The Land Between Two Rivers - Tom Sleigh

Staff Pick

An accomplished poet, Sleigh took up journalism to see for himself the realities behind the abstractions in places including Libya, Iraq, Somalia, and Lebanon. More than just reports, his essays are troubled and thought-provoking reflections on violence and our response to suffering. Impatient with statistics and the pre-fab language of popular opinion, and interested more in bodies than in body counts, Sleigh hoped to develop feelings about what he saw, not just to hold convictions. Writing with the “physical immediacy” he demands from poetry, he looked closely, questioned people about their memories and fears, and tracks the lived experience of occupation, displacement, drone strikes, and starvation. He vividly conveys what happens to someone growing up in a refugee camp and shows what a mother goes through when she has to decide which of two sons to leave, because she can carry only one across the desert. Struggling to achieve a new kind of reporting that, like the poetry, “embodies emotion as opposed to riding on top of it,” Sleigh asks whether empathy is possible, of if we should strive instead for a truer sympathy and questions whether journalists really speak for the voiceless or only add their own voice to the din drowning out the stories they’re after. Finally, looking again to poetry, and showing the different approaches taken by writers such as Akhmatova, Tranströmer, Heaney, and David Jones, Sleigh proposes a “politics of negative capability,” which means “immers[ing] yourself as fully as you can in what you’re observing, to take it in in all its sensory immediacy” with any judgment coming only afterward.

The Land between Two Rivers: Writing in an Age of Refugees By Tom Sleigh Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555977962
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Graywolf Press - February 6th, 2018

Packing My Library - Alberto Manguel

Staff Pick

No one writes more passionately, eloquently, and tenderly about books than Manguel. Few have so many. When he reluctantly left France, where he’d created a magnificent home for his 35,000 volumes from an old barn, it took him and many friends weeks to pack them all. While the “building blocks” of full cartons went into storage in Montreal, Manguel tried to live without them in New York City. Despite wandering his mental library and stopping at bookstalls to visit old friends, he felt bereft—like a tortoise without his shell, or like Quixote after the intervention that left him bookless. Deprived of the tangible volumes, Manguel distracted himself from his grief by composing this “self-obituary” and ten wonderful “digressions” that explore virtual books—unsatisfying because “you cannot truly possess a ghost (though the ghost can possess you)”; the mystery of literary creativity; the fabled lost library of Alexandria; and dictionaries, especially those that slip into the territory of encyclopedias, of which Manguel collected some thirty examples, including his own indispensable Dictionary of Imaginary Places. Far more than digressions, these are witty, illuminating, warm essays. Especially fascinating is Manguel’s meditation on the second commandment. Did the prohibition against graven images extend to artistic creations? Was the jealous God also a “jealous artist”? Manguel’s lament has a happy ending. He writes his last chapter from his new position as Director of the National Library of Argentina.

Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions By Alberto Manguel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780300219333
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Yale University Press - March 20th, 2018

Feel Free - Zadie Smith

Staff Pick

I can’t stop thinking about the essays in Feel Free. Since I finished it, when my mind wanders, it wanders toward the relationship between Justin Bieber and Martin Buber, or the reasons to reread Edward St. Aubyn, or spend more time in the library, or delete my Facebook. I’m looking at the world through Smith’s eyes, which is a colossal treat. Following along with a Zadie Smith argument is one of the biggest pleasures the literary world has to offer. And for fans of her fiction, don’t worry—her voice in essay form is just as alive, her images just as vivid. There’s nothing in Feel Free not to love, and so much to think about. Enjoy.  

Feel Free: Essays By Zadie Smith Cover Image
ISBN: 9781594206252
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Penguin Press - February 6th, 2018