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Now Reading: February 2012

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Even though the Now Reading section isn't necessarily thematic (as opposed to our Essential Reading section), sometimes the commonalities on this editors and columnists list just arise like a filigreed bas relief. This month, a number of us happen to be reading books that weave together genres or narratives in a way that pushes (or in some cases dances around) a greater truth. The book I'm reading is no exception. Terese Svoboda's Black Glasses Like Clark Kent: A GI's Secret from Postwar Japan about her uncle, a military policeman in occupied 1946 Japan, combines the best of Svoboda's extensive writing skills and experiences: a poet's ear for and surgical dissection of language, the narrative drive of fiction, and the hunger for truth of a memoirist. Early on, it is revealed that Svoboda's uncle, Don, has fallen into a deep depression triggered, it seems, from the news of torture in Abu Ghraib. He begins to tell his story to Svoboda in a series of tapes that he sends to her from his home in Texas. Svoboda has heard that he has a "secret" about his service as an MP and she hopes that he will be able to expose them on these tapes. Drawing from her uncle's words, secondary sources about both writing and World War II, and her own experiences writing and researching the stories of American prisoners, Svoboda attempts to piece together a puzzle and is confounded by military secrecy and a system of justice that seems to run counter to our civilian ideals.

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Mother City Mama Columnist Katherine Barrett just finished The Boy by Betty Jane Hegerat. "Her fourth book, The Boy weaves fiction, nonfiction, and memoir into a suspenseful tale. Hegerat writes literary fiction and began The Boy as a story about Louise, stepmother to wayward Danny. As Hegerat researched her story, which takes places in Alberta, Canada, she found herself drawn into the province's gruesome past and a 50-year-old family murder. Robert Raymond Cook was convicted and hung for murdering his younger siblings, father and stepmother in 1959. Hegerat finds she cannot separate Louise from the Cooks, and fears their fates are intertwined. At points in the book, Louise herself intervenes: 'Don't move me into that sad place,' she says to Hegerat at the beginning of the story. The Boy deftly portrays the complexity of stepmother-son relationships and of the writing process. Watch for my profile of Betty Jane Hegerat on LM this summer. "

Blog Editor Karna Converse just finished Resisting Elegy: On Grief and Recovery by Joel Peckham. "Fulbright scholars Joel Peckham and his wife, Susan Atefat Peckham, were on their way back to Amman, Jordan from a day of touring with their children when their van collided with a sand truck. Susan and the oldest son were killed; Joel was left temporarily crippled. In Resisting Elegy, Peckham writes a series of narratives about the 2004 accident and its aftermath that weave together thoughts about cultural differences; love and broken marriages; and truth and illusion. 'Grief is never about the event,' he writes, 'but about everything that happened before the event.' The details of the accident are revealed slowly, and poetically, over the course of the book's 144 pages. By doing so, Peckham invites readers to explore their own assumptions about grief and suffering. I didn't want to put this book down but I had to to fully comprehend and appreciate the depth of the experience he shares and the responses it generated. Peckham is an assistant professor of English at the University of Cincinnati, Clermont College and author of three books of poetry. His essays on grief and recovery have appeared in a variety of publications."

Editor-In-Chief, Caroline M. Grant, shares "I just finished rereading Emily Barton's gorgeous novel, Brookland. Set in 18th century Brooklyn, the story is told in a series of letters from Prue Winship to her grown daughter. Prue's letters reflect back on her childhood with her two younger sisters, describing how she came to learn and run the family business (a gin distillery); why she was inspired to design and build a bridge to New York; and how a tragic rift opened between the three sisters. Barton's writing is gorgeous and this imaginative story -- fixing a fictional bridge into the midst of a carefully-researched historical novel -- is compelling reading."

Avery Fischer Udagawa, Four Worlds columnist, writes "I have been fascinated by Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life by Kathleen Norris. This book discusses acedia--a state of being unable to care--which can too easily affect people whose jobs involve solitude, regularity, and dullness. Like writers. Like mothers. And like early Christian monastics, whose observations Norris combines with memoir and explorations of history."

Nicole Stellon O'Donnell, Columns Editor, recommends The Good Thief: A Novel. "Hannah Tinti's debut novel is stunning. Tinti's compelling tale of twelve-year-old orphan Ren's quest to learn the story of this birth hand kept me up late reading. From the beginning, when his only clues were the initials stitched into his shirt and the fact that he came to orphanage missing a hand, I was with him. I followed him for every twist, every fabulous turn. Ren's compelling character and Tinti's ability to make me happily suspend disbelief made the reading an absolute pleasure. The Good Thief is a great read."


Rhena Tantisunthorn received her MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University in 2007. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and daughter and is currently working on a book about her experiences working with Karenni refugees on the Thai-Burma border. You can find her blog here: Rhena Tan.


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