Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Emil’s Picks

Here are some older books that made an impression on me in 2013. And I am, partly, what I read.

On Heaven and Earth by Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Abraham Skorka
When On Heaven and Earth was published in 2010, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a cardinal in Buenos Aires. In 2013, he became pope to 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, and On Heaven and Earth offered a marvelous opportunity to get to know the new Bishop of Rome. The book is a series of conversations between Bergoglio and his friend, Buenos Aires rabbi Abraham Skorka. In the book, the two Argentinians share their wisdom, and their dialogue often reveals applied faith. “Our true power,” Bergoglio says, “must be service. We cannot adore God if our spirit does not include the needy.” And his friend the rabbi agrees.

Contemporary Russian Poetry: An Anthology, edited by Evgeny Bunimovich and James Kates
Some time ago, researchers asked about three hundred Moscow teenagers to name twenty famous people who had influenced the formation of their identity. Over thirty percent of the students named Aleksandr Pushkin, the most celebrated of Russian poets, as their first choice. But while the poetry of the Russian Golden Age continues to attract readers, it has been harder for contemporary Russian poets to reach an audience. Which is a pity, because for the first time in Russian history, Russian poetry is now free from censorship and stylistic restrictions, and these poets have a lot to tell those who will take the time to listen. Here is post-Soviet irony and the mesmerizing voices of poets like Marianna Geide, Anna Russ, and Maria Stepanova – young women just beginning to make themselves heard. And this anthology also reveals the revival of faith the country is going through, as in these words of Olesya Nikolaeva: “A fledgling winter flickers through me/ and the holidays of my Lord – Christmas, home,/ transformed into a manger. From there the word comes:/ you have everything that you yourself are/ you have that which you are!”

Under the Skin by Michel Faber
Isserley motors about Scotland, looking for men. However, it can’t just be anyone – ideally, they need to be single and muscular to fit Isserley’s purposes. Her worldview in clearly unusual and Isserley – with an enormous chest, short legs, and thick glasses – is not what she seems. Neither are her co-workers at Ablach Farm. The men Isserley gives a ride are soon in the midst of horrors that outdo their worst nightmares – horrors that are not far removed from what is going on in the world today.

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman
In 1812, the Brothers Grimm published the first edition of their compilation of folk and fairy tales. In 2012, Penguin Classics asked Philip Pullman to curate 50 of Grimm’s classic tales, and he “leapt at the chance.” But how do you get at something that has already been done so perfectly? Pullman stays true to the spirit of the tales and finds strength in their immense storytelling power. Thus, he helps introduce this treasure to a contemporary audience that may be more familiar with Pullman than with these tales and their deep, deep Germanic roots.

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
After spending four years in “the bad place,” a neural health facility in Baltimore, Patrick Peoples is back at home with his parents, living in their basement, and trying to get his life back on track. Pat believes that he has spent but a few months in the psychiatric ward, and his world view is dominated by magical and delusional thinking. He feels that he and his wife, Nikki, have been forced into “apart time” because he was a mean husband who got fat and made the wrong decisions. He has returned to New Jersey to make things right, become fit, and be “kind instead of right.” However, the people who surround him seem convinced that Nikki is gone for good, and instead some of them try to get him to spend time with Tiffany – a very strange girl, indeed. She’s obviously crazy; but then again, who isn’t?

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