The best books on meaning and mutability

Richard Wakefield Author Of Terminal Park: Poems
By Richard Wakefield

Who am I?

I grew up in an area that had been forest, then became farms, then became a suburb. The world around me was a palimpsest, the old stories always vaguely discernable beneath the new ones, and always in some way part of the new ones. Until recently there was always a working farm in my life as well, two in Oregon and one in North Central Washington, where I saw the daily labor of trying to make the earth say “wheat” or “cattle” instead of “dust” or “sagebrush.” My poems try to preserve that experience.


I wrote...

Terminal Park: Poems

By Richard Wakefield,

Book cover of Terminal Park: Poems

What is my book about?

Richard Wakefield's third collection of poetry, Terminal Park, bears truthful and often wryly humorous witness to a wide range of human experiences. His portraits of life in rural Washington State are particularly compelling, in a way that evokes the best of Frost without sacrificing Wakefield's own distinctive voice. A showcase of given and nonce forms, Terminal Park is the work of a master craftsman, delivered with wit, empathy, and grace.

The books I picked & why

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A Collection of Poems by Robert Frost

By Robert Frost,

Book cover of A Collection of Poems by Robert Frost

Why this book?

In his hundreds of poems, Frost wrote about a lot of things, but almost always about the fluid nature of the world and our efforts to give it shape and meaning. The very form of a poem, he believed, embodies those efforts. The question always remains: What form do we find, what form do we impose, and what self do we construct in doing so?

Start with “For Once, Then, Something,” in which he adapts the meter of classical poetry to the cadences of the English language and the ambiguity of modern life. Take a long look at the long poem “Home Burial,” in which a grieving couple clash over incompatible ways of understanding nature’s apparent indifference to human desire. Re-read “Mending Wall,” in which two people disagree about the meaning of the form they cooperate in imposing on the landscape.

And don’t neglect the letters in which Frost acknowledges his dept to William James, the psychologist who explored how we make meaning of what he called the “blooming, buzzing confusion” around us – and find something like ourselves in the process.

A Collection of Poems by Robert Frost

By Robert Frost,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Collection of Poems by Robert Frost as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The early works of beloved poet Robert Frost, collected in one volume.

The poetry of Robert Frost is praised for its realistic depiction of rural life in New England during the early twentieth century, as well as for its examination of social and philosophical issues. Through the use of American idiom and free verse, Frost produced many enduring poems that remain popular with modern readers. A Collection of Poems by Robert Frost contains all the poems from his first four published collections: A Boy’s Will (1913), North of Boston (1914), Mountain Interval (1916), and New Hampshire (1923), including classics such…


Hamlet

By William Shakespeare,

Book cover of Hamlet

Why this book?

A young man pretends to be something he isn’t, and (perhaps) discovers that he is what he pretends to be – and isn’t.  Nothing remains fixed. The slippery language is essential: Trying to make his experience mean something coherent and actionable challenges his enormous skill with language. After all, words are one of the ways we try to fence off the flux, but it won’t be contained. The language is confusing in the truest sense, mixed up. The first words of the play are “Who’s there?” and Hamlet’s first words are a slippery attempt at an answer: “A little more than kin, and less than kind.” Our words are approximate at best, downright wrong at worst. Through the following five acts the play explores what that question and answer mean, and especially how the struggle to put the answer into words is itself part of the answer.

Hamlet

By William Shakespeare,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Hamlet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The Mona Lisa of literature' T. S. Eliot

In Shakespeare's verbally dazzling and eternally enigmatic exploration of conscience, madness and the nature of humanity, a young prince meets his father's ghost in the middle of the night, who accuses his own brother - now married to his widow - of murdering him. The prince devises a scheme to test the truth of the ghost's accusation, feigning wild insanity while plotting revenge. But his actions soon begin to wreak havoc on innocent and guilty alike.

Used and Recommended by the National Theatre

General Editor Stanley Wells
Edited by T. J. B.…


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

By Robert M. Pirsig,

Book cover of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Why this book?

Work! It’s one of the most neglected topics in literature, and yet it’s what most of us spend our lives doing, trying to create something where there was nothing. How can we make it meaningful? Pirsig shows us that by investing ourselves in the most ordinary activities we shape the shapeless world, and ourselves, into something transcendent, if only briefly. His keyword is “quality,” by which he means the essential whatness of things: What they are is what we make of them, and in doing so, we make ourselves, in work that is never finished.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

By Robert M. Pirsig,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Acclaimed as one of the most exciting books in the history of American letters, this modern epic became an instant bestseller upon publication in 1974, transforming a generation and continuing to inspire millions. A narration of a summer motorcycle trip undertaken by a father and his son, the book becomes a personal and philosophical odyssey into fundamental questions of how to live. Resonant with the confusions of existence, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a touching and transcendent book of life.


The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat And Other Clinical Tales

By Oliver Sacks,

Book cover of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat And Other Clinical Tales

Why this book?

In these accounts of strange neurological misfires, Sacks shows how unreliable we can be as narrators of our own lives. The examples are extreme, sure, but they question the foundations of our certainty about the world and ourselves. Ordinarily, our senses make sense of the flux, label it and archive it for future reference; when the wires get crossed, we see hints of the essential changeableness of things and of the fictional self that tries to tame them. The book is a guided tour of what Sacks call our cerebral habitat: “Forcing or finding order in an imagined chaos.”

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat And Other Clinical Tales

By Oliver Sacks,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat And Other Clinical Tales as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Celebrating Fifty Years of Picador Books

If a man has lost a leg or an eye, he knows he has lost a leg or an eye; but if he has lost a self - himself - he cannot know it, because he is no longer there to know it.

In this extraordinary book, Dr. Oliver Sacks recounts the stories of patients struggling to adapt to often bizarre worlds of neurological disorder. Here are people who can no longer recognize everyday objects or those they love; who are stricken with violent tics or shout involuntary obscenities, and yet are gifted with…


The Nature of Things

By Lucretius, Coralie Bickford-Smith (illustrator), A.E. Stallings (translator)

Book cover of The Nature of Things

Why this book?

It’s the oldest book I know of that tries to explain the mutable material world in strictly material terms. Appropriately, or maybe paradoxically, Lucretius puts his treatise into the form of poetry, following strict rules of prosody, as if the conventions of verse could create order out of chaos. Two thousand years later, the master poet A.E. Stallings translates it into formal English poetry. Nothing remains fixed, especially not language, and yet we never quit trying.

The Nature of Things

By Lucretius, Coralie Bickford-Smith (illustrator), A.E. Stallings (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Nature of Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of a major new Classics series - books that have changed the history of thought, in sumptuous, clothbound hardbacks.

Lucretius' poem On the Nature of Things combines a scientific and philosophical treatise with some of the greatest poetry ever written. With intense moral fervour he demonstrates to humanity that in death there is nothing to fear since the soul is mortal, and the world and everything in it is governed by the mechanical laws of nature and not by gods; and that by believing this men can live in peace of mind and happiness. He bases this on the…


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