Matthew Cheney: New York: A Guide to the Empire State, compiled by members of the Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration and first published in 1940, remains a fascinating book. “The average New Yorker,” the guide says of the city’s citizens, “conditioned to crowds, speed, Wall Street, even violent death, takes his city for granted.”
Tyler Dean: “Dionea” by Vernon Lee. I describe it to my students as “the scariest thing I have ever read,” which is only hyperbolic in the sense that it will set up false expectations for them. Lee (a nom-de-plume for the Victorian writer, Violet Page) published “Dionea” as a lengthy short story/brief novella in her 1890 collection Hauntings: Fantastic Stories. “Dionea” has all the trappings of Victorian horror prose: an epistolary format, a somewhat dry and lugubrious narrator, a dedicated refusal to be explicit in its details but, for all that, it is suffused with a sense of immense menace and grand, cosmic indifference. Saying too much would give it away, but Lee manages to tell the story of a mysterious foundling in Montemirto on the Tyrrhenian Sea and stuff it full of knowing dread, visceral body horror, and deep melancholy, topping it all off with a dash of proto-feminist vindication. Lee often gets left out of the canon of great Victorian horror writers; she is due for a revival. “Dionea” ought to be the temple gate for her future supplicants.
Ron Drummond: A few works of art I dearly love that deserve to be far better known than they are, along with their respective creators:
1) The two Irish novels of Kate Horsley, Confessions of a Pagan Nun (2001) and The Changeling of Finnistuath (2002). The first is set during the transition from Druidic to Christian Ireland, the second is the tale of a 14th century girl raised as a boy; both are wise, passionate, devastating.
2) Joel Agee’s essay “A Fury of Symbols”, the finest evocation of the hallucinogenic experience I’ve ever read (Harper’s Magazine, January 1989). Also highly recommended Agee’s In the House of My Fear (2004).
3) David Guy’s 1991 novel The Autobiography of My Body, long out of print and way overdue for the New York Review Books treatment. Samuel R. Delany told me about this one – he said it was the best novel about sex he had ever read by a male heterosexual. Randy Byers loved it too.
4) String Quartet No. 2: Hunting: Gathering (1987), by the South African composer Kevin Volans. Volans dreamt this three-movement, 22-minute work one musical phrase at a time over a two-year period. One of the greatest quartets of the 20th century. I know of four recorded performances of it; I wish there were dozens.
5) String quartet cycles deserving of fame and close study: the eight Vienna-era string quartets of Anton Reicha, the 17 quartets of John Blackwood McEwen, the 20 of Vagn Holmboe, the 17 of Mieczysław Weinberg, the last 12 of Peter Sculthorpe, the on-going quartet cycle of Elena Ruehr..
Craig Laurance Gidney: More people should know about the Florida band Autumn’s Grey Solace. They are a prolific duo that makes atmospheric, ethereal music out of standard rock instruments, and the singer mostly uses her voice as an instrument. Their latest album, “Eocene”, thematically (through the song titles at least) explores a geologic period of time and the pieces range from almost ambient and becalmed to dark and driving. Previous works of theirs abstractly explored astronomy (“Celestial Realms”) and other natural phenomena. For fans of the Cocteau Twins and space rock.
Delaine Derry Green: If you have a chance to see ‘Carrie The Musical’ I highly recommend it. I even shed a few tears when I recently watched this memorable show. I knew it had been one of the biggest bombs on Broadway in the 80s, but the show has been revised and I found out they removed 7 unpopular songs from the original. My only complaint is Carrie’s mother is sometimes too likable!
Lavelle Porter: I didn’t know much about Phonte’s music beyond his guest verses on The Roots’ How I Got Over. So when I heard his 2018 album No News Is Good News I was really mad at myself for sleeping on him for so long. Nimble wordsmith. Soulful singer. Bars for days. HBCU alum. Dirty Southerner. Outkast fan. “So Help Me God” has one of the best first lines I’ve heard in a while. “Expensive Genes” and “Cry No More” form an arresting two-track combo about aging, maturity, and black health disparities. The whole album slaps from the first track to the last. And it sent me back to his earlier albums, which are also loaded with dope tracks (“The Life of Kings” has been in heavy rotation on my phone lately). Phonte and I are around the same age, so I know I’m the target audience as a fortyish old-head who spent my twenties listening to hip-hop, R&B, and neo-soul, but No News Is Good News is a great album by a talented artist who everyone should be listening to.
Ezra Pound: When Shakespeare talks of the ‘Dawn in russet mantle clad’ he presents something which the painter does not present. There is in this line of his nothing that one can call description; he presents.
Eric Schaller: The Second Avenue Deli and Le Parisien Bistrot. Located right across from each other on E 33rd St, these are our two favorite restaurants in NYC. The food is wonderful and now tastes all the richer when marinated in the nostalgia of prior meals. The first time I went to The Second Avenue Deli, at its original location on 2nd Ave, I was astounded at the quantity of pastrami piled high on my sandwich then, by watching another patron, I learned the secret to its consumption: order extra rye bread and create multitudes of open-faced sandwiches from the one initial sandwich (a miracle of loaves and meats). Upon first entering Le Parisien Bistrot, you might wonder how so many people can be seated in such a small restaurant; the secret is that there are no lanes between the tables, and your table will have to be pulled out so that you can maneuver around behind it to sit down. To have ready access to our favorite restaurants, we usually stay at Pod 39, a European-styled hotel with small, clean, and surprisingly affordable rooms.
Brian Francis Slattery: Ital cooking. Wah pedals applied to instruments that don’t usually have wah pedals applied to them. Taking a canoe trip later in the year than it seems wise to take a canoe trip.
Marly Youmans: Some favorites among books I’ve acquired lately are: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: 14 Prints by Clive Hicks-Jenkins and the Penfold Press, published by Gray Mare Press of Wales to accompany an exhibit at MOMA Machynlleth (a paperback so lovely that I nabbed a batch of signed copies for gifts); the Hagens’ Brueghel from Taschen; a Luisa Igloria poetry collection, The Buddha Wonders If She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis, from the small-but-stellar Phoenicia Publishing in Montreal; a first poetry collection from Ryan Wilson, The Stranger World; Nichols’s Alice’s Wonderland: A Visual Journey through Lewis Carroll’s Mad, Mad World (I am an Alice-addict); Augustine Wetta’s The Eighth Arrow (Odysseus navigating Dante’s hell); Bischoff’s Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery: A Brief Guide to the Kunst Historisches Museum Wien; Highest Heaven: Spanish and Portuguese Colonial Art, an eye-popping catalogue from the San Antonio Museum of Art; Mary B. Moore’s poetry collection, Flicker; Tolkien’s On Fairy-stories; and the oddly mesmerizing Evelyn Williams: Works and Hours. Related youtube addiction: the British Museum videos. My most-relished recent rereads: Frederick Buechner’s Godric, D. H. Lawrence’s poems, Leon Garfield’s Smith, and the ever-clever Austen with Pride and Prejudice. And re-gawks are good too: Museo Larco: treasures from ancient Peru and 50 Masterpieces of Japanese Art from the Tokyo National Museum Collection. (Yes, I love museum catalogues.) My favorite recent book for children – although also wonderful for an adult – is the newly illustrated The Golden Key: A Victorian Fairy Tale by George MacDonald. This pretty little book is a tour de force of scratchboard art by Ruth Sanderson.