By Deb A.
For anyone who lacks Pantone's confidence in predicting the future (get ready for the "life-affirming" Living Coral), there is always the calm comfort of a look back into the recent past with the intent of crowning a champion. And so this year, we once again scrape through a series of 'best books of 2018' lists in order to see what titles pop up again and again. Please note that what you are about to read may be helpful if you're looking for a last-minute Christmas gift or a treat for yourself, but it is completely and utterly emancipated from scientific rigour.
This year we consulted sources that skew American: the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, NPR staff picks, Publishers Weekly, and the New York Public Library, along with the CBC, the Financial Times, and the Guardian's favourite authors. Here's what they think you should read.
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
From the publisher: "A dazzling adventure story about a boy who rises from the ashes of slavery to become a free man of the world."
Esi Edugyan's third novel pleased Americans, Brits, and Canadians alike—hardly surprising for a book that won the Scotiabank Giller Prize and was shortlisted for the Man Booker.
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
From the publisher: "...explores the imbalances that spark and sustain many of our most dramatic human relations: inequities in age, power, talent, wealth, fame, geography, and justice."
Lisa Halliday's debut juxtaposes a May-December affair between an editor and a Philip Rothlike novelist with the detention of an Iraqi-American at Heathrow airport.
There There by Tommy Orange
From the publisher: "a stunning novel that grapples with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and profound spirituality, and with a plague of addiction, abuse, and suicide."
Championed by Margaret Atwood, Tommy Orange's first novel follows 12 Urban Indians at the Big Oakland Powwow.
From the publisher: "An unforgettable memoir about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University."
Tara Westover didn't go to school until she was 17. Educated is her story of her life in a fundamentalist Mormon family and her relentless quest for knowledge.
From the publisher: "A brilliant and brave investigation into the medical and scientific revolution taking place around psychedelic drugs–and the spellbinding story of his own life-changing psychedelic experiences."
Coming off a hypnotically stylish Netflix documentary series based on his book, Cooked, Michael Pollan's next step after years of examining food and our relationship to it is a first- and third-person examination of mind-altering drugs and human consciousness.
By Deb A.
The Washington Post and the Financial Times have already gotten a head start on end-of-year recommendations, offering up their picks for the best poetry books of 2018. But not every poet can win a Grammy like Leonard Cohen, whose The Flame is a must-read according to the Financial Times, or be hailed as a "Living Legend" by the U.S. Library of Congress like Ursula K. Le Guin, who made the Washington Post's list with So Far So Good. Which is why some Columbia University students set their sights much, much lower, on the 33rd annual Alfred Joyce Kilmer Memorial Bad Poetry Contest.
Held by the university's Philolexian Society, a literary and debate society that aims to "promote wit and humour on campus," the contest honours Alfred Joyce Kilmer and his meticulously rhyming contributions to the poetic canon. Nearly 40 contestants took to the stage this year, unabashedly embracing terrible metaphors, obnoxious rhymes, and pretentious language in their efforts to drive the three professors judging the proceedings to despair.
There were limericks. There was performance art. There were several modern takes on old classics. The winner was freshman Dylan Tymel and his "A Story of Unrequited Love in 5 Haikus", in which he recruits a "sweet, rotten, rhymeless" orange to provide the necessary imagery.
Your pith in my nails
As I peel you, stinging juice
Squirts into my soul
(From "A Story of Unrequited Love in 5 Haikus" by new poet laureate Dylan Tymel)
(If that strikes your fancy, you might want to check out some past winners.)
As per tradition, the event ended with everyone in attendance reciting Joyce Kilmer's "Trees":
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
By Deb A.
What did you do last Thursday? In 2005 UNESCO designated the third Thursday of November World Philosophy Day. This year, the Institute of Art and Ideas celebrated with a list of 70 philosophy books everyone should read. With its own caveat that it is "by no means exhaustive" and that some key titles and thinkers are missing, it is nonetheless a decent overview that refuses to linger around old white males for too long; categories include ancient Indian philosophy, Japanese philosophy, Islamic philosophy, feminism, and African philosophy alongside the usual line-up of Greeks, Romans, Enlightenment thinkers and phenomenologists. The full list is here, but we've got some of the highlights for you below.
Ancient Indian philosophy: The Upanishads (8th to 1st century BCE) are a collection of over 200 religious and philosophical texts. Each Upanishad stands alone but taken together, they offer both a univocal account of the importance of religious knowledge and conflicting messages about reality and the individual self.
Japanese philosophy: The ideas of Nishida Kitarō were crucial to the development of Japanese philosophy in the twentieth century. An Inquiry Into the Good (1911) marks the start of his thinking around the concept of "pure experience," a concept he expresses through Zen Buddhism.
Islamic philosophy: Averroes, or Ibn Rushd, argued from an Islamic legal perspective in The Decisive Treatise (1178) that philosophy is not in conflict with Islam; he claimed that not only was it allowed, it was actually mandated in the Qur'an.
Feminism: You've heard of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex (1949) and Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own (1929), but what about Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), where she takes on a report presented to the French government that suggested that women were not suited for formal education? Wollstonecraft argued that women are indeed rational—they appear otherwise specifically because they have been denied a proper education.
African philosophy: Kenyan philosopher Henry Odera Oruka began his Sage Philosophy Project in the 1970s to document the thinking of wise men and women in communities across Africa. Sage Philosophy: Indigenous Thinkers and Modern Debate on African Philosophy (1990) countered the Eurocentric bias against viewing traditional African sages as philosophers.
Postcolonialism: While her professor and lover Martin Heidegger did not make the IAI's list (perhaps due to readability issues, or his involvement with Nazism), Hannah Arendt did, with The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). Her analysis of Nazism and Stalinism is often lauded as one of the best nonfiction books of the twentieth century; it experienced a new surge in popularity after the 2016 U.S. elections.
By Deb A.
What makes a book difficult, and is that a bad thing? (The Guardian)
The Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation has announced its shortlist for next year's prize.
Behind the scenes with the impressive list of celebrities reading children to sleep on CBeebies Bedtime Stories. (BBC)
Jawohl! The Deutsche Welle has put together a list of 100 must-reads translated from German into English.
Artist Tania Willard's recent work turns the wind into a poet. (CBC)
The science is in on how to become a successful artist. (artnet; full study, published in Science, available here)
The 2018 New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children's Books are here!
By Deb A.
Americans, don't forget to vote this week!
Literary, art and photography publications, and publisher of fine books. Quarterly magazines are available online and in print, and feature contributors from around the globe. For current book titles, visit our homepage.
Copyright © Agave Magazine + Press, 2019