The death of Tony Horwitz earlier this year was a tragic loss to the literary community and his last book, Spying on the South (Penguin Press, $30), is an exceptional example of the kind of intrepid spirit that he was. Following the wanderings of Frederick Law Olmsted through the South on the eve of the Civil War, Horwitz’s own travels read as an homage to the restless curiosity that drove Olmsted to roam and the empathy for humanity that inspired him to create Central Park, aka the “people’s park.” Rather than attempting to explain the South here, Horwitz—as Olmsted did—opts for offering observations over analysis. He lets us hear the voices of the people he meets, and as we listen to them tell their own tales, the book offers an implicit hope that we as readers will be able to find common ground among the diversity of experiences. Conversational and often humorous, Horwitz’s journalistic style is ultimately more poignant that comic; his openness and genuine interest in dialogue feels as uncommon and incredibly important in our political climate as it did to Olmsted two centuries ago.
Championing the most exciting new voices of poetry, the Yale Younger Poets Prize is the oldest annual literary award offered in the United States. Firsts: 100 Years of the Yale Younger Poets (Yale, $35), edited by the current judge, poet Carl Phillips, is both a fascinating historical exploration of our literary landscape over the last century and an examination of the shifting concerns of what we value in our poetry. Masterfully curated, this anthology represents all the Award’s past winners, those who have changed our conception of poetry and also those who have been forgotten. It also moves beyond many of the obvious selections to include lesser known works by some of the greatest poets of our time; here is early work by Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery, and Robert Haas, for instance. Writing as both a judge and a poet Phillips situates the collection within the changing considerations of what we expect and desire of poetry and the ways evolving cultural attitudes towards race, gender, and sexuality are reflected through the kinds of poetry hailed as important. This book is a fascinating document and ultimately a rewarding testament to the sustaining importance of poetry as an art.
What secret selves lie within us? And of what dark deeds are they capable? Inspired by the notorious case of Lord Lucan, Flynn Berry‘s A Double Life (Viking, $26) follows Claire decades after her father murdered her nanny, and left her mother nearly dead, before disappearing. Claire has convinced herself that she has moved beyond the events of her childhood, capable of living a healthy, functional life, only to be derailed each time a new sighting of her father is reported. But this time, waiting for confirmation of a false sighting, Claire finds that she cannot wait any longer and might be more like her father than she thought. Berry explores class, ethics, and the psychology of violence to understand the ways in which we are shaped by trauma; this is a mystery that delves beneath the surface to look at the unsavory things that dwell there, both in others and in ourselves.