On the Shelf: Bill Roorbach

The week’s recommended reading and culture from Orion authors and artists.

Back in June I took a break from Book Expo America and went up to New York City’s Lincoln Center, to see Onegin, not the opera but the ballet. And what a dazzling place to see dance! I bought a last-minute ticket for the Family Circle—nosebleed seats in the six-tier wedding cake. I expected to wish for my birding binocs and my ear trumpet—but not at all. From up there you can see into the orchestra pit, for one thing, and their movements as they felt the music was as much a dance as the thing onstage. And the thing onstage was gorgeous, the choreography emerging as a kind of map, a stunning revelation: the highest part of the highest balcony of the Metropolitan Opera House is a great place to see ballet.

My great book of the summer is When We Were the Kennedys, a memoir by novelist Monica Wood. It’s a terrific book, telling the story of Monica’s family after the sudden death of her father when she was only nine. That’s sad, of course, but the book isn’t about being sad, it’s about being a family. It’s also about an era—the year was 1962—and draws a parallel between Monica’s story and the national loss of President Kennedy. It’s also a fine portrait of a Maine mill town during strike times, and in that way the story comes full circle: with Dad dead, the family no longer gets its weekly allotment of gorgeous Oxford typing paper, and young Monica must come to terms with loss, even while suddenly realizing that you can buy Oxford paper in a store; it’s not only something Dad brings home from his job at the mill. All that and a very happy ending, as well.

And I’ve been enjoying walks and hikes in secret places that you find by joining the Nature Conservancy and having a look at their holdings, which are prodigious, many parcels with trails, nearly all in parts of the landscape that have escaped attention. In Maine there are dozens, and I’ve enjoyed a bird walk along a coast so stressed by sea weather that its ecology is the same as the top of our biggest mountains: spruce/fir forest, high elevation species, Krummholz, the works.

For your Internet pleasure, I’ve got to go with Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour. This is not only the best blog ever, it’s the best writing of any kind in the history of the universe, also photography, video, cartooning, and bad advice for writers every Wednesday. Full disclosure: I am the Bill of Bill and Dave’s. David Gessner, frequent contributor to Orion, is the Dave.

Bill Roorbach is the author most recently of Temple Stream: A Rural Odyssey; his next book is Life Among Giants, a novel. Bill’s report from a twenty-five hour marathon reading of Moby-Dick, “Stay Awake, for the End Is Near,” appeared in the May/June 2012 issue of Orion.


  1. One assumes that you’re the more brilliant of the cocktail hour duo, Bill. That Gessner, he can be slouchy.

  2. Nice to bump into you at Orion Bill. I am a huge fan of billanddavescocktailhour. It always inspires me — anytime of the day.

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