#FridayReads for 2/14/14

Self HelpChristina Harrington (Managing Editor) is reading Self-Help, by Lorrie Moore.

I don’t know how I’ve come this far in my life without reading a short story collection by Lorrie Moore. The stories in this book are melancholic, and sharply written. Moore’s humor, the humor she’s famous for, shines through wordplay and sarcasm, while underneath all of it a sadness creeps and invades. The characters in these stories are both self-aware and yet ignore their own self-awareness. Two stories in particular that I can’t seem to let go of are “What is Seized” and “How to Talk to Your Mother (Notes)”. Both are mother-daughter stories, a theme that isn’t explored often enough, in my own opinion. “Seized” is traditionally structured and revolves around a grown daughter trying to better understand her own emotionally turbulent upbringing. “Mother” moves backwards through the protagonist’s life, sectioning the story into years (starting with 1982 and ending with 1939) and meditates on the state of the relationship between the protagonist and her mother within that given year. The decisions of these characters in both stories leave me cringing. Regret is a theme throughout this whole book, and one that speaks with a clear voice. I’m always looking for stories and books that cut me to the core of myself, that force me to look at my own life and actions, that help me to better understand the emotional nuance in good fiction writing. In this regard, Self-Help is well titled.

A Death in the FamilyDevin Kelly (Assistant Editor, Nonfiction) is reading A Death in the Family by James Agee.

I picked up James Agee’s A Death in the Family for the first time in a long time. Perhaps best known for his nonfiction collaborative work with Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Agee died before finishing his final draft of A Death in the Family, but the novel itself is gorgeous, subtle, Southern writing. It’s hard to find contemporary work so steeped in this kind of empathy and tenderness. The edition includes a nonfiction prologue piece titled Knoxville: Summer 1915, which is a brief but moving reflection on boyhood, manhood, and family. I have read it over time and again, and it’s hard to find any piece of American writing that contains its cathartic and poetic language in such a tight space. Agee writes, “Who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth,” and the question has been lingering in my mind throughout the days of reading the novel itself. It’s a brilliant, beautiful sentiment. It strives for empathy, and I think that is what being an author is about – trying to know others, understand them, and express their wants and desires. Agee does this in flowing prose. It’s undeniably sad and beautiful, and I think a must read for those trying to get a grasp on both the American and human condition.

If I Should SayRachel Lake (Senior Reader, Poetry) is reading If I Should Say I Have Hope> by Lynn Melnick.

Lynn Melnick’s work first attracted my attention at a reading in New York City. Her words are captivating. Almost of its own accord, the last $20 bill from my wallet wiggled its way into Melnick’s hand in exchange for her debut poetry collection, If I Should Say I Have Hope. I read greedily. Beautiful, honest, and brooding, Melnick’s poetry speaks to its audience in layers, stripping away the cynicism and sun-bleached window dressing, digging into the core of what it means to be human. Melnick embraces the sentimental in an era of poetry that has grown suspicious of admitting emotion at the risk of sounding too confessional, too raw; and it is so refreshing to read someone who writes frankly. There simply isn’t any better way to end a review of If I Should Say I Have Hope than to conclude with an excerpt from Melnick’s work: “The word for me is drastic and the word/ for you is ghost. And what has name/ I love still: this is what want has done.”