7 books to add to your winter reading list
From a collection of personal essays and poetry to extraordinary stories of characters overcoming trying circumstances, three Stanford English professors and three current Wallace Stegner Fellows offer a diverse range of books to pick up over the winter holidays:
Richie Hofmann, a 2017-2019 Stegner Fellow in Poetry, recommends Orphic Paris (2018) by American poet Henri Cole.
“In a series of essays, punctuated with his own photographs, Henri Cole catalogues his walks through Paris – monuments, museums, markets, and gardens – meditating on family, desire, friendship, and, of course, poetry. Drawn from his series for The New Yorker, the writing is at times lyrical and at times diaristic. I especially enjoyed reading of Cole’s friendship with the late James Lord, the fascinating biographer of artists Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti.”
Nancy Ruttenburg, the William Robertson Coe Professor of American literature, recommends A Horse Walks Into a Bar (2014) by Israeli author David Grossman for fiction lovers and The Orientalist (2006) by American author Tom Reiss for those craving a nonfiction read.
“The Orientalist is about a man from Baku named Lev Nussimbaum whose family had to flee the Bolsheviks. His subsequent journey, begun when he was in early adolescence, led him to Persia where he assumed an Arab identity, and from there to Berlin where he was eventually trapped by the Nazis. It’s an extraordinary story.
“In fiction, the novel I found absolutely breathtaking is A Horse Walks Into a Bar, which won the International Man Booker Prize in 2017.
“It’s mostly the comic monologue given in a dive comedy club through which the comic tells the distinctively unfunny story of his survivor parents and his traumatic childhood — I hate to indulge clichés, but it’s a tour de force.”
Yoon Choi, a 2017-2019 Stegner Fellow in Fiction, recommends The Traveling Feast: On the Road and at the Table with My Heroes (2018) by American writer Rick Bass.
“At the end of his marriage, writer Rick Bass travels great lengths to cook a meal for his writing heroes – Lorrie Moore, Denis Johnson, David Sedaris and others. The book is beautiful and funny. There is a hunk of elk that Bass had shot and frozen some previous winter. He puts it in a cooler and brings it to the kitchens of famous writers.
“Also there is the poignancy of last rites, knowing that some of these writers are old or suffering illness. Finally, there is the failed marriage that Bass keeps turning over and over in his mind, as many of these writers are family friends who had known his wife. Stegner alum and Stanford instructor Molly Antopol joins Bass for some of this journey.”
Mark Greif, associate professor of English, recommends Motherhood (2018) by Canadian writer Sheila Heti.
“This is a thoughtful and beautiful novel by one of the best and most interesting novelists working today. It is formally innovative, and not just about the question of having a child.”
Rose Whitmore, a Stegner Fellow in Fiction, recommends author Crystal Hana Kim’s debut novel If You Leave Me (2018) “for its graceful and nuanced prose, and the depth of Kim’s characters as they navigate love, autonomy and duty in wartime Korea.”
Shelley Fisher Fishkin, the Joseph S. Atha Professor of Humanities, professor of English and director of American studies, recommends Pachinko (2017) by Korean American author Min Jin Lee.
“Pachinko is totally absorbing and gripping – a novel about Koreans in Japan that only an American could have written. It tells the complex, sweeping, multilayered story of a Korean family over four generations, struggling to make a home for themselves in horrendously trying circumstances.
“The characters – each drawn with tremendous generosity of spirit – are bent but not broken by the range of adversities they encounter in a system that seems rigged against them at every turn. Their struggles to remain whole are depicted against the backdrop of wrenching social and political events that come to life for the reader through their eyes.
“The author’s empathy and compassion come through on every page. It’s a great book to pick up during winter break since once you start it, you won’t want to put it down.”