Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

What are You Recommending, Donna Seaman?


LAST week, the NBCC launched a Best Recommended List, drawn from the votes of our members and over a hundred former finalists and winners of our award. (For more on that go here). One of the voters was former NBCC board member and Open Books radio host, Donna Seaman. Here's what she had to say about the titles she voted for.

Captivity. By Laurie Sheck. Knopf.

Adept at one of poetry’s greatest tasks, the conflation of outer and inner realms, Laurie Sheck traces the lay of the land and of the mind with tremendous lyric power, imaginative grace, and supple intellect in Captivity. A poet at once sensuous and scholarly, Sheck extrapolates classic American captivity narratives to subtly examine the many ways we’re held captive by our bodies, our emotions, our ideas, and our communities. Mirroring the astonishing diversity generated by the molecular alphabet of the human genome, Sheck forges a poetic code that yields a brilliant array of thoughts, feelings, and images that embody the longing, beauty, and mystery of life itself.

The Zookeeper’s Wife. By Diane Ackerman. Norton.

Who else would compose a veritable prose poem about the smells hurled into the air following the explosion of bombs in Prague during the German invasion? In her latest work of poetic and compassionate nonfiction, Diane Ackerman tells the forgotten World War II story of Antonina and Jan Zabinksi, daring and brilliant keepers of the Warsaw Zoo who saved the lives of more than 300 imperiled Jews. Not only does Ackerman write with breathtaking precision and extraordinary perception about the Zabinskis’ heroism, she is also in complete accord with Antonina’s empathic relationship with animals and pleasure in the sensuous glory and ceaseless inventiveness of life, even under the threat of total annihilation.

How the Dead Dream. By Lydia Millet. Soft Skull Press.

Millet has the uncanny ability to write of apocalyptic visions and global crises without betraying the integrity of fiction––the demands of characters, the shape of stories. After writing possibly the most inventive and revealing novel about the atomic bomb, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, Millet enters the heart of extinction in this symphonic, satiric, and haunting tale of a traumatized real estate developer who awakens to the suffering of endangered animals. What, he wonders, is it like to be “the very last of its kind?” “Did the world feel the loss?” With each vanishing species, Millet writes, “a particular way of existence was gone, a whole volume in the library of being.”

Donna Seaman is an associate editor for Booklist, published in Chicago by the American Library Association. Seaman is also a frequent reviewer for the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and other venues, and she created the fiction anthology, In Our Nature: Stories of Wildness. Seaman’s author interviews are collected in Writers on the Air: Conversations about Books.