Each issue in Nat. Brut Book Club, an author or critic we love discusses some of their favorite books. Issue 2 features recommendations from National Book Critics Circle Award-winning poet Amy Gerstler.
Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith (Poetry)
Great energy. Incantatory. She deals with contemporary history from a cosmic, comic, hip, yet grave perspective. The pulse and intelligence of the poems, the way they integrate emotion and fact, science and commentary, is bracing. Hate to yank this cliché out of the bottom drawer but : Her Metaphors Are Fresh. The poems make bright deep music and can vascilate between vastness and smallness without giving themselves whiplash. Not so much a book about self as about current human predicaments. “The future” is acknowleged as flawed concept, but without getting soppy or completely bleak about it. Rather, this poet is (w)ringing vitality and a sense of purpose from uncomfortable truths.
Goat Song by Brad Kessler (Nonfiction/Memoir)
Eons ago, I was one of hordes of wannabe hippie undergrads who naively dreamed of “going back to the land.” Or, more accurately, I hungered to meet and greet “the land” on intimate terms for the first time, as an urban girl to whom dirt-smudged vegetables and live chickens seemed exotic promises of utopia and escape. One stock hippie fantasy popular at the time was that of keeping goats, and eking out some sort of living selling their milk and cheese. Into my tender twenties and beyond, this goat farm dream seized me, hard. For years I’d look up various breeds of goats in farm catalogs and encyclopedias and pine. I’d borrow people’s children just so I could have an excuse to visit the local petting zoo and touch a goat’s coat, let it nibble my sweater hem. Brad Kessler’s eye-opening, poetic, and at times profound 2009 book chronicles the adventures of a couple who made good on their goat farm aspirations (though unlike yours truly Kessler is no stranger to farm life, and hence had some idea of what he was getting into, as well as agrarian skills and knowledge.) The book was so rich, historically astute, and satisfying that when I finished reading I felt like I’d actually lived and worked on a goat farm. So thanks to Kessler, I now live with the contented illusion that I’ve had the experience I ignorantly craved for decades, and a pretty nice version of it, too, without ever having to muck out a goat stall or tend a sick nanny. Among numerous highlights, the book contains a weirdly hilarious passage depicting the erotic agonies of a male goat named Goliath in the height of rut. That passage that should be given some special mention in the annals of literature of sex.
Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks. (Nonfiction/Science)
Maybe my favorite book of 2012. If you’re interested in neurology, how we form images, visual patterns, the mind-body split, sensory distortions, perception, mind altering drugs, epilepsy, the human brain, the history of medicine, etc. etc. check out this brilliant, compassionate, fascinating, eloquent, vivid, compelling book. Hallucinations is a real standout in the already world-class Sacks oeuvre, a perfect meld of science and literary art for laymen (and laychicks of all ages.) From time to time, with humility and wit, Sacks offers up his own surprisingly various adventures in the realm of the mind-bend, integrating personal experience seamlessly with his tracing of early developments in the field right up to the latest research, and riveting first person accounts and case studies.
Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami
Being Dead, by Jim Crace
Inferno, by Eileen Myles
John Berryman, Selected Poems, (edited by Kevin Young)