What are the stories we tell ourselves and others through memory? How do we use memory to reflect back on our stories, and the stories of others, to create the world around us, and to re-create the past? How far can we go in understanding someone else’s memory? And when we recall our memories, are we telling ourselves and other stories, or facts, or history, or some blend of the three?
Reading Wendell Berry’s nonfiction is more an exercise in thinking and philosophy than it is learning about his point of view on a particular topic. He can challenge your way of thinking on just about anything: feminism, technology, conservation, work and labor, academia, ecology, sociology and urbanization, farm life, small town life, community, nature.
In her Pulitzer Prize winning book The Sixth Extinction, scientist Elizabeth Kolbert makes a compelling, moving and at times depressing case that not only are we in a new geologic period, the anthropocene, but that this period represents catastrophic levels of extinction for plant and animal species across the planet.
Some books are like eating vegetables: you may not got excited about them, you may not enjoy each bite, but you know they are good for you. In Matthew Desmond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, we, as American citizens, are given a buffet’s worth of vegetables that is unflinching, unafraid, unabashed and painfully honest about what life is like in American’s poorest neighborhoods. You will not feel better about our country and society after reading this book, which is all the more reason you should force it down.
The novel All That Man Is by David Szalay poses two important questions, one artistic, one philosophical. The first is, what exactly is the form and structure of a novel, and the other is, what does it mean to be a man?
In Colson Whitehead’s brilliant novel The Underground Railroad, the author’s fantastical imagining of a metaphor turned to life symbolizes a historical reality in a way that makes the distinction between the two seem to vanish, leaving us pondering the difference between what was impossible and what we know was real.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the Rodney King riots, the Northridge earthquake, the Santa Monica pier, of course the Hollywood sign, surfers, The Doors and The Beach Boys, the Lakers and the Dodgers…they all add up to create the myth in my head of what Los Angeles is.
To some extent reading a biography of a mythical, inspirational figure like St. Francis of Assisi is an academic pursuit only: many of the details of his life story won’t contribute or even modify why and how he has the place in history and people’s minds that he does.
A reader of the first draft of a novel I’ve written has critiqued my choice to mention and reference a specific city within the story. It’s too distracting, she says, and the references to streets and restaurants and bars are unknowable by any reader not familiar with this city. I argue that a sense of place gives a story not so much a foundation but a context, that environmental clues add a specific sensibility to the characters’ lives.
“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” is my favorite title of any piece of fiction. The title, which is both the name of a short story and the collection in which it appears, author Raymond Carver’s second collection of short stories, symbolizes the essence of Carver’s writing and tone.