CWW Recommends: Books for the Dog Days of Summer!

There’s just a few weeks of summer fun left, and the Rio Olympics are underway!  The beginning of a school year is upon us but there’s still some time left to spend with some great books this August!  So here are some recommendations from the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop on what to read before hanging up the surfboard and headin’ on home 😉  Thanks to Anna-Celestrya Carr, Alex Carrigan, AM Ringwalt, David Shields, Emily Smith, and Laura van den Berg for their wonderful recommendations below!

–Alex Carrigan (Curator)

StationElevenHCUS2Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
(Recommended by Anna-Celestrya Carr)

Station Eleven is captivating and beautiful in a subtle way. I’m known to read the last page first of any book I pick up. I like having an idea of where a story is going to go. For this book I resisted looking ahead. I found myself enthralled and surprised the entire time.  Dystopian fiction has become one of my favorite genres and Station Eleven stands out in its category.

The novel opens with a famous actor having a heart attack and dying on stage while playing King Lear. That same night, there is a massive outbreak of a deadly virus called the Georgia Flu, and within weeks, 99 percent of the world’s population is wiped out. In a world decimated by a global pandemic, where the few survivors live in scattered communities without electricity, the Traveling Symphony goes from town to town in the Great Lakes region, performing Shakespeare and classical music. The story plays around with time and perspective, jumping back and forth between After the Collapse and Before the Collapse. We circle around different characters’ lives and sometimes see the same scene from a different person’s view. A gorgeous read.

91lUeBR2G1LThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is one of my favorite recent “popular” books, and a book that helped remind me how much I love modern mysteries. I heard that The Girl on the Train was similar to Gone Girl, so I checked it out. What I found was a mystery novel I had to read in one sitting, causing me to spend nearly four hours in a cafe reading the entire book one rainy Sunday afternoon. The novel follows a woman named Rachel, an unemployed, alcoholic, divorcee, who spends her train rides fantasizing about what she thinks is the perfect couple living in one house along the tracks. When the woman of the couple goes missing, Rachel discovers that she has a connection to the mystery, and through her interference comes to confront her personal demons and sees how dangerous her involvement is. Hawkins makes a very flawed and relatable protagonist in Rachel, and creates a mystery that, while maybe not the most unique, is still quite thrilling to read, and only leaves me excited for the film adaptation coming out this year.

51fS0HCyAQL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room,
The Greatest Bad Movie Ever
by Greg Sestero, and Tom Bissell

(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is one of the worst movies ever made, but has one of the most devoted fan followings ever due to how hilariously awful the film is. The Disaster Artist, co-written by one of the leads in the film (Sestero), is a tell-all that reveals how the film was made and goes into the bizarre culture surrounding it. What follows is a book that veers from painfully hilarious to just plain painful. At the heart of the story is the odd friendship between Sestero and Wiseau, which paints Wiseau as a creep, a fool, a dreamer, an enigma, an entrepreneur, and an artist all at once. What could be a book that exists to bash Wiseau for his egomania, his misogyny, and his deep misunderstanding of how to act as a person is instead a book about art itself. It shows that even the people who make bad movies are sympathetic and have dreams they want to fulfill, even if they aren’t very good at it. The books shows that everyone involved in The Room (except for maybe Wiseau depending on how you read him) deserved better, and is quite enjoyable to read after seeing the movie. It shows that even misguided passion projects can still create beautiful, inexplicable, and valued art despite every possible obstacle in the way.

Everything+I+Never+Told+You+-+Celeste+NgEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

Most stories that deal with mysterious deaths focus on the mystery and the investigation, but often don’t focus on the impact the death has on the victim’s family. Celeste Ng’s debut novel Everything I Never Told You follows a Chinese-American family in 1977 after their daughter is found dead in a lake. What could be a Twin Peaks-esque mystery is instead a meditation on race, gender, and loss. By focusing on a mixed race family in a small town during the late ’70’s, Ng shows how the era played into the attitudes of the characters, from the father who tries to downplay his Chinese heritage and blend in, to the mom who wants nothing more than to ensure her daughter doesn’t fall into the same mistakes she made. At the heart is the dead girl, Lydia, and it’s through her death and the time leading up to it that the reader realizes that what doesn’t matter is why or how Lydia died, but rather what her death reveals about the family and the time they lived in.

51mSJNECGyL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

When my brother read Americanah, he said Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie instantly became his favorite living writer. I recently picked up the book, and I found that he was completely justified in believing that. Americanah follows two young Nigerians, Ifemelu and Obinze, and they grow up in Nigeria and move on with their adult lives. Ifemelu travels to America for college and starts a successful blog dealing with her facing race for the first time in her life. Obinze becomes an undocumented worker in England, and his story provides a contrast to Ifemelu, who flourishes in her new environment while he finds it difficult to settle into the first world. The book taught me a lot about Nigeria in the 90’s and 00’s, and is a really good book for dealing with race relations, primarily for how non-American blacks deal with race. Adichie imbues her characters with such spirit and detailed voice that it becomes easy to see them as real people, so I have found her an author I really want to read more of in the future.

APS_24_COVER_RGBA Public Space: Issue 24
(Recommended by AM Ringwalt)

This issue of A Public Space focuses on artists creating outside of their primary mediums; Etel Adnan writes in epistolary prose about weaving and David Lynch is interviewed about his paintings. A devoted Adnan fan, I excitedly picked up this issue to absorb more of her voice. As she shares images of trees “yellow, but haloed” . . . “still [with] a green heart and golden edges, such tender vegetal icons,” I realized that summer is the time of weaving–gathering light–before colder seasons and a scarcity of unburdened hours.

PIR_cover_118_smaller_image_visual_220_331Poetry Ireland Review Issue 118: The Rising Generation
(Recommended by AM Ringwalt)

In early 2016, I lived in Dublin and worked as an intern at the Irish Writers’ Centre. While there, I fell in love with its myriad journals (Guts and Gorse to name a few). While journals with names like Poetry Ireland Review connote tradition–and thus old white men–I never read a copy until I saw their Rising Generation issue, published in sync with the centenary of the 1916 Rising. Honoring “rising” poets (new and successful in the field, not necessarily young), this issue highlights poets including Jessica Traynor (of the Centre’s A Poet’s Rising) and provides accompanying questionnaires, prompting its featured poets to extrapolate on ideas such as: “Would you rather be the poet or the poem?”

51Ec+CJgOOL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_A Year with Hafiz: Daily Contemplations
by Hafiz and Daniel Ladinsky
(Recommended by AM Ringwalt)

I first saw A Year with Hafiz on Ariana Reines’ Tumblr. Always spiritual, always prophetic, her website is a well of meditation and insight. (A recent post highlights Muhyiddin Ibn ’Arabi’s  “Our heart holds within it all forms, that our hearts created. We have made a meadow there for gazelles, children, music, dance and dreams.”) Immediately after reading Reines’ chosen excerpt, I ordered a used copy of A Year with Hafiz online. Though a devotional style book isn’t necessary to read one Hafiz poem a day, the book itself is beautiful and compiles Hafiz’s writing in a way that compliments the changing months and seasons. Starting this “devotional” in the summer has allowed me to more deliberately meditate on certain phrases each day with the freedom inherent in the season. Take May 25, for example, as a preface to the summer: “Like a great starving beast my body / is quivering, fixed on the scent of light.”

51uHU-PRXQL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_The Poet, The Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, A Wedding in St. Roch, The Big Box Store, The Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All
by C.D. Wright
(Recommended by AM Ringwalt)

C.D. Wright, described by Ben Lerner as “an utterly original American artist,” is a bright angel reminding me, time and again, how the act of writing is the act of salvation. Writing, after all, is a saving force, one that evokes internal and external revolutions. Though I was never lucky enough to meet Wright, I felt her brightness near upon the publication of The Poet, The Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, A Wedding in St. Roch, The Big Box Store, The Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All. This book, with its multitudinous worlds (the first poem, among many others, is titled “In a Word, a World”) is a manifesto of the spiritual potency of poetry. This book, at home in her canon of nonconforming literature, is a call to push boundaries beyond experimentation and into innovation. The Poet, The Lion…, published very the month of Wright’s passing, is a reminder of mortality and, beyond life (and death), the endless power of poetry.

Last Sext Cover 092815.inddLast Sext by Melissa Broder
(Recommended by AM Ringwalt)

I picked up a copy of Last Sext while on a date with my partner at the Harvard Bookstore last month. These dates always go the same–I say I won’t buy a single book and I leave with more than one. Always fodder for an empty wallet and, most importantly, for, at its best, transformative inspiration, I’m thankful that I found myself squatting in the poetry section absorbed in a copy of Broder’s book. I’ve never read a collection of poems containing cunnilingus, boring angels, clock-obsessed Americans, third eyes, centaurs, gypsies, “Me saying more and the light saying yes.” The intersections between dark and light, as they both illuminate sex, farting, hallucinating and “childhood feeling” (among countless other phenomena), remind me that darkness, too, can be an illuminating force. I urge you to read her poem “Salt,” published in Poetry in 2014. Then, I urge you to say more and get a copy or two or three of Last Sext.

41sMfxQdi6L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Pharmacist’s Mate by Amy Fusselman
(Recommended by David Shields)

The book fluctuates wildly and unpredictably from Fusselman’s attempt to get pregnant through artificial means, her conversations with her dying father, and his WWII diary entries. I don’t know what the next paragraph will be, where Fusselman is going, until—in the final few paragraphs—she lands on the gossamer-thin difference between life and death, which is where she’s been focused all along, if I could only have seen it.

51psU3H7kSL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Humiliation by Wayne Koestenbaum
(Recommended by David Shields)

Humiliation runs like a rash over the body of Koestenbaum’s work. Here he confronts the feeling directly and the result is an extraordinary meditation on—I don’t know how else to say it—the human condition.




maggienelsonThe Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
(Recommended by Emily Smith)

Maggie Nelson makes the public private in this genre-bending, poetic recollection of her pregnancy and husband Harry Dodge’s transition. Like her previous works, Nelson draws from critics like Judith Butler and Roland Barthes to explore her personal perspective on sexuality, gender, queer family making and the radical idea that motherhood never has to be equated with the loss of individual freedom.

halfformedA Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Elmear McBride
(Recommended by Emily Smith)

Although A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing was just recently published, it’s already been hailed as a classic. In this novel surrounding sexual abuse and a sister’s relation to her young brother diagnosed with cancer. Elmear McBride, who spent ten years trying to publish the novel, has been compared to James Joyce and Virginia Woolf for her experimental style, which has often been described as “electric.”

2d0d11c0-51a0-0132-0b3e-0eae5eefacd9Binary Star by Sarah Gerard
(Recommended by Emily Smith)

Sarah Gerard’s Binary Star follows the story of an anorexic young woman and her neglectful, alcoholic boyfriend. The two feed off of each other’s negativity until taking a road trip and discovering vegananarchism. The short, lyrical novel tackles diet culture and the illness that, as a result, the two love to keep company. Like its title, the novel shines bright and fast, held together by its own gravity until its shocking, explosive end.

Heartbreaker by Maryse Meijer and Barefoot Dogs by Antonio Ruiz-Camacho
(Recommended by Laura van den Berg)









Heartbreaker is Maryse Meijer’s debut collection, with stories following a wide variety of characters as they deal with desire, vulnerability, sex, heartbreak, and survival. Barefoot Dogs is a series of connected stories about the members of a wealthy Mexican family after the patriarch goes missing.  These collections are wildly different in style and approach, and are wildly successful in creating a singularly absorbing world for the reader to inhabit, from the first story to the last.

Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Recommends: Winter 2015 – Books to Keep You Warm

Hello everyone!  Happy Valentine’s Day!  We hope you’re all enjoying 2015 and staying warm through all that snowy weather!  To celebrate February and the snowy tidings of 2015, our CWW staff has written about their favorite reads to keep you warm through this winter season!  Some of these works that have inspired our own writing and changed how we think and see the world, and other works have just stayed with us, entertained, or made us stop, stare, or smile for a little while.  Special thanks to Stephen Aubrey, Rita Banerjee, Alex Carrigan, Gregory Crosby, Katy MillerDavid Shields, Emily Smith, Christine Stoddard, Diana Norma Szokolyai, and Megan Tilley for sending in their favorite winter lit picks & recommendations! – Alex Carrigan (Curator)

CWW Winter 2015 Lit Picks:

pillowman theThe Pillowman by Martin McDonagh
(Recommended by Stephen Aubrey)

In an unnamed totalitarian nation, a Kafka-esque fiction writer called Katurian is detained and questioned by two policemen after a string of gruesome infanticides resembling dark fairytales Katurian has written. As Katurian seems unconcerned about the ramifications of his art, the police officers—playing a twisted game of “good cop/bad cop”—inform Katurian that his intellectually-disabled brother Michael, who is currently being tortured in an adjoining room, has been coerced into confessing to the crimes. What follows is a harrowing meditation on our responsibility to our art and our family, one without easy answers or reassurances. Small and contained (it’s a four-person cast in two small rooms) yet with very high stakes, it’s one of the most tightly-written and surprising of contemporary plays. It’s also funnier than any play centered around murdered children has any right to be, that’s Irish theatre for you.

91gug5d5wlL._SL1500_A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
(Recommended by Stephen Aubrey)

Rebecca Solnit is one of the most interesting nonfiction writers around today. As both a writer and an activist, she’s made a career exploring issues related to the environment and its impact on politics, our sense of place, art, and society. In A Field Guide to Getting Lost, perhaps her finest work and certainly the best introduction to her formidable intellect, Solnit explores her own past in a series of linked essays as she explores questions of identity and the importance of the unknown. In a wonderful instance where form imitates function, the essays don’t necessarily build to a cohesive argument so much as they meander from Solnit’s Russian Jewish ancestors to her own youthful dabbling in punk rock and experimental film to a love affair she once had with a desert recluse. Each is tinged with a painterly lyricism that makes the settings Solnit writes about as vivid as the people who occupy them. Come with no expectations; simply agree to follow Solnit wherever she leads you and you will find this a perfect book to get lost in.

whereeuropebegins_300_411Where Europe Begins by Yoko Tawada
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

Yoko Tawada is a force of nature.  She has mastered the art of defamiliarizing the familiar whether it be language, gender, the facets of the body, or the interplay between imagination and reality.  She is a master of writing fiction, memoir, and gorgeous lyrical essays in both Japanese and German (for which she’s won the Akutagawa Prize and Goethe Medal, respectively), and she’s given some impressive speeches in English quoting Japanese, German, and even Italian idioms and literary texts at free will.  (I had a chance to see her recently at Munich’s 2014 Shamrock festival and was floored by her performance and also later when she spoke to me in Japanese!)  Where Europe Begins explores the strangeness and uncertainty one encounters when looking at things just a little too closely.  In these short stories and musings, one’s body, one’s relationships and feelings towards others, one’s language, and even one’s existence become irrevocably uncanny and peculiar.

Akashic’s Noir Series
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)









A few years ago, I picked up my first Akashic Noir Series book in the famed City Lights Books in San Francisco while I was working on my dissertation at Berkeley.  I selected San Francisco Noir 2: The Classics because for every flower in someone’s hair, San Francisco was also pretty cold and gritty, and the ghosts of Dashiell Hammet, Jack London, and Mark Twain seemed to hang around downtown, just lurking in the air.  And this volume did not disappoint.  Frank Norris’s chilling, uncomfortable view of Chinatown still haunted in “The Third Circle,” and you could see why Hitchcock was so mesmerized by the city by the bay.  Flitting back to Cambridge for work, Boston Noir also provided a delightful read.  Don Lee’s “The Oriental Hair Poets” seemed especially à propos in the atmosphere of Cambridge.  The story centers around two female Asian poets who compete with one another for men and literary accolades, attempting to sabotage each other’s poetic careers and prestige, until something goes horribly wrong…

TreadwindsTreadwinds by Walter K. Lew
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

During my MFA days, Walter K. Lew’s Treadwinds was a poetry collection that I returned to again and again.  Like Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s novel Dictée, Lew’s Treadwinds was unique and powerful for its unusual collage-like form and ability to breakdown and rethink linguistic barriers.  Lew presents poems written in English alongside phrases and texts written in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese in order to demonstrate the narratives of colonial occupation, immigration, and cultural assimilation felt by Koreans and Korean-Americans in the 20th century.  He juxtaposes images from film, photography, news stories, and idioms from folk songs, jazz, and old family anecdotes and tales of trauma to convey the complexity and multifaceted voice of the Korean in the modern era.  In the namesake poem, “Treadwinds” language and grammar itself breakdown as Lew explores what it means to return, hungry and dwindled, to home and “the sounds of spring.”

moon-mountain-banerjeeMoon Mountain
by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay

(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

Moon Mountain or Cāndēr Pāhaṛ  (চাঁদের পাহড়), is a famous Bengali novella by the much-loved Bengali novelist, Bibhutibhushan Bandopahdyay (author of the renowned novel Pather Pāncālī, which was later made famous on the silver screen by Satyajit Ray).  Set between 1909-1910, Moon Mountain focuses on the story of Shankar Roy Chowdhury, a young Bengali man, who goes to Africa and winds up working for the Uganda Railway.  Hungry for adventure, Shankar meets a strange cast of imperialists and prospectors from Britain, Portugal, Holland, and elsewhere as they try to exploit the riches of Africa and its people.  One prospector, the Portuguese Diego Alvarez, a Kurtz-like figure, tells Shankar about his trials and misfortunes hunting for diamonds in the caves of the Moon Mountain, a legendary place deep in the jungles of Richtersveldt, which is haunted and guarded by a spirit called bunyip.  Shankar then has to decide whether or not he will follow Alvarez and his thirst for adventure with open eyes or with eyes wide shut.

tolstoy-family_happinessFamily Happiness by Leo Tolstoy
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

There’s really nothing like setting the mood for Valentine’s Day in the middle of a snowy winter than reading some dark, deeply existential Russian Literature.  Leo Tolstoy is a master of examining the minutae of social relationships and the unpredictably psychology of human behavior.  In “Family Happiness,” he takes a hard look at romance and bourgeois obsession of finding the perfect romantic partner and creating the façade of the perfect family.  The story follows Masha, a young seventeen-year-old girl, and Sergey, her much older would-be paramour as they engage in a courtship which leads to “romance” and a very unexpected ending.

PoeticScientifica Poetic Scientifica by Leah Noble Davidson
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

Leah Noble Davidson’s poetry collection, Poetic Scientifica, is a beautiful experiment.  The collection follows the breakdown of a romantic relationship as it simultaneously explores memories of past sexual violence, individual agency, and female empowerment.  In doing so, Poetic Scientifica explores the roles of double-identities, mirror images, Norma Jeane & Marilyn Monroe, beauty, and its lovelorn echo.  Perhaps, the charm and play of Davidson’s work can be best described by the hidden poem in her collection which introduces all others: “Oh careful readiness, oh cinders in the jaw / you: fountains of birdsong and / velvet ropes, aspiring Marilyns / maybe I covet you / the way you would have me, do so / Climbing into our story / we build your image together / a person to love, an echo / of the anecdotes strangers tell each other / I can not hate you for being the bathtub / I drain my culture into / for shining myself into / so many lights.”

JulesVerne-VoyageExtraodinaire Voyages Extradonaires by Jules Verne
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

When I was studying at the Sorbonne, I would always carry a Poche paperback of a Jules Verne classic with me and would devour it as I made my way through the undergrounds of Paris each morning.  Some of my favorite reads were Voyage au centre de la Terre, Vingt milles lieues sous le mer, De la Terre à la Lune, and Paris au XXe siècle.  While the stories were familiar from childhood, there was just something about cracking a secret code or cipher with Axel and Lindenbrock in French.  The scope and worldview of Verne’s novels, which are set in Baltimore, Hamburg, Paris, China, and India, was also impressive as was his mastery of the scientific romance genre.  Characters in his novels always seemed to be at the brink of discovery, whether in realizing the potential or limitations of science and technology or in understanding the potential and limitations of their own humanity.  The future could materialize crystal clear in a Verne novel, full of possibilities and full of failures.  And now as I am writing my own futuristic novel, it’s wonderful to go back to the pillars of modern day science fiction with writers like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, and try to find answers to those big and scary questions like, “what is science?” “what is fiction?” and “what might tomorrow bring?”

schomburg-themansuitThe Man Suit by Zachary Schomburg
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

The Man Suit is a memorable, must-read collection of poems by Zachary Schomburg.  The poems in The Man Suit dance a fine line between melancholy, dark humor, and unnerving absurdity.  Images of forests, monsters, stars, death, white and black telephones, music bands, and theatre pepper the collection.  And stories of late barons, experiments gone awry, John Wilkes Booth and Abraham Lincoln, and a singular tale of a lost love and a girl named Marlene appear, disappear, and remix like constellations across the page.  Read in another way, Schomburg’s collection takes a hard look at the values of Americana and the changing shape of the American social and political landscape in the waning years of the Bush presidency.  In “Last President of a Dark Country,” the speaker of the poem, states “Trying being the last president of a dark country.  It is lonely as hell here.  You should come. / …if you are careful, you can find the railing.  It will lead you to a dimly-lit hole that you can climb down into.  You’ll find me there, most likely.  I’ll be working on my last presidential address.  It will be a list of everything that haunts me.  No matter how much you ask me to read it, I probably won’t.”

Haunted511a1mqxnhl-_ss500_ by Chuck Palahniuk
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

This short fiction anthology by Chuck Palahniuk was every bit as morbid, disgusting, and shocking as I hoped it would be, with tons of awesome stories involved. The novel’s frame story is a bunch of writers going on a writing retreat where they spend three months locked in an old theater with all the amenities provided by the benefactor and his assistant. They all individually get the idea to write a tale about how they were held captive and tortured, each going about destroying their new home and forcing themselves into acts of mutilation, cannibalism, and murder. The stories in the book are all written by a character in the story and cover a variety of subjects from angry feminists to reflexology to masturbation accidents. This book really gripped me because all the stories are so unique and weird. It’s also very postmodern in design, something I’m always a fan of and want to attempt in the future.

{D89C61A6-9DA2-409A-9A9E-ADFD027A9D27}Img100Riotous Assembly by Tom Sharpe
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

This was a book I had to grow up to read. It’s a book my father loved a lot and told me about when I was younger. The story, detailing the incompetence of the racist police force in an Apartheid South Africa town, is a screwball satire showing how a crime of passion was turned into a full-blown political scandal due to how just darn stupid everyone is. It’s satirical, funny, and full of political commentary. It’s also a book with a really creative writing style and humorous voice that Sharpe uses when describing events. It will have you looking at elephant guns differently, so you should check it out.

wernerherzog_guidefortheperplexedWerner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed
by Paul Cronin

(Recommended by Gregory Crosby)

It’s a huge series of conversations with Herzog about his film and career, but it’s also the only self-help book any artist will ever need, whether they make films, write, paint or engage in any creative endeavor that requires courage, persistence, and endurance. Herzog is also dryly funny in only the way a German can be.


the_dream_songspicThe Dream Songs by John Berryman
(Recommended by Gregory Crosby)

If you’re suffering from heartache and pain and want to know how to sing the blues, you should avail yourself of John Berryman’s The Dream Songs. It sounds like hyperbole, but this was a book that more or less saved my life when I was at my lowest point.



81XbzO1loHLEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
(Recommended by Katy Miller)

Opening with the ominous sentence “Lydia is dead,” Everything I Never Told You unspools the deep, psychological layers of the Lee family as they deal with loss and tragedy. For the first half of the novel, Ng tells the reader only sparse details about Lydia herself—the oldest child of Chinese-American James Lee and his white wife Marilyn—and focuses instead of the dreams and disappointments of her parents. Set mainly in the 1970s midwest only just after the Supreme Court overturned the interracial marriage ban in 1967, Everything I Never Told You beautifully captures the quiet desperation of crushing familial expectations coupled with heartbreaking loneliness. Ng deftly writes the inner life of the five family members and how difference affects each one, expertly weaving their voices into the suspenseful narrative.

41FP9H01AjLThe Thing Around Your Neck
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

(Recommended by Katy Miller)

The characters in this 13-story collection are just as vivid as those in Adichie’s marvelous novels. The majority of these narratives are written from a female perspective, and Adichie fully explores their struggles to settle into American lives, their complex relationships, and their diverse motivations in beautiful detail. A thoughtful writer, she delights in revealing uncomfortable observations, such as in the inner monologue of a Nigerian waitress in Connecticut in the titular short story: “He told you he had been to Ghana and Uganda and Tanzania, loved the poetry of Okot p’Bitek and the novels of Amos Tutuola and had read a lot about sub-Saharan African countries, their histories, their complexities. You wanted to feel disdain, to show it as you brought his order, because white people who liked Africa too much and those who liked Africa too little were the same—condescending.”

51A1wj3p3eL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano
(Recommended by David Shields)

Galeano marries himself to the larger warp-and-woof by allowing different voices and different degrees of magnitude of information to play against one another. A mix of memoir, anecdote, polemic, parable, fantasy, and Galeano’s surreal drawings, the book might at first glance be dismissed as mere miscellany. But upon more careful inspection, it reveals itself to be virtually a geometric proof on the themes of love, terror, and imagination. This is perhaps best exemplified by this mini-chapter: “Tracey Hill was a child in a Connecticut town who amused herself as befitted a child of her age, like any other tender little angel of God in the state of Connecticut or anywhere else on this planet. One day, together with her little school companions, Tracey started throwing lighted matches into an anthill. They all enjoyed this healthy childish diversion. Tracey, however, saw something which the others didn’t see or pretended not to, but which paralyzed her and remained forever engraved in her memory: faced with the dangerous fire, the ants split up into pairs and two by two, side by side, pressed close together, they waited for death.”

A1ShzwjgyDL._SL1500_Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
(Recommended by David Shields)

This is the book that I think of as mattering the most to me ever, but I read it more than thirty years ago and find that I have trouble re-reading it now. Seems sad—do I still love it, did I ever love it? I know I did. Has my aesthetic changed that much? If so, why? Does one resist that alteration? I think not. The book still completely changed me, still defines me in some strange way. Proust for me is the C.K. Scott-Moncrieff translation in paperback, its covers stained with suntan oil since I read all seven volumes in a single summer (supposedly traveling around the South of France but really pretty much just reading Proust). I came to realize that he will do anything and go anywhere to extend his research, to elaborate his argument about art and life. But his commitment is never to the narrative per se, it’s to the narrative as a vector on the grid of his argument. That thrilled me and continues to thrill me—his understanding of his book as a series of interlaced architectural/thematic spaces.

41Mm2ZM0NvL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_For Love & Money by Jonathan Raban
(Recommended by David Shields)

For twenty-plus years I’ve been showing drafts of my books to Jonathan, who within days of receiving the manuscript will call and not only insist that it can be so much better but show me how. For Love & Money, which he calls “only half a good book,” is one of my favorite books ever written—a brutal, ruthless coming-of-age-of-the-author disguised as a miscellany of essays and reviews. Jonathan comes out of what is to me a distinctly British tradition of showing respect for the conversation by questioning your assertion rather than blandly agreeing with it. He’s exhaustive and disputatious, never settling for received wisdom or quasi-insight. More than anyone in my life, he encouraged me to think off-axis about “nonfiction.”

rent-girl-michelle-teaRent Girl by Michelle Tea
(Recommended by Emily Smith)

Rent Girl is a gritty and blunt graphic novel/memoir that focuses on Michelle Tea’s history as a prostitute in the early 90s.Throughout the novel, Tea is unapologetically honest about her many shocking exploits: appeasing her clients — one a self-proclaimed warlock — to a terrible case of crabs, Tea never shies away from reality.

margaret_atwood_the_handmaids_taleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
(Recommended by Emily Smith)

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood follows the story of Offred, a handmaid living under a totalitarian Christian regime responsible for usurping the United States. The novel explores how women gain agency, especially under a government that enforces trope-like roles: wives, handmaids (surrogate mothers) and Jezebels (prostitutes).


51SvR6tvD2LGather Together in My Name by Maya Angelou
(Recommended by Christine Stoddard)

This year we lost one of the greats. Her stunning life inspired not only poetry but prose. Gather Together in My Name is an autobiographical account of Angelou’s early years as a single mother shortly after World War II in a deeply segregated America. A story of hope and redemption, it’s the perfect read to inspire you to seriously reflect on your own flaws and make meaningful and sincere New Year’s Resolutions.


948009Intimacy by Jean-Paul Sartre
(Recommended by Christine Stoddard)

This collection of four short stories and a novella is complex and unnerving. All of the stories deal with intimacy or, more aptly, the lack thereof. They deal with sex, perversion, sensuality, and ugly truths. My personal favorite is the first story “Intimacy,” for which the collection is named, because of its stream of consciousness, changing narrators, and obsession with hypocrisy in love. Intimacy is a great winter read because it will chill you to the bone, not for its otherworldliness but for its raw portrayal of reality.

Unknown-4The Theory of Everything (dir. James Marsh)
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

Would I be wearing my heart on my sleeve if I admitted to crying upon just seeing the trailer to this film?  After watching the film in its entirety, I saw that this was not just a historical tearjerker, but a deeply moving and realistic account of the life and love between Stephen and Jane Hawking.  Of the movie, Stephen Hawking has said that it was “broadly true” ( and that, at times, he felt as though Eddie Redmayne was himself.  Indeed, the actor has done such a marvelous job that he is nominated for a 2015 Oscar for best actor in a leading role—we shall see at the end of February if he gets this well deserved award.  After watching this film, you will feel closer to the emotional world of cosmologist Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest minds of our time.  The hope, heartbreaking honesty, and intensity of Stephen and Jane’s story will rekindle your faith in the true potential of the human spirit.

safe_amy_king_0I Want to Make You Safe by Amy King
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

Amy King’s poems examine the delicate boldly.  The visual imagery is unforgettable and leaves the reader with impressions to ponder long afterwards.  Consider these lines and you’ll understand: “I can’t imagine the heart anymore/now that it presses my ribs apart,/a balloon of such gravity I ache for stars in a jar,/wasps whose love reminds be of fireflies tonight.”  King is the 2015 recipient of the prestigious Women’s National Book Association Award.  John Ashbery described her poems in I  Want to Make You Safe as bringing “abstractions to brilliant, jagged life, emerging rather than out of the busyness of living.”  The book was also one of the Boston Globe’s Best Poetry Books of 2011.  Read it!

Unknown-5Someone Else’s Vows by Bianca Stone
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

I first heard Bianca Stone read at the Couplet reading series in Manhattan, organized by Leah Umansky.  Her poems seemed so ripe, containing an urgency.  In reading Someone Else’s Wedding Vows, you’ll enter a world of vulnerability and fireworks, where the past and present converge in a magnificent display of words. Here is an excerpt from her poem “The Future is Here”: “Man burns at a certain degree/ but I always burned a little slower./ When I went into school/ I left a trail of blackened footprints/ to my classroom of spelling words,/ never starred. At the end of the earth/ we’ll be locked in our own spelling mistakes,”.  Read this book.  It will make you question the world around you in beautiful ways.

Unknown-6Prelude to a Bruise by Saeed Jones
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

I recently heard Saeed Jones read at The Difficult to Name Reading Series run by Ryan Sartor.   I was immediately hooked.  His voice was electrifying, his delivery so precise and rich.  I bought the book from him immediately after the reading and devoured it.  Jones started his reading saying that his poems were the cross section of where race, sexuality and America meet.  Reading his work, you can certainly see him examining that triad so effectively.  Take his title poem:  “In Birmingham, said the burly man—/Boy, be/a bootblack./Your back, blue-back./Your body,      burning./I like my black boys broke, or broken./I like to break my black boys in.”   He is a 2013 Puscart Prize Winner and is now up for a National Book Critics Circle Award.  Reading this book will change you—it is that important.

11529868The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
(Recommended by Megan Tilley)

This 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner by Adam Johnson follows a citizen of North Korea through his rise and fall in North Korean society. The author read first hand accounts of defectors from the Hermit Kingdom and also travelled to North Korea to better acquaint himself with the unique political and social situation in the country. This is not a light read, but is a great choice for those interested in North Korea and in first hand accounts from the country. Meticulously researched and beautifully crafted, this is a novel that will change the way you look at North Korea.

51EvRAIqG0LThe Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Bloom
(Recommended by Megan Tilley)

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Deborah Bloom, The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York is a fascinating look into the beginnings of forensic medicine. Organized into sections by poison, the book details not only crime cases involving that poison, but also the politics surrounding forensic medicine and the advances in medical science made by the tireless advocates of this new branch of crime investigation. A great book for anyone interested in true-crime, medicinal history, or Prohibition, it’s an easy and fascinating read.

Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Recommends: Summer 2014 Literature & Film


We at the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop hope all of you are planning to have a nice summer. Whether you use this summer to relax, to work, or to start something new, we hope you choose to use the summer days and nights to the best of your abilities. However, if you need a little help finding new books to read and new movies to watch, we’re here to help.  Our staff has compiled a list of books and films we’d like to share with our audience. We’ve got a wide variety of genres and topics on our list, so we hope you check these books and films out and discover something new.  A special thanks to Rita Banerjee for her help with editing this list, and to our contributors, Rita Banerjee, Alex Carrigan, Gregory Crosby, Elissa Lewis, Jessica Reidy, Ian Singleton, Kathleen Spivack, Christine Stoddard, Diana Norma Szokolyai, Megan Tilley, and Roxy van Beek, for their recommendations!  – Alex Carrigan (Curator)

CWW Summer 2014 Lit Picks:

Gone_Girl_(Flynn_novel)Gone Girl  by Gillian Flynn
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

This is the novel I wish I had written.  Gillian Flynn’s writing is stylistic, clever, and full of wit and menace. Every word of Flynn’s novel from her first sentence to her last is gorgeously crafted and razor-sharp.  Gone Girl centers around the story of Amy and Nick Dunne, a supposedly happily married couple about to celebrate their 5th wedding anniversary.  Following the 2008 Stock Market crash and the ensuing Great Recession, Amy and Nick are forced to move to North Carthage, Missouri after losing their jobs in the glittery, larger-than-life publishing world of New York City.  The novel, told from alternating points of view follows the fairy tale beginning and then increasingly volatile relationship between Amy and Nick.  Flynn does a masterful job of capturing Amy and Nick’s distinctive voices, psychology, and increasingly dark secrets, and her essay on the “Cool Girl” is a magnificent, and to-die-for moment in the novel.  To add insult to injury, Amy’s parents are the perfect married partners and are in a decades-long happy romance.  They are also authors of the children book series, Amazing Amy, which presents a parallel but laudable version of Amy’s own life, that is, “Amazing Amy” never makes the wrong decision or encounters grievous hardships whereas Amy Dunne’s life seem punctuated by increasingly harsher realities.  The novel begins on the morning of Amy and Nick’s 5th wedding anniversary when everything seems normal, mundane, and annoyingly routine until Amy Dunne goes missing.  And we find Nick, who spends too much of his free time contemplating size and permeability of the Amy’s skull, as the prime suspect.

EmmaGoldmanEmma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life
by Vivian Gornick
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

For anyone who has read The Situation and the Story: The Art of the Personal Narrative, you know that Vivian Gornick is a rock-star in the contemporary creative writing scene.  She is a master of the personal essay and definitely one of the most fluid, honestly intellectual, and vividly personal non-fiction writers out there.  In Emma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life, Gornick traces the life and times of Emma Goldman and how Goldman, a young Russian Jewish émigré who came to the US in 1885, not knowing a word of English and only enough Yiddish and German to communicate with German and Jewish intellectuals in New York City, became the little anarchist that could.  Under the tutelage of Johann Most and radicals from the Lower East Side, Goldman became a great orator, a supporter of worker rights and basic human rights for all, and most of all, a successful practitioner of civil disobedience.  Her speeches in support of anarchy, free love, and ethical labor conditions drew hundreds of thousands of supporters in New York, Chicago, and even in California before she went on to stump in Europe, the UK, and Canada.  Jailed for her anarchist sentiments, Goldman quickly learned to read, write, and orate in English while serving time.  She also successfully subverted the hierarchical order of her prison and subtly promoted communal rights.  Overall, Gornick’s biography of Goldman is witty, full of vivid imagery, and so well-crafted that the revolutionary zeitgeist of Emma Goldman’s life and times leaps off the page and completely surrounds the reader. Emma Goldman is intriguing as a character, a thinker, a revolutionary, and a refusenik.  Perhaps what makes her so enchanting and so commanding can be summed by her own motto: “If I can’t dance, I’m not coming to your revolution.”

AnnVeronicaAnn Veronica by H.G. Wells
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

H.G. Wells may be best known as a master of science fiction and stories which exam what seems ordinary but uncanny, but his novels of social realism and turn-of-the-century politics in England deserve much praise and definitely a favored spot on your shelf.  H.G. Wells, who received Emma Goldman during her travels to England in the early 20th century, was part of the political left.  Ann Veronica, which examines the consequences of capitalism, England’s suffragist movement of the 1900s, and emergence of the “New Woman” in British society, is undoubtedly one of Wells’s most radical, thought-provoking, feminist, and best novels.  The novel centers on the story of Ann Veronica, a young 22-year-old woman, who studies biology at a university in London and who is continuously reprimanded for her exerting her own free will at her father’s house.  Ann, thus, decides to leave the suburbs and her childhood home behind to carve out a career and independent life for herself in London.  In London, Ann faces a series of increasingly terrifying social obstacles–from trying to rent an apartment on her own as a single woman, to securing a job for herself, to continuing to individually fund her college career, to her encounters with paramours and the well-meaning but chaotic world of radical suffragists.  Ann takes each problem she faces in stride, and her choices and life story are unpredictable and incredibly refreshing.  Ann, who may have been based on Wells’s own lover, Amber Reeves, demonstrates how well Wells can create feminist, complicated, and dynamic female characters who are both emotionally realistic and intellectually captivating.  As E.M Foster notes on “[Wells’s] power of observation stronger – he photographs those he meets and agitates the photos.”  With Ann Veronica, Wells has captured the dreams and desires of a young girl in the turn-of-the-century, and has found a away to agitate her narrative into a captivating, three-dimentional hero’s quest.

the-kennedy-chronicles_coverThe Kennedy Chronicles: The Golden Age of MTV Through Rose-Colored Glasses
by Kennedy

(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

For anyone who grew up in the Golden Age of MTV when the network still used to air music videos and was a bastion for American alternative culture, new voices, and underground bands, this memoir by Kennedy, that in-your-face, pajama-d, combat-boot wearing, off-the-wall feminist VJ is a must read.  In her memoirs, Kennedy takes shows us what life was like on Alternative Nation and behind the Moon Man.  She gives us behind-the-scenes tours of MTV luminaries like Jon Stewart, Tabitha Soren, and Kurt Loder, and shares some amazing reveals about Trent Reznor and NIN, Billy Corgan, Radiohead, Björk, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam.  In recalling her escapades, Kennedy writes, “I did all of these things because that’s what you do when you’re twenty and wild and living in the moment in a special universe where your future may be uncertain…and it sure as hell is fun to relive those passionate, earnest moments when music mattered and timed stopped.”

cww one hundred yearsOne Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel García Márquez

(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

This novel by the late, Nobel prize winning author tells the tale of the Buendía family over seven generations in the South American village of Macondo. The novel is filled with tons of unique characters and features many incredible scenes of magical realism. At the same time, it’s more than just a tale of magical realism. It’s also a look at Columbia in the 20th century, adding in events from Márquez’s life such as plantation strikes and war and giving them new context in a village where it can rain for years and gold butterflies can follow a young mechanic at all times. If you’re looking for a story about humanity with a magical twist, this is one for you.

cww kitchenKitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

This novella is about a girl named Mikage who moves in with a friend and his transgender mother after her grandmother dies. It’s a short and sweet love story about the importance of family and food. It’s a fairly simple story, but it’s also an interesting tale about loss and how important human relationships are. The version of the book I read also had a second story by Yoshimoto called Moonlight Shadow, which is just as good and just as adorable. That story is about a girl whose first boyfriend dies in an accident, and how her encounter with a strange woman gives her one last chance to see him. They’re both really great stories to read, and they both have incredible descriptions of Japanese food, so check it out.

cww art of crueltyThe Art of Cruelty by Maggie Nelson
(Recommended by Gregory Crosby)

Absolutely vital cultural criticism that’s balanced and insightful without pulling punches (or gratuitously throwing them). Anyone who has wrestled with the representation of violence in art, or pondered our culture’s attraction to cruelty, should read Nelson’s book.



cww motherlandsMotherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals
by Patricia Lockwood
(Recommended by Gregory Crosby)

Lockwood is one of those astonishing poetic voices that walks the tightrope of the sublime and ridiculous, and somehow always manages to stumble into the sublime just when you think she’s going to slip the other way. Her second book of poems isn’t for everybody, but it’s absolutely worth a look.


cww yoga boook 1Yoga Mind, Body and Spirit
by Donna Farhi

(Recommended by Elissa Lewis)

This book gives a gentle approach to yoga that is easy to incorporate into everyday life.  Farhi explains simply the seven basic priciples of movement that you can apply to every yoga posture. You will find a selection of at-home yoga practices with nice photographs and illustrations.


cww yoga book 2The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Sri Swami Satchidananda

(Recommended by Elissa Lewis)

If you are interested in yoga philosophy this is a good place to start.  The yoga sutras are like the “bible of yoga”.




cww yoga book 3Chakra Yoga: Balancing Energy for Physical, Spiritual, and Mental Well-being by Alan Finger
(Recommended by Elissa Lewis)

Chakra yoga will teach you to balance the subtle energy centers of the body.  The use of mantra (sound) and yantra (visualisation) and pranayama (breath) are like the tools in your toolbox to help you dive right into your meditation practice. It is written by my amazing meditation teacher, Alan Finger.

cww artists wayThe Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
(Recommended by Jessica Reidy)

This is a creativity workbook that takes a positive, Jungian approach to dissolving creative blockages and opening yourself to creativity, productivity, and career happiness. It’s a great way to work through your hang-ups and move on with being an artist. Cameron is a successful screenwriter, director, and producer who teaches creativity workshops for all types of artists.

cww bones
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
(Recommended by Jessica Reidy)

This is a book of writing exercises and advice from esteemed writer Natalie Goldberg. She takes a Zen-approach to writing, inspired by her years of study with Zen Master Roshi. Her meditative approach to writing lends itself very well to the kind of yoga/writing balance we cultivate on the retreat.


cww parisParis Was Yesterday by Janet Flanner
(Recommended by Jessica Reidy)

This is the first book of Flanner’s collected “Letters from Paris” from her days as the Paris correspondent for The New Yorker, covering the years 1925-1939. The other book, Paris Journal covers post WWII 1944-1955. Her letters were meant to give Americans in New York an understanding of Parisian culture, and both volumes are a gorgeous walk through historical Paris filled with political, artistic, and socialite gossip, intrigue, and commemoration. This will acquaint you with Paris’ cultural history and will ultimately prepare you for understanding France’s nature of the moment.

cww maidenhairMaidenhair by Mikhail Shishkin
(Recommended by Ian Singleton)

The story begins with interviews by Swiss immigration authorities of Russian-speaking asylum seekers. Their stories become the narrative itself, and within the first chapter we are in Vlad the Impaler’s time. Other texts enter into the narrative, including the journals of a Russian chanteuse, Izabella Yureva, an epic by Xenophon, and voices from the Russia-Chechnya conflict. As the novel goes on, these narratives interweave more and more.  (I wrote an essay about this book here.)  Because of its odd interweaving of different texts, I recommend it for the summer, when readers might have more time for a slow read of a complex but beautiful narrative. Also, it is contemporaneous, considering how much Ukraine and Russia’s involvement with it have been in the news lately. It discusses the naive view the West often takes with regard to Eastern Europe.

cww tenth of decemberTenth of December by George Saunders
(Recommended by Ian Singleton)

These are the latest stories by Saunders, in which he has taken his self-help/lolz/Orwellian Newspeak language to a further degree. His penchant for futuristic dystopic moments shines through, but he also uses this language to describe the lives of those inundated with it–namely, the lower to lower-middle classes of the United States, such as those in upstate New York. The story “Escape from Spiderhead” depicts a not-too-distant futuristic prison, where various drugs are tested on the inmates. It’s not hard to believe such a thing would happen in our country. The protagonist’s particular story, why he ended up in prison, in the “spiderhead”, is as well-executed as any writer of straightforward realism might have put it.  Because of his ear for contemporary American English, in all of its interesting and unfortunate mutations, I think Saunders is an important writer to read. The language he satirizes might be completely different in 10 years.

nabokovSpeak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
(Recommended by Kathleen Spivack)

Nabokov wrote this memoir first in English, then again, wrote the whole thing again in Russian. And then he wrote the final draft in English all over again. before submitting a word to the New Yorker, and to his publisher.   Each sentence is resonant and beautiful, and the story as a whole is amazing.  You feel his great mastery of vocabulary, his delight in the nuances, ans a great swathe of Russian history  and memory.  Makes one  understand why Nabokov is still considered one of our greatest writers.

cww love and darknessA Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz
(Recommended by Kathleen Spivack)

This poignant memoir was first written in Hebrew, and translated into English by Nicholas de Lange.  A very readable translation, the book deals with Oz’s experience of Israel, the first kibbutzim, what it meant for his family to be settled  there during chaotic but formative times. It is the story of the writer, and of his family, and their experience of displacement and belonging. A very important book whose secret’s are revealed slowly and with great subtlety.

cww goldfinchThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
(Recommended by Christine Stoddard)

I recommend Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, this year’s Pultizer winner in fiction, because it is a tale of rebirth that explores the human fascination with art. Theo’s rebirth raises questions about the mind-body connection that are sure to inspire yoga novices and experts alike. The story’s central motif of a painting seems so relevant for a group about to study in the shadow of Paris, one of the art centers of the world.

cww bell jarThe Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
(Recommended by Christine Stoddard)

I also recommend Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Perhaps use Esther as a case study. She faces plenty of challenges as a frustrated Mid-Century woman longing for independence. She even ends up in an insane asylum. How might her life have been different if she felt truly encouraged to write meaningful things? How might have yoga and meditation empowered her? Would you recommend any particular writing and yoga practices to her?

cww helpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett
(Recommended by Christine Stoddard)

Kathryn Stockett’s The Help reminds me of a more positive version than The Bell Jar in some ways. While the novel is also about a young female writer to-be, what I love about Skeeter is that she learns to think beyond herself, beyond her own story, and use that as an impetus to write, get published, and make a difference. She rallies up the black maids of Jackson, Mississippi to disclose what it’s really like to work for white families in the Jim Crow South. This is no easy feat, but with Aibileen, her childhood friend’s maid, Skeeter gets the attention of Harper Collins—and her whole town. This is a good book for writing students looking for hope (sans corniness.)

LifeofPoetryThe Life of Poetry by Muriel Rukeyser
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

I came across this book at the Paris Press booth at AWP this year, and it was wholeheartedly recommended by a representative of the press, as their very first book they printed.  Paris Press brings new life to out-of-print books by women.  Once I started reading it, I did not understand how such a landmark work could even go out of print–it is a classic.  Rukeyser brilliantly illustrates what poetry has to do with democracy, and how necessary it is in our lives.  She furthermore illustrates how we can use poetry to empower ourselves and ignite our beliefs.  An eloquent and essential work of literature that contemporary writers should read.

shadowsIn Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

This essay on the Japanese sense of beauty, written by a Japanese novelist, is daring and riveting in its style.  The reader is taken on a journey to restaurants lit by candlelight and lanterns, darkened puppet theaters lit only by gas lamps, and other places where shadows play a part in the beauty of the scene.  Tanizaki compares the flood of modern, electric lights with the dance of dim lighting and shadows honored in old times.  Although at times, there are sweeping generalizations made about “Western” aesthetics, I can sympathize with the author’s disdain for an overall contemporary obsession with illuminating places with sterilizing lights.  Moreover, the author’s reflections on aesthetics are written with exquisite details that offer deep insight.

Page 3 - AlexandriaThe Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

Recommended to me by the Estonian poet Elo-Mal Toomet some years ago, The Alexandria Quartet is a tetralogy of novels reflecting on a set of events before and during WWII, told from three different perspectives in the first three novels, with the fourth novel set six years later.  When she saw me reading it, my former British landlady informed me that it was, in fact, a beach read craze in the sixties.  However, Lawrence Durrell’s novels (published between 1957-1960) promise so much more depth than the contemporary “beach read.”  As intertwining love stories are told against the backdrop of the fabulous city of Alexandria, the reader is taken on a journey of breathtaking inner and outer landscapes. Each paragraph is so masterfully crafted that it could be a prose poem in itself.  The work, which has received critical and commercial success, is a thrilling exploration of relativity and reality, and is considered to be one of the first examples of quantum fiction.

FirstFictionFirst Fiction: An Anthology of the First Published Stories by Famous Writers
(Recommended by Megan Tilley)

This is a great summer read, mostly because you can pick it up and put it down again without worry. Its a compilation of the first short stories published by authors, as the title indicates, which makes for some very interesting reading. Some are a lot worse than expected, and some show clear marks of their later genius.


cww house leavesHouse of Leaves by Mark Danielewski
(Recommended by Megan Tilley)

This book is not light reading. An experimental fiction novel that toys with ideas of time, fear, plot, reality and God, it is one of the more interesting books to come out of the early 21st century. It’s hard to describe, but if you’re interested in unique experimental fiction that doesn’t flinch in taking inspiration from past, surrealist fiction and combining it with lush modernism throughout two concurrent plot lines, House of Leaves is for you.

cww madmenCity of Saints and Madmen by Jeff Vandermeer
(Recommended by Megan Tilley)

Another collection of short stories, these are all set in the same world of Ambergris. Realistic fiction with strong magical themes, one of City of Saints and Madmen’s many strengths is how original it is – I’ve never come across anything like it. Gritty, dark, and sometimes outrageously funny, City of Saints and Madmen is entertaining to say the least.


cww animal dreamsAnimal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver
(Recommended by Roxy van Beek)

Animal Dreams follows Codi Noline as she returns to her hometown to take care of her father. Codi deals with feelings of alienation, as well as some trauma from her past, all while blending Hispanic and Native American themes.  Major themes include family, Arizona, culture, birth, and loss.


cww belovedBeloved by Toni Morrison
(Recommended by Roxy van Beek)

Beloved follows a former slave named Sethe who suspects her home is haunted by the child she chose to kill rather than let be recaptured by slavers.  Major themes include slavery and ghosts.




cww his dark materialsHis Dark Materials Trilogy
by Philip Pullman (The Golden Compass; the Subtle Knife; the Amber Spyglass.)
(Recommended by Roxy van Beek)

His Dark Materials is set in a parallel world where human souls are materialized as animal forms, and follows Lyra Belacqua as she travels across parallel worlds uncovering secrets of how the multiverse works.  Major themes include religion, philosophy, and parallel universes. (DO NOT watch the film instead).


cww snakesSnakes & Earrings by Hitomi Kanehara
(Recommended by Roxy van Beek)

Snakes and Earrings follows a girl named Lui as she descends further into the underground youth culture of Japan, starting by splitting her tongue.  Major themes include Japan, youth culture, and violence.



cww asleepAsleep by Banana Yoshimoto
(Recommended by Roxy van Beek)

Asleep is a collection of three stories by Yoshimoto. Each story centers on a woman narrator and has similar themes about sleep, love triangles, dreams, and death.  Major themes include emptiness and femininity.




cww god small thingsThe God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
(Recommended by Roxy van Beek)

The God of Small Things is set over a period of time in India, following a pair of fraternal twins as their lives are shaken by the changing times in India, as well as through class and social discrimination.  Major themes include India and family.



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CWW Summer 2014 Film Picks:

the-workhorse-and-the-bigmouthThe Workhorse and the Bigmouth
(2013, dir. Yoshida Keisuke, Japan)

(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

The Workhouse and the Bigmouth, or Bashyauma-san to Biggumausu in Japanese, is a wonderful contemporary comedy-drama about two young screenwriters trying to making it big on the mean streets of the publishing and media worlds of Japan.  The story centers on the aspirations of 34-year-old Michiyo Mabuchi and 26-year-old Yoshimi Tendo as they compete with one another and try to break into the screenwriting world of Japanese film and television.  Michiyo, who has been taking creative writing workshops and screenwriting classes for the past ten years but has yet to be published or to be successful, is our frustrated, anti-hero workhorse.  Yoshimi is the self-proclaimed screenwriting genius and Wunderkind, who finds himself facing a blank screen when he finally sits down to write his first screenplay.  Together, they exchange diatribes, work philosophies, and ideas about what makes a good story work and what can make a writer fail.  Overall, Yoshida Keisuke’s film gives us a wonderful insight into the contemporary creative writing world of the Japanese, the fierce competitiveness of the Japanese publishing and media industries, and how much courage and sheer determination it takes to become a noteworthy and successful writer.  (Recommended for writers and dreamers everywhere).

AranyerDinRatriDays and Nights in the Forest
(1970, dir. Satyajit Ray, India)
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

Aranyer Dinrātri, or Days and Nights in the Forest, is a comedic and lovely story on what can happen on lost weekends by Satyajit Ray.  The film is based on a story by the Bengali modernist poet and historical novelist, Sunil Gangopadhyay, and focuses on the adventures and mishaps of four young male friends who decide to leave their stiff, box-wallah office jobs in Kolkata behind to spend a week-long vacation in the forests of Bihar.  The four men, who come from middle-class backgrounds, transpose their classist views onto the Santhal communities they meet in the forest.  They also meet two lovely young women who are vacationing in their summer cottage nearby, and missed connections, summer picnics, and one very memorable memory game ensue.  Ray, who is known for his socially realist films and participation in the Parallel Cinema movement of South Asia, is a masterful storyteller and lyrical cinematographer in this film.  Days and Nights in the Forest is a must-see of anyone who has wandered out in the wilderness in the middle of the night, contemplating a mid-summer night’s dream.

BroenThe Bridge (2011-, dir. Bjorn Stein and Charlotte Sieling, Denmark/Sweden)
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

The Bridge was recommended to me by my partner, and is a thrilling mini-series that’s perfect for summer nights.  The story begins at midnight when the lights on the bridge between Sweden and Denmark suddenly go out, stopping all traffic.  The black out is unexpected but ordinary, until the police notice a woman lying on the road, directly in the center of the bridge.  On closer inspection, it appears to be a dead body, and there’s surveillance footage indicating that a black car dropped her off on the bridge precisely at the time when the lights went out and traffic had to be halted.  It looks like an ordinary murder, and the commuters, stuck on the bridge, become more agitated as they wait to be let across to the other side.  A woman is in an ambulance trying to rush her husband from Denmark to Sweden but is stuck behind the traffic barrier lines, and as she yells towards the detectives to hurry up, the wind begins to pick up.  That’s when the detectives from Denmark and Sweden note that the dead woman’s body has been sawed in half directly across the invisible cartographic line that separates Sweden from Denmark.


The Master and Margarita (2005, dir. Vladimir Bortko, Russia)
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

If you haven’t read Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita, go out to your local library, bookstore, ebook dealer, etc., and grab a copy now!  The novel focuses on three intersecting storylines.  The first narrative involves the atheist, political dissenter, and editor Mikhail Alexandrovich and his young friend, Ivan Nikolayevich, a poet who goes under the pen-name Homeless.  The second narrative is set in the ancient Roman Empire and follows the conflict between Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ, a young, charismatic political and religious dissenter.  The third follows the story of a writer, simply called the Master, and his muse and married lover, Margarita.  Thrown into this mix is the strange, foreign “Professor W,” his oddly attired traveling companion, and a vodka-drinking black cat that seems to be able to do magic tricks and perform menacing acts.  Set during 1920s and 1930s during Russia’s Soviet reign, this novel and mini-series blend political satire, commentary on ethics and spirituality, the writers’ role in society, and elements of the uncanny and the fantastic into a witty, comedic tale.  The mini-series stars a wonderful cast of talented actors, and is a must-see for anyone who’s a fan of modern Russian literature and theatre.

Her2013PosterHer (2013, dir. Spike Jonze, USA)
(Recommended by Rita Banerjee)

Finally, one last must-see film for the summer.  Her, directed and written by Spike Jonze, is a visually stunning and emotionally lyrically film about what happens to human beings when they literally fall in love with technology.  The lush warm hues of the film, gorgeously crafted sets, and lit panels, which mimic the shades of camera filters, draw the viewer into the protagonist’s emotionally vulnerable world.  Set in a beautifully designed, architectural near-future, Her centers on the story of Theodore Twombly, who has separated from his wife and is facing an imminent divorce, and who works full-time writing personal letters for clients who cannot write anything personal themselves.  Lonely and disenchanted, one day Theo stumbles upon an exhibit advertising an even more personal operating system–something that’s more than a computer or secretary, but promises to be an avid companion and close friend.  Intrigued, Theo buys this new OS, which after asking him a series of too-close-to-home questions, installs itself into Theo’s life as the with the voice of Scarlet Johansson as the OS named “Samantha.”  Soon Theo and “Samantha” start developing a closer bond, and Theo finds himself falling in love, not with a machine, or a piece of code meant to replicate a human being, but with a persona and human being that cannot really exist.

cww beforeBefore Trilogy (dir. Richard Linklater, Before Sunrise, 1995; Before Sunset, 2004; Before Midnight, 2013, USA)
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

A series of movies with a new film released every nine years, Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy follows American Jesse and French Céline at different stages in their relationship. It starts when they meet in their twenties on a train and spend a day in Vienna (Before Sunrise), cuts to their thirties when they finally reunite in Paris (Before Sunset), and continues on to their forties when they’re on a family vacation in the Greek Peleponnese (Before Midnight).  Each movie is better than the previous, and each film takes a different approach to showing the relationship. No film takes place over any longer period of time than a single day, but in the time shown, we get a clear idea of the characters, while also listening to some really great dialogue. The leads are fantastic, especially Julie Delpy as the effervescent Céline. I recommend watching these movies fairly close together just to see how the characters, the actors, and the director grow with the story.

cww naked kissThe Naked Kiss (dir. Samuel Fuller, 1964, USA)
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

This movie follows Kelly, a prostitute who gives up the trade to settle into a normal life in a quiet town. While she tries to adjusts to her new life as a nurse and romances the wealthiest man in town, she finds there are things in life she can’t escape. She begins to realize the corruption and evil that lays dormant in the small town she’s made her home, and she’s made it clear she won’t tolerate it. What follows is a tale of vengeance, feminism, sexuality, and death.  This movie was really daring for the time, and it’s a prime example of neo-noir. Constance Tower’s Kelly is a total badass, and she’s honestly one of my favorite female protagonists ever. It’s a film that attacked some really serious subjects at the time, but did so in a very smart and reasonable way, creating a very atmospheric drama with an incredible leading performance.

cww talk to herTalk to Her (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 2002, Spain)
(Recommended by Alex Carrigan)

This is a movie about two men whose lovers fall into comas. Benigno is a hospital orderly who falls in love with a dancer and imagines a relationship with her as he cares for her in the hospital, talking to her comatose body and acting as though she is fully conscious. Marco is a sensitive journalist and writer of travel guides whose bullfighter girlfriend is gored by a bull in an accident. The two men meet in the hospital and bond over their similar circumstances. These involve long talks about love, family, dreams, and regrets.  The movie starts off as a good meditative drama, with a fairly benign friendship displayed, but suddenly twists for the unexpected. Once the twist happens, the film changes drastically, and the characters and story are never the same. The film is Almodóvar’s masterpiece, and it’s one of the best films to come from Spain.

cww only loversOnly Lovers Left Alive
(dir. Jim Jarmusch, 2013, USA)
(Recommended by Gregory Crosby)

Jim Jarmusch’s latest is a touching, sardonic, poetic portrait of addiction and marriage that’s only incidentally a vampire movie, brimming over with dry visual wit instead of buckets of fake blood. The cast is top notch, especially Tilda Swinton, who is so… so… well, Tilda Swinton.



cww duneJodorowsky’s Dune
(dir. Frank Pavich, 2013, USA)
(Recommended by Gregory Crosby)

A documentary about the ill-fated attempt by cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky at adapting Frank Herbert’s Dune—it’s the sort of film that reminds you why you ever wanted to make art in the first place. Visionary, fascinating, hilarious.



cww gadjo diloGadjo Dilo (The Crazy Stranger)
(dir. Tony Gatlif, 1997, France)

(Recommended by Jessica Reidy)

This film set in Romania, is an honest look at the trials and joys of rural Romanian Romani (“Gypsy”) life through the eyes of a French gadjo (non-Romani person, or stranger) who is looking for his deceased father’s favorite singer. He meets Sabine, a resilient outcast in her community, and becomes involved in her tragedies and her dreams. The Roma are an ethnic group originating in India in the 11th century who then became nomadic because of persecution. Roma are better known as “Gypsies,” although that word is both incorrect and offensive to many (though some Roma choose to reclaim the word). The film draws complex Romani characters with beautifully human yearning and motivations where, in film, usually Romani characters are one-dimensional stereotypes. (In French, Romanian, and the Romani language Rromanes, but mostly French).

cww steal a millionHow to Steal a Million
(dir. William Wyler, 1966, USA)

(Recommended by Jessica Reidy)

Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole are beautiful and funny together in an art heist/romantic comedy set in Paris. That’s enough reason to watch it.



cww budapestThe Grand Budapest Hotel
(dir. Wes Anderson, 2014, USA)
(Recommended by Ian Singleton)

This is a great film, a bit darker than Wes Anderson’s last, and an inviting homage to the work of the Austrian-Jewish writer Stefan Zweig. His genteel humanity was a perfect antidote to the brutality of the Nazi regime, and one can’t help but think of the world’s contemporary wars and violence seeing that depicted in the film. But it’s not sentimental–like Zweig’s life, it ends up as a tragedy.  This is a good film for the reasons mentioned above, but also because Anderson is stepping out of his Joseph Cornell-ian cuddly kunstkamera and taking on some very serious subject matter. At the same time, he’s still having fun, especially if you watch the credits until the little Russian dancer comes out.  The works of Stefan Zweig are also highly recommended.

cww amelieAmélie (dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001, France)
(Recommended by Christine Stoddard)

Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie is a must, if not a cliché, for its magical Parisian love story and gorgeous production design.





cww 400 blowsThe 400 Blows
(dir. Francois Truffaut, 1959, France)

(Recommended by Christine Stoddard)

François Truffaut’s 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups) is a classic coming of age film set right in Paris.




cww hedgehogThe Hedgehog (dir. Mona Achache, 2009, France)
(Recommended by Christine Stoddard)

As for the unexpected, I suggest The Hedgehog (Le hérisson) by Mona Achache for a more recent release by a female director. It is an enchanting story of an 11-year-old who decides to commit suicide until she discovers the world of literature through a surprising new friend. It, too, is set in Paris.



KorkoroKorkoro (dir. Tony Gatlif, 2009, France)
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

During WWII in France, a young boy, Claude, follows a Romani (Gypsy) family after he is orphaned.  With a deftness unlike any other director, Gatlif captures the tragic situation of Romani people during this difficult time, as well as their resilience of spirit and ability to make what is heavy a little more lighthearted.  As itinerant people are pursued by the Nazis, French people of the Resistance attempt to help the Romani family, but ultimately, their freedom is at stake.  In addition to great storytelling and acting, the movie includes a wonderful soundtrack typical of Gatlif’s films.

The-Dance-of-Reality-Poster-1000WThe Dance of Reality
(dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky, 2013, Chile)

(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

I saw this film at Landmark Sunshine Cinema in the village recently and found it in a word: STUNNING.  Visually captivating, the narrative focuses on the autobiographical childhood years of legendary, cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky   Using elements of magical realism and masterful storytelling, Jodorowsky recounts the story of his family in the harsh, anti-Semitic political climate of Chile in the 1930s.  Alejandro’s father in the film is played by his son in real life.  His mother is played by soprano Pamela Flores, who sings all of her lines in true operatic fashion, creating both comedic and deeply moving effects as she interacts with the other characters, who speak to her normally throughout the film.  At times self-mocking and hilarious, and at other times deeply mystical and insightful, this film is now on my list of “most magical films of all time.”

moodindigo_poster_lowres__largeMood Indigo
(dir. Michel Gondry, 2013, France)
(Recommended by Diana Norma Szokolyai)

This one is on my wishlist, as it hits American theaters on July 18th, so I have not seen it as of yet.  The synopsis on IMDB is ” Wealthy, inventive bachelor endeavors to find a cure for his lover Chloe after she’s diagnosed with an unusual illness caused by a flower growing in her lungs.”  The trailer makes the film look very promising, and I am a fan of Gondry’s previous films Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep.  Also, actors Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou seem to have a convincing on-screen chemistry.  The film is based on the 1947 novel Froth on the Daydream by Boris Vian.

cww the fallThe Fall (dir. Tarsem Singh, 2006, USA)
(Recommended by Megan Tilley)

Taking place in a hospital in the early 20th century, an injured stuntman tells a little girl a fantastic story which is shown with stunning cinematography. As the movie progresses and the man’s mental state becomes more unstable, the worlds of the story and the hospital start intertwining.  It’s a visually unparalleled movie with excellent story telling and a phenomenal cast.


cww shadow vampireShadow of the Vampire
(dir. E. Elias Merhige, 2000, UK)

(Recommended by Megan Tilley)

A fictionalized rendition of the filming of the classic vampire film Nosferatu, this film is a breath of fresh air in the stuffy world of cliche vampire films. Filmed in both black and white and color, it follows the film crew of Noseferatu as they make the iconic movie. Strange things keep happening on set, and it seems that maybe the movie’s star is hiding a dark secret…