Jessica Anya Blau
Drinking Closer to Home (Harper Perennial)
Blau's second novel, her follow-up to 2008's acclaimed The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, delves into the thornier aspects of family life. Blau, a Johns Hopkins Writing Seminar grad, puts the "mess" in domestic and explores the group's secretive and selfish nature. Mom retreats from responsibility, dad nurtures his plants (that Mom smokes) more than his children, and the kids pretty much fend for themselves. As adults, they inherit their parents' selfishness and exude a sort of genetic smugness that values banter and verbal jousting over genuine and loving exchange. So when the group gathers at Mom's hospital bed—where she's losing a battle to cancer—there's great potential for growth. Blau gets the most out of that scenario, as her characters grapple candidly, and sincerely, with grown-up issues such as sexuality, fidelity, and the meaning of parenthood. If Blau wasn't such a good writer, this crew might be insufferable, but she sheds light on their vulnerabilities, and, ultimately, they're an amusing bunch.
Blau will read at the CityLit Festival at the Enoch Pratt Library's Central Branch on April 16 at 1 p.m.
The Bestiary, or Procession of Orpheus (The Johns Hopkins University Press)
As long as publishers like Hopkins print gorgeous volumes like this, the future of real physical books should be assured. From the textured, deckle-edged pages and bold type to the striking Raoul Dufy woodcuts, this collection of poems by lit legend Apollinaire is a joy to behold. About the size and thickness of a digital reading device that shall go unnamed, this slim paperback offers the sort of artful presentation and tactile satisfaction you'll never get from the you-know-what. The Bestiary is highly recommended for the old-school reader with an aversion to the high-tech reader.