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hallSo: After a lapse of nearly two weeks, I’m back. You see how slow of a reader I am — and how small the chance is that I will get to all 15 or so of the books I wanted to talk about here, before the school year starts.

And — to make matters worse — I’ve decided I want to mention another book, one that I read a few months ago, at the height of the semester’s teaching and grading work.

That said, I’ll start with James Allen Hall’s Now You’re the Enemy. It was a joy to read this book of poems — despite the challenge of its (sometimes brutal) subject matter.

The collection’s first poem, “Family Portrait,” ends with the haunting last few lines: “… When I say I loved her, / I mean no story is true. / Not even tenderness lasts.”

But this is — in many ways — a very tender book, a book that is, as Mark Doty said: “Compassionate… and alive to the very core.”

But it’s also a sly, funny book at times. In poems such as “Portrait of My Mother as the Republic of Texas,” the verse has a mordant and self-critical sensibility. As a whole, the text was complicated and layered — and beautiful. A line from “Naming the End” has stayed with me for days:

“… When you leave, your skin repeats: I love you.”

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The second book I wanted to mention was Laimonas Briedis’ book, “Vilnius: City of Strangers.” This is a book about — in a way — the skin of a city. In this case, the city is Vilnius, Lithuania.

This book was stunning in the manner it took the history of the city and made it into much more — a history of the arts, of modernity as a project, of the great sociopolitical forces that have swept through the Lithuanian capital.

It’s also a book about the religious history of this part of Central Europe. The scope and breadth of Briedis’ research is quite remarkable. He has also crafted a very readable narrative, and the book touches on some of the issues in Lithuania today — even as Vilnius is designated Europe’s Culture Capital of 2009.

That’s all for now. I’m working my way through two novels right now, and a collection of poems — so hopefully another post soon!

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