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A Toni Morrison Treasury caters to preschoolers and young readers with a collection of eight children’s books that the late Nobel Prize-winning writer wrote with her son, Slade Morrison. Each one is illustrated by an artist chosen by Toni herself; they include Joe Cepeda, Pascal Lemaitre, Giselle Potter, Sean Qualls and Shadra Strickland. As Oprah Winfrey writes in a brief foreword, “Reading these stories is a way for children and adults to connect with one of the world’s most extraordinary authors in a new and inspiring way.” 

Adults will enjoy sharing these stories with young readers, as many Morrison fans may never have encountered her writing for children. “The Big Box” is a lengthy rhyming story about three children confined to a big brown box because, according to adults, they “just can’t handle their freedom.” The tale is a delight from start to finish. At first, the big box seems to offer unfettered joys—swings and slides and treats and toys galore—but readers will soon realize it’s a prison. As the children note: “But if freedom is handled your way / Then it’s not my freedom or free.” Giselle Potter’s droll illustrations perfectly capture the strange dichotomy of their situation and their feelings of entrapment.

Pascal Lemaitre’s comic-style illustrations enliven the “Who’s Got Game?” series of fables, which pit ant against grasshopper, lion against mouse and grandfather against snake. “Poppy or the Snake” is particularly clever, and Lemaitre’s use of dark tones heightens the tension between the two protagonists. Bright green Snake’s bold, wily ways make this a fun read-aloud, especially when Poppy ends up having the last laugh. 

In “Peeny Butter Fudge,” a lively homage to raucously wild days with a grandmother, Joe Cepada’s bright illustrations ramp up the rollicking fun had by two sisters, a brother and their high-spirited Nana. Readers can continue on their own by making the recipe for the titular treat, which is included at the end. “Please, Louise” rounds out the collection, showing how a young girl’s day is brightened by a trip to the library: “So smile as the stories unfurl / where beauty and wonder cannot hide. / Because reading books is a pleasing guide.” Shadra Strickland reinforces this message with engaging art beginning with dark, dreary colors on a stormy day that gradually morph into a rainbow.

Adults will enjoy sharing the stories of A Toni Morrison Treasury with young readers, as many Morrison fans may never have encountered her writing for children.
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Bob Dylan is an artist of many faces: poet, folk hero, rock genius, visual artist, writer, welder, songsmith, Nobel Prize winner. He is, perhaps, what we project onto him of ourselves and our world. Bob Dylan: Mixing Up the Medicine is a 605-page immaculately designed compendium that seemingly encompasses all possible sides of the legend. The book expands on the inaugural exhibits at the Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which opened in 2022 and houses the complete Dylan archives. If you can’t get to Tulsa, Mixing Up the Medicine is the next best thing.

If you are expecting beautiful photos, art and memorabilia, you’ll find those here. If you want to read personal correspondence from Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, Jack White and other luminaries, look no further. And if you’d like to attempt to decipher Dylan’s chicken-scratch handwriting, you have your work cut out for you. But what sets Mixing Up the Medicine apart from other books of its type is the writing. Authors, artists and musicians visited the Tusla archive and were asked to choose a single item that “enticed, beguiled, stirred, perplexed, or galvanized them,” and then write an essay about it.

Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo selects a painting of the first record that Dylan—as 15-year-old Robert Zimmerman—recorded, a breathless cascade of radio hits tracked in a music shop’s recording booth with two friends for $5. Ranaldo imagines that evening in the songwriter’s youth with aching specificity. Poet Gregory Pardlo uses a letter written to Dylan by Black Panther Party leader Huey P. Newton to explore Dylan’s relationship with Black activists and artists. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo chooses the Japanese album cover of Blood on the Tracks, lyrically riffing on “Tangled Up in Blue.” Author Tom Piazza takes inspiration from a typewritten draft of “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” to pen a short play about a self-serious scholar who seeks the input of an exhausted, half-mad Dylanologist. And there’s more.

In the epilogue, Douglas Brinkley writes, “Dylan is an experience more like a meteorite than a mummified artifact of scholarly pursuit.” Mixing Up the Medicine, with all its heft and weight, keeps the man in motion—dazzling, beguiling and multidimensional. For Dylan acolytes, the joy of this tome is in combing its pages for the people we once were—our own changing faces, and those we will become.

Bob Dylan: Mixing Up the Medicine keeps the legendary artist in motion—dazzling, beguiling and multidimensional.
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Elizabeth and Ethan Finkelstein launched the @cheapoldhouses Instagram account in 2016, delighting followers with the boundless possibilities of starting over with a fresh—albeit dusty—slate. Even if you don’t dream of rescuing a fixer-upper, the notion is endlessly enchanting and story-rich, which is why “Cheap Old Houses” is yet another successful HGTV series. For those of us who’d rather read than stream or scroll, enter its book form: Cheap Old Houses: An Unconventional Guide to Loving and Restoring a Forgotten Home, in which architecturally sound buildings priced beneath $150K are restored to livability. The Finkelsteins note that the buyers have “discovered astonishing purpose by devoting attention to a home that needs love,” a path to fulfillment I can totally get behind, despite my total lack of carpentry skills. There are how-tos sprinkled within (“Painted Woodwork: To Strip or Not to Strip?”) but the focus is on the amazing stories and images of a wide range of old buildings—from mansions to farmhouses to cabins, and even a hydropower station—and the people who gave them new life. The details and features that have survived in highly dilapidated structures are awe-inspiring but also educational: If you’ve wondered just what plaster-and-lath is, now you’ll know.

Cheap Old Houses takes the titular Instagram account and HGTV show to the page, showcasing former fixer-uppers transformed into enchanting, livable homes.
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There’s a subcategory of hardcore Beatles fans who, unprompted, will ardently opine that George Harrison—the humble writer of classics like “Here Comes the Sun” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”—is in fact the best Beatle. Forget the saccharine songwriting of Paul, whose hubris was what ultimately led the group to implode, and heady John who left Earth’s orbit, taking only Yoko with him. And, um . . . Ringo who? It’s George, they argue, and you can look no further than Philip Norman’s new biography George Harrison: The Reluctant Beatle for all the proof you need.

In Norman’s biography, these George-heads can get a full serving of Beatlemania through the specific lens of the group’s youngest member, though the book will undoubtedly be of interest to all Beatles fans. Because of Harrison’s unique position as the poorest and youngest of the group, the entire dynamic of The Beatles is on full display in these career-spanning chapters, showing how class, religion and maturity played a role in the functioning of the band both when they were together and long after they broke up.

Norman underscores the emotion and intensity of Harrison’s life, as the Beatle moved from a young rebel without a cause into a pious guitar guru. Norman highlights Harrison’s distinctly well-adapted family, who, despite having limited resources, nurtured Harrison into a passionate creative. In his school days, we see Harrison wriggle free of draconian English expectations and meet his soon-to-be bandmates who are both impressed by his precociousness and turned off by his inexperience. Eventually, Harrison becomes so talented at playing songs by ear, replicating the solos of Buddy Holly note for note, that the others have to let him join. From there, the group slowly ascends, working grueling yet colorful days in Germany, and shoots into stardom all at once.

Norman layers the story with fascinating and intimate details about The Beatles’ complex relationships. John and Ringo, for example, were on vacation during Harrison’s wedding, which the groom apparently brushed off with a laugh. And, “have a laugh,” in the band’s joking vernacular, meant smoking marijuana, which they did frequently after Bob Dylan famously introduced them to it. With these anecdotes and many more, any Beatles fan will be enthralled page after page.

Philip Norman’s new biography George Harrison: The Reluctant Beatle only adds to the case that George was lowkey the best Beatle.
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HGTV’s “Home Town” creator Erin Napier’s Heirloom Rooms: Soulful Stories of Home, in which she tells stories of her own home renovations alongside anecdotes and home images from a bevy of friends. The book proceeds room by room, from front porch to back porch, with refreshingly unstaged shots of interiors, like an image of vintage cabinetry in which stacks of La Croix boxes are visible in a mirror. (Don’t get me wrong, though; there’s no shortage of enviable interiors that seem, well, at least a little bit staged.) In total, the book prompts readers to reflect on how memories and emotions are embedded in every nook of our domestic spaces. Napier wants us to think of our homes as living, breathing documents of our lives, and to treasure them as such, which is always a good idea.

In Heirloom Rooms, interior designer Erin Napier encourages us to think of our homes as living, breathing documents of our lives.
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Put the kettle on, wrap yourself in a blanket and peep interior designer Nina Freudenberger’s Mountain House: Studies in Elevated Design, where a 17th-century farmhouse in a Swiss valley rubs shoulders with a cozy cabin in California’s San Gabriel mountains; where a granite-and-concrete home tucked into a Portuguese hillside nestles up against a tiny, townhouse-like cabin in the Catskills of upstate New York; where snowy scenes of an Alpine chalet meet the verdant surroundings of Sonoma County. The structures here, found in 12 countries, are wildly different (though many are on the small side and evidence smart uses of space). What they hold in common is a visible sense of retreat; all seem to be in conversation with their surrounding landscapes. I don’t think there’s a spread within that doesn’t make me tremble a bit with sheer want. But to imagine occupying these spaces leads us to challenge ourselves to rise above such human impulses. After all, mountains “remind us of how small we really are, which makes them practically divine,” writes Freudenberger.

Nina Freudenberger’s Mountain House illustrates sumptuous interior designs that may make you tremble with sheer want.

Intellectual noise-rocker Thurston Moore’s long-awaited memoir offers much more than a recounting of his 30-year tenure in the band Sonic Youth. Encyclopedic and capacious, Sonic Life is no less than a history of U.S. underground arts and culture, from ’70s punk to ’80s hardcore, from college rock to grunge and beyond, told through the prism of one band.

Moore’s sentimental education took place in late 1970s New York City, when suburban teenagers could educate themselves by hanging around record shops and bookstores or venturing out to nightclubs like Max’s Kansas City or the Mudd Club. Musician-poets like Patti Smith offered a gateway drug to what Moore calls “rock ’n’ roll transcendence,” a mystical devotion to sonic creativity.

Sonic Youth’s influences were eclectic, rooted in the apocalyptic noise of No Wave, but also inspired by free improv jazz, poetry and the visual arts. The early section of Sonic Life tracks these influences in exquisite detail, evoking a lost era of New York’s then-gritty downtown music scene. Once Kim Gordon enters the picture, the narrative zooms in to vivid descriptions of the off-kilter tunings and experimental musical chemistry between Moore, Gordon and Lee Ranaldo, the creative nucleus of Sonic Youth.

Sonic Youth’s 30-year passage through the music scene sees the band move through record labels and music festivals, evolving from noisy enfants terribles to influential elder statespeople. When the band broke up in 2011, along with Moore and Gordon’s marriage, a generation of fans were devastated.

Any band’s story is a collective story. Sonic Life offers Moore’s perspective on rock music as a quasi-religious vocation; it belongs on the shelf next to Kim Gordon’s own 2015 memoir Girl in a Band. Both books offer a prismatic view on the musical democracy that was Sonic Youth.

Thurston Moore’s long-awaited memoir offers a prismatic view on the sonic democracy that was Sonic Youth.
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The human mind possesses the ability to leave reality and travel to marvelous realms, and some of us seek to capture those impossible dreams upon a physical canvas. In The Art of Fantasy: A Visual Sourcebook of All That is Unreal, Florida-based writer and blogger S. Elizabeth explores the “sweeping though loosely defined art genre” of fantastic art and its “visual flights of fancy and imagination.” Through full-color reproductions of artwork across a variety of mediums—physical and digital—The Art of Fantasy investigates how artists capture their personal ideas of fantasy, which are just as often grounded in unfamiliar visions as recognizable lore. S. Elizabeth’s curation spans not only the well-known classics such as Hieronymus Bosch and Salvador Dali, but also fresh, contemporary artists such as Yuko Shimizu or Paul Lewin.

Readers will be entranced by colorful assortments of peculiar figures: Ed Binkley’s colored pencil “Corvid Priestess” gazes out regally, while an anthropomorphic rabbit wears traveling clothes in Carisa Swenson’s epoxy clay sculpture “Shining Apples.” S. Elizabeth’s exploration of fantasy landscapes in the book’s last section is particularly compelling and stylistically diverse. Foreboding alien invasions, apocalyptic castles and whimsical aircraft remind us just how unlimited our imaginations can be.

Through full-color reproductions of artwork across a variety of mediums—both physical and digital—The Art of Fantasy investigates how artists capture their personal ideas of fantasy, drawing on both unfamiliar visions and recognizable lore.
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What comes to mind upon hearing the phrase “beneath the surface”? Stephen Ellcock’s Underworlds: A Compelling Journey Through Subterranean Realms, Real and Imagined (Thames & Hudson, $35, 9780500026311) rouses our minds from “a world of surfaces, of gloss and illusion and first impressions, a global empire of signs, sensory saturation and instant gratification” to remember the dark, labyrinthine world of the subterranean that has, since time immemorial, served as a wellspring of awe and fear for humankind. Known for curating online art galleries on social media, Ellcock presents an eclectic yet coherent collection of images ranging from dizzying ossuaries, to nightmarish animals of the deep sea, to the soothing colors of agates, to the sophisticated structures of mycorrhizal fungi.

Underworlds is split into five sections encompassing both the real and the imaginary. Ellcock pulls off an impressive feat in gathering material from sources as diverse and multifaceted as an underground ecosystem: In his quest to inspire, he moves not only between continents and time periods, but also disciplines such as philosophy, biology, art history and literature. Surreal, intricate artworks and photographs are accompanied by an even pacing of Ellcock’s own prose and factual explanations, as well as excerpts from others’ musings. The result is a dreamlike atmosphere and a trove of information that will leave readers with a newfound connection to the realms below us, which we have too often mindlessly ransacked for profit. As Ellcock writes, if we “heed the echoes of eternity calling from the lower depths,” we might just “claw our way back out of darkness.”

In the dreamlike Underworlds, Stephen Ellcock pulls off an impressive feat in gathering material from sources as diverse and multifaceted as an underground ecosystem.
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Throughout the 1970s, science fiction paperbacks were graced with attention-grabbing cover art that often possessed shockingly complex detail. Even in the 21st century, these ornate compositions and vivid color palettes still percolate into major franchises such as James Cameron’s Avatar series or the 2016 video game No Man’s Sky. Adam Rowe chronicles the development of this instantly recognizable style in Worlds Beyond Time: Sci-Fi Art of the 1970s. This thorough collection traces a connection between ’70s cover art and influences that include 1920s iconography by Frank R. Paul (“underwater explorers, human-eating plants, future ice-age apocalypses, dinosaurs fighting laser rays”), surrealism, psychedelia and even the competing genre of fantasy.

Rowe writes, “In my unvarnished opinion, ’70s sci-fi is the peak of artistic achievement, though I’ve heard good things about the Renaissance.” It’s a bold statement, but one that is difficult to refute as one traverses the vibrant pages of Worlds Beyond Time, which does a superb job of cataloging the nuances of artists and their unique styles, from Angus McKie’s hazy cities and space stations, to the elegant dreamscapes of Bruce Pennington. In addition to spotlighting an exemplary art style, Worlds Beyond Time demonstrates the stunning vastness of science fiction as a literary genre.

In addition to spotlighting an exemplary art style, Worlds Beyond Time demonstrates the stunning vastness of science fiction as a literary genre.
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★Personal Best

Even well-loved, familiar poems can be mysterious. What if you could ask a poet to walk you through the why of one of their poems: why it matters, why they chose to share it, what’s at stake? Erin Belieu and Carl Phillips do just that in their delightful anthology, Personal Best: Makers on Their Poems that Matter Most. Including a remarkable and diverse array of contemporary poets, Phillips and Belieu assemble a collection of singular poems, each selected by its poet and accompanied by an explication of how it came to be written, illuminating the choices that make each poem sing. With poems by Danez Smith, Victoria Chang, Ada Limon, Jorie Graham, Ocean Vuong, Yusef Komunyakaa, Ilya Kaminsky and many more, there is something to appeal both to novice explorers of poetry and to writers and students hoping to deepen their appreciation for others’ work.

The anthology is full of gems. It was a welcome gift to reencounter poems I knew in fresh contexts, and it was equally enjoyable to explore poems and poets new to me and discover what I might read next. If someone you know is looking for some guidance in reading poetry, or seeking a deeper understanding of the poetic process, Personal Best would make an engaging, thoughtful gift.


Poems of faith and doubt, wounds and wonder: The moments collected in Kazim Ali’s Sukun: New and Selected Poems are surprising and approachable. Ali moves between subjects—from prayers, fairy tales and myths to baggage claims, yoga classes, boats and rain—with an honest, searching voice. Equally engaging is the formal range of the poems. From sonnets to prose poems, from open-ended lines that propel you forward to tightly compacted end-stopped lines, the form and content come together. Mundane details are made surprising in new combinations: “a black and white film” in which “the water glows white.” Part of the wonder comes from Ali grounding these details with a sense of place, setting them against large scale images of the natural world.

“There’s an old line of Robert Frost’s—that a poem ‘begins in delight and ends in wisdom.'”

In “Exit Strategy”—part of the triptych that opens the book—Ali writes “Here’s the hardest geography quiz I’ve ever taken: / How does one carry oneself from mountain to lake to desert / without leaving anything behind?” This collection reveals the answer, taking us through real and metaphorical landscapes as the speakers gather images, moments and ideas, letting each build on the last, collaging something wholly new.

The Asking

In the first poem of Jane Hirshfield’s The Asking: New and Selected Poems, she begins: “ My life, / you were a door I was given / to walk through.” This beautiful opening is the door we readers walk through to discover and rediscover this retrospective collection of Hirshfield’s poetry. Throughout, her attention to and celebration of minute details brings readers into a space of awareness that continues even after our eyes leave the page.

The new poems that open the book examine our fractured planet and imagine better possibilities. Next, beginning with 1982’s Alaya, we move through 50 years of Hirschfield’s work, observing the ways that our planet and the interrogation of our relationship with it have evolved. Hirshfield writes in awe of the world, of science and of imagination, and she threads these ideas together with a specificity and power of observation that demands our attention. She notices the nuance of the world; so must we. There’s an old line of Robert Frost’s—that a poem “begins in delight and ends in wisdom.” Hirshfield’s The Asking moves through both together, compelling the reader to wisdom and delight at interlocking, interconnected turns.

All Souls

All Souls, the posthumously published final volume of poems by Saskia Hamilton, conveys a richness of stories in beautifully captured vignettes. As Hamilton writes, “Why retell the stories of those before us? They already spoke them, or held their tongues—fell silent. . . . To say something sincerely yet inauthentically is the danger.” In this work, she avoids that danger, telling each poem in a way that is searingly authentic and resolved.

Hamilton takes bits of history and image, of story and sensory experience, and weaves them together to express something new. The poems organize around the painful, impossible moment when a mother must leave her young son. This devastation circles through the collection, asking the reader what is remembered, retold, forgotten. Remarkable shifts occur between seemingly fragmented moments—between the lyric and narrative, past and present. As you continue to read, the disparate images connect and begin to speak.

Razzle Dazzle

Traveling through Major Jackson’s Razzle Dazzle: New and Selected Poems 2002-2023 opens a new window to his work. The poems are vibrant and engaging, examining life in America, racial injustice, and the ways that humans and nature intertwine and connect. The poetic influences and legacies that echo through the poems are clear, and there’s a rich sense of community and conversation.

From the fresh images of Jackson’s latest work, like “My mouth puckered whenever lemon-colored / arches appeared five stories above the city / like golden gates to an unforeseen heaven,” we travel into the past to excerpts from Leaving Saturn (2002) before moving forward through the 21 years in between. In addition to the subjects and questions that complicate as they recur, Jackson’s voice and sense of form are impressive. Each line is carefully chosen; each stanza break opens up something new. Selections from Jackson’s The Absurd Man (2020) prove to be particularly compelling as a bookend to the opening section of new poems, titled “Lovesick.” To see Jackson’s recent poems surround and grow out of the earlier ones is a joy.

In each of these collections, from the wide-ranging anthology Personal Best to career-spanning looks at some of today’s most prominent poets, there’s something to surprise and delight every reader, as well as chances to gain insight into the writing process.

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