The Literary Arts team is made up of enthusiastic readers (and writers!) just like you. In these challenging times, we turn to books for comfort, inspiration, and joy. Here are a few recent staff picks that we love. We hope you will enjoy them as well.
Postcolonial Love Poem
by Natalie Diaz
I read Natalie Diaz’s brilliant second collection in one sitting, at the beginning of the shelter-in-place. Now I’m rereading it slowly, taking it in one poem at a time, and I already know it’s the kind of book I’ll return to again and again. No one writes like Natalie Diaz. These poems describe queer desire and basketball and colonialism and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and violence and OR-7. The images are so transporting, the references so vast, that I keep wanting to write down every line to study later.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle
by Shirley Jackson
Wow! I devoured this haunting tale of family tragedy and small town New England persecution. Jackson was a master of suspense, and it shows in this deeply unsettling gothic classic. The palpable unease that surrounds the Blackwood sisters’ strange life within the confines of their haunted house steadily builds. The world Jackson has created is so pressure-packed that, while reading, I knew something terrible would happen, yet I found the ending to be shocking nonetheless. But perhaps the most shocking thing to me is that I had made it this far into my life without having read–or even having heard–of this book. Most people, if they recognize Shirley Jackson’s name, think of her short story, “The Lottery,” or perhaps The Haunting of Hill House, but We Have Always Lived in the Castle delivers the perfect amount of moody intrigue, and I highly recommend it!
In the Dream House
by Carmen Maria Machado
This was recommended by Susan Orlean at her Portland Arts & Lectures appearance on February 20, 2020. It was one of the last books I purchased in the before times, and I am glad to have brought it with me into this new reality. The Dream House, from the title of this memoir by author Carmen Maria Machado, was both a real place and a symbol that haunts the author’s dreams and memories, of a terrifying façade of domestic bliss that was in fact, behind closed doors, domestic abuse. Through a series of achingly poetic vignettes, Machado takes you across the threshold of these memories, into the symbolic house, and stands by you as you sift through different drawers of what seem like everyday ephemera that are actually mementos of silent suffering. Using a second person point of view, Machado puts the reader into this harrowing world but is always standing by as a reminder that you are in a memory, closing the drawer for you when you start to get too deep. With footnotes on folk tale symbology, Machado asks the reader to not let this story, and others like it, be forgotten or silenced. In a time when we are isolated from each other, and many people are isolated with their abusers, stories like this must be told, and re-told, and the curtains drawn back to show the truth. A painful subject, rendered beautifully.
We can’t stop living. Which means we have to live, which means we are alive, which means we are humans and we are human: some of us are unkind and some of us are confused and some of us sleep with the wrong people and some of us make bad decisions and some of us are murderers. And it sounds terrible but it is, in fact, freeing…Carmen Maria Machado, In the Dream House