Welcome to Grove at Home!
Every weekday, from now until we’re all out of the house again, we’ll be sharing a couple of links — some fresh, some from the vault — to say hi, remind you to keep reading, and let you know what’s on our minds.
Friday, August 28
“As a writer, I’m always looking at what we take for granted and wondering: why?” Every spring, the Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye hosts the Hay Festival, a gathering of writers, thinkers, and opinion-makers that has been dubbed “the Woodstock of the mind.” In 2017, the festival’s 30th anniversary coincided with the with 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, and participants were asked, in the spirit of intellectual ferment, to give talks reforming institutions of daily life. Yesterday, we sadly missed the opportunity to wish the incredible Jeanette Winterson a happy 61st birthday — today, we’re wishing her a very happy belated, and enjoying the talk she gave, which ranges from Lesbos to Stratford-upon-Avon, wicked stepmothers to Wuthering Heights.
What We Make It: New fiction from Dantiel W. Moniz
Milk Blood Heat, the debut collection from Dantiel W. Moniz — an urgent new voice in American fiction — won’t be out till early next year. For many of us, that’s a long time to wait, but thankfully “What We Make It,” a new short fiction from Moniz, has just been published in The Chronicles of Now. Its appearance is kind of a mixed blessing: on the one hand, it’ll help tide you over as you endure the remaining months till you can get your hands on Moniz’s book. On the other hand, for its sheer power, immediate prose, and crystal-clear perspective, it’ll leave you all the more impatient for more. The story is a devastating on current events, from unaccountable loners “deputizing” themselves to enforce a unilateral vision of order to the controversy over the significance of mask-wearing. You need to read it.
“Within hours of the press conference, gun and ammo stores throughout the county sold out. Customizable metal badges, catering to that uniquely American appetite for playing Cops and Robbers, were backordered online until late October (production shut down as it was during the plague), but one could still find the golden sheriff’s stars used for Cowboys and Indians, and, though slightly marring the illusion, they did in a pinch.” Continue reading…
It’s been a long, hot summer, and there’s just one week of it left. To help you blow off some steam and fuel socially-distanced dance parties in living rooms all over the world, here’s a DJ set played by the legendary Bill Brewster a few years ago in Croatia, hosted by the London-based music platform Boiler Room. It’ll do you no harm.
Thursday, August 27
At home with Sarah M. Broom, author of The Yellow House
With social distancing in place, many of us are scrambling to find ways to remain connected. The Nantucket Book Festival, unable to convene in person, came up with a great solution this summer: At Home With Authors, a series of Zoom interviews with the authors who had been scheduled to appear at the festival in person. In May, Nantucket Book Foundation Vice President (and Wavemaker Conversations podcast host) Michael Schulder sat virtually down with the brilliant Sarah M. Broom, to discuss her National Book Award-winning, New York Times Best Selling debut memoir The Yellow House, New Orleans history, earning the nickname “The Recorder,” and so much more.
Sarah M. Broom looks back on Hurricane Katrina, 15 years later
This week marks the fifteenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a devastating storm that shocked the world with its severity and wrought unparalleled devastation in every place it touched, including New Orleans, the city that was arguably hardest-hit and became emblematic of the destruction. Katrina is also a pivotal event in Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House — indeed, it wiped the titular house off the map of New Orleans East, the too-often-ignored neighborhood whose history the book breathtakingly excavates. Today, in commemoration of the storm, Literary Hub has published an excerpt from the book, considering only how Katrina played out for Broom, her family, and the house that had held them all. It begins, as Broom shows us the story of her family’s enduring Katrina must, with the story of 1965’s Hurricane Betsy.
“Nineteen sixty-five. Tail end of a notably mild hurricane season. It rained so hard the yards between the houses flooded—standing water for three days—but that was normal. This mid-September storm was erratic, busybodied; it seemed not to be able to make up its mind on where to go. ‘Wandering Hurricane Betsy, large and tempestuous,’ the newspapers said.” Continue reading…
Why are we creating a world no one wants?
“Uniquely, human beings see the world through a mental map.” It’s a fact, Frances Moore Lappé explains in this 2010 TED Talk, that goes a long way toward explaining how each of us wakes up every morning in a world beset by hunger — a problem we know to be solvable — and continues to participate in the structures and institutions that prolong it. Taking in a wide range of evidence, from the behavior of everyday people under Nazism to the Stanford Prison Experiment, Lappé — the author of books including Diet for a Small Planet and, with Joseph Collins, World Hunger: 10 Myths — Lappé shows how we might decentralize power and make for a healthier, more sustainable world. Highly recommended!
Wednesday, August 26
It’s official — Is There Still Sex in the City?, Candace Bushnell’s sharp, hilarious, wise look at dating after fifty, is out now in paperback! To mark the occasion, Candace appeared on NBCLX, where she discussed her books, the legacy of Sex and the City, life in the time of Covid, and much more with host Jobeth Devera. Watch it in Manolos.
Parul Sehgal on Vesper Flights
By now you probably know that we had pleasure this week of publishing Vesper Flights, the long-awaited essay collection by H is for Hawk author Helen Macdonald. It is — as the critical response to it has unanimously recognized — an absolutely extraordinary book, a collection of essays that make unabashedly real, complex, and intimate explorations into our relationship with the natural world, and that activate each other, adding up to a whole that exceeds the sum of its parts. One of the most brilliant reviews of the book came from the New York Times Book Review’s Parul Sehgal — whose write-up, frankly, is a work of literature unto itself. You should check it out for its soaring, wonderful read on the book it describes; you should also just read it because it’s terrific writing in itself.
“Macdonald’s writing teems with other voices and perspectives, with her own challenges to herself. It muddies any facile ideas about nature and the human, and prods at how we pleat our prejudices, politics and desires into our notions of the animal world. There’s nothing of the tourist or bystander in her approach. She has been an amateur naturalist from girlhood — so bird-besotted that she slept with her arms folded like wings. She grew up wandering forests, collecting feathers, seeds and the skulls of small animals.” Continue reading…
“There’s only one novelist in the world today whose face is as well-known to the general public as the titles of their books, and perhaps even better-known than the actual contents of those books. That novelist is, of course, Ms. Jacqueline Susann.” In this fascinating interview conducted for British TV in 1973, Susann — one of the most successful authors in history, and the first writer ever to have three consecutive books top the New York Times Best Sellers List — discusses her early influences, surviving rough reviews, and much more, while rocking a most excellent ankh necklace and elegantly declining the prevailing sexist attitudes of the day.
Tuesday, August 25
Helen Macdonald introduces Vesper Flights
Helen Macdonald, author of the ferociously beloved modern classic H is for Hawk, has a lot of fans — and today is a very big day for all of them. That’s because today we’re releasing Helen’s new book, Vesper Flights. It’s a collection that has already received a bounty of praise — in the New York Times (“Hers is a gritty, companionable intimacy with the wild”), Washington Post (“a book of tremendous purpose”), Wall Street Journal (“dazzling”) and beyond. In this short video, Helen introduces the book from her garden in Suffolk, England, explaining where it came from, and what it works to do.
How Helen Macdonald writes about nature
A common response to encountering Helen Macdonald’s singular writing on the natural world is to ask: How does she do it? While the answer must lie partially in the mysteries of Helen’s own brilliance, she also, in a wonderful piece published today at Literary Hub, has tried to answer it. From “Don’t make the space pre-industrial” to “Be specific” to “But not too specific,” Helen provides her own perspective on some of what makes her own writing so distinctive, wonderfully. You’ll want to read this.
“A not-too-serious and also quite serious list that is entirely non-prescriptive, and is absolutely not a set of instructions. Your mileage will vary wildly. There are as many ways to write about the natural world as there are kinds of beetles. But these are the things I really do tell myself when I write about nature, and today I decided I’d confess them all.” Continue reading…
Helen Macdonald trains a hawk: “The first step is gaining their trust”
In H is for Hawk, the book that announced Helen’s arrival on the literary scene as a major, even peerless talent, the author reflects on how her grief at her father’s death found expression partly through the experience of training a goshawk, one of the most vicious of all predatory birds. Helen was already an experienced falconer at the time — she had even worked breeding falcons for the royal family of the United Arab Emirates. A few years after H is for Hawk caused a sensation among readers, Helen shot this wild, wonderful footage for PBS’s Nature, in which she gets to know, and begins forging a bond with, a new goshawk — one who does not take easily to Helen’s presence. This is simply electrifying.
Monday, August 24
Today would be the 121st birthday of Jorge Luis Borges, the legendary Argentine author who must appear on any list of the twentieth century’s most influential writers. If the greatest honor an honor can receive is for their name to become a familiar adjective — think “Dantescan,” “Kafkaesque” — Borges is doubly honored by the deep mystique the word “Borgesian” conveys, implying a world where inquisitive, even impish intelligence opens to an infinitude of playful intelligence, or intelligent play. A relentless fabulist and invigorator of Spanish, Borges was also a scholar of English-language writing, and his comfort in the language is immediately manifest in this riveting interview he gave to William F. Buckley in 1977, less than a decade before his death at 86. They talk about writers like Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville (including Borges’s translation into Spanish of Bartleby the Scrivener), the interplay between nationalism and literature, and — oh, oh — so much more.
Today we’re also wishing a very happy sixty-second birthday to the wonderful Chris Offutt. A specialist in many styles, Chris has written for TV shows including Weeds, Treme, and True Blood; he’s gone on record as a reluctantly enthusiastic quarantine pet owner; his books have been widely praised (the New York Times Book Review called his 2018 novel Country Dark “an achievement of spellbinding momentum and steadfast heart”). A few years ago, with his trademark candor, sense of humor, and sincere curiosity about the ways our lives come together, Chris wrote in the New York Times Magazine about his father’s ambitions of being known as the “king of 20th-century written pornography.” It’s a fascinating story, in which Grove Press — and our legendary longtime director, the great Barney Rosset — play a fascinating, pivotal role. You’re going to want to read this.
“The commercial popularity of American erotic novels peaked during the 1970s, coinciding with my father’s most prolific and energetic period. Dad combined porn with all manner of genre fiction. He wrote pirate porn, ghost porn, science-fiction porn, vampire porn, historical porn, time-travel porn, secret-agent porn, thriller porn, zombie porn and Atlantis porn. An unpublished Old West novel opens with sex in a barn, featuring a gunslinger called Quiet Smith, without doubt Dad’s greatest character name. By the end of the decade, Dad claimed to have single-handedly raised the quality of American pornography.” Continue reading…
Today we’re wishing a very happy eighty-fourth birthday to the wonderful A.S. Byatt, author of more than twenty books, and recipient of awards including the Booker Prize (for her 1990 novel Possession), the Erasmus Prize, the Paris Review’s Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, and many others. Once called “an unapologetic four star intellectual” in the Guardian, Byatt is deep thinker, whose explorations into the lives of Romantic and Victorian writers and thinkers, and whose formative early friendships with writers like Iris Murdoch (about whom she has written a critical book), have been braided over decades into an oeuvre of commanding, penetrating, deeply humane writing. In this video, Byatt reads from 2013’s Ragnarok, her most recent novel to date and a luminous retelling of traditional Norse myths about the end of time. If you have the time, go back and watch from the beginning, which finds Byatt talking about The Winter’s Tale, different countries’ approaches to Shakespeare, and more.