I recommend Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Mothers, Tell Your Daughters (Norton), a selection of short stories about mostly hardscrabble, down-market women in southwestern lower Michigan. Campbell makes fiction look easy.
My Christmas picks take you from the soil to the supper table. The essays in Dirt: A Love Story (ForeEdge Books) celebrate the mystery and meaning of soil. Artists, scientists, farmers, and writers take you from community gardens transforming the Bronx to the oldest soils in the world in Venezuela to the past and possible future of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl.
I’ve been engrossed in The Story of the Lost Child, the fourth in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels (Europa Editions). The series follows the friendship of Elena (the narrator) and Lila (her fiery and fearless friend) from girlhood to old age.
Novels that rattled and moved me in the last year or so include Anthony Doerr’s terrific World War II novel All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner). It’s the best novel I’ve read since Gilead. Like Marilynne Robinson, Doerr achieves a shimmering consistency of tone; it’s one of those books that you finish and then shake your head in quiet awe.
Thompson suddenly disappeared from the literary scene in the early 1950s, when he moved to a small town on the east coast of England with his partner, Philip Trower. This collection brings together for the first time the two halves of Thompson’s poetry: his baroque, postwar poetry and the spare, religiously infused verse of his later years.
Thesis: What we commonly think of as Miracles, are mere Synchronicities, felicitous accidents, startling coincidences; Whereas that which we call common is actually miraculous. Whoa; let’s approach this slowly from the side, as we would Edge up shy and careful to a sleeping wolverine. Wolverines Are good to start with, come to think of it—I mean, consider A wolverine carefully. A whopping big one weighs less than Half the dogs you know, not to mention those two obese cats, Yet bears and cougars and even the most stupendously stupid Men back away from wolverines. They have been revered by People who know them well for years beyond counting. They Own their place. They were designed by immeasurable years. There are only a few of them, compared to, for example, ants. Are they not miraculous? Do they not inspire a reverent awe? Can any of us make any of those? No? Can it be that miracles Are things which we cannot comprehend or construct? Hawks, Elk, porpoises, children, damselflies, quasars—the list cannot Ever end, because every time we discover something, we also Discover more that we don’t know yet, isn’t that certainly so? So that which is miraculous is quotidian. While the occasional Inexplicable recovery, the avoidance of death and mayhem by The thinnest of margins, that only happens on occasion, right? So because it isn’t quotidian, perhaps it isn’t a miracle. Listen, I know your brain is buzzling right about now—it’s happening To me too. But the thought that miracles are normal, isn’t that The cool thought of the day? Let’s remember that until dinner, You and me, and then savor the miracles with whom we dine.
The discovery of a Philistine cemetery outside the walls of the ancient city Ashkelon on the southern coast of Israel may provide clues to the origins of the ancient Philistines. A team of scholars is using DNA research and other techniques to determine the Philistines’ origins. Existing archaeological and textual evidence indicates that they originated somewhere in the Aegean region (National Geographic, July).