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A Few Recommendations for Fall

By September 24, 2014 One Comment

This week ushers in my favorite season: fall. And here in Grand Rapids that also means ArtPrize–which opens today. Since its beginning in 2009, ArtPrize has been an unparalleled opportunity to have community-wide discussions about aesthetics and culture and popular taste. What has won (and what hasn’t) has occasioned praise and pans alike. When the hometown paper is publishing debates about artwork, something has to be going right.  With the inclusion of juried prizes this year, I think the conversations will only continue to get richer.

But ArtPrize isn’t the only cultural event I’m looking forward to this fall. Here’s a few things I’m anticipating (or beginning to enjoy already):

The book I’m most looking forward to is Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, out October 7th.  Already longlisted for this year’s National Book Awards, Robinson’s novel is the third work to examine the lives of the inhabitants of Gilead, Iowa. Here, she turns her attention to a character who remained quietly in the background in Gilead and Home: John Ames’ 2nd wife, Lila. Lila is a character who seems like she would be more at home, perhaps, in Robinson’s first novel, Housekeeping, but from the sneak peek I read (and the fine reviews by Leslie Jamison in The Atlantic, “The Power of Grace,” and Adam Petty, “The Quantum Mechanics of the Lower Midwest,” for the Marilynne Robinson Appreciation Society) it seems that Robinson has triumphed again at showing the complicated, dense lives of everyone who lives in our towns, images of God everyone one.

I can’t wait.  

Other items on my immediate to-read list: David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks–which promises to be as inventive and challenging as his previous works.  And the mysteries of Louise Penny.  Penny is a frequent New York Times bestseller, so I feel a little late to the party. But both Mitchell and Penny also seem to have an interest in the spiritual, so I’m eager to see where they lead.

Mary Oliver, a poet I frequently invoke in these blogs, also has a new collection of poetry, Blue Horses, out October 14. “The Hummingbirds,” one of the poems released in advance of publication, shows Oliver calling us to attentiveness and wonder and yearning and joy–as usual:

“The Hummingbirds”

In this book
there are many hummingbirds—
the blue-throated, the bumblebee, the calliope,
the cinnamon, the Lucifer, and of course
the ruby-throated.
Well, that’s all you can do.
For they’re swift as the wind
and they fly, not across the pages but,
like many shy and other-wordly things,
between them.
I know you’ll keep looking now that I’ve told you.
I’m hungry to see them too, but I can’t
hold them back even for a moment, they’re
busy, as all things are, with their own lives.
So all I can do is let you know
they’re here somewhere.
All I can do is tell you
by putting my own hunger on the page.

In much the same way, two new children’s picture books (both from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers) beautifully explore the power of language (The Right Word) and of loss (Anna’s Heaven). Both are brilliantly illustrated (by Melissa Sweet and Stian Hole, respectively) with artwork that enriches and enhances the stories they are telling.  If you have children, check them out asap.  But even grown-up childless folks like me will be moved by the ways these books get at some very profound truths, indeed.

Beyond books: I’m halfway through Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts. Thank goodness that PBS has them all online ready to bingewatch some blustery afternoon. And speaking of bingewatching: if you haven’t watched the British imports Broadchurch or Happy Valley yet, get them in your queue. Police procedurals–and then some. (Indeed, Broadchurch is being remade as Gracepoint for American tv; the endings are said to be different).

Of course, The Good Wife is back for Season 6, and after only one episode, it is already confirming its status as one of the best shows on television. (Fun fact: one of its writers is a Dordt grad, so it’s perfectly fine to spend your Sunday night watching it.)  

What are you reading and watching this fall?  More recommendations in the comments would be welcome.  Just remember: “Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it” (P. J. O’Rourke).






Jennifer L. Holberg

I am professor and chair of the Calvin University English department, where I have taught a range of courses in literature and composition since 1998. An Army brat, I have come to love my adopted hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m also the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture. My book, Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith, was published in July 2023 by Intervarsity Press.

One Comment

  • Laura says:

    When I got my copy of The Right Word I spent about half an hour looking at it — even though I'd already seen the proofs. It's just. so. awesome.

    Broadchurch is definitely on my list because David Tennant. David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas was just recommended to me yesterday (I'd somehow never heard of him before) and it moved to somewhere near the top of my list. I'm also (finally) getting around to reading The Goldfinch. I'm not far in enough yet to judge whether it's worth all the hype. In the nonfiction world, Rebecca DeYoung wrote a book about Vainglory that we're publishing soon and it's awesome. I want to reread it once it's in its final form.

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