Aug 18 2015

Clinging to Rockface

“too scared of coming down,
too scared of going up,
too scared of rockface”
— from “Sugar” by Heather Nova

I spent the last week in Anchorage, Alaska, mostly visiting family, as well as spending a bit of time here and there going fishing and hiking. One of my favorite hikes near Anchorage is Flattop, a small (by Alaskan standards) mountain that is exactly as it’s name describes — flat on top. Every time I return to Anchorage, I try to fit in time to climb Flattop and last Tuesday, my mom, sister, and I took part in the hike together.

My sister gazes up at Flattop from the parking lot before the climb.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day in Anchorage when we set out for the hike. The air was cool, crisp, and fresh. My sister said that when she used to hike Flattop as a kid, she always felt like she had been whisked away to Ireland (a fair comparison.

The trail is steep at moments, with switchbacks and wood staircases that seemed to go on forever. We took it slow, breathing heavy and taking time to pause in order to look out and enjoy the scenery, which grew more and more impressive the higher we climbed.

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Aug 6 2015

New-to-me movies watched in July 2015

1. Ex Machina (2015)
2. American Mary (2012)
3. Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)
4. It Follows (2014)

REVIEWS:

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Aug 5 2015

THE WALLS AROUND US book review and giveaway

“We went wild that hot night. We howled, we raged, we screamed. We were girls — some fourteen and fifteen; some sixteen, seventeen — but when the locks came undone, the doors of our cells gaping open and no one to shove us back in, we made the noise of savage animals, of men.”

A few years ago now, I read and fell in love with Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls, an emotionally complicated sister-centered story with a touch of creepy and unsettling magical realism. It’s a story that still haunts me, sneaking from behind the shadows into the foreground of my mind. A book that I treasure in my soul and a level of achievement that I aspire to in my own writing.

Nova Ren’s latest novel, The Walls Around Us, has the same kind of haunting quality, and not just because it’s a ghost story. It’s a tale that lingers long after you’ve put it down.

Three girls are the center of this story — Amber is a young woman convicted of murder who has been locked in prison for years; Violet, a ballet dancer with a dark secret; and Orianna, a girl caught in a tide of misfortune who binds the other two together. Their stories weave together unveiling lies and secrets and the truth behind a murder.

Alternating between Amber and Violet’s points of view, the story unfolds with a feeling of inevitability, a sense that everything has happened before and cannot be stopped from happening again. Neither girl is nice or easy; instead they are both complicated and difficult, having made dangerous decisions that lead to catastrophes that define their lives. Where Nova Ren’s skill is clear is in how she manages to generate a feeling of fascination and sympathy for both of these girls. Violet in particular is an awful human being, and yet I found myself pitying her and how she has cut herself off from feeling for anyone else in the world and a part of me wanted her to make it to Julliard despite all the things she’s done.

Amber is particularly interesting to me in the way she erases herself into the group of her fellow prisoners, rarely using the singular “I” and more often using the plural “we”, as though their stories and her own story were the same, as though they are all one body of girls moving through the prison system. Her own personal story slowly unfolds but never quite condemns or absolves her of any crime. She is both guilty and a victim of society and circumstances, screwed over by the man her mother married and the system. A girl taken for granted, as many in the prison are.

Rich, gorgeous prose brings the world inside this prison for young women and the outside world (for this books seems to divide the world into two realms – inside and outside) to vivid, brutal reality. The supernatural aspects of this tale are subtle, weaved in among grounded real-world details enabling a level of plausibility. The effect — of not just the supernatural elements, but the entire story — is unsettling in all the right ways. Although the end is satisfying, this is a novel without easy answers, one to ponder after finishing, and then to go back and reread and ponder some more.

For a further exploration, here are some great interviews Nova Ren Suma has done regarding the book:

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Giveaway

As it turns out, I ended up with an extra copy of The Walls Around Us and I want to share the love, hence a giveaway! I’ll send the copy of the book to someone in the U.S. or Canada.

How to Enter: Just leave a comment telling me about why you would like to read The Walls Around Us.

Signups end on August 31, at which point I will pick the winner randomly.

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Aug 4 2015

Books completed in July

1. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
2. Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone: Poems by Annelyse Gelman
3. Drink by Laura Madeline Wiseman

Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma and I’ve started listening to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke on audio book, which is a reread after watching the recently released mini-series.

REVIEWS:

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Aug 3 2015

Stand up and speak

I attended and performed in my first poetry slam event on Wednesday night last week. The Berkely Slam is held every  Wednesday at the Starry Plough Pub in (you guessed it) Berkeley, California. The event hosts a small workshop prior to opening sign ups, with readers chosen by lottery. Five random judges are chosen from the audience, which makes the tone very random. It is currently hosted by the amazing Jazz Sufi

The judges — or more specifically one judge — was kind of an ass that night, scoring almost everyone incredibly low, which was annoying. For the most part, however, I laughed along and was astounded by the work of so many amazing poets, Allie Marini among them, and had a fabulous time.

I read “The Things I Own.” I was incredibly nervous to read due to the contest atmosphere and because I knew poets tend to be well rehearsed at slams. But I surprised myself by feeling fairly confident when I performed and I got some nice feedback from the audience. The experience has me thinking that I should work on memorizing some poems and work on getting more confident with performing.

What I’m Reading

Rupetta by Nike Sulway is a fascinating read so far, featuring a robot/android being built in 1600s, who continues to live on over the centuries and ultimately becomes the center of civilization in the twentieth century. Beautiful writing and engaging world.

I’ve watching the mini-series on BBC, I’m rereading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke via audio book, because there is so much that I don’t seem to remember, especially in regards to the fantastic footnotes.

Recently finished the wonderfully unsettling The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma — book review with a giveaway will be posted shortly.

What I’m Writing

Just a little bit of writing got done last week, mostly on Tuesday night with some editing of a review I’ve been working on. I think I needed to take it easy in order to recover from the go-get-em attitude of the week before.

Submitted! A micro chapbook of ten pages to Porkbelly Press, called Sacred Ways.

Goal(s) for this week: Finish and submit a selection of poem(s).

Linky Goodness