Depression and desire illuminated in new memoir of recovery
An inability to name what’s being felt makes feelings “seem not just unknown but unknowable,” writes John West in his lyrical and crystalline new memoir “Lessons and Carols: A Meditation on Recovery” (Wm. B. Eerdman). Structured to echo the “nine carols and nine tiny lessons” developed in 1880 by a Canterbury bishop for Christmas, the book, in precise and delicate detail, in short chunks of text, illuminates West’s relationships with alcohol and addiction, with depression, with desire, with his new daughter, with sobriety, bipolarity, resentment (“a name for a memory left too long in a warm, damp place”), with recovery, and with the tug between not wanting to be and not wanting to die. The moments West describes, the fragments and stories, the encounters and near-misses, have the feel of winter stars in a night sky, focused distillations of light burning through an unknowable amount of darkness. He brings Catullus into it, as well as Wittgenstein, Robert Hass, John Ashbery, and Anne Carson, among others. “Translation is a lossy process,” he writes. The effort, his effort, is translating what defies language into words. A bird has a name, though one might not know it, and sometimes bird — its fluttering, its feathered wings, its tiny beating heart, its flight — is enough, has to be enough. The accumulation of West’s moments, his lessons and carols, show the grace and wisdom of what it is to daily decide to keep being.
Grub Street executive director wins Women’s National Book Association Award
The Women’s National Book Association recently announced that Eve Bridburg, founder and executive director of Grub Street, has been awarded the Women’s National Book Association Award for 2023. The award, given every two years, honors an American woman whose contributions to the book industry surpass the scope of her profession. “Over the years we’ve seen what Eve has been able to achieve by creating a space where writers can feel inspired and supported,” said WNBA president Natalie Obando. “Because of this space and the resources that Eve has provided, readers and writers have been introduced to amazing new voices.” Founded in 1917 by a group of booksellers in New York City who were forbidden from joining the men-only booksellers’ organizations, the WNBA promotes books and literacy, and supports women in the book world. Prior recipients of the award include Louise Erdich, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Ann Patchett, as well as activists, librarians, and former first ladies. An award ceremony for Bridburg will be held on June 2 at 7 p.m. at Porter Square Books in Cambridge.
English translation of Swedish poem “Vintergatan” published by Maine author
In high school, Gunnel Larsdotter, a native of Sweden and now a resident of Maine, fell in love with a poem by a 19th-century journalist, poet, and scholar named Zacharias Topelius. She found her Swedish poetry anthology again as an adult, and was re-charmed by “Vintergatan.” She searched for an English translation to share with her English-speaking family, but none captured the beauty of the poem in the Swedish as she heard it, so she translated it herself. “The Milky Way: Vintergatan” (Fulton), translated by Larsdotter and atmospherically illustrated by Maine-based artist Jamie Hogan, brings the poem to an English-speaking audience. “And now we dim the evening lights as the night is still and clear,” the poem begins, and tells the story of Sulamit and Salamye, a man and woman who were separated in death on two distant stars. They each began to build a bridge toward the other across the heavens. “A thousand years, they kept on building, but their faith never did sway. And that bridge of stars became the Milky Way, stretching from the heights of heaven, through the zodiac’s path of lace, binding coast to coast the oceans of all space.”
“Sing Her Down” by Ivy Pochada (MCD)
“Lesbian Love Story” by Amelia Possanza (Catapult)
“Still Falling” by Jennifer Grotz (Graywolf)
Pick of the Week
Alex Bell at Northshire Books in Manchester Center, Vt., recommends “Happy Hour” by Marlowe Granados (Verso): “A wayward summer of kicks, kinks, and making rent occupy the time of two sister-like friends fresh off the plane from London. Granados pens a modern epistolary novel with charm and keen observation. An ounce of “La Bohème,” a splash of Gatsby glitz, and some Ottessa Moshfegh for garnish — in “Happy Hour,” Marlowe Granados mixes one damn fine summer cocktail.”