The Monitor Guide to The Bestsellers

The Monitor's Guide to Bestsellers


1. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation, by Seamus Heaney, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25

In Beowulf we see the aspirations of a warrior society governed by deep and sacred loyalties to kin and king. Seamus Heaney fashions handsome verses that capture the somber grandeur and mythic vigor of the Anglo-Saxon original and also reflect the rhythm and timbre of today's English. This newborn translation lets everyone experience the first supremely great poem written in the English language. (213 pp.) (Reviewed in this issue.)

By Colin Campbell

2. New & Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver, Beacon, $16

Mary Oliver's poems contain few people, and that's just the way her fans like it. Her work focuses on the earth and its creatures. She knows just how to capture the rhythms of nature, its violence and its beauty. Oliver's poems have simple surfaces, but build toward serious, sometimes profound meditations. Her imagery and endings often make wonderful leaps. This book shows why Oliver is not only a Pulitzer Prize-winner but one of the most beloved American poets writing today. (255 pp.)

By Elizabeth Lund

3. The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, HarperCollins, $18

Rumi, a 13th-century Persian religious scholar, is much celebrated in the Islamic world and also admired by Christians, Jews, and Buddhists. The 12 books of Rumi bring to light passionate verses that celebrate the presence of God in all things, and they are rich with Middle Eastern imagery: "Live in the one who created the prophets, else you'll be like a caravan fire left to flare itself out beside the road." (310 pp.)

By Leigh Montgomery

4. Americans' Favorite Poems, by Robert Pinsky and

Maggie Dietz, W.W. Norton & Co., $25

Thousands of Americans responded to poet laureate Robert Pinsky's invitation to share their favorite poem with him. Letters from ordinary citizens explain each poem's significance to them. The result is a fascinating piece of Americana. Some of the letters are more moving than others (a few use poetic language that clashes badly with the works they describe), but the best cast a poem in a completely new light. (327 pp.)

By Liz Marlantes

5. A Night Without Armor, by Jewel, HarperCollins, $11

This book sells because of who's on the cover. As one teenage boy told me, "Of course I'll buy it; Jewel's gorgeous." But being gorgeous doesn't make a poet. The popular singer-songwriter does show promise in these poems about love, sex, childhood, and her travels. But most of the work contains just one good stanza or image. Her poetry is typical of beginning writers, and her young-angst wisdom will underwhelm most people over 23. (139 pp.)

By Elizabeth Lund

6. The Illuminated Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks, illustrated by Michael Green, Broadway, $30

In the middle of the 13th century, Jelaluddin Rumi met a man named Shams of Tabriz. The presence of this friendship in Rumi's life forever changed his sense of religious truth and spirituality. The encounter between these two religious thinkers was said to have sparked Rumi's poetry. The simplicity of Rumi's thought is complemented by artwork that evenly communicates his mystical sense of life. (128 pp.)

By Christy Ellington

7. Picnic, Lightning, by Billy Collins,

University of Pittsburgh Press, $12.95

Poet Billy Collins starts by leading his reader to a seat at the kitchen table. Amid the cereal spoons that drip with milk, Collins shares his thoughts. These poems are completely accessible - this reader shuffled alongside the poet in her slippers as she read - but Collins's profound insight will satisfy the educated poetic palette, too. With a touch of humor, "Picnic, Lightning" elegantly presents the grace of the ordinary. (115 pp.)

By Kendra Nordin

8. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair,

by Pablo Neruda, Penguin, $12.95

These are the love poems of a young man. Call it Narcissus turning away from his image in the pool only to find it wherever he looks: in trees, sea, clouds, flowers, and animals. Nature is metaphor for connection, isolation, discovery, ecstasy, or despair. Writing in 1924, Pablo Neruda is as much exploring himself as he is the passions of youth. The translation is workmanlike. Only the young are so ready to give so much, or even die, for love. (68 pp.)

By Jim Bencivenga

9. Where the Sidewalk Ends,

by Shel Silverstein, HarperCollins, $17.95

The sidewalk doesn't end, and, apparently, neither does this book's 25-year-old popularity. The bestselling children's poetry book of all time contains enough naughtiness to give parents pause - and delight their children. Wacky rhymes, clever experimentation with form, and funny pen-and-ink drawings make kids laugh at the "Double-tail Dog," "The Dirtiest Man in the World," and a "Recipe for a Hippopotamus Sandwich." Yum. (166 pp.)

By Ron Charles

10. The Best American Poetry, edited by Robert Bly

and David Lehman, Scribner, $16

Guest editor Robert Bly's introductory essay pays homage to the power of the human voice. For those younger readers who don't or won't read because they're damaged by listening to too much pop music, any number of poems here will put verbal woof into the fiber of electronic music's relentless rhythms. If there is a better poem about why a marriage works than Galway Kinnell's "Why Regret?" I haven't read it. (223 pp.)

By Jim Bencivenga

The book sense™ Bestseller list. based on sales from independent bookstores. 1-888-booksense

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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