Store owner Stephen Sparks is a contributing editor to Literary Hub, where he contributes regularly to the site's "What to Read This Month" feature. Here are some of his monthly recommendations.
Uncanny Valley, Anna Wiener’s memoir, is a coming of age story for the age of surveillance technology. Based on her viral 2016 piece that crashed the n+1 website, Weiner’s book feels destined to be a key and lasting portrait of a crucial moment in our relationship with tech culture: a perfect blend of humor, shrewd insight, and earnestness that illuminates how so many intelligent and optimistic people can be seduced by the glittering promise of a world made more efficient and better by friendly corporations (and catered lunches).
I’m an easy mark for books like Ahab’s Rolling Sea: A Natural History of Moby-Dick, which I’ve read a perhaps unhealthy number of times, in light of Annie Dillard’s opinion that Melville’s baggy masterpiece is the “best book ever written about nature.” Focusing on 19th century oceanography, natural history, and, of course, the whalers’ understanding of his prey’s remarkable intelligence, King’s book is a fascinating and rare thing: a vital addition to Melville studies.
At one of the many low points during treatment for an aggressive form of breast cancer, Anne Boyer asks how she can justify the costs—financial and environmental—she incurs in order to stay alive. “How many books, to pay back the world for my still existing, would I have to write?” The answer, if we were to humor this question, is one: The Undying. This memoir and meditation on her illness shines with the startling lines of a poet, the hard-won insight of a patient, and the deep awareness of the fragility and tenacity of our bodies. It deserves to be called a classic.
Arborist and historian William Bryant Logan, whose book Oak: The Frame of Civilization provided an inspiration for 2018’s big tree book, Richard Powers’ The Overstory, returns with Sprout Lands, a book of craft and wisdom that traces the long reciprocal relationship between humans and trees. As much a reminder of the vanishing arts of tending to the wild as a call toward a new (or rather, ancient) ethic of ecology, Sprout Lands is a vital contribution to the literature of the Anthropocene.
C. D. Wright’s final book is a meandering and sinuous meditation on “beech consciousness.” Composed of fragments of poetry, natural history, folklore, and more, the book stands as a fitting crown to Wright’s body of work. At times reminiscent of Eliot Weinberger’s collage essays, Casting Deep Shade is a beautifully patterned thing, where light and shadow mingle.