Three works that grapple with crises of the soul, and of society.
The novels of Sheri Holman betray a restless, ambitious imagination: her historical mystery A Stolen Tongue followed a Swabian monk of the 15th century on a comic, unsettling quest for saints’ relics, while the bestseller The Dress Lodger staged a feverish drama among body-snatchings in Victorian England. Her Orange Prize-nominated The Mammoth Cheese juxtaposed Thomas Jefferson’s life with a small town in contemporary Virginia. In her new novel Witches on the Road Tonight, Holman brings an eerie tale of Appalachian legend out of the past and careening into the life of a local television celebrity in the 1970s suburbs. We asked Sheri Holman to tell us about three of her favorite reads.
By Walker Percy
“Even though I grew up in the south, I knew little of Walker Percy until I read Paul Elie’s brilliant biography of mid-century Catholic intellectuals, The Life You Save May Be Your Own. As compelling as I found Binx Bolling’s witty existential crisis, his cousin Kate’s periodic need to touch the darkness and thus reaffirm her desire to live, spoke loudest to me. And though some find Aunt Emily’s late speech about tradition reactionary, I loved her pragmatism. Men and women have always behaved badly, only now we expect credit and sympathy for acknowledging it.”
By Cesare Pavese
Translated by R. W. Flint
“Not well-known here, Pavese is considered one of the masters of modern Italian fiction. His short novel, The Moon and The Bonfire, about partisans picking up daily life after the atrocities of war, is dizzying in its moral quandaries. Lately I’ve been drawn to books that explore how one finds the will to go on (or not) in the aftermath of shared emotional or societal brutality. “The House in the Hills” and “Among Women Only” take up that question and are Pavese’s masterpieces in this lyrical and unflinching collection.”
By Jonathan Kozol
“I choose this book because we send our kids to public school in Brooklyn and have experienced firsthand the truth of this devastating work. The hypocrisy of our educational system is a microcosm of the skewed power dynamic in our larger society, and Kozol is one of the most articulate and passionate spokespeople for change writing today.”