A new collection of essays asks hard, intimate questions
In his intimate, excavatory new collection of essays, “Remembering the Alchemists,” Richard Hoffman asks questions — of himself, of us — of powers beyond what we can know or name. “Are we willing to admit that killing people is America’s business model?” “What is the future with the present so precarious?” “What maniacal dream unites us?” Hard questions, and good questions, the biggest ones being those without answer. Hoffman’s are essays of wondering and of wonder. In his 70s now, Hoffman, emeritus writer-in-residence at Emerson, aims his gaze at childhood, at the moments he comes into new understanding of the world, which means coming into understanding of how much isn’t understood. He knows, too, that though there’s pleasure traveling the path to youth, that path leads also to a graveyard. He writes of gun violence, of the mysteries of the body and illness in the era of COVID, of the loss of two brothers, of his mother and father; about a subway ride on the Red Line, about his boyhood sexual assault, and, perhaps most piercingly, about shame. “Shame whispers: I shouldn’t be saying this. Defiance roars: I have a right to say this! Moral imagination insists: No one should have to say this.” Hoffman explores how to do what is right, all of us implicated in systems of the powerful against the powerless. And he returns, quietly and with great force, to wonder, and to love. Hoffman will read and discuss the book on Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. at Porter Square Books.
Oliver de la Paz named Poet Laureate of Worcester
“Mornings are a sustained hymn / without the precision of faith,” writes poet Oliver de la Paz in his poem “Aubade with Bread for the Sparrows.” Paz, who’s an associate professor at Holy Cross, was recently named the Poet Laureate of Worcester. His term begins this month and runs through the end of 2025. Poet Juan Matos has held the role since 2020. A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant, Paz has written a number of books including “Above Houses”; “Furious Lullaby”; “Requiem for the Orchard”; “Post Subject: A Fable”; and “The Boy in the Labyrinth,” a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award in poetry. His latest collection, “The Diaspora Sonnets” will come out from Liveright this summer. Paz is also the co-chair of the advisory board for Kundiman, an organization that works to promote Asian American writers and writing. “The world is in haste to waken,” he writes. “Don’t ask for a name / you can surrender, for there are more ghosts to placate. / Don’t hurt for the sparrows, for they love you, like a road.”
A virtual discussion on independent bookstores
The independent bookstore has been long beloved as a third-space gathering place, a center of community, idea sharing, and serendipitous encounters with new people, ideas, authors, and books — the flesh-and-blood features absent in the experience of book shopping with online megacorps. In the past few years, more than 300 new independent bookstores have opened across the country, and ownership and inventory has grown increasingly diverse. The Cambridge Forum is hosting a virtual discussion about “The Resurgence of the Independent Bookstore,” bringing together local bookstore owners to discuss what makes a bookstore special, and what the reasons are for becoming a bookseller. Panelists include Leonard and Clarrissa Cropper Egerton, owners of the Frugal Bookstore in Roxbury, Boston’s only Black-owned bookstore, as well as Christina Pascucci Ciampa, owner of All She Wrote Books in Somerville, “a feminist and queer indie bookstore” which centers its inventory on voices that have been underrepresented. The discussion takes place Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 5 p.m. For more information and to register, visit cambridgeforum.org.
“Rikers: An Oral History” by Graham Rayman and Reuven Blau (Random House)
“Central Places” by Delia Cai (Ballantine)
“The Faraway World” by Patricia Engel (Avid Reader)
Pick of the week
Claire Benedict at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, Vt., recommends “Interior Chinatown” by Charles Wu (Vintage): “I love a book that keeps me laughing and gets me thinking at the same time. On the surface, [it’s] a satire of Asian American roles in Hollywood. But this funny, insightful, pointed story of Willis Wu is about so much more. Willis . . . has to figure out where he, as a Chinese American, fits into American culture and why it is so hard to find his place. This thoughtful and edifying look at race in America is told so creatively with humor and heart.”