Two books that I worked on last year came out in the last week or so. The first is Sally Mann's glorious memoir, Hold Still, which I proofread. Having read every single word of it, I can assure you that Mann's words are just as compelling as her images. I highly recommend this book if you like a good story, regardless of whether you consider yourself a photography aficionado. As Publishers Weekly put it, "The vivid descriptive energy and arresting images in this impressive book will leave readers breathless." The other book is The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar, a collection of critical essays by the renowned poetry scholar Helen Vendler, which I edited. Working on this book took me right back to the days of my college literature classes. Vendler examines the work of poets I know well, such as Wallace Stevens and W. B. Yeats and Walt Whitman, as well as plenty I'd never even heard of, like Jorie Graham and Amy Clampitt and Charles Wright. This book is a good example of something I wouldn't have likely picked up to read on my own but am glad I did.
I've posted before about Elizabeth Strout; the first two books of hers that I read were two of my favorite books ever: Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys. I've since gone back to read her two earlier books. Sometime last year I read Amy and Isabelle and realize I never reviewed here. I liked this one less than the other two, although Strout's writing is so effortlessly beautiful that I would read anything she wrote just for the pleasure of immersing myself in her words. I recall that I wasn't happy with the conclusion she seemed to be drawing at the end, but otherwise this was a captivating, if somewhat disturbing, look at a teenage girl's budding sexuality. And just recently I finished Abide with Me, which I had begun months ago and then had to put aside because I was too busy with work. Again, a less compelling story than Strout's later work but, again, gorgeous prose and well-fleshed-out characters. All of Strout's books take place in the small towns of Maine, and she captures that atmosphere—and the inhabitants—perfectly. This one is about the personal struggles of the new pastor in one of these small towns. I'll say the same thing about Elizabeth Strout that I've said about Richard Russo: Even one of her lesser novels is better than half of what's out there, and always worth reading.
And while we're doing pairs of things, these aren't books, but here are two family photos from my niece's wedding:
We clean up nice, huh?