November 15, 2015 Booklist 9 www.booklistonline.com
both funny and somber, resound with feeling.
Pushcart Prize XL, 2016: Best of the
Ed. by Bill Henderson.
Nov. 2015. 650p. Pushcart, $35 (9781888889796); paper,
$19.95 (9781888889802). 810.
Forty years ago, Bill Henderson, on the verge
of being fired from his editorial job at a major
publisher because, as he reminisces in the introduction, his “heart wasn’t in commerce,” wrote
himself a note: “Why not a best of the small
presses?” The brilliance of that epiphany is reaffirmed each fall as the new, lovingly curated
Pushcart Prize anthology appears in celebration of the continued vibrancy of independent
writing, reading, and publishing. Any library
collection with a run of Pushcart Prize books
on the shelves contains a vibrant, welcoming,
and inspiriting history of literature in America.
Most of the “big” names have made Pushcart
appearances throughout their writing lives, and
many are present in this latest incarnation, including Ann Beattie, Anthony Doerr, and Zadie
Smith. Here, too, are superb poets Lucia Perillo
and Kevin Prufer, up-and-coming fiction writers Laleh Khadivi and Christian Kiefer, and
adventurous essayists Jordan Kisner and Wendy
Rawlings. This bountiful anthology of 68 works
from 51 small presses provides resounding testimony to the persistence in a harsh world of
intelligent, creative, and compassionate literary
expression. —Donna Seaman
This Old Man: All in Pieces.
By Roger Angell.
Nov. 2015. 320p. Doubleday, $26.95 (9780385541138). 818.
Angell, the revered 94-year-old New Yorker
writer and editor, offers a selection of his mag-
azine pieces, or, as he calls it, “a dog’s breakfast
serious, is united by the author’s seemingly ef-
fortless, finely wrought, remarkably observant,
offhandedly eloquent yet always self-effacing
prose. The centerpiece is the prizewinning title
essay in which Angell muses on the phenom-
enon of age, with all its failing parts and dead
friends, but his tone is never maudlin, never
sentimental, and never, ever inspirational.
Instead, it is above all wry, as when Angell
answers the perplexing question, “Why am I
not endlessly grieving?” by noting that he has
come to count on “the white-coated attendant
of memory, silently here again to deliver dabs
from the laboratory dish of me.” Those dabs
include reviews and other writings on writers
and friends, including V. S. Pritchett and John
Updike, and, of course, on baseball, the sub-
ject about which he has written in the New
Yorker for more than 40 years. Like Updike
in his classic New Yorker piece on Ted Wil-
liams, Angell takes baseball writing to another
level altogether, as when he describes Giants’
pitcher Madison Bumgarner’s “gliding, almost
eventless slide through the innings” as being
like “an evening voyage on a Watteau barge.”
Gliding through the pages of this collection
produces a similar effect. —Bill Ott
Incorrect Merciful Impulses.
By Camille Rankine.
Nov. 2015. 75p. Copper Canyon, paper, $16
Rankine’s haunting debut poetry collection
begins with bones and skin and reaches the
delicate heart through deceptively sparse language and staggering intensity. She constructs
exquisite lyrics with darting, electric lines
punctuated by startling and poignant moments: “there’s someone else // in the room /
the radiator’s screaming / and my arms won’t
move.” The work exudes physicality crafted
into arresting sequences (“one day / stumbles
into the next, skinless and inexact”) and evocative imagery: a black mold, a blue flame, “the
window’s tapestry / of past rains.” An unsettling
sense of dread lingers at the edge of desperation: “I have this roof / to be under, this home /
I eat myself out of with every meal.” Rankine
doesn’t reach for lofty similes, and her speakers
don’t pour out their hearts. Instead, crumbling
shadows and dazzling minutiae form profound
reflections on life, memory, and history: “the
longer you live / the more lies / come alive //
so the past splits in two: // one stays in the past
and dies // one past shape-shifts / walks with
you.” —Diego Báez
Vivas to Those Who Have Failed.
By Martin Espada.
Jan. 2016. 96p. Norton, $25.95 (9780393249033). 811.
This latest collection from accomplished
poet, essayist, and editor Espada ( The Trouble
Ball, 2011) takes its title from a line by Walt
Whitman and opens with a sonnet of the same
name about the Paterson Silk Strike, an industrial work stoppage in New Jersey at the turn
of the twentieth century. Espada deploys indelible images and remarkable cadence to tell
the story: “a bullet fired to scatter / the crowd
pulled the cork in the wine barrel of Valentino’s back.” While the strike ultimately failed,
it was not in vain, as Espada points out in the
poem’s closing lines, for the labor agitators’
children became doctors, and their grandchildren became poets. This remembrance of
origin and appreciation for working-class underdogs informs this smart, tender collection
that meditates on a broad range of current
American issues, from Trayvon Martin’s murder to the mass shooting in Sandy Hook to
the execution of journalist Jim Foley by ISIS.
Espada’s long lines and somber tone often
break into humor and street slang, creating an
invigorating balance between lyrical reflection
and historical exploration. —Diego Báez
6 • HC • 978-1-60358-596-5
95 • PB • 978-1-60358-563-7