Archive for the ‘Highly Recommended’ Category

Film is, arguably, the dominant art of our time. It is also, usually, a narrative form. It makes sense, then, to study film if you are interested in narrative. Good films are often masterpieces of narrative structure and great films always are.

A good start–candycanesammy’s Thoughts on Film website, especially this post: WGA 101 BEST SCREENPLAY LIST RECAP, written on 13 January 2011. In this article, candycanesammy explains what he has learned from watching and analyzing the films on the WGA Best Screenplay list. His analysis is chuck full of  nuggets of writerly goodness. Highly recommended for fictioneers.


Poets of the English LanguagePoets of the English Language by W.H. Auden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve read this collection through several times and find it entirely useful. Auden’s prefaces to each volume, providing historical, cultural and technical background, are by themselves worth the price of the anthology. Why this collection is out of print is beyond me.

View all my reviews

Best Zombie Book

Dead Sea, Brian Keene. Even the sharks are zombies. Word.

Saddest Murder Mystery

Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr and the International Hunt for His Assassin, Hampton Sides. A document on the system of Hell.

Best Book of Stories

Everything That Rises Must Coverge, Flannery O’Connor. No surprise. O’Connor is indispensable.

Most Thought-Provoking Book of Poetry

The Sonnets, Ted Berrigan. Serious experiment in style and technique becomes play. You don’t read this book, you live in it.

Most Savage Biography

Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker, James Gavin. Chet Baker was a monster. Gavin tells his story as carefully and neutrally as he can. Result: You love the book, you despise the subject.

Best Anthology of Poetry

Poets of the English Language (5 vols.), edited by W. H. Auden and Norman Holmes Pearson. Wonderfully intelligent selection of poems from Langland to Yeats. The prefaces to each volume alone are worth the cost of the books. If you want to know the English tradition of poetry, this is where to dig in.

Most Reassuring Book

Practical Outdoor Survival, Len McDougall. Turns out you can survive with a knife, a .22, some matches and a few other necessaries. Now you know what to hang on to when we are all reduced to serfdom by our corporate masters.

Former Poet Laureate of the United States, Bob Hass, writes with his usual understated grace about his beating at the hands of riot police at an Occupy Cal demonstration in Berkeley, California last week. See the link to the New York Times article here.

‘Life, I found myself thinking as a line of Alameda County deputy sheriffs in Darth Vader riot gear formed a cordon in front of me on a recent night on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, is full of strange contingencies. ”

Highly recommended.

(Photo by Steve Rhodes.)

Poet and professor Dean Rader has begun curating a very interesting forum in the public uses of poetry, 99 Poems for the 99 percent, which will run 99 poems “that address the social, political, economic, aesthetic, and cultural realities of the 99 percent” in 99 days. So far, the site includes poems by Bob Hickok, Rachel Loden, Dana Levin, Derek Mong and Matthew Zapruder. The poems are good, with more to come, but what interests me is Rader’s cr-aa-aa-zy notion that poetry, of all things, might have some legitimate use in the public sphere. Now that’s a radical idea. Go, Dean! Highly recommended.

The New York Review of Books has published three new, previously untranslated poems by Tomas Transtromer, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature earlier this month. Click here to see the poems and an excellent bio. (You can also read more Transtromer at the Academy of American Poet’s site and at the Poetry Foundation.)

If you like these poems and wonder which of Transtromer’s books to read, see this excellent article in Slate. Slate’s top recommendation: Tomas Tranströmer: Selected Poems, 1954 – 1986, edited by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass. I have read this book and recommend it highly.

Henry David Thoreau was born on this date in 1817, so it seems worth mentioning you can read his truly wonderful book, Walden, beautifully formatted and annotated, for free. You can also download Walden as an audiobook for free here.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” –from Walden

In a better world, we would all read Walden (and Civil Disobedience!) pretty damn often.

Bat Terrier applauds Open Culture‘s smart list of essential non-fiction. (Click here for the list.)

Have you ever seen Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, undoubtedly one of the best books ever written, on ANY sort of “best of” book list? Me neither.  And certainly not on a list that also contains Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The White Album, Marcus Aurelius‘ Meditations, Walden,  and Hannah Arendt‘s amazing Eichmann in Jerusalem. And that’s just for starters.

What did they miss? Montaigne, maybe Walter Benjamin, depending on your tastes. But all in all, a really smart take on the “best books” list. Kudos.

Anton Chekhov‘s letters, translated and with an introduction by Constance Barnett, are available here in HTML format. For free.

You can also read more than 200 of Chekhov’s stories here. Again, for free.

Why read Chekhov? He’s the best.

“I want the new, or the old made new, and if I can’t have the new I want sense, and I am aware, as a reader and as a critic and as a writer, of my own limited time.”

The esteemed poetry critic Stephen Burt discusses the art of the review and the responsibilities of the reviewer.

If you haven’t read Burt’s fine book, Close Calls with Nonsense: Reading New Poetry, you have missed watching a major literary intelligence in operation. Highly recommended.