The New York Times recently ran an article about the joy of stoop books, or the serendipity of discovering a book you didn’t know you needed. Indieland provides a similar magic; you never know what you’ll stumble across and learn—just take a look at our recent interviews with indie authors Martin Duberman and Lillian Colón. And in the starred picks below, a poet shares his personal observations about Elizabeth Bishop and other legends, a short book reveals the warmth and wisdom of philosopher Martin Buber, and a journalist waxes existential in his novel set in Ukraine.

In Portraits From Life: A Poet’s Mentors (2022), George Franklin talks about how several writers, including Marie Ponsot, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Fitzgerald, and William Maxwell, as well as choreographer Erick Hawkins, inspired him via their mentorship and work. Ponsot, for example, showed a “gentle authority” throughout her poetry workshops and classes; famous New Yorker editor Maxwell befriended him and many other young writers; Bishop’s “late-in-life flowering” was probably caused by a younger female lover. Franklin, an astute essayist and poet, shares numerous details about these literary greats and captures the pleasure of close reading. His own poetry is included throughout.

One of my recent favorites is a new translation of Martin Buber’s The Way of Humanity: According to Chasidic Teaching (2023), translated by Bernard H. Mehlman and Gabriel E. Padawer. In this collection of talks given in 1947, Buber provides his take on Chasidic parables, which include rabbis offering their surprisingly Zenlike counsel. Our reviewer observes, “Their philosophy is perhaps best summarized by Rabbi Eliezer when he says, ‘Forget yourself and have the whole world in mind!’” So much to glean! One lesson: “Every one of us has been given the task to develop and realize our individual and unique nature; we are not meant to repeat what another, no matter how great, has already accomplished.” To illustrate the point, Buber quotes the famous Rabbi Zusya: “‘In the world-to-come I will not be asked, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ Instead, I will be asked, ‘Why were you not Zusya?’” This concise book rewards multiple readings; our reviewer describes it as “timeless wisdom made fresh and accessible.”

Mstyslav Chernov, the Ukrainian journalist and filmmaker who won an Oscar for his documentary 20 Days in Mariupol, sets his novel in contemporary Ukraine. The Dreamtime (2022) conveys the confusion of wartime. “This is a massive and complicated book, one in which the reader is sometimes lost,” notes our reviewer. “Is it the author who sometimes address[es] the reader directly (‘Is this boring you yet’)? If not, what character is speaking? On the other hand, if this is indeed the ‘dreamtime’ (the author’s term for ‘the generalized discord of our times’), anything goes, chaos becomes not a bug but a feature, and the narrator can be a trickster. Translated by [Peter] Leonard and [Felix] Helbing from the Russian version, the writing is forceful and vivid.…Unfortunately, a book for our times.”

Not all of Indie’s teachings are so heavy: For those who want to learn how to make a good Manhattan or mint julep and stock their home bar, there’s Mastering Classic Cocktails (2022), by C. Townsend Brady.

Chaya Schechner is the president of Kirkus Indie.