Billy Collins, a two-term Poet Laureate of the United States who can fill large auditoriums and appears on “A Prairie Home Companion,” has made poetry miraculously accessible without dumbing it down or making it any less profound. His voice is plain but eloquent, his style easy, without complicated meter; he makes the ordinary meaningful and the everyday beautiful. His latest collection, Aimless Love, which he reads with perfect timing and little fuss, is his first compilation in a dozen years, with more than 50 new poems and selections from four previous books. Old or new, these poems have a charming grace that touches the soul even when they’re wryly funny. They can take on the serious and somber with quiet, affecting power, like this last line of a poem for the victims of September 11: “So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.” Poetry is best when read aloud, and these are poems to listen to over and over, to savor and discover again and again. I’d like to think of this collection as Collins’ valentine to poetry and to all his avid fans.

A STITCH IN TIME
Anne Lamott is a very wise woman (though that description would probably embarrass her), an incredibly good and compassionate friend who listens with an open heart, and an eyes-wide-open realist who took off her rose-colored glasses decades ago. She calls her latest installment of loving advice on how to navigate this chaotic world Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair and describes it as a “patchwork of moments, memories, connections and stories” that steer her to what T.S. Eliot called “the still point of a turning world.” Though a steadfast Christian, Lamott uses God as “shorthand for the Good, for the animating energy of love; for Life, for the light that radiates from within people and from above.” Whether you believe or question, her unflinching take on dealing with loss, suffering and hardship will help get you through personal disasters and world crises, to keep going, or, as she puts it, to be lucky enough to live “stitch by stitch.” Lamott reads here and sounds like she’s talking directly to you; she’s comfy and comforting to spend time with, never scolds or judges, just holds out a helping hand that we all can use. 

TOP PICK IN AUDIO
Of all the fictional detectives I spend time with, I’d most like to have a drink with Arkady Renko (Guido Brunetti would run a close second). It’s almost as though the malice, corruption, greed and indignities of current-day Russia have polished, rather than pitted, his melancholy Slavic soul, kept his moral compass set and strengthened his commitment to justice. He’s still undervalued by his superiors and still determined to solve cases others dismiss. In Tatiana, Martin Cruz Smith’s brilliant new addition to the series—narrated by Henry Strozier, whose pitch-perfect Renko makes this audio version so special—Arkady takes on two murders the authorities would rather not deal with. An underworld oligarch has been killed in the crime-ridden city of Kaliningrad, and a renowned crusading journalist, modeled on Anna Politkovskaya who was murdered in 2006, has supposedly leapt to her death in Moscow. As Arkady pursues his investigation, he begins to uncover possible connections. Smith, Strozier and Renko are all at their best. 

 

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