the Banyan explores the Cambodian people’s resilience and perseverance despite forced exodus into labor camps, torture and starvation brought on by the rise of the Khmer Rouge – which killed at least 1.7 million people – through the eyes of a 7-year-old-girl. Composed with poetic language and mythical tales, the story reveals that young Raami’s privileged existence – protected within the walls of her family’s royal compound – is far from what others were experiencing in the cities and countryside across Cambodia in the mid 1970s. But as the communist revolution sweeps the country, their royal bloodline cannot insulate them from the rebellion, and Raami’s family joins in the fight to survive.
Published in 2012, the book mirrors Ratner’s experiences as a young girl who lived through the communist uprising in Cambodia.
“By viewing the story through the eyes of a young character, students will be able to make a connection to historical events that may be far from their experiences, but in a way that allows them to envision themselves in that story,” says Director of the University Honors Program Becky Spritz, a member of the Common Reading Committee. “Fiction allows us to not distance ourselves from events that we’re reading about, and instead, to connect and be pulled into the story.”
In choosing a work of fiction that chronicles real events, the Common Reading Committee hopes to instill an appreciation of global perspectives and different cultures while exposing students to social justice issues that are endemic around the world, Spritz says.
The Common Reading program is an important part of the First Year Experience at RWU. First Year Experience programming will be focused on encouraging students to experience academic engagement inside and outside the classroom, learn to think critically, value service and civic engagement, and use services and resources that will make them successful student scholars.
Throughout the academic year, the University will explore In the Shadow of the Banyan through a series of events, including a visit to Roger Williams University from author Vaddey Ratner on Tuesday, October 13, at 7 p.m.
(Special thanks to the Common Reading Committee who were involved in the selection of this book: faculty members Becky Spritz, W. Brett McKenzie, Charlotte Carrington-Farmer, Jeremy Campbell and Paola Prado; as well as Feinstein College of Arts and Sciences Dean Robert Eisinger. via Allison Chase Padula, Associate Dean of Student Life)
Be sure to check out the exhibit in the University Library lobby. It showcases the last 10 years of Common Reading texts. The exhibit will run until October 19th.
By Alexandria Wojtanowski ‘15, Connections Intern
Parallax: And Selected Poems by Sinéad Morrissey
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
After having been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize on three different occasions, Belfast’s first Poet Laureate, Sinéad Morrissey, finally received the 2013 award for her fifth collection of poems, Parallax. But this should not have been a surprise to UK readers. Prior to the 2013 T.S. Eliot Prize, Morrissey had received the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award in 1990; the Michael Hartnett Poetry Prize in 2005; a Lannan Literary Fellowship in 2007; first prize in a U.K. National Poetry Competition in 2007; and the Irish Times/Poetry Now Award in 2010.
With Parallax: And Selected Poems, American audiences now get a proper introduction to the poetry of Sinéad Morrissey. Parallax: And Selected Poems includes works from Morrissey’s Between Here and There (2000), The State of the Prisons (2005), and Through the Square Window (2009) that allow a reader unfamiliar with Morrissey’s writing to trace the progression of her poetic exploration (the uncomfortable state of being present), concluding with the complete Parallax (2013), the prize winning collection that refuses the safety of obscurity.
It is in these present moments that Morrissey handles spatial perception and examines the way space is necessary in order for one to perceive—something introduced in the title Between Here and There. Morrissey re-shapes reality—into corners and dents; it’s weaved and spooled—to always point to something seemingly paradox: we see better with our eyes closed.
Morrissey maneuvers The State of the Prisons with risk—through sound, line, and syntax,—and, with great confidence. Her lines written with definiteness, are lines the reader must stew over: “Like trying to survive / without our oppressive / inside us / when opposites equal life” (“The Emperor’s Classic”). She demonstrates her commitment to the needs of the poem—clear throughout “China,” which is at first startlingly noisy and comprised of short punchy lines and sentence fragments. Morrissey exercises the versatility of line and syntax as the nine sections of “China” reveal their shape.
Morrissey is commanding in her quiet restlessness. It is immediately established in the first poem in Through the Square Window through high-tension line breaks and diction: “the dead / so bored by now of being // dead they flock to gawk— / sanctuary was still sanctuary / except more so, with the inside / holding flickeringly, and the / outside clamouring in” (“Storm”). These lines assign the reader as an uneasy witness.
In Parallax Morrissey’s unsayability reaches a new magnitude, especially as honesty is expressed through silence: “listening, listening hard, / to—at most—rhythmical breathing / but more often than not to nothing, the air / of the landing thick with something missed” (“Baltimore”). Through playing with the space of silence—tender in approach—Morrissey also plays with the space on every page—a liberating style that continuously engages the reader. At the completion of Parallax, the reader cannot simply exit the collection; Morrissey’s unsayability lingers, as does the reader’s newly-discovered uneasy curiosity.
After reading Parallax: And Selected Poems, readers will feel inspired—not just to produce art, but to travel and to re-examine the way they experience the world. The book is a celebration of the physical world and of human spirit, just as much as it is an absolute celebration of poetry.
By Ryan Monahan, Connections Intern
The New World: A Novel by Chris Adrian & Eli Horowitz
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Chris Adrian (Gob’s Grief, The Children’s Hospital, and The Great Night), and Eli Horowitz (a contributor to The Silent History), have collaborated to co-author The New World, a science-fiction novel about everlasting life, love, and promises. What happens when two talented writers with literary sensibilities take to the page together? They produce a cerebral thrill-ride of a novel that pushes the limits of reality.
The novel opens with Dr. Jane Cotton, a pediatric surgeon, receiving tragic news: her husband Jim, an atheistic chaplain, has suddenly died. According to his wishes, an ominous cryogenics company called Polaris removed his head after death and stored it, frozen, to be revived in the distant future. Jane, distraught and abandoned, fights and rages against Polaris to return Jim’s head to her so he might die as nature intended. The narrative jumps back and forth between Jane in the present and Jim, hundreds of years into the future. After what feels like a brief sleep, he awakens in a halfway-home for similarly frozen people. He learns that to move on to the new world, everybody must completely abandon their past lives and memories. Both Jim and Jane face identical challenges to forget and move on from one another, but their deep history together restrains them. With centuries now dividing them, they both grapple with the challenges of eternal faithfulness and the importance of promises, an almost universal human challenge.
Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz’s intriguing new novel captivates the reader with their intricately detailed vision of the future of human consciousness. Despite the scientific fantasy of cryogenics and eternal life, the two authors touch on many contemporary and timeless topics: intimacy; true love; grief; promises; and faithfulness. Together, the two authors have created a masterpiece of life and loss; of happiness and despair. The New World is worth a read for any with an open mind and open heart.