The week’s recommended reading and culture from Orion authors and artists.
I am a stalwartly dull person and a promiscuous reader. I tend to treat books like friends at a large and very disjointed party, drifting around sampling conversation with one after another till I’ve finished the conversational thread with each one. Which is to say, I generally have a half-dozen books going at any one time, most physical, a few on my tablet, that I flit among and sample and eventually finish. That said, I did power through Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, an amazing story of grief, losing oneself and one’s deepest ties and reclaiming them in the wilderness, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail; Strayed became the guest who turns out to be so fascinating you have a long and breathlessly engaging private conversation sitting on the porch. It deserves all the acclaim it’s gotten: an instant classic.
Before Wild, I reread (as I had read it in manuscript) Brenda Miller’s essay collection Listening Against the Stone, a collection of crystalline and intimate beauty; its “Blessing of the Animals” is one of the most perfect meditations I know on the bond we humans share with our animal companions.
I am currently reading Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet and Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Pessoa wrote The Book of Disquiet under the “heteronym” (as he termed his several writing alter egos), Bernardo Soares; Pessoa’s Soares praises the incomparable poetry of another Pessoa heteronym, Alberto Caeiro, in between some of the most exquisite philosophizing in any memoir: “Even in lithographs there is something terrible about human eyes: the unavoidable truth of the existence of a consciousness, the clandestine cry that they too have a soul.” This is shivery stuff. The Tenant is an overlooked gem, a brilliant novel that deserves a place next to Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights at the Brontë sisters’ groaning table of literary greatness, the story of a strong, self-willed woman artist defying her culture, a novel with a delicious book-within-the-book.
I am making my way slowly through Robert Whitaker’s investigative book on the history of psychiatry in America, Mad in America, a book every American should read, whether you have been a victim of that system or not, but it’s the kind of book you take in measured, disturbing doses. I’m also having a wonderful time rereading, as the galleys come in, my husband Bruce Beasley’s forthcoming book of poems Theophobia. I could go on about its artistry but, well, I could seem biased. Though of course, I’m not.
Susanne Antonetta is the author of Body Toxic: An Environmental Memoir and the forthcoming book Inventing Family. Her essay on the work of the Beehive Collective, “Metaphor Crafters,” appeared in the March/April 2012 issue of Orion.