Amherst Magazine

What They Are Reading

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We asked Writer-in-Residence Daniel Hall what he has been reading lately. Here’s what he told us:

There are currently three books around the house, and in the course of a day, I will stop at each of them a couple of times, like a hummingbird working the flower gardens. The most exciting is Paintings in Proust by Eric Karpeles, a book I didn’t know I’d been waiting for. The idea is simple but brilliant: the book reproduces every painting mentioned in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, opposite the relevant excerpt from the novel. It’s a powerful incentive to reread Proust; it’s also a reminder that I’ve yet to read James Merrill’s 1947 English thesis about Impressionism in Proust—still considered one of the best theses ever submitted to the department. I will get to it as soon as I’m done.

The One-Strand River is Richard Kenney’s long-overdue fourth collection of poems. Quite apart from his considerable poetic gifts, he is a man of dazzling intelligence, having read widely and deeply in science, philosophy and history, as well in as literature. Sometimes it’s all you can do to keep up (Google is a big help). Kenney has always had formalist tendencies, and he’s completely unleashed them here: there are sonnets and sapphics, terza rima and nonce forms, to say nothing of his singular way with rhyme, playing matchmaker to such unlikely couples as muted and Bermuda, palazzo and opalescent. Social satire is new territory for him, and it often stings: “While not a Wiccan coven, quite, the local/ Food Co-op’s a colloquy/ Of gray braids above those wool felt clogs.” I’m actually rereading it now, and I still find it inexhaustibly rich.

It’s strange that as I get older, I go bird-watching less and less often, but I still read about birds with as much enthusiasm as ever. Charts, minute plumage descriptions, details of migratory routes—it’s almost erotica to me. But Rare and Elusive Birds by William Burt is light on dry data; instead it’s filled with sumptuous photographs (though the prose is a bit pedestrian). “Rare and elusive” too often implies “endangered,” however, which can make for melancholy reading. More and more I’m just looking at the photographs, trying not to think about it.

Image by Kenneth Lilly, courtesy of Getty Images.