Poets You Should Know

You like poetry. But don’t spend that much time with it. You know Frost. You know Whitman. Maybe you know Mary Oliver, or Billy Collins. If you’d like to spend a little more time with it, here are some contemporary poets we think are worth knowing.

Ada Limon writes poems grounded in our world that contain an intimate vulnerability. Her poetry lays bare her love, fear, anger, and happiness in language that feels like someone confiding in an old friend. In each poem the author explores her life with you, asking for your trust. She’s been the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and a finalist for the National Book Award. Her latest is The Carrying: Poems.

Tracy K. Smith‘s poems contain a serenity and elegance about profound, and sometimes difficult topics. They have a lyrical beauty on their surfaces, but underneath is the vast weight of history, both political, and personal. She’s less a lecturer and more of a revealer, pulling back the curtain, inviting us to inhabit the lives of others. She is a former U.S. poet laureate, and host of The Slowdown, a daily poetry podcast, and of winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Her latest is Wade in the Water: Poems.

Ted Kooser crafts poems full of tender moments in clean, simple compositions that draw attention to those small, uncategorized experiences in life that we often forget. Kooser accumulates these objects, feelings, and scenes with a soft, casual tone, producing poems of deep sincerity. And while many of the poems illustrate the mundane, the everyday, the unremarkable, Kooser is able to tease out the nostalgia, warmth, empathy, and reminiscences of things in life we rarely stop to ponder. He is a former U.S. poet laureate and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. His latest is Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems.

-Mike M.

Re-imaginings, or famous mystery writers who end up in other authors’ books

Death in a Desert Land by Andrew Wilson

Baghdad, 1928. The explorer and writer, Gertrude Bell, died of a presumed overdose in the city of Ur.  But did she really take her own life, or was she killed?  A letter has recently surfaced in which Bell expressed the fear that her life was in danger.  At the request of her friend at the British Intelligence Service, Agatha Christie travels to Ur to investigate.  When she arrives, she discovers a group gathered at the archaeological dig whose secrets and motives rival those of Christie’s own characters.  There is, indeed, a killer in the camp, and Agatha must race to discover the culprit even as more violence takes place.

London Rain by Nicola Upson

 London, 1937.  Best selling writer and playwright, Josephine Tey, is in London to supervise a BBC production of her play, Queen of Scots.  When one of the BBC’s best-known broadcasters is murdered, Josephine’s friend, Detective Chief Inspector, Archie Penrose, asks her to help with the investigation.  Shortly thereafter, another murder occurs, and this time the victim is the lead in Josephine’s play, and the mistress of the dead broadcaster.  With Archie’s attention taken up by another case, Josephine works to determine if adultery and jealousy led to the murders, or if there are older, more complex motives at work. 

-Marilyn B.

Slow Tech

Slow Tech: The Perfect Antidote to Today’s Digital World: Forge, Carve, Weave, Mould, Ignite, by Peter Ginn

Our world is largely digital and it moves fast.  There is a recent crop of books on the beauty and power of slowing down and working with one’s hands.  One of these is Slow Tech by the British archaeologist and historian Peter Ginn.  “Forge-Carve-Weave-Mould-Ignite” emblazon the cover as a sampling of the fundamental technologies he explores.  The book is structured around materials, with sections devoted to Fire, Earth, Wood, Stone, and Water.  Most of the projects are given 2-4 heavily illustrated pages.  These mini-chapters include “The art of smithing,” “Smelting,” “Make a Coil Pot,” “Wattle and Daub,” “Make a loom and weave cloth,” “Distil scented oil,” and “Steam-powered toy boat.”  I have put none of these projects to the test for clarity of explanation or efficacy of instruction, but browsing the book is a pleasure in its own right.  It makes one hungry to do something with one’s hands.

Primitive Technology: A Survivalist’s Guide to Building Tools, Shelters, and More in the Wild, by John Plant

This book on working with the hands was born directly of the digital world.  The Australian John Plant became a YouTube star with his Primitive Technology channel, which has 10 million subscribers and an average of 5 million views per video.  Unlike Slow Tech it is geared specifically to wilderness survival with the most primitive of tools.  Chapters are structured around neither technologies (forge, carve, weave) nor materials (fire, earth, wood), but around the necessities of life: Heat, Hunt, Clothing, Shelter, and Basic and Advanced Toolkits.  Illustrations include both drawings and photographs.  Having watched a handful of Plant’s videos, I found it hard to see them reduced to a handful of photographs.  The book is a smaller format than Slow Tech and not as lavishly illustrated.  But it remains a fascinating window onto the rudiments of turning just about nothing into the minimal tools and materials necessary to survive in the wilderness.

Victorinox: Swiss Army Knife: Whittling Book; Fun, Easy-to-Make Projects With Your Swiss Army Knife, by Chris Lubkemann

Despite an unhealthy proliferation of subtitles, this is a charming little book on the pleasures of whittling.  One of the oldest forms of self-amusement with the hands, whittling requires nothing but a stick and a sharp knife.  The book begins with a guide to swiss army knives, both a brief historical overview and selection of knife exotica (the Swiss Champ XAVT has 118 implements), and a guide to choosing a more practical knife for one’s own use. The rest of the book consists of projects to be carved from sticks and twigs: crochet hooks, alligators, hens, jewelry trees, and bristly-tailed squirrels.  It’s a practical little guide, with none of the deep romanticism of the other two books.  They are built on a yearning for what is fundamental in human life.  This teaches you how to make a chicken from a branch.  It is diverting and fun and probably a great occasional alternative to Netflix.

-Jared J.

Noteworthy Graphic Novels

Zahra’s Paradise by Amir and Kahlil

This graphic novel was first serialized in the form of a webcomic in 2010. The story is set in 2009 in Iran following the contentious national elections that took place there. Medhi, a student activist, goes missing after the demonstrations that followed the election. Medhi’s mother and brother, along with friends, initiate an epic mission to find him, knowing very well that he could be seriously injured or even dead. This graphic novel highlights the power of individual perseverance, especially in the character of the protestor’s mother, who will stop at nothing to find her son. This book is not for the faint of heart as there are some gruesome moments that call for reader caution. However, such moments highlight the unjust political atmosphere in which the characters live. Some reviewers have praised this work, comparing it to the illustrious Maus books by graphic novel genius, Art Spiegelman. 

Epileptic by David B.

This engrossing graphic novel caught my attention with its rigorous, stark, expressionistic illustrations, as well as its touching story that describes a family desperately searching for a cure for their epileptic child. The book is a complicated work that deals with themes as diverse as contemporary French history, to holistic medical remedies, to the psychological dynamics of sibling relationships. The artwork is rendered in a frantic, symbolic way that takes the reader to the haunting atmosphere of David B.’s emotions (which at first glance seem to mimic a type of madness) as he struggles to comprehend the pain that his brother endures daily. The story of the family caring for the epileptic, and the author’s hardships as both friend and caregiver, carry the reader through a dreamlike, hallucinatory visual world. If a reader chooses to explore the works of David B., they should think about starting with this autobiographical piece before checking-out any of his more abstract and fictional titles, such as Incidents in the Night and Black Paths.

-Peter A.

Women Journalists

by Matthew Goodman

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World

Two women determined to beat the record set in Jules Verne’s novel, going in opposite directions, recorded their quests for two rival New York publications in 1889.  Their journeys captivated the public and catapulted the two women – both who were already successful writers but came from very different backgrounds – into the spotlight.   

by Nancy Caldwell Sorel

The Women Who Wrote the War

Caldwell tells the story of a small, but determined, group of women journalists who risked their lives to report from the front lines of World War II.  Some names may be familiar (Margaret Bourke-White and Martha Gellhorn), but the stories from those who were unfamiliar are what really made this book one I could not put down. 

by Sheila Weller

The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News

A look at what are arguably three of the biggest female television journalists from the late 1990s and 2000s.   

-Megan C.

Impeachment: Some Guides

by Brenda Wineapple

The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation – When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated Andrew Johnson became the president of the United States. Though picked by Lincoln as his running mate, Johnson did not agree with the goals of Reconstruction and attempted to thwart congress’ effort to resort the nation. This is a thorough and brilliant narrative history of the first impeachment of an American president. 

by Neal Katyal

Impeachment: The Case Against Donald Trump – Former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal argues the case for impeaching Donald Trump. He examines our Founding Fathers’ thoughts on impeachment, of which they were explicit, and the legal arguments underlying the current case. A slim volume, written in a short period of time (as to be very up to date), with a definite opinion. 

By Cass R. Sunstein

Impeachment: A Citizens Guide – Unlike Katyal’s book, constitutional-law scholar Cass Sunstein’s book does not have an opinion on the current state of impeachment affairs. It covers the history of impeachment and it’s drafting in the constitution, giving context to its origins in the late 1700s. He discusses the impeachments of both Andrew Johnson, and Bill Clinton, as well as the related concept of removing a president because of incapacitation via the 25th Amendment. A quick primer for those in need of some clarity.

-Mike M.

Winter Blues? Cuddle up with Color

Timeless Noro Knit Blankets: 25 Colorful & Cozy Throws

This collection outlines patterns which knitters of all skill levels can use to make projects from the yarn produced by the company Noro. This Japanese brand has won a following among crafters for producing yarns in a variety of textures and variegated color combinations in self-striping patterns.  Whether you knit or not, the vibrant colors associated with Noro make this an eye-popping book to leaf through.

Kaffe Fassett’s Simple Shapes Spectacular Quilts: 23 Original Quilt Designs

In Simple Shapes Spectacular Quilts, world-renowned quilter Kaffe Fassett demonstrates how basic geometric forms—squares, rectangles, triangles, diamonds, circles, and quarter-circles—found in natural and manmade environments inspire his quilt designs. Kaffe Fassett, an accomplished painter and designer of textiles, is widely acknowledged as a visionary in the use of color. This book will get your creative juices flowing!

Art in Felt & Stitch: Creating Beautiful Works of Art Using Fleece, Fibres and Threads

In this visually stunning book, Moy Mackay reveals how to create pictures using felt. Characterized by her wonderful use of color, Moy’s work is breathtaking and includes landscapes inspired by the dramatic scenery of the Scottish Borders where she lives and works. Moy takes you through every step of the process, including the materials and tools you need, the felt making process itself and how to put together felt paintings of your own.

-Mary L.