We Are the Eighth Day, © Melanie Weidner


Ask a mortician

Morticians haven't charged too much, they've done too much. With this precisely correct claim, Caitlin Doughty earns her contrarian stripes.


The Proust of Norway

The not-so-epic life of Karl Ove Knausgaard

Karl Ove Knausgaard forced me to cancel six months of my life in order to fixate on 30 years of his.


A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler

Spring books

Anne Tyler's 20th novel is, like her previous 19, about a mildly dysfunctional Baltimore family of loyal yet infuriating people who love one another, but not always helpfully.


God Help the Child, by Toni Morrison

Spring books

In her 11th novel Toni Morrison returns to the foundation of most of her fiction: childhood and its traumatic effects.

On Art

Birdman, by Joe Light

Joe Light was a towering, often disturbing figure in his Memphis community. He aligned himself with the prophets and considered himself a kind of Moses. Before he became an artist, he was incarcerated. In prison in 1960, he heard a preacher explore the Old Testament, and he returned to his cell with the sound of a voice in his head. Commenting on the experience later, he said that he thought he was losing his mind. He tested the voice: “‘If you are God, prove it.’ ‘Step up to the cell door,’ the voice answered, ‘and I’m going to let a bird land on that window sill . . . Tell it what to do, and it will do it.’ And sure enough the bird landed on it . . . That bird on that man’s head is like the spirit of God. I felt the presence of God following me regularly.” While various versions of the birdman exist, this image remains Light’s signature piece. Light was a bit of a loose cannon, said Kevin Gordon, owner of Gordon Gallery in Nashville, “but he was also a man whose personal beliefs were strong, and who wasn’t the least bit afraid to share them with anyone, no matter the consequences.”


We're back

After the fire, houses in the chaparral
start up again like new shoots of poison oak.
The resilience of nature? The power
of habit? The shallows of the human mind?

We keep building on the flood plain,
kicking steps up the avalanche chute,
camping out on the crumbling
lip of the volcano.

Those hollow figures at Pompeii,
crouched in the admission of error,
became the casts for Rodin’s Thinker.
Think about it.

In Korea, there are a hundred different men
who claim to be returned messiahs
(not counting their messiah wives)—
and thousands who erect their faith upon this sand.

And here in the U.S. of A., cutting sagebrush
in my yard, the dry winds parting my lips,
I feel right at home with the rest,
making do, claiming ground.


Family, by Thompson

The story of Family begins with the unlikely reunion of a married couple who once made remarkable music together but then didn’t speak to each other for years.