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Madison's Picks!

The Blue Cliff Record Cover Image
By Thomas Cleary (Translated by), J.C. Cleary (Translated by)
ISBN: 9781590302323
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Published: Shambhala - April 12th, 2005

This is a collection of zen koans. How to talk about it? It's dense. It laughs at you, it whacks you behind the knees with a stick. It uses language to un-do what language has done, and if you think you get it, game over. I am constantly revisiting these koans and constantly learning how to read them. What I've found is that studying them is like climbing over walls of thought and self only to find another, and another, until I find what seems like a way out, then suddenly have to start all over again. It is as beguiling as it is joyous, and I can't help but laugh back at it. I recently read words that described it as "pure poetry." I think that's right. One of the most important books I've ever read. 

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Cover Image
ISBN: 9780061233326
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Published: Harper Perennial Modern Classics - September 10th, 2013

Without qualification: my favorite book. Over the course of a year, Annie Dillard walks the land around her home. In these pages, we see what she sees, we follow the wild river of her thoughts - how am I take to make sense of the ecstasy in this experience? All I know is, I went places I never thought to go, reading this book, my heart beating deafeningly in my throat the entire time. 

No Nature: New and Selected Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679742524
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Published: Pantheon - September 7th, 1993

I'm on a real big zen kick lately, and this has illuminated my way to Gary Snyder, one of the great alchemizers of east and west, a nature poet and then some, a big sip of spring water, a rugged and rapturous old Beat. His writing is spare and crystalline on the surface - the real fun is crawling in, seeing what the writing holds and holding it yourself.

A Primer for Forgetting: Getting Past the Past Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374237219
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Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - June 18th, 2019

This book is the perfect induldgence of whim. It is a collection of fragments - of thought, myth, poetry, history, philosophy, personal narrative - fitted together in an exploratory arc about forgetting. It seems to have that mystical quality of opening to a page whose contents you were just thinking about, perhaps in the back of your head. I've been thinking a lot about forgetting lately, and the impulse to preserve. This book looks at these things as belonging to the bigger, more elemental forces of destruction/creation, re-mystifying the slip into obscurity, showing us how obscurity is the natural foundation upon which we build self and world, and not at all a place to fear. 

Midwest Foraging: 115 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Burdock to Wild Peach (Regional Foraging Series) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781604695311
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Published: Timber Press - June 24th, 2015

Please: get this book, go outside, look around, learn the names of what you see, get to know them, introduce yourself, and if you choose to gather a plant for whatever purpose, say thank you. I think if you do this enough, you learn more than plant names and uses. You learn how to see what you didn't see before. You learn how to love and receive love from silent, growing things, how to treasure the ground you walk. 

Normal People: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781984822178
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Published: Hogarth - April 16th, 2019

I feel kind of dumb when people ask me what this book is about. "Young people who fall in love, separate, get back together, break up again, and on and on" is true enough to say, but a better question might be, how is this book done? Bare of sentimentaility, Sally Rooney's treatment of her characters, despite their folly and volatility, is so dispassionate that their development feels real to the point of physical ache. To me, this makes for an ideal love story, one in which intimacy is unromantic but beautiful, painful, and so familiar.

The Writing Life Cover Image
ISBN: 9780060919887
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Published: Harper Perennial - November 12th, 2013

I'm in love with Annie Dillard and I refuse to be embarrassed about it. Embarrassment is such a wildly discordant and useless reaction toward things I'm inclined to love, but all the same, it's been a chronically paralyzing force. This book is not a writing how-to guide, and does not offer tips on style or structure. Instead, Dillard, in not exactly a gentle way, writes of the life writing demands, a life if not free of embarrassment, then at least of enough ferocity (and low-level insanity)  to muscle past it. She writes of the sensations of writing, at its worst and, with a poetry and lucidity so characteristic of her, its best. And how mobilizing this is! Like a naked jump into icy water, or whatever gets you there. 

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Circe Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316556347
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Published: Little, Brown and Company - April 10th, 2018

Will my love for this book fit in this little card? It might be better to ask if I (Madison!) am around so that I can give my feelings all the gesture and wide, heart-filled eyes they deserve. Because this was one of those all day all night no sleep delirious reading stints that I live for. Circe, the witch goddess, has reclaimed and retold her story, no longer an ancillary character in a male narrative. And I'm all about that. An empowering coming of age tale with dazzling characters and world-building, I recommend this book for anyone looking to gild and warm their heart.

Braiding Sweetgrass Cover Image
ISBN: 9781571313560
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Published: Milkweed Editions - September 1st, 2014

It is not subtle nor secret, the sorry state of our planet, our collective/individual senses of wholeness and connection to all - these have long been under assault. But instead of raising alarm bells, scratching at our fears of ruin and collapse, Robin Wall Kimmerer gestures at the love shared between Earth and all upon it. Do we care for the planet out of fear for what will happen when it's utterly wrecked, or do we care for it the way we care for our families, our lovers, our dearest friends? Are our responsibilities to our loved ones a burden, or an honor? Bridging the violent split between Western science and indigenous wisodms, this book inspires awareness, gratitude, and action - vital forces of change, in the way of ultimate good.

Aetherial Worlds Cover Image
ISBN: 9780525434184
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Published: Vintage - February 19th, 2019

I didn’t seek this book out. I knew nothing about it, and expected nothing. Even if I had, I never could have expected the stories here. I can obviously only speak to my experience, but each of these stories articulated sensations that I’ve never paused to give name to - sensations that I’ll probably measure my life by in the end. This collection’s common thread is that line between the everyday and the dreamlike, between “here” and “there,” which proves fluttery, illusory. The line I used to walk like a tightrope, giddy and terrified, in childhood. For someone else to resurrect this strange and lost feeling somehow lessens the inevitable, impassable distance between souls, an experience I value above all else.

The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins Cover Image
ISBN: 9780691178325
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Published: Princeton University Press - September 19th, 2017

What a title, right? This is a rare offering, a book that lights up the space between fragmented places, reveals their closeness - the light, a treasured mushroom. Our ecological, economic, and humanitarian crises are all different faces of one multi-headed beast. This book, like all my favorites, reminds us that every event and object and being is bound to every other, that our natural worlds and constructed worlds are mirrored images. And as the matsutake mushroom thrives in devastated areas, so exists the potential for the fruiting of treasures elsewhere, here, now, and in our future, fragile as ever.

Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype Cover Image
ISBN: 9780345396815
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Published: Ballantine Books - August 22nd, 1995

Before I ever actually picked up this book, it had been in my periphery: winking, glittering like something precious underwater, guiding me with allusion and reference not just toward its pages but toward something within myself, something dormant and forgotten. This book is an invocation to the Wild Woman. Estes’s background is in Jungian psychology and mythic storytelling — and through her stories, she leads readers to and through the dark recesses of the collective unconscious, where the Wild Woman archetype has slept for so long. Reading this book felt like the deepest sigh I’ve ever released. It answers questions that nearly burned holes through my body. It howls, it cries, it sings. It empowers and it frees. If you feel its call, heed it.

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Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781455563920
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Published: Grand Central Publishing - November 14th, 2017

I didn't realize until it was over how desperate I was for a book like this, a book of profound and heroic kindness - and it's little wonder, isn't it, given the world as it is? I think that what Min Jin Lee has done here is extraordinary, threading in gold the multi-generational story of a family and its abundant love and loss throughout a larger tale of the forced dissolution of a country and the identity of its people. To watch people be born, grow old, and die is the gift of narrative; to know them, love them, and want to be better because of them, is the gift of narrative magic. The world's heaviness feels a bit lifted, now. Spread, shared, and dissolved. We're getting closer, and Pachinko helps move us there.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Vintage International) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781400034710
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Published: Vintage - October 7th, 2003

This book reads like a lucid dream. Revisiting the murder of a friend that occurred 27 years prior, the narrator wanders through the memories that surround the event like a psychedlic haze. The weather, dreams, wild parties, hangovers, sex, and (misdirected) passions of these characters create a confused, surreal mosaic of the murder, the plans of which were known by everyone, including the victim - so how could it have happened? The question creates a spiral with no clear, central answer; as we move toward the center, the pace of the story escalates, its humor darkening and thickening and culminating in brutality. Short and spell-casting, this book is ever-relevant, a meditation on accountabiliity and respsonsibility within our communities.

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The Idiot: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780143111061
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Published: Penguin Books - February 13th, 2018

My love for this book is huge. But how to explain this love? The premise of the story is straightforward, but its appeal, perhaps, is less so: it is long, and dense, and at points, totally exasperating. What I experienced, though, was a profound and intense familiarity, a story told with so much lucidity that it made my own daily experiences - banal, routine - that much more lucid. It is the story of a girl in her freshman year at Harvard, who longs and waits for love and meaning to reveal themselves. The narrative, full of confusion, disappointment, and unfulfilled yearning, is also incredibly intimate and hilarious. Its greatest gift, to me, was that if filled me with the desire and clarity to write. I've been writing a lot since reading this book. That is the mark of my love for it.

The Coast of Chicago: Stories Cover Image
ISBN: 9780312424251
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Published: Picador - April 3rd, 2004

I read the last story from this book first, in a bookstore in Chicago a few years ago -  I was living there for a summer before my senior year of college, and the person I was dating picked it off the shelf, suggested that story, and wandered away. The narrative so perfectly framed that moment in my life. I read the rest the stories that summer in what now feels like a dream state. Or rather, in that dazed state of longing when you wake up from a particularly beautiful dream.

The Master and Margarita (Vintage International) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679760801
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Published: Vintage - March 19th, 1996

Calligraphy Lesson: The Collected Stories Cover Image
By Mikhail Shishkin, Marian Schwartz (Translator), Leo Shtutin (Translator)
Email or call 734-585-5567 for price
ISBN: 9781941920039
Availability: Special Order
Published: Deep Vellum Publishing - May 12th, 2015

The Complete Stories (FSG Classics) Cover Image
By Flannery O'Connor, Robert Giroux (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780374515362
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Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - January 1st, 1971

Selected Poems Cover Image
By Frank O'Hara, Mark Ford (Editor)
ISBN: 9780375711480
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Published: Knopf - September 8th, 2009