National Poetry Month begins next week, but here at the Book Review we believe that you don’t need a ceremonial excuse to read poems — you just need a capacity for delight in language, and some good poems to read. We trust that you have the first part down already; to help with the second, can we recommend Karisma Price’s debut collection, “I’m Always So Serious”? To poetry lovers her title might seem to evoke Christian Wiman’s marvelous epic “Being Serious” (also worth reading!), but Price is very much staking her own ground here, on Southern soil blessed and haunted by the ghosts of forebears; her book summons everyone from James Baldwin to Gwendolyn Brooks to Beyoncé. I think you’ll like it.
More poetry: Ellen Bryant Voigt’s “Collected Poems” is a magisterial retrospective, almost 500 pages long, filled with tactile descriptions of pianos and trees and language itself, which “races alongside, any given minute,/anything that happens.” Elsewhere we recommend a memoir about motherhood and mental illness, a biography of a groundbreaking archaeologist, a biography of the 19th-century abortionist Madame Restell and a manifesto about America’s class divisions. In fiction, our recommendations this week include a dystopian novel of grief and resistance, along with one historical novel set in 19th-century Sudan and another set in 18th-century Scotland and America. Happy reading.
POVERTY, BY AMERICA
The central claim of this manifesto by the Princeton sociologist (who won a Pulitzer for his 2016 book “Evicted,” about exploitation in Milwaukee’s poorest housing market) is that poverty in the United States is the product not only of larger economic shifts, but of choices and actions by more fortunate Americans.
Aboulela’s novel follows several characters through a turbulent 19th-century Sudan, where a revolutionary movement is growing — and turning oppressive. At the center of the story are Akuany, an enslaved girl who is fighting for her freedom, and Yaseen, the idealistic merchant who helps her.
EMPRESS OF THE NILE:
The Daredevil Archaeologist Who Saved Egypt’s Ancient Temples From Destruction
In the boys’ club of Egyptology, the archaeologist and Louvre curator Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt held her swashbuckling own. Olson’s lively biography brings her to fearless life.
The hero of Sayles’s novel is captured by English soldiers at an 18th-century battle in Scotland, starting an epic that takes us across Britain and on to the American colonies. Along the way we meet a poor village girl named Jenny, whose life of servitude and calamity parallels Jamie’s.
The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Old New York’s Most Fabulous, Fearless, and Infamous Abortionist
This timely biography presents the flamboyant 19th-century abortionist Madame Restell as a bona fide New York celebrity and a lifeline for women in an era when she regularly landed in jail.
I KEEP MY EXOSKELETONS TO MYSELF
Crane’s debut novel explores grief, family and queer resistance through a fabulist conceit: In a draconian world, a newborn is marked as a criminal after her birth mother dies in delivery. Her remaining mother must then raise the child in a society that sees her family as inferior and suspect.
A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood
Frank’s memoir of her 19-year-old son’s first psychotic break is by turns an eloquent meditation on the power of nature and a terrifying exposé of the hellscape of parenting a mentally ill child into adulthood.
I’M ALWAYS SO SERIOUS
Starting and ending in her native New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, spanning many generations and stories, and folding in several spiky, multi-page forms, Price turns her first poetry collection into an exciting start for what might be a stellar career.
Ellen Bryant Voigt
This giant career retrospective captures a sensibility that since the 1970s has remained melancholy, careful, attentive, sometimes consoling, heartbreaking or plangent where no consolation can be found.
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