I’m loath to push books on anyone, but I’m always happy to offer suggestions.
First, a book recently published in the U.K., not yet in the U.S. but readily available from Blackwell’s (free shipping, and prompt, too; if you haven’t ordered from them, give it a try): Clare Bucknell, The Treasuries: Poetry Anthologies and the Making of British Culture (published by Head of Zeus). Anthologies are particularly on my mind these days, in part thanks to the recent volume compiled by Micah Mattix and Sally Thomas, Christian Poetry in America Since 1940. The subject is particularly timely just now, amid endless squabbles over our cultural patrimony.
A side note: In my junior year as an undergraduate (I had just transferred to Westmont College in Santa Barbara), I was enrolled in the three-quarter survey of English lit taught by a young and immensely energizing professor, Edward E. Ericson, Jr. In the first week of the class, in September 1968, I connected with two fellow students, Dan Taylor and Bruce Wiebe, with whom I have been friends ever since; Ed Ericson also became a lifelong friend. Our text was The Norton Anthology of English Literature, with which I had many gripes (remember, I was very young). But Ed was such a superb teacher, I never dreamed of taking just one quarter of the three-quarter sequence; Dan and Bruce and I remember it (and are grateful) even to this day.
Now back to “What Should I Read Next?” For this one, you’ll need to wait until May, when T. C. Boyle’s novel Blue Skies will be published by Liveright/W. W. Norton. Its subject, we’re told, is “contemporary American life in the glare of climate change.” Some of you, I know, will impatiently ask what I have next. That’s fine. But keep in mind that among Boyle’s many virtues as a novelist is his loathing of cant. (Here’s my review of his previous novel, Talk to Me, to whet your appetite.)
Next is Jennifer Reeser’s Strong Feather, due later this month from Able Muse Press. Here’s my blurb: “What I love most about Jennifer Reeser's poems is their swagger. Not conceit (there’s none of that) but rather a delightful confidence in her art and in her judgments. Maybe that’s communicated by the title of her new book, before we even get to the first poem. Can a feather be strong? You better believe it.” On top of all that, the book has a great cover. Preorder a copy today.
Some faithful readers will recall my column on Nicholas Orme’s superb book Going to Church in Medieval England. Orme has a new book coming in April, Tudor Children, a sequel of sorts to Medieval Children (2001). “But who would read this, other than fellow historians?” Well, for Christmas a year or so ago, I gave a copy to our son-in-law, John, an engineer. He and our daughter Mary, both of whom became Catholic shortly after they were married twenty years ago, are homeschooling their seven children. John loved the book; Mary did too, insofar as she had time to look at it. And if you are in the mood, you could read Orme’s new book alongside Lucy Wooding’s doorstopper, Tudor England: A History, published in January of this year (also by Yale University Press).
Of course along with new titles there are reissues. My brother, Rick, and I have both enjoyed many of the books in the series presided over by Martin Edwards, published first in the U.K. under the British Library Crime Classics imprint and later in the U.S. under the Poisoned Pen imprint. Let me recommend Crook o’ Lune: A Lancashire Mystery, by E. C. R. Lorac (a pseudonym, as you might guess), due here this summer. It’s loaded with the atmosphere of a very different time and place. The characters are interesting, the plot is beautifully crafted but not byzantine, and it’s not infernally long, unlike so many contemporary crime novels. If you haven’t read Lorac, this book will let you decide whether she’s your cup of tea. And if she is, you’re in luck: She wrote a lot, under more than one name.
John Wilson is a contributing editor for The Englewood Review of Books and senior editor at The Marginalia Review of Books.
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Image by Hans Splinter licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.