When Reece spoke with Louise Gluck, who had chosen his manuscript for the Bread Loaf poetry prize, he noted how “she spoke in fully formed, complete, complex, laser-like sentences….My own English tightened to keep up.” Similarly penetrating portraits of James Merrill, Mark Strand, Richard Blanco, and other luminaries of contemporary poetry stud this memoir, but Reece’s rise to their ranks was slow and anguished. He struggled for over 15 years and racked up 300-plus rejections before the Bread Loaf breakthrough. These were years not only of literary frustration, but of alcoholism, family estrangements, and, the anguish of a gay man afraid to come out, even to himself. Reece writes wrenchingly of “the way my life swung between buttoned up repressions and drunken outbursts,” but while he couldn’t face his sexuality, he did recognize that he loved poetry, and from Plath to Dickinson to Elizabeth Bishop, George Herbert, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, it saved his life over and over. This would be a rich enough story, but, like Hopkins, Reece shares the dual callings of writing and religion; now an ordained Episcopal minister, he has made poetry key to his spiritual mission,an experience he renders in powerful, resonant language—as he does everything in this heartfelt, haunting book.
Gordon-Reed’s brief yet panoramic survey of Texas history succeeds not only as scholarship and personal essay, but as a demonstration of how exposing the racism at the heart of the American saga can open fresh discussions and begin to heal painful legacies. Inserting her family history into the larger narrative that has excluded them, Gordon-Reed shows that being a Black Texan isn’t the contradiction in terms it might seem. In concise accounts of her state’s complicated relationships with the U.S., Mexico, and Indigenous peoples; its quest for independence; and the outsize figures who people its past—from Sam Houston and Jim Bowie to Quanah Parker, Iron Eyes Cody, and Billy Jack of the 1971 Loughlin film—Gordon-Reed expresses both affection for her difficuilt home and a historian’s faith that “observing the process of change over time”—such as the evolution of Juneteenth from private to public celebrations to a nationally recognized event, if not yet a national holiday—can positively affect the lives of the people living in its present and future.
Morgan-Grenville pledged to follow the Manx shearwater for a year, from its breeding grounds off the British coast—where he was first enchanted by them during childhood visits to his grandmother, herself something of a force of nature--to its summer digs off Argentina, allow himself “to be changed, or not, by what” he learned, and make the facts available to raise awareness of this extraordinary bird, which, unlike so many others, is not only supremely adapted to its lifestyle, but, so far, is beating the odds of climate change, plastic, rats, and the rest, to thrive. Telling their story with gusto, heart, and humor, Morgan-Grenville revels in the history and habits of this “ultimate flying machine,” a 400-gram creature that doesn't touch land for four years after it leaves its burrow at ten weeks old and makes its way alone to South America, navigating by a keen sense of smell and continuous adjustment to the winds to travel at the rate of roughly 55 kmph and complete the 10,000 or so miles in under two weeks—a feat brought into sharp focus in the comparison with Morgan-Grenville’s own fraught trans-Atlantic airplane flight.