Friday, May 13, 2016

Books Read :: February-April 2016

I made the mistake this semester of taking three classes and auditing one. Even though I didn't have to do the coursework for the one I audited, just the reading/participation, it was still too much. I didn't have time to do things that I normally like to do, that are important to me--let alone things that I do generally because I do them. Such as.... writing about the books I read.

HERE are all the books I read from February-April during this semester, excluding re-reads, with brief snippets of thoughts after them...

Caligula by Albert Camus
The Visit by Friedrich D├╝rrenmatt
For my drama class, we read these two plays the same week. I preferred the D├╝rrenmatt because the characters were more interesting to me, particularly Claire, the cruel/eccentric/wealthy woman who returns to her hometown for revenge. Caligula was interesting to me in terms of it as an existential retelling of an old story, but the characters blended more easily.

Snow White by Donald Barthelme
This wasn't my favorite novel we read in my Pop Culture & American Fiction class, but I enjoyed it as an example of sort of "high postmodernism" if nothing else. Plus, figuring out who was who and why in terms of it as a retelling of the classic fairy tale was fun--not to mention that questionnaire.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Reading Toni Morrison is one of those joys that also wrenches the heart--her books aren't just sad, they're honest in ways that most books are not honest. They're important. They're extremely worth reading and extremely well written and reading her both makes me want to read more of her but also want to just... change things about the American past that are impossible to change, make the world a better place today.

The Dwarves, The Lover, and The Collection by Harold Pinter
We read all three of these over a couple of weeks, and Pinter is so distinctly Pinter. I liked The Dwarves the least--I felt the most lost in it. The other two overlapped subject-matter wise as well as stylistically, but I could follow along with them better. I would really like to see a Pinter play staged and done well.

Lear by Edward Bond
I read King Lear so long ago that I couldn't appreciate this as a retelling, but I enjoyed it, for sure, for what it was. I especially liked the sinisterness of his daughters and the circles that it drew. It's upsetting that things never change--that power begets power--and the way that this play showcases this--cruelly, absurdly-- makes me want to see it staged.

The Poetics of New American Poetry, an anthology edited by Donald Allen
I read all of this for my poetics class, which at the time felt insane--that I could read an entire book thick and heavy with this sort of philosophical writing--but I'm glad for it now.

Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed
I went into this book thinking that it was going to annoy me because it was so post-modern and I didn't feel like I had time for it because see above crazy semester, but I wound up really enjoying it, despite its sarcasm. I felt the message could still be something you felt, even though he infused his narrative with irony.

Don Juan, or the Love of Geometry by Max Frisch
Another "retelling"--drama loves a good retelling! And one I'm so so glad that our professor went out of her way to get us copies of, since it's hard to get ahold of. Very humorous but also more than just funny for a play. I'd love to see this staged, but I'm also interested in it as is. I would recommend this play to read or to watch.

Mourning Becomes Electra by Eugene O'Neill
This play, despite its length, was somehow forgettable for me. I couldn't remember, when I was thinking about it, which one it was, and then when I looked it up, I mistook it for another play and had to read the description again. It was very American, and I did like it while I was reading it--another one that sort of went in circles in a way. But somehow forgettable. Perhaps staged, it's more memorable?

A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen
I liked this one, but it is definitely dated. I think looking at it in terms of its historical value is important, and I think it's an extremely well-written/conceived piece of drama.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
I really loved this book and remember feeling like I wished I had had more time to read it when I was reading it for class. I didn't finish it before the day it was due, but then I still went back and finished it, despite having other readings I needed to get done. I keep recommending it to people. I'd like to go back through it more slowly some day if possible. It's very long, which is really my only critique of it. It felt like it could have been shorter, yet I at the same time I didn't want it to end, the world it built was crafted so well--and it was this world, a past version of this world, in so many ways.

The Future of Environmental Criticism by Lawrence Buell
This book opened my eyes to the world of ecocriticism and may be something foundational for the focus of my studies as I move forward in my PhD program. I did not always agree with what Buell was saying/the way he was presenting things, but it definitely feels like something I will come back to.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Books Read :: January 2016

This concluded my "winter break" reads & dove into the beginning of the semester! These books were a great way to start the year. I feel like I read pretty diversely this past month? What a read spanned over time--most of it in the 20th century, but then some Plato. I read men and women, I read American and non-American writers, I read things in translation as well as things written originally in English. I read plays, novels, poetry, philosophy. I didn't really think, when I was doing this reading, about how wide of a scope I was covering compared to past months, but now that I look at, it's interesting to note.

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
This was a book I checked out from the Breaux Bridge Library, but now will, for sure, have to acquire a copy. Ernest J. Gaines is a Louisiana-born writer, and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette has a center named after him that houses resources about him and his work. He's UL's writer-in-residence Emeritus, and after going to a lecture by a scholar on his work, I knew I needed to catch up and read something by him. I kept thinking, while I was reading this novel, that it was crazy I had never read it before. I also kept thinking that it would be a great teaching tool, that high schools and maybe even Freshman Writer Centers across America would benefit from teaching this book. I read it relatively quickly and would read it again. Kathleen Rooney referred to it, when I told her I was reading it and was surprised I hadn't been made to read it in high school or before, as a "modern classic," and I agree. It's the story of an man who's sentenced by death for a crime he didn't commit and a local schoolteacher who is expected to teach him to be a man before his death. The community they inhabit is a plantation post-emancipation in mid-twentieth century Louisiana, and the book is extremely real, moving, and important--it feels important when you're reading it, and it feels important when you've finished. Read this book.

The Nonconformist's Memorial by Susan Howe
I read a work of lit crit by Susan Howe for my Early American class last semester, and borrowed two books of her poetry to read through over break. This was the one I got around to. Her work seems scattered in a controlled way, and carefully researched, but extremely interested in pushing the boundaries of the limits of poetry. The book was first published the same year as the Gaines novel I read, which is an interesting side note, 1993, and I'm curious what her work is like now that word processing software exists, as she tended to play with the placement of the words on a page that move likely involved not only interesting manipulations of the typewriter, but even perhaps some cutting and pasting. I'll have to catch myself up with a newer edition of her poetry to see the direction in which her poetry headed.

Beasts by Joyce Carol Oates
This book seemed appropriate to read right before the semester began for a few reasons: it was about university students and I was about to head back to university; it was by a largely famous author who I'd never read outside of the assigned story here and there before, though I've heard speak/read from her work; and was relatively short, so I knew I'd finish in time for the semester to start. It read like a novella--the characters were at times pointedly under-developped and there was one, clear major conflict. I liked how it brought me back to a time when women at university were treated much differently than we're treated now.

Jessica Jones: Alias Volume 1 by Bendis Gaydos
Ian got me this for Christmas, and my only complaint about it is now I have to get/find/read the rest of them! I was hoping they'd have a collected version of them all together at one of the two libraries I have access to here, but no luck! Also, now I know I want to watch the TV show, and the reading I have to do this semester really leaves little time for TV. Geoff and I are watching Boardwalk Empire at night, and when I'm eating lunch, I zone out to Sailor Moon and/or Law & Order SVU because they're shows I can have on and don't need to pay attention to. Anyway, I really ripped through this, and I'm eager to read the rest.

The New Testament by Jericho Brown
Jericho Brown came and read last November in Louisiana at the Festival of Words, and I got the chance to buy this off of him there and have him inscribe it to me. While I was reading this, I felt lucky to have seen him read because I could hear him reading the poems to me in my head as I read them to myself. Knowing a little about his background from what he told us at the reading and from what I've read about him online, following him on twitter and such, also gave me insight into his work, though even without either of these things, I know I still would have enjoyed this collection immensely. I recommend it, for sure, for anyone interested in the best of what's being published of 21st century poetry. 

Phaedrus by Plato
This was something I had to read for school that felt a bit elusive to me out of context, but when we talked about it in class, I got more out of it than I had just reading it alone. 

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
This was a reread for me, but Nabokov is a joy to read and reread and reread again and over and over. The intricacies! His sentences! The characters he builds! The places he takes you! The way you seem to have fully entered the mind of someone but knowing at the same time you'll never be able to explore it all! How every little meta-detail is a clue, a detail, something that adds up to something larger that if you only had time you could write and write and write about. Lolita! Goodness, what a great book for all these reasons and more. So glad I got to reread it. I hope I get to reread Bend Sinister soon and maybe read some of his work I haven't read yet.

The Typists & The Tiger by Murray Schisgal
I really enjoyed these two plays, and I am glad we read The Typists first--it's the first in the slim collection I have of them. I would be interested in seeing a staged version of either. They're strange, two-person plays that unfold in ways you wouldn't expect-- almost everything one might want in good, tight theater. I don't read many plays, but I particularly enjoyed these.

No-No Boy by John Okada
We read this for my Modern American class, and I feel like I learned a lot from it, while enjoying the book at the same time. The story surrounding how its author faded into obscurity and passed away just before his novel was rediscovered by writers who then tried to find and meet him is really sad, and the story that the novel tells of a no-no boy on the West Coast is equally as sad, but I liked to think that the novel ended with a sort of hope not previously felt in the drama and contemplations that happen within the action of the book leading to the end. The novel really pulls you into the main character's head and lets you go back in time to a time and place and most likely a person who you aren't and would never be, yet you are able to stand in his shoes. Great book that I hope finds itself read more widely more often.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Books Read :: November-December 2015

I actually read a lot in these two months, despite it being the end of of my first semester as a PhD student and then the holidays, and I'm glad I did so. Here's what I read to finish out 2015:

A True History of the Captivation, Transport to Strange Lands, & Deliverance of Hannah Guttentag by Josh Russell
This was a text we read for one of my classes since it's "about" a grad student. It was good; it had its flaws, some of which we discussed in class. I liked the characters I was supposed to like; I didn't like the characters I wasn't supposed to like. I was surprised where I was supposed to be surprised. I definitely enjoyed reading it, but I can't help but read "like an editor" at times, and there were things, had I been on the other side of this book, that I would have liked to ask the writer to reconsider. Sometimes I wonder if the things I dislike are things an editor had a hand in moving in the direction that they wound up in--like if an editor was like, let's put a neat bow right here, and the writer was like, I really don't think we need-- and the editor was like, bow, here. Hmm.

Works of Anne Bradstreet by Anne Bradstreet
Okay so, I read all but the monarchies section in the middle because, wow, that was super boring and also not her best work, but I am still going to consider this collection read because I'm not sure I'll ever go back and dig into that monarchies stuff? And I for sure read everything else, some of it multiple times as one is wont to do with poetry.

They Say, I Say edited by Gerard Graff
I definitely read all of the textbook content in this, though perhaps not all of the example texts in the back. I'm using the "with readings" version of this book to teach the same class this upcoming semester as I taught last semester wherein I used this book, and I'm happy to be using it again. It's sort of basic, but I'm teaching a basic writing class, so, voila.

The Birth-Mark by Susan Howe
Maybe my favorite book that I read, school-related-wise as all of these have been so far, last semester? I don't know. I read so many interesting things--but yeah, this was probably the most engaging, and it led me to seek more of her work.

The Holder of the World by Bahrati Mukherjee
This was the last text we read in one of my courses, and it was a bit of a whirlwind. I'm glad we had to read it so quickly because it really got me into the book, but at the same time, I would have liked to spend a bit more time with certain parts of it. I felt at times like I wanted to researcher who is looking in to the history of the Salem Bibi to get to the point more quickly, but then in the chapters where she did more quickly narrate action as opposed to layers of research, I wanted to slow down--but couldn't! I had a deadline. It was an excellent novel from start to finish, an interesting layering of texts and timelines and "history", and I would recommend it.

The Silent Woman by Janet Malcolm
This was an excellent study in the difficulties of biography using Sylvia Plath as the case study to discuss the subject, one that informed but didn't make it into the paper I wrote about Anne Bradstreet and John Berryman. I couldn't put this down, and this surprised me a little, considering it's a lit crit book, but at the same time, considering where I am and what I'm doing, it made perfect sense. The book is definitely about Plath, but it's also really about the myth of her and how it came to be and how readers might never "know" the real Plath--I have been reading Plath's unabridged diaries for a long time now, so this was of particular interest. I am also taking a class where we're reading her verse and novel, so it was a greatly informative book that should help me to be able to participate in that course fully and with investment.

Flood by J. Bruce Fuller
J. Bruce read from this at a reading I went to earlier in the semester--I think I saw him read twice this semester--and I was happy to be able to get a copy of this slim-yet-perfect-bound chapbook and read it through. It tells the story of two Louisiana floods, and Fuller's voice feels both fresh and classic somehow at the same time--maybe the subject matter itself helps emphasize that?

Sheer Indefinite by Skip Fox
As this was a "selected" collection of poetry, I took my time with this and have been reading it one and off for months, finally finishing it at the beginning of December.

Fat Daisies by Carrie Murphy
I read this as the semester was ending, and it was refreshing to read something modern and fresh as opposed to all of the more classic poetry I'd been reading all semester. It felt like Carrie was confessing to me somehow, telling me things that she normally wouldn't tell people--yet there they all were, in lines of verse, in this book, not being whispered in my ear but there for anyone who wanted to read them. It was a weird feeling to feel that way while reading this book, knowing it wasn't a secret, but at the same time the poetry's intimacy lent it a certain validity.

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs
Following the completion of my own work and turning in final grades for the classes I was teaching, I took a trip to the local library here--I love my local library. I am so excited to live so close to it. As a kid, we had a GREAT library, and as far as I remember, we went there often. It was truly an amazing book heaven, and to me, it was what a library should be. Having lived so many different places now, I realize I was spoiled, but that being said, I think that for a small town like Breaux Bridge, the library is fantastic. Anyway, at this library, I rewarded myself with a YA book, and this was it--the last in a series of three from which I had already read the first two. I wish I'd read all three back to back; though they each do have their own plots, and I do see why they were split into three, because YA is such candy to me, I'd have rather read them all consecutively than taken a break between them. This is why... I don't choose to read series books until they're all out. I read the initial one for a book club I was in way back when...

Waiting for the Past by Les Murray
This is an FSG poetry book I got in advance that wasn't my favorite, but that's because Murray isn't really my cup of tea when it comes to poetry. I'm sure it's a fine book of poetry, but it wasn't for me.

Beloved by Toni Morrison
This was my "winter classic"--I started reading it before the semester had ended thinking that it might take me some time to finish. I took it out from the university library. I have always wanted to read it, but since it's such a classic, I avoided it as I did many other classics. What struck me at first about it was how insanely readable it was, and how GOOD it was. I had trouble saying much more than that when people asked about it, "it's GOOD!" I would say and they would nod or be like, yeah I know right OR be like I had to read that book in xth grade and I didn't like it because of course English class ruins all good things for everyone... I hate to think anyone wound up disliking this book because it says so much in such a readable way and at the same time is beautifully written.

Dead Horse by Niina Pollari
Finally got my hands on a copy of this Birds LLC title! I saw Niina read in Philly and maybe also at last year's AWP in Minneapolis, and I've been wanting to read this book of poetry ever since. It was worth the wait. I love Niina's bluntness and the way she makes you think and makes you think you get her and then turns you on your head. I also liked that I could "hear" her reading these as I read them since I've seen her read before. So, go see her read--and then read this book!

The Swimmer by John Koethe
I read this quickly, mostly on trains in NYC. I liked how the poems were accessible but not simple and easy to read but not easy to understand. I felt like he was being honest with me, and that I wanted to keep reading, so I kept reading. I felt like I read the book too fast and maybe need to go back to it to dig a little deeper.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
I closed out the year with this one, which I read on trains but also before I went to bed at nights because it was YA and easy to read--but it also kept me up at night and made me cry and specifically made me cry while I was laughing at the same time--a weird emotion I haven't encountered often. The characters were extremely realistic and so well done that they felt real but at the same time felt like characters that should be in a YA novel. I'd like to read more by this author.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Books Read :: September-October 2015

::Hums that "Back, back, back to school again," song from Grease II:: because indeed, indeed I am! And loving it! I have realized an important thing, though, learned only recently--despite the semester nearly at an end--my reading career will have to change. In order to get my PhD, I'm expected to be proficient in a variety of ways, and one of them is to be well-read. This sounds awesome, in a way, but is disappointing in others that can be summed up in this: my reading list is no longer my own. This doesn't mean that I can't read for pleasure or discuss, here, the books I do read for pleasure, but it does mean that I will have to change the way I read. I'm not sure exactly yet my reading schedule will adapt, but I hope to still continue to provide brief notes on the works that I do finish. As for now, I will stick to what I've always done, and that is to only write about books I've read cover-to-cover. I think, though, that this might have to be something that changes in the future. For instance, I read a number of Phillis Wheatley's poems and a few of her letters for my Early American class but in no way did I read a comprehensive enough amount of her work to feel qualified to comment on how I felt about the Penguin collection of hers that I read as a whole.

Here are the books I did manage to finish reading my first two full months in this program, both for school and for pleasure:

The Lieutenant Nun by Catalina de Erauso
I am taking a class in Early American literature where we are focusing on Transatlantic women writers, and in it we read this book by a Spanish woman who most likely would identify as a man if she were afforded today's relaxing of the strict gender binaries that have suffered the world for a long time. Obviously, many people and cultures still hold this strict binary in place, but the T in LGBT is gaining more acceptance as we move forward, which I'm glad for and hope to continue to fight for in the capacity that I feel fortunate to be able to do so as a cisgender woman. But enough about today, Catalina's story is brutal thought simply written. She escapes, steals, seduces, stabs, and kills. If it weren't for her ability to connive in a variety of ways--and her chastity, the most important trait in unmarried women, I've learned, for centuries-- she most likely would not have lived to tell her tale. Though her story was entertaining, she's a bit of an unreliable narrator; this is, in effect, a memoir but also reads sometimes like a bit of a tall tale. I loved the interesting conversations that came from reading this book, and it was quite a fast read, but it's definitely not belles lettres.

Straight Man by Richard Russo
I read this one for my Research Methods class, where we are learning how to exist within a university system, how departments at colleges work, and what it means to be a student/professor within one. This is a novel about a sarcastic, jackass kind of a guy who is the unwilling head of an English department. His life is falling apart. I was amused while reading it, and especially once I got about halfway through it, I flew through the rest. The book's plot turns when he threatens to kill a goose (the duck? the goose?) a day until the English department gets their budget, and from that moment on, I was hooked. The background story about the main character's relationship with his parents/own family weren't as interesting as the rest of the novel. I haven't read anything else by Russo, but I would pick someone else up if I needed something entertaining--this novel definitely entertained. It was a white male, though, writing about the success of white men.

Oroonoko by Aphra Behn
We also read this one for my Early American course, and though its plot was entertaining and the writing tight and clear, I was continually outraged at the privilege of the narrator--and therefore probably the privilege of Behn herself. It's difficult to separate the two, though this is a work of fiction based on Behn's experiences in the New World and her friendship with Oroonoko, though that may or may not have been his name in real life. It seems that she tries to tell his story to, in a way, preserve his good name despite the horrors that are enacted upon him. I found it difficult to look past her as the narrator to appreciate his story, though, because of the position of privilege from which it was told. I was constantly aware of the narrator within the text. I did enjoy the discussions we had in class of this book, though felt we could have talked for a long time about its complexities.

Beach Story by Brian Warfield
I was happy to receive a version of this book in the mail, happy to begin to read it, happy to continue to read it, and happy to finish it. I only wish that the time I spent with it could have been more devotional. As in, this is a complex little book that weaves a Pynchon-level complexity I wish I had had more time to devote my attention to. I wanted to relish it more than I felt I could. I more enjoyed it than anything else. The way that Warfield looks at the world is different than the way anyone else sees OR tells it, and this is evident in Beach Story. Maybe more what I wish I could have gotten out of this book is to get into his head even more than this brilliant little complicated but clean novella lets me in.

Secret History or the Horrors of St. Domingo by Leonora Sansay
This one was another one for my Early American class. Sansay lived in what is now Old City Philly, so I was surprised I had never heard of her, though then almost immediately unsurprised because she was a woman writer--and, well, you know. This was an epistolary novel based on letters Sansay wrote to Aaron Burr. She split her real self into two fictional selves, sisters, and wove this interesting tale that combines fact and fiction in an un-unweavable way. While I enjoyed the letters, I enjoyed even more the history that is both spoken of and especially the history around which the tale is woven, in the face of the Haitian revolution.

The Sovereignty and Goodness of God: Together with the Faithfulness of His Promises Displayed: Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson by Mary Rowlandson
I kept the whole original title here because it's kind of ridiculous and despite the importance of this book to the genre of the Captivity Narrative, and American literature and especially American literature written by women, I'm not a big fan of Mary Rowlandson. This is, in essence, a memoir, and as with Catalina's memoir, and perhaps will all memoirs, it feels like so much has been left out. This is not to say that I don't believe her when Rowlandson claims, towards the end, after she has been ransomed, that she was never treated unchastely, but that what we do get here has clearly and cleverly been crafted to serve a specific purpose. While this is a historically interesting text--for historians and literary scholars--it's not particularly enjoyable. I feel like I've said this of a lot of the things I've read for my Early American class, but I feel like This Is The Place I Can Say That. I VERY MUCH enjoyed talking about all of these texts in the course! I actually even dressed as Mary Rowlandson the class period before Halloween, with a "bible" and some "ground-nuts" in my "pocket"...

The Book of Frank by CAConrad
I had finished my reading for class, and a friend in my poetry workshop, a new friend, had lent me this book earlier in the semester, so I decided next to take it up. I read it in about an hour, maybe less. I was lying in bed, where I do much of my reading-for-pleasure before I sleep, and I figured I would read some of the poems and then sleep, but instead I stayed up reading it. Maybe it even took less than an hour. I returned the book to my friend, so I don't have it in front of me, but since it wasn't my book, I copied down the page numbers of the poems I enjoyed most so that when I DO get a copy of this book, I can dog-ear them. I need to reread it, and I need to own my own copy of this. I've heard for years that this is a great book of poetry, but having never gotten my hands on it myself, I didn't know so until now. I even went and saw CAConrad read a few times during when I lived in Philly--he was at one of my readings once, at Penn Book Center when I read with Mel Bentley and Jacob Bennett. I'm even more grateful than I ever was that I got to listen to him read having read this excellent, indispensable book of poetry that just feels so important, so unique, and in some ways indispensable. As in, it had to be written. It couldn't have not been written.

Avatar: The Search (vol. 1-3) by Gene Young
A friend also lent me these three slim volumes of the story of Zuko's search for his mother. I kept thinking the following things when reading it: 1) Why couldn't they have animated this and made it in to a short film/long episode/series of episodes? 2) The characters are so well developed on the show itself that I could hear them talking out loud to me within the text. 3) SLOW DOWN you are going too fast! Stop to enjoy the illustrations! You're inhaling this! There's not much left!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Exciting Things in the Mail, VI

It's been awhile since an "Exciting Things in the Mail" post, but quite recently, after moving to a new state in a new region, I've gotten some rather exciting mail. I love mail. I probably say that every time I post an update like this... But mail when you have a new address is especially great. It's like, "I am here! I really live here! Look, there's my name!" So all the best mail that I've gotten since I moved to Louisiana has been especially wonderful:

Secret History; or, The Horrors of St. Domingo
& Laura// from Strand Books
I ordered this book from Strand Books recently, when I was going through the syllabi and making sure that I had every book my professors had assigned. (See, what I am doing down here in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana is going back to school, to get my PhD in English/Creative Writing from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.) I bought most of the books within the first week of being here, some from school, some from Amazon. For these last few, though, I shopped around some indie booksellers, including Strand, to see if I couldn't order from somewhere I prefer to support. Strand happened to have a copy of this title, for my Early American class, available for very cheap. Now, I could have included each and every book I got in the mail in this post, but this one is special because of the pink flowered bookmark you can see lying across the cover. When I worked at Strand back when I was getting my Masters from NYU, we would always find things that people left in books. We called these things "treasure" and, a lot of the times, we taped them up on the walls of the sections or pocketed them, or left them in the books for the people who would buy them to find. Whether this bookmark was intentionally placed into this book because whoever found it on the shelves for me and  mailed it to me is someone who recognized my name or whether this was some of that lovely treasure that people who sell books to Strand didn't bother to hunt for before turning their title over, it made me insanely happy when the book arrived. It was like a little secret message from someone, somewhere out there. Thanks, Strand.

Three Hyacinth Girl Press chapbooks!

Next up are these three chapbooks from my publisher, Hyacinth Girl Press. I was without an address for a bit, and I have a subscription to the 2015 season of all chapbooks coming out from HGP, so when I was finally settled down here, Margaret had those that she'd been waiting to ship sent off to me. They were some of the first mail to arrive to me here, and I was grateful! Included are Traveling by M. Mack, The Midway Iterations by T.A. Noonan, and My Mother's Child by Pamela L. Taylor. I am so happy to share a publisher with these poets, and I'm looking forward to when I can read these. HGP books are always beautifully rendered: they're tied with ribbons, they're well thought-out layout wise, they're colorful, and their quality of writing is always superior.

Beach Story by Brian Warfield! 
Finally, Beach Story by Brian Warfield! This was sent to my Dad's house when his address was my mailing address, and I only came across it after I moved here. Warfield told me once how much he loved "little" books, books that you could fit into your pocket, books that were small in size but not in vision. He may not have said all of those things exactly, but he expressed a sincere love for small presses that were literally small, and that was the first thing I thought of when I saw Beach Story. For what I know, Warfield has been working on this novella for awhile, and I'm looking forward to the day when I sit down and read it. That's the beauty of the packaging of a novella. It's something you know you can just sit down and do, and finish. Warfield's writing is often adventurous in emotion if not plot, and I'm looking forward to adventuring into this little book.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Books Read :: April-August

Wow, I know, I know. It's been awhile since I've posted. But I've been reading! Perhaps not as much to "finish books", though, which is typically what I am broadcasting in posts like these. My goal for total books read this year might not be met. Again, though, this doesn't mean I am not reading! I am just reading differently. Right now, I have my nose in an anthology about English Studies, a book of 16th century poetry by Sor Juana, and the in/famous rhet/comp textbook They Say, I Say.

My not-posting is mostly due to recent dislocation-- not of any limb, but just moving. I was living in Philadelphia back in April--by the end of May, Geoff and I packed up our house, moved out of it, couch-surfed for a few weeks, and wound up living in a camping trailer on a hayfarm for the summer, after which I packed up a car and drove down to Louisiana, where I am currently enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

All of my books aren't here with me yet in Breaux Bridge, LA, so my annotations of what I read aren't going to be as thorough. My distance in time as well as space from having read these books might also make what I have to say shorter. But I mean every word.

Now that I'm situated, here's what I read since I last told you about what I read:

Pelican by Emily O'Neill

The poetry in this is like if your friend were talking to you from really deep inside of herself--from a place that you know is difficult to talk from, but this friend is making it sound like it's easy for them to be talking about these things, mostly because it's so hard. The death of the speaker's father occupies the space of many of the poems, which is a terribly difficult thing to write about, yet the poems that tackle it are nuanced and varied, and it's part of what holds the collection together in a delicate way, like the delicate way the speaker is able to speak the poems before or without falling totally apart herself.

Nuero / Mantic by Chris McCreary

Caitlin McCormack did the art for the cover of this book. I diagrammed one of Chris's poems and took a picture and sent it to him. I remember liking the clarity of anger in this collection of poems-- the speaker didn't come off as an angry person, but someone fed up with certain things about life, past and present, and ready to air those grievances in a way that made them clear rather than made it sound like complaining. There was a nostalgic tone, too, that was effective, even though what McCreary is nostalgic for is not what I'm nostalgic for in a few different ways. I like when writers evoke nostalgia in a relatable way even when their proper nouns aren't my own.

Music, the Brain, & Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Brain science! Music! Two of my favorite things! Admittedly, I wasn't entirely on board at first with the very explicit way this pop science book broke down music ("like, this is how the ear listens, wow!" and  I was like, "yeah, let's get to the interesting part already...) But once I got into it--and once I got into the writer's ideas and facts about music and the brain, I couldn't help but look at the composer figure and exploration of his (god, they were all male) brain in comparison to how a poet/any other type of artist's brain might work. For that reason, and for what it helped me understand about why we love certain songs above all, I liked this book. It overly focused on male composers writing classical music, though, and I wish it had delved more into popular music or jazz, actually, especially.

A Taxonomy of the Space Between Us by Caleb Curtiss

I read a lot of poetry books about death this year. Did I do this on purpose? Are poetry books that center around grief/losing someone something within the cultural consciousness of publishing right now? (These questions are coming from someone who almost exclusively wrote a month's worth of poems about the dying, death, and grief of her dog.) this was a chapbook--a beautiful print edition-- and so often what publishers seem to look for in such a short collection of poetry is something to hold it all together. Caleb's writing was more, though, than musings on the death of his sister, and his talents to put together verse were showcased in a variety of ways. There isn't just one way that Curtiss writes a poem, it seems--he lets them out like a pianist switching from a sonata to something jazzy to a funk motif, and I appreciated that variety, even if they all led us back, in a way, to the same sad subject.

USA Trilogy by John Dos Passos

One of the reasons I read so few books this summer was because I read this monster three-novels-in one realist novel from the early 20th century. It was a collection of voices that protested the war, led or joined labor unions, were women entrepreneurs and workers when being such was still not the popular path for women, etc. It read like Zinn come to life. There was no one main plot arc or narrative, which made the novel both easier and more difficult to read. Names, when they recurred, were from so many pages ago that flipping back sometimes and reminding yourself of who they were didn't even always help. However, the more you read the book, the easier, for sure, it became. It was interesting to me how I was drawn to/affected by certain characters' stories more than others.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

After recommending I read this book multiple times, my cousin Mike gave me this book--and he wasn't the only person who recommended it. In a sort of fantastical Pynchon-minus-the California way, this novel traces the story of a hacker investigating a complex computer virus in a digital world that it's difficult to believe was thought-up in the early nineties. This is Stephenson's most popular novel to date, and it's easy to see why. I have already recommended it to a variety of different types of people and readers. Its main character's name is Hiro Protagonist for christ's sake. Once I got to the climax, I couldn't put the book down, and even then found myself exclaiming things out loud like, "Oh shit!" and "Oh yeah!" as though I were watching some sort of anti-capitalist, feminist action film that I didn't want to end.

Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold

This book imagines the life of the wife of Charles Dickens, whom at first is difficult to sympathize with, despite the author's desire to give her a voice in a time when she had little/none. However, as the book proceeds and you learn more about the woman, ability to empathize, at least, with her grows. The simplicity of the plot is compounded by the difficulties of being a woman in her time and particularly of being a woman in her position. What the novel might reveal about the fictionalized Dickens (renamed for the novel) presents a new light to look at the real Dickens in, for sure-- but having not ever read a biography of Dickens himself, I am hesitant to "believe" anything about him without first investigating something based in reality. It was a quick, enjoyable read, recommended by a friend, and I was happy to have the opportunity to discuss a book with a few friends that we'd all read. The last three books I read this summer (the Stephenson, this one, and the one below) were all recommendations/books lent to me while I was living on the farm.

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Another book handed to me by a friend. This was the last book I read on the farm, and I truly got enveloped in its world. I'd like to say that this is character-driven fiction set in the late 1800s/early 1900s, but the book's setting, a northwestern Orchard, is so integral to the plot of the book, I don't think I can only say "character-driven"-- and then what happens, and how easily it all seems to make sense but come so unexpectedly as you're reading, makes this also very plot-driven. This is an incredibly well put together story of love--but not romantic love--, home, family, and morality that surprised me and made me cry more than a few times.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Books Read :: March 2015

I know that it's halfway through April, but these are still the books I read in March:

The Great Night by Chris Adrian
I picked this book up from a thrift store because a friend of mine had mentioned he liked the author a lot. It was a "retelling" of a Midsummer Night's Dream in modern day San Fransisco and it took me forever to get into. I liked the last fourth of it a lot, but it took me the first three quarters to really like the book. I wish the resolution, which was the most intriguing part, made up more of the story. The intersecting storylines weren't as interesting as the one storyline at the end, even if it all kind of circled around meaningfully...

Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen
I picked this up when I stayed over a friend's house in New York and needed something to read before I could sleep. (I read a lot right before bed, yet still, somehow, manage to be a decent reader. I, of course, don't only read right before bed... Anyway.) This collection got nominated for a bunch of prizes and I think won some and I remember, as I was reading it, thinking, yeah, I can see why. Sometimes poetry collections have visible threads like this one did: reflections on the death, the suicide particularly, of a brother. It was moving and the verse was elegant and breaking at the same time, and I was glad I read it and I was glad my friend's let me take it home with me because I wasn't finished. I still have it, but I will have to get it back to them.

Animal Farm by George Orwell
This was a reread for class-- I taught the book in a First Year Writing course and needed to reread it to teach it. When I read a book to teach it, I read it differently than I read it for pleasure? Does that make sense? I was glad to reread this book to teach it. It's fairly simple on the surface, but there's really, actually, a lot going on.

The Changeling by Kenzaburo Oe
This is a book by a Japanese writer, to continue my trend of reading books by Japanese writers. It was a very understated novel with a character in it who commits suicide and then his friend trying to understand their friendship through cassette tapes he had left him before killing himself. I have read three books this year that prominently feature a suicide, though the other two were poetry books (Zeller, Rasmussen). At first, I thought that this book was going to be a magical realist novel because of the way the main character talked to his friend/brother-in law who had made the cassette tapes and the way that they kind of talked back. I thought that the friend would somehow find a way to communicate to the main character from "the great beyond" via the tapes, but that was not the case in a magical realist way--more of, in an "I-left-these-remainders-of-our-life-and-friendship-behind-for-you-in-case-I-did-this" kind of way.

We Know What We Are by Mary Hamilton
This is a chapbook of short-short stories that won the Rose Metal Press chapbook contest one year. I really liked the stories, and I was glad that I read them. They seemed to all fit together even when they didn't. I've read a lot of the winners of this contest, and, if I'm remembering correctly, I always like the stories in the same, "hm-Gigantic-Sequins-would-probably-consider-publishing-these" sort of way.

Balzac & the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dae Sijie
I think because I had been reading so many Japanese novels, I decided to stay on the continent with this short novel, translated from the French, by a Chinese-French author. It was almost like historical fiction-- I learned things about China I never knew-- but it also kind of read like a fairy tale in a way. I remember rereading the author's biography multiple times because what I was reading felt so real, I kept thinking This must've happened to the author! I would have to do some more research to confirm this. It was a great story, a quick read, and it really spoke to the power of literature, which is a theme I surely can get behind.