The British art critic Laura Cumming mesmerized me this summer with her recent book The Vanishing Velazquez, which is an elegantly written cultural history, a whodunit, a meditation on portraiture, and a hymn to two of her favorite painters — Velazquez and her own late father. The Canadian-born but Hungary-based and British-educated novelist David Szalay has me in his grip: I read his most recent, All That Man Is, and then went back to his first, London and the South East. He writes winningly about all sorts of people unlike himself, particularly those who might be characterized as “losers.” And Andrew Motion’s newest collection of poems, Peace Talks, is the most beautiful, I think, of all of his books. He finds a way to write freely but with composure — and with compassion, often about the costs of war.
Mary Jo Salter is the author of seven collections of poems published by Knopf, including Nothing by Design (2013) and A Phone Call to the Future: Selected Poems (2008). A co-editor of The Norton Anthology of Poetry, she is Krieger-Eisenhower Professor in the department of Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, and lives in Baltimore.