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.


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