Sunday, December 21, 2014

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NY1 teams with contributors from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, and Essence Magazine to review the latest books and book-related trends.

The Book Reader: "The Joker," "My Bright Abyss"

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NY1 VIDEO: David Haglund of Slate reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."

Even if you don't read much poetry, I recommend keeping an eye out for memoirs by poets. Poets spend their time observing life closely and describing what they see and how they feel as vividly as they can. When they tell the stories of their own lives, they often do so with that same careful attention to words and to the world. Such is the case, certainly, with two new entries in this little subgenre: "The Joker," by Andrew Hudgins, and "My Bright Abyss," by Christian Wiman.

Hudgins has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his poetry. He's also an inveterate lover and teller of jokes, from the crudest one-liners to the most brilliant conceptual gags.

Hudgins doesn't shy away from the darker corners of the jokers' imagination, the inappropriate places where so much of what we find funny comes from. And he takes care in describing where he came from. An Army brat, he grew up mostly in North Carolina and Alabama in the 1960s, and he gives you sense of what it was like to grow up in that time and place.

The same is true of Christian Wiman's very different memoir, "My Bright Abyss," which is partly an autobiography and partly a meditation on faith. Wiman grew up "in a little sandblasted town in West Texas." "To call the place predominantly Christian," he writes, "is like calling the Sahara predominantly sand."

After drifting far away from his religious roots as a young adult, he found his way back to church, though the faith he has now is not the religion of his childhood: It's informed by his thoughts of death after a diagnosis of cancer, and by the love he's experienced and lost. Even if, like me, you are not a churchgoer, you will likely be moved by his account of all this, and challenged by his wrestling with questions that are as big as they come.

To find other challenging, moving, and funny books that you might read, check out the Slate Book Review at ClientIP:, UserAgent: CCBot/2.0 ( Profile: TWCSAMLSP