Neglected Noir

Barber Chairs in Ice Storm, 2020

The Lady in the Car With Glasses and a Gun by Sebastian Japrisot

Noir Psychological ThrillerFemale Protagonist20th Century

What if OTHER people seemed to be having deja vu when they saw you, swearing you’d been in the same place just a while ago, when you knew that was impossible? That’s just the start of the mind-bending plight of Dany, a Parisian secretary whose trip in her boss’s car to the sea has turned her world upside down and brought death along with it. A puzzle that will drive you mad and never lets up until the very end.

The Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich

Noir Female Antagonist20th Century

 A woman, chameleon-like, seeks out seemingly unconnected men and kills them one after another. But why? What connects the men? Who is Julie, the mastermind of these murders? Woolrich, writing as William Irish, was a prodigious, mid-century master of suspense and this one  became the basis for a Francois Truffaut homage to Hitchcock. The original novel still sustains its power as we wonder all along, “Why is she killing them, and should I be rooting for or against Julie?”

The Deadly Percheron by John Franklin Bardin

Noir Psychological Thriller20th Century

A psychiatrist listens as his new patient tells him leprechauns are making him give away his money. When the shrink meets what seems to merely be a little person, who now tells his patient to start giving away horses, things go from bad to worse and the shrink wakes up six months later in a psychiatric hospital with a disfiguring scar and no idea what has happened. Nor do we, but the little-read Bardin ingeniously unravels the mystery for us as the doctor assumes a new identity and strives to find out.

Immigrant Stories

Sea Turbines, oil on canvas (2015)

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

21st CenturyBildungsromanImmigrant Narrative

Darling, an adventurous and curious young girl lives in the chaotic yet exhilarating atmosphere of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe before immigrating to Detroit to live with an aunt she hardly knows. As she adjusts to the realities of America, Darling learns to grow into her young adulthood by carefully observing the hardships, triumphs, and tenuous sense of freedom felt by those who have endeavored to begin a new life in an unfamiliar land.   With honesty, humor, and downright gorgeous prose, Bulawayo has crafted a powerful bildungsroman that illuminates the struggles and surprises Darling faces as she navigates her new home and reckons with dark and blissful memories of the country in which she began. 

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

21st CenturyImmigrant Narrative

The melancholy and unadorned loveliness of Brooklyn tells of both the promise and the heartbreak Ellis Lacey endures as she leaves her native Ireland for a chance to build a life in New York City. Though the novel centers around the relationship Ellis builds with a young Italian-American man, it Toibin’s depiction of the dueling forces of excruciating homesickness and the desire to learn and excel in a new country that makes Brooklyn such a lucid and moving portrait of human migration. 

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

21st Century Immigrant NarrativeGraphic Novel

Illustrator and novelist Thi Bui’s groundbreaking graphic novel tells the story of her family’s immigration from Vietnam to the United States in the late seventies. Through her haunting illustrations and poetic language, Bui lays bare the struggles her family faced as refugees and immigrants as well as her own navigation through the unfamiliar territory of first-time motherhood. 

Mid-century Stalker Noir

Watcher Ekebergsletta, Oslo, Norway (2018)

The Cry of the Owl by Patricia Highsmith

20th CenturyNoirSuspenseThriller

Best known for Strangers on a Train and the Ripley novels, Highsmith was best with psychopaths and stalkers. His marriage in ruins and his sexuality in doubt, Robert Forester starts observing and then stalking a young woman, who befriends him. But in this odd and awful small-town tragedy, few things are what they seem, fewer people can be trusted, the dead live, the past returns and the stalker may be the least evil person we meet. Highsmith at her most acidic.

In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes

20th CenturyNoirSuspenseThriller

Dix Steele is aimless in Los Angeles after World War II, a former Air Force pilot who now sponges off a rich relative while prowling out of the way places and following women out on their own. But is he the strangler that is haunting the city? And will his war buddy, now a cop, figure out what Dix has become? We spend the novel inside the mind of the charming, volatile sociopath while wondering when he will make a mistake and when we, like his friend Brub, will know for sure what Dix has done.

Beast in View by Margaret Millar

20th Century NoirSuspenseThriller

Who is Evelyn Merrick and why is she calling? Nothing good happens anytime this mysterious stalker calls, and while Millar’s febrile psychological thriller may resemble a standard “find the stalker” potboiler, the thrills come not from figuring it all out but the fascination about what drives Merrick and the titillation from what she will do next. The madness behind Merrick’s behavior is a dreadful poison for anyone it touches and Millar’s mid-century classic deserves revisiting.

Just Some Poems

because in times of uncertainty, poems can be buoys

Gowanus, 2019

“The World below the brine” by Walt Whitman

Poets and Poetry19th Century

 My very favorite Whitman. Something about the world that exists below, in the darkness of the ocean, reminds me that there are things that we humans will never know, and that, for some reason, makes me calm and hopeful. 

Read The World below the brine

“American Smooth” by Rita Dove

Poets and Poetry21st Century

Rita Dove is a genius of verse and one of our greatest living poets. The dueling powers of serene elation and melancholy reality make this poem both exquisitely tragic and perfectly (and tragically) American.

Read American Smooth

High Windows” by Philip Larkin

Poets and Poetry 20th Century

Larkin is one of my top five favorite poets of all time. This was the poem that first pulled me to him.

Read High Windows

Asian Epics

StormKing, Cornwall, NY, 2020

The Tale of Kiêu by Nguyẽ̂n Du  

Epic PoemPoets and PoetryPolitical Eighteenth Century

Written in the classic Vietnamese narrative form called Truyện Nôm, or a story in the southern script, The Tale of Kiêu illuminates the life of Thúy Kiều, a young woman who sacrifices her independence and her body in order to free her father and brother from the debts they owe the government. The price Kiêu pays for selling herself into marriage is immense and, in the end, it is her ability to feel worthy of love that becomes her greatest sacrifice. Timeless themes of personal identity and political obligation are laced through the narrative. In his introduction to the bilingual edition of The Tale of Kiêu, Alexander Woodside defines Du’s work as much more than just a literary artifact: “Western readers who are curious about Vietnam and the Vietnamese may well gain more real wisdom from cultivating a discriminating appreciation  of this one poem than they will from reading the entire library of scholarly and journalist writings upon modern Vietnam.”  

The Shahnameh by Abu al-Qasem Ferdowsi 

Epic PoemPoets and Poetry Mythical Eleventh Century

Composed over a span of thirty years (977-1010), The Shahnameh chronicles the foundation of the Iranian empire through the ages. Though commonly known as “The Persian Book of Kings,” Shah means more than just male royalty–according to scholar Hamid Dabashi,  Ferdowsi also intends it to mean best, or significant— so the epic is filled with formidable men, women, and creatures who battle, enchant, arouse and beguile their way through the narrative. Vivid, thrilling, devastating, and fantastical, The Shahnameh reads like a more elegant version of Game of Thrones rendered in couplets. 

The Tales of the Heike 

Epic ProseMilitary NarrativeTwelfth Century

Like the Grecian epics, The Tales of the Heike cannot be traced back to one individual author. This epic, usually told in prose-form, comes from the oral and written tradition of medieval Japanese gunki-mono, or warrior tales. The narrative is set in 1185, at the very end of the Genepi War, a conflict between the Tiara and Minamoto clans that would help usher Japanese society into a feudal system. Though told from the perspective of several different samurai, and peppered with military exploits, The Tales are also layered with Buddhist themes, especially, as Haruo Shiraine and Burton Watson illustrate in their 2006 translation, the Law of Impermanence, which becomes strikingly significant in the context of war.

Surf Noir

Ionian Sea- Giardini Naxos, Sicily, 2018

Tapping the Source by Kem Nunn 

Surf fictionNoir20th Century

The progenitor of the surf noir genre, Nunn drops a man on a search into a dangerous Huntington beach blender of drug dealers, wacked out surfers, angry Vietnam veterans, and plenty of violence on the dark side of the Golden State. Built on the California ennui style Ross Macdonald crafted in his Archer novels, Nunn’s book helped create a different setting for the lonely man fighting for what’s right among the lotus-eaters.

The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow

Surf fictionNoir 21st Century

Now better known for his Cartel drug trilogy, Winslow created the ideal surfing detective, an ex-cop private investigator who works only so he can surf every morning with other aging boarders. But when he’s given a chance to correct a haunting mistake from the past, as well as work with an attractive attorney on bringing down an insurance scam, he’s in. Winslow is pacey, sure, and engaging as ever, though the rot inside the Golden State breaks through.

Pirata by Patrick Hasburgh

Surf fictionNoir21st Century

A former successful California car salesman ends up down, out, and one-eyed in Mexico, where he surfs, drinks and hangs out with other wave-mad expats. But the monsoon season brings shifting relationships and when a body washes up on the local surf spot, the past, as always, returns in unexpected ways. Humourous and suspenseful, it’s a wild ride.

New Fiction

Nā Pali Coast, oil on canvas, 2015

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

NewLiterary Crime

Winter Counts,  the debut novel by David Heska Wanbli Weiden is an intense and moving contemporary crime novel that takes place on the Lakota Sioux Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The main character, Virgil Wounded Horse, has had a life filled with loss and hard luck. After losing his parents and sister, he assumes responsibility for his teenaged nephew, Nathan. Virgil works hard to be a good example for his late sister’s son while maintaining both his own sobriety and a risky job as the reservation’s go-to muscle for hire. When Virgil is asked to investigate the recent influx of heroin on the reservation, he is forced to confront both the evils of the American drug trade and the secretive inner workings of his own tribal nation. Winter Counts is gripping marks David Heska Wanbli Weiden as a major new voice in literary crime fiction.

The Lying Lives of Adults by Elena Ferrante

NewLiterary Fiction

Elena Ferrante is the Pseudonym for the Italian writer who has written several acclaimed novels including the four-book Neopolitan series, which is often referred to by the first volume, My Brilliant Friend. The Lying Lives of Adults is also set in Naples, and it focuses on the life of a girl named Giovanna as she evolves from childhood to young adulthood. Along the way, she forms an intense bond with her estranged aunt, learns hidden truths about her parents, and explores the forbidden neighborhoods of the tumultuous and vibrant city in which they all live. With her signature biting humor and profound insights into the human condition, Ferrante has created a stunning portrait of a girl who is learning to locate herself within the context of her family and her world.

Jack by Marilynne Robinson

NewLiterary Fiction

Jack, the fourth and final novel in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead series, tells the story of the lonely and errant Jack Boughton who looms like a heartbreaking shadow in the previous novels. Over and over again, Jack turns to alcohol in order to numb his feelings of inadequacy and displacement both in his family and in the larger world. After a stint in prison, Jack finds himself in post-WWII St. Louis where he strikes up a relationship with a young black schoolteacher named Della Miles. Jack and Della, both children of ministers, discover a mutual admiration for literature and an ability to see and accept each other as the complex humans that they are. Though society refuses to acknowledge their love for each other, Della and Jack understand that despite the guilt and isolation that comes with defying the rules, in the end, it is the grace they receive from following their hearts that matters most.

Personal Essays

Current Events, 2020

The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction 1948-1985 by James Baldwin

Non-Fiction20th CenturyPersonal EssaysClassics

The Price of the Ticket contains almost every piece of nonfiction the great and prophetic Baldwin wrote, from his earliest published works to those in the final years of his life. Ranging from his longest and most famous essays like The Fire Next Time to shorter works of literary criticism, Baldwin’s brilliant and exquisitely articulated observations are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them. Steadfast and melodic, the ghost-like echo of Baldwin’s singular voice rings out from every sentence, every word. The Price of the Ticket is an essential American classic. 

The Art of the Personal Essay, An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present Selected by Phillip Lopate

Non-FictionAnthologyPersonal EssaysClassics

A comprehensive compendium of the form, The Art of the Personal Essay begins with the work of “forerunners” like Seneca, Plutarch, and Hsiu. In the four sections that follow, Lopate winds his way from Montaigne, Hazlitt, and Edgeworth to Woolf, Baldwin, and Rodriguez, and almost every major essayist in between. Roland Barthes’ views on cinema, G.K. Chesterton’s thoughts on wearing hats on windy days, and Joan Didion’s reflections on her crushing migraines, are just a few of the many topics covered in this hefty volume.

Intimations by Zadie Smith

Non-Fiction-21st CenturyPersonal Essays

In six essays, the inimitable Zadie Smith offers her crystalline observations of life during the early days of the lockdown. Setting her keen eye on the individuals she encounters on a daily basis, Smith brings their lives into focus against the backdrop of a world grappling with both COVID and the unrelenting virus of hate. In a time of social isolation, Intimations reminds us that we are still here and if we put down our phones long enough to take a look around, we may notice each other, not simply as masked strangers, but as fellow participants in this “global humbling.”

Nature Writing

View of the Grand from Delta Lake, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

NatureNon-Fiction-20th Century

Little noticed when published posthumously, Leopold’s ruminations on the seasonal changes in the natural world near his farm in Wisconsin, along with his essays on humanity’s impact on the environment up until that time, helped set off the movement to restore and protect Earth’s ecology. We aren’t only stewards of the natural world – we are OF the natural world and Leopold reminds us that it is inescapably part of who we are.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Creek by Annie Dillard

NatureNon-Fiction20th Century

Dillard has said she doesn’t think of herself as a nature writer, but her inner monologues about God, Christianity, nature, consciousness, evil and meaning are grounded in the natural world even when they lift off into airier planes. As a stylist, she’s superb, but her observations about nature put her in the company of one of her literary heroes, Thoreau.

King Solomon’s Ring by Konrad Lorenz

NatureNon-FictionAnimals20th Century

Nobel prize winner and one of the founders of ethology, or the study of animals as they behave in their environment, Lorenz wrote charmingly and provided whimsical illustrations in this effort to popularize what then might have seemed radical – that animal behavior is understandable, learnable and much closer psychologically speaking to human than we might care to admit.

Narratives in Verse

Baltic Sea From Helsingør, pastel on paper

Omeros by Dereck Walcott

Poets and PoetryEpic20th Century

Nobel Prize winner Dereck Walcott’s epic masterpiece, Omeros, is Homeric in scope but entirely Walcott in both its message and poetic technique. The poet tackles the tragedy of colonialism, the subjugation of land and people, specifically, his native island of St. Lucia (“the Helen of the West Indies”) with luminous, natural imagery and a loose yet impactful terza rima scheme. 

The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth

Poets and Poetry20th Century

Written as an exercise to detach from the tedious demands of an economics doctoral program, The Golden Gate explores the complexities of monogamy, marriage, and friendship in 1980s San Francisco. What makes this work so singularly impressive is that Seth is able to utilize the sonnet as a vehicle for conveying an expansive yet nuanced narrative of modern love and loss.  

Jane: A Murder by Maggie Nelson

Poets and Poetry21st CenturyBiography

Poet and essayist Maggie Nelson tells the story of her aunt Jane’s short life and murder through a series of poetic, dreamscapes that draw from her aunt’s journal, family memories, and her own exquisite imagination.  The result is a haunting biography in verse that both celebrates and eulogizes a young woman whose promising life was mercilessly cut short.