NBCC member Meehan Crist, reviews editor at The Believer, has these picks for the NBCC Good Reads Spring 2008 list, recommendations by NBCC members, awards winners and finalists, thus ending the looooong tail:
In poetry, I’d recommend Jennifer Chang’s “The History of Anonymity.” The use of floating lines and white spaces make it feel as if these poems are spoken by a ghostly voice coming out of a fog. Chang draws much of her imagery from the natural world, but these poems don’t deal in the currency of description. Rather, they reveal the mind chewing over philosophical problems of existence: being or not being and the grey areas in between. This is just one of three books in VQR’s promising new poetry series. I’m excited to read the other two: Field Folly Snow by Cecily Parks and Hardscrabble by Kevin McFadden.
In nonfiction, I’d recommend ”The Two Kinds of Decay” by Sarah Manguso. This book is an unsentimental exploration of the author’s experience with a mysterious and prolonged illness. Manguso’s clear-eyed treatment of the subject matter elevates it from the ranks of the conventional “illness memoir,” but her spare prose style is what makes this book so remarkable. It’s a poet’s take on memoir. Each chapter is a collection of smaller sections – as short as a sentence or as long as a paragraph – strung together like prose poems working with collective purpose.
In fiction, I’d recommend ”Atmospheric Disturbances” by Rivka Galchen. (For the sake of full disclosure I should say that Rivka is a friend, which is probably why her book landed on the top my reading pile.) In this debut novel, the narrator is a psychologist convinced his wife has been replaced by a “fake” who looks and sounds and acts, mostly, like the woman he loves. He goes searching for his “real” wife, looking for patterns – in the weather, in people’s behavior, etc. – that might reveal meaning. He’s like a sad, desperate Nabokov, grasping for clues in the world around him, hoping they will congeal into a pattern which might help him order the emotional reality of his life. This narrator’s voice is smart, funny, and woven of singular habits of thinking that make it absolutely unlike any I’ve encountered in recent literature. His story is equal parts intellectual acrobatics and heartbreak.—Meehan Crist