Welcome to Blurbed, a new round-up of literary recommendations from the editors and contributors at the Columbia Journal! Each month, Blurbed will feature a curated list of things to read, events to attend and news from the Journal.
What to Read
“The Whalers’ Odyssey,” The Atavist
Doug Bock Clark’s account of an Indonesian tribe taking down their own Moby Dick (mostly literally), excerpted from his upcoming book The Last Whalers, is incredibly well done, as most anything The Atavist does.
These Truths by Jill Lepore
If you’ve read any of Lepore’s essays in the New Yorker, you’ll know her keen ability to connect American history with the present moment. In her latest book, she takes on the arc of the country in a single volume, helping us look backward and forward.
Evening in Paradise: More Stories by Lucia Berlin
Lucia Berlin went for years undiscovered. It wasn’t until 2015 with a posthumous collection of her stories that many realized her talent for the form, drawing comparisons between her and some of the most notable practitioners in modern history. In this new collection, some of her remaining unpublished stories are collected.
“Sylvia Plath’s Last Letters,” The New Yorker
The first portion of Sylvia Plath’s collected letters were published in 2017; these, covering 1957 to 1963, from her marriage to her death, were released this month. Read this excerpt from Dan Chiasson’s story on the letters: “I was stamping and he was stamping on the floor, and then he kissed me bang smash on the mouth and ripped my hairband off. . . . And when he kissed my neck I bit him long and hard on the cheek, and when we came out of the room, blood was running down his face.”
What to See & Do
November 8: Teju Cole with Ishion Hutchinson: Words and Images
There are few people who interrogate the sense of a place better than Cole or Hutchinson. Them going back and forth with one another? I can only imagine it increases that idea generation a hundredfold.
November 8: Selected Shorts: George Saunders and Zadie Smith
It might’ve slipped past your attention that Saunders has a new short story coming out this month. Hear him read selections of it alongside Zadie Smith.
November 13: National Book Award Reading
There are so many delightful finalists in the running for this year’s National Book Awards (Sarah Smarsh, Lauren Groff, James Brinkley). Watch them read on the eve of the awards ceremony.
November 16: The Pushcart Prize XLIII
You know it, you read about it every year; if you’re in New York, you might as well hear some of the winners do their thing. Cortney Lamar Charleston, Rick Moody, Thylias Moss, Oliver de la Paz, and Marisa Silver read at the Strand alongside the release of the latest Pushcart Collection.
November 26: John McPhee with Paul Holdengräber: Draft of a Lifetime
There are few devotees of structure in nonfiction who come close to John McPhee. In his upcoming book, McPhee turns the camera back on himself, and turns his life into a quilt of words as only he can do. Read our interview with McPhee here.
The 2018 Winter Contest is open for submissions, with judges Jericho Brown, Lauren Wilkinson, and Alexander Chee! The deadline for submissions is December 15th. Visit the contest page for more information.
Words to Write By
“The writer’s role is what it has always been: he is a custodian, a secretary. Science and technology have perhaps deepened his responsibility but not changed it. In ‘The Ring of Time,’ I wrote: ‘As a writing man, or secretary, I have always felt charged with the safekeeping of all unexpected items of worldly or unworldly enchantment, as though I might be held personally responsible if even a small one were to be lost. But it is not easy to communicate anything of this nature.’
A writer must reflect and interpret his society, his world; he must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge. Much writing today strikes me as deprecating, destructive, and angry. There are good reasons for anger, and I have nothing against anger. But I think some writers have lost their sense of proportion, their sense of humor, and their sense of appreciation. I am often mad, but I would hate to be nothing but mad: and I think I would lose what little value I may have as a writer if I were to refuse, as a matter of principle, to accept the warming rays of the sun, and to report them, whenever, and if ever, they happen to strike me. One role of the writer today is to sound the alarm. The environment is disintegrating, the hour is late, and not much is being done. Instead of carting rocks from the moon, we should be carting the feces out of Lake Erie.”