Reading Round-Up: December

We asked everyone in the office to talk about their favorite books from last month. Take a look at our favorite reads from December, and let us know in the comments which books you’ll be adding to your to-read list. From fiction to poetry, there’s something for everyone here!

Without Title by Geoffrey Hill


Page count: 96
Genre: Poetry
Publish date: 2006

In December I read Geoffrey Hill’s Without Title, a volume published in 2006 in the midst of the poet’s late-life outpouring of verse. The initial four decades of Hill’s oeuvre are defined by an extreme rigor of thought and prosody, and his best early poems achieve a rare formal perfection. In the 1990s, the dam burst, and Hill’s slow, painstaking methods gave way to a startling verbosity. To quantify that change: in his first four decades, Hill produced some 168 pages of verse; in his final two decades, he produced 768 pages, not including posthumous publications. 

Without Title displays certain hallmarks of Hill’s: his eclectic and obscure allusions, his idiosyncratic yet breathtaking imagery, his fascination with Jewish history, his coining of words. But relative to his early work, there is a breezy—and occasionally chatty—quality to the poems that is consonant with the rapid clip of their composition. His “Improvisations for Hart Crane” begins with a zing: 

Super-ego crash-meshed idiot-savant.
And what have you.
This has to be the show-stopper. Stay put.
Slummimg for rum and rumba, dumb Rimbaud,
he is the sortilegist, visionary on parole,
floor-walker watching space, the candy man,
artist of neon, traffic’s orator,
gaunt cantilever engined by the dawn
of prophecy. 

The later Hill’s predilection for associative leaps and conversational digressions is perhaps most fully realized in the volume’s central sequence, “Pindarics.” The sequence, which consists of twenty-one pindaric odes addressed to the Italian poet Cesare Pavese (1908–1950), addresses the experience of aging and considers the capacities of poetry. I must admit that even as Hill’s lines approach impenetrability, their puzzling beauty moves me nonetheless:

Not to unthink the work done: but a dervish
whirlstorm of sepia and sand
occludes it like a twister on the bed
of a shallow sea. Cuttlefish bone survives,
incongruously reft its light-weft grottoes,
in parrots’ cages or in books of verse.
Seashells are more elaborate and hiss,
tell childhood fortunes, voyage from Madagascar.
Presence of the intrinsic’s here in doubt.

— Zack, Associate Editor

Upstream by Mary Oliver


Page count: 178
Genre: Nonfiction; Essays
Publish date: 2016

I began reading Mary Oliver’s Upstream, a collection of her essays, in December and have been slowly reading and digesting each spectacular piece. For those familiar with her poetry, her lyrical prose and occasional verse provide nuanced layers to the themes she explores in this collection—notably how she learned, thanks to her “friend” Walt Whitman, that poetry serves as a meditative space in which she can become fully absorbed in literature and immerse herself within the natural world. For those not familiar with her work, I still heartily recommend this collection. Oliver’s enthusiasm for wandering in nature and how doing so inspired her craft is contagious; you’ll have trouble finishing Upstream because you’ll be itching to go outside. Pro tip: just take it with you on your hikes.

— Wes, Project Manager

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow


Page count: 448
Genre: Nonfiction; Politics
Publish date: 2019

Ultimately, the reason Harvey Weinstein followed the route he did is because he was allowed to, and that’s our fault. As a culture that’s our fault.

A few weeks ago, I read She Said by journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey and thought it fitting to read Ronan Farrow’s book Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators. It’s largely about the same circa-2017 investigation of alleged rapist Harvey Weinstein as well as the numerous allegations of sexual harassment and abuse of Matt Lauer, Les Moonves, and Donald Trump. Ronan relentlessly digs into the illicit, illegal, and predatory means of covering up the—well—illicit, illegal, and predatory abuse of some of the most powerful men who make up our shared modern media landscape. (I guess I mean “illicit” for us little people at least, but seemingly totally fine and acceptable if not outright enabled behavior of those with power, especially pre #MeToo.)

If you’ve heard about this book at all, then I’ll sound like a broken record; this truly reads like a real-life spy thriller. It has subterfuge, secret sources, anonymous whistleblowers, and a transnational spy ring (spies, actual spies!) all woven together in an accessible, compelling, and un-put-downable fashion by Farrow. While it reads like a clichéd detective novel, the most depressing thing about this book is that it’s real. And pervasive—pervasive in places you wouldn’t expect.

— Sam, Head of Marketing

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn


Page count: 349
Genre: Mystery
Publish date: 2009

On a frigid January evening in 1985, Libby Day’s mother and sisters were brutally murdered in their family home. Libby managed to escape the scene, yet the blurry memories and unanswered questions from that night continue to haunt her years after her brother is convicted for the murders. Almost a decade later, Libby sets out to uncover the truth of what really happened that night and whether or not her brother is guilty.

Gillian Flynn does not shy away from the gruesome details when illustrating a thrilling, investigative plot that prompts readers to ask more questions with each turn of the page. Flynn’s ability to construct an enticing “whodunnit” novel through different perspectives and timelines is extremely engaging and does in fact take you to some very dark places.

— Savannah, Social Media Manager

Purity by Jonathan Franzen


Page count: 563
Genre: Fiction
Publish date: 2015

If I had a dollar for every time someone recommended Jonathan Franzen to me, I wouldn’t necessarily be rich, but I would at least have a much-appreciated refund for the money I’ve spent on his books over the years. After trying (and failing) to enjoy his critically acclaimed novels The Corrections and Freedom, my impression of Franzen was not positive. But, on the strong recommendation of a once-trusted friend, I picked up his 2015 novel Purity with a vague hope of having that impression reversed. Spoiler alert: that did not happen. 

Instead, I spent five-hundred-odd pages with Purity “Pip” Tyler, her mother Penelope, and the two men that the novel rather ineffectively claims are not its real focus: Andreas Wolf and Tom Aberant. Pip and Penelope are both true to form as far as Franzen’s female characters go: Penelope is the overbearing mother and emotionally abusive wife, and twenty-three year old Pip is, by her own admission, bland in every way, but she still manages to mourn her fatherless existence by falling for every middle-aged man she meets. Meanwhile, Tom seems to lose personality the more we learn about him, resulting in a rather anticlimactic climax; and Andreas Wolf is introduced as a manipulative sexual predator who, despite Franzen’s best efforts, never quite transcends that impression. Ultimately, Franzen’s Purity proved to me once again that while he possesses a talent for wordcraft and the capacity for insightful commentary, his books are, at least for this reviewer, painful and depressing to read.

— Marissa, Editorial Intern