1. A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
2. Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
3. Blue, poems by George Elliott Clarke
4. Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman
5. Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
6. The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, illus. by Matt Phelan
7. The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
8. One Hundred Years of Solitude (audio book) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
9. wingless, scorched & beautiful (chapbook) by Allie Marini Batts
10. how i live now (audio book) by Meg Rosoff
Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month: Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugrešić, Everyone I Love Is a Stranger to Someone, poetry by Annelyse Gelman, and Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
“if, in April,
the seeds planted in your scapulas
fail to bloom into wings
at least learn to love falling—”
— from “Boneseeds”
The ten poems in wingless, scorched and beautiful delve into the dark corridors of women’s lives and bodies. These are women who have made mistakes, crawled through the muck, endured, and returned scarred but with renewed strength.
At first glance, a reader might perceive these poems as gloomy, but here death and rebirth dance with each other in cyclical pirouettes and hope comes back around eventually. For example, in the opening poem “Boneseeds,” the act of crashing down transitions through catastrophe into flight, while “breeding, trumpet flowers out of the dead ash” reveals how life — both plant vines and oneself — can labor to come back from destruction.
In “Her Intentions Are,” the “you” of the poem is a woman broken down by abuse, her shame and devastation revealed public on a city street corner. Her “every clinging breath is futility” and her “tears are scented and boiling with the stink of desperation”. The imagery, such as wolves and women in battle armor, evokes a feeling of folklore that reflects the inner forests in which she struggles. Though no happily ever afters are on the horizon, the poem culminates in the ability to rise up and continue living.
Female sexuality and how it is twisted and commodified is discussed in the poems “Pussy Pass” and “high art”. The first expresses rage at the entitlement of men, who expect their advances to be granted with ready sex — “every man who thinks sex is a gumball that’s owed to them / after putting two nice-guy coins into the girl-machine”. Meanwhile, the second explores the nature of art, noting “soft filters / don’t make disenfranchised body parts / any less than pornographic.” For me, “high art” suggests that art is a mirror, reflecting both truth and lies that are determined by consensus of the beholders.
Each of the poems collected here is powerful, revealing its own mixture of beauty, strength, and pain. Multiple readings of these poems unveil new layers of meaning and I suggest downloading the collection, which is available free online, and spending time with each one.
“…poor things, they
can’t see that I am
dead inside, numb to their
ether, the drug they smell on me is
freedom, they want to taste it like
ginger, a sweet and hot burn.”
— from “Vampire Boys” (note: not original formatting)
If wingless, scorched & beautiful proves to not be enough for you, never fear. Batts has released two other collections this year — another chapbook, Pictures From The Center Of The Universe (Paper Nautilus, March 2015), and a full length collection, Before Fire: Divorce Poems (ELJ Publications, 2015). Based on the strength of wingless, scorched & beautiful, I would recommend either of these collections as a good way to spend your money in support of the poet.
Description from Goodreads: “Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.”
I have a secret affinity for Westerns or, more accurately, I love the idea of Westerns — although I don’t often read or watch them.
My interest is closely connected with my love for folklore and mythology and the ways modern storytellers break it apart and shape it anew. There is a myth of the American Wild West, often based almost on the image of lonely, noble white cowboys standing up against the dangers of a lawless land. I can understand the appeal of figures like Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok and the characters portrayed by John Wayne. Although, I’m more partial to the female versions, seen in Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley. I love cowgirls and will be immediately drawn to any story that has women facing the Wild West on their own terms, even not-great movies, like Bad Girls.
I come to this interest in Westerns with the full knowledge that this mythology is deeply problematic, erasing and villainizing the image of POC, particularly Native Americans. It’s a mythology to be tangled with carefully, with room for dismantling, and approached with reservation, oodles of research, and a sense of inclusion.
One of the things that drew me to Under the Painted Sky was not only the diversity of the main characters — Sammy is Chinese and Andy is black — but the fact that they disguise themselves as boys to make their road safer. I loved both of these girls, how they faced their fears and strove for their own freedom. They both have skills and knowledge of their own and learn a lot from each other. Their bond of friendship is powerful, as strong as sisterhood by the end, and I loved the mutual respect they had for each other.
“You miss being a girl? I ask her.
Not as much as I thought I would. Just feels like when I’m being a boy, I can cut a wider path.”
The trope Under the Painted Sky most clearly breaks from is the image of the lone noble cowboy image/hero image. Instead of solitude, the story presents the strength of community and the power of being backed by the family you choose. On the road, Sammy and Andy meet three young cowboys — two from Texans and one Mexican — who join them on their journey to California and teach them some cattle wrangling skills. The interactions between the five characters are often hilarious, and the author does a great job of showing how their friendship blossoms into complete trust.
Under the Painted Sky is sometimes thrilling, sometimes touching, and often funny. It had me staying up way to late so that I could finish it. A fantastic debut and a wonderful read from Stacey Lee. I’ll be looking out for more work by her.
My weekend whispered away, it seems. The days melting into each other with the TV chattering in the background — a large part of that chatter involving a full day marathon of all the Star Wars movies at my sister’s house.
And yet, somehow my laundry is done and my bed is made and my life doesn’t seem to have dissolved into chaos, so I guess I’ve been productive, too.
What I’m Reading
I have a great love for cowgirl stories (even though I don’t read them often), so Under the Painted Sky by Stacey Lee is perfect for me. I’m loving this so far, with two strong girls (one of Chinese decent accused of murder and one a runaway slave) running out into the empty wild west, dressed as boys.
Still working on Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. It’s slow reading, but fun. Sometimes I guffaw outloud at the antics of these characters.
What I’m Writing
Putting together a collection is a strange process, something I don’t have much experience with and, in the past, it has not felt natural to group my poetry together. Since this present collection is made up primarily of letter-poems, they all at least fit around a single concept. Over the past week, I’ve read through all of the poems, made selections of those to include and performed edits (substantial in some cases) to each, as well as spreading them out across my living room floor to decide on an order.
I’m feeling good about where I’m at with chapbook — better than any previous time I’ve tried to put a collection together. At the moment, I’m trying to just let things sit for a bit in order to be sure of a few final edits to a couple of the poems, then I think I’ll be ready to send it out. (Eeeeee!)
Goal(s) for this week: Submit chapbook. Gather together poem drafts I’ve written from internet and the universe and organize them in my computer.
What’s Inspiring Me Right Now
Reading poetry this month, because beautiful words get me thinking about words and then wanting to write them, too.
In honor of Natinal Poetry Month, Kelli Rusell Agodon hosts the Great Poetry Giveaway every year over on her blog, where you can find links to others who are taking part in giving away poetry books. Every participant is required to give away two books of poetry, one of their own and one by a favorite poet.
To participate in my giveaway here, just post a comment with your name and email address included. Please also let me know your first choice, if you win.
Book One: Cedar Toothpick: The Tomboy Diaries
“Cedar Toothpick is a book of nutshell poetry, written by Stefan Lorenzutti (that’s me) and illustrated by Laurent Le Deunff. I tell the story of backwoods gamine Tomboy, one thimble-sized poem at a time,” wrote Lorenzutti during his kickstarter campaign.
“Each poem is a description of a diorama, such as one finds in ethnographic or natural history museums—bell-jar spaces in which wolves, frozen in time, thread soundlessly through twilit forest; and wigwam inhabitants, cross-legged and ringed round their storyteller, shiver as the wind outside rattles frame of shelter.
The poems in Cedar Toothpick describe 27 diorama scenes through which Tomboy passes over the course of a witching hour and the following day.
There are two important sounds overlapping in Cedar Toothpick: the whisper of Tomboy’s moccasin footfall on pine needle; and the squeak of ancient parquet, as the reader meanders up and down the labyrinthine hallways of this nonexistent ethnographic museum, pressing his or her nose up to the glass of each Tomboy poem.”
This is a lovely little collection of poetry with beautiful illustrations, which I wrote more about in a previous post. I’m really happy to be able to share this with another poetry lover.
Book Two: The 2013 Rhysling Anthology
Edited by John C. Mannone.
“In January 1978, Suzette Haden Elgin founded the Science Fiction Poetry Association, along with its two visible cornerposts: the association’s newsletter, Star*Line, and the Rhysling Awards. Nominees for the 2013 Rhysling Award are selected by the membership of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Each member is allowed to nominate one work in each of two categories: ‘Best Long Poem’ and ‘Best Short Poem.’ All nominated works must have been published during 2012. The anthology allows the membership to easily review and consider all nominated works without the necessity of obtaining the diverse number of publications in which the nominated works first appeared and serves as a showcase of the best science fiction, fantasy and horror poetry of 2012. The Rhysling Anthology is available to anyone with an interest in this unique compilation of verse from some of the finest poets in the field of science fiction, fantasy and horror poetry.” (Description from Goodreads.)
This collection features poems by amazing poets, such as Catherynne M. Valente, Jane Yolen, Kelly Rose Pflug-Back, Sandra Kasturi, Amal El-Mohtar, Theodora Goss, Rose Lemberg, and oodles more.
It also, I must humbly add, includes my short poem, “Red Riding Hood Remembers.”
* * *
The giveaway ends on April 30th at midnight, at which point I will use a random number generator to select the winners.
1. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
2. Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente
3. Paladin of Souls (audio book) by Lois McMaster Bujold
4. The White Darkness (audio book) by Geraldine McCaughrean
5. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
6. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
7. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
8. Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick
Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and Blue, poetry by George Elliott Clarke
Meant to post this on Monday, but I got sick this week, which knocked me flat for several days. Since I’m starting to feel better, I’m posting it now.
* * *
Last Thursday night I attended the fantastic Cito.FAME.Us Women’s History Month open mic, which featured the amazing folk duo Q&A and yours truly. I’ve been a fan of Q&A ever since I first heard them and so it was a great honor to have been paired with them for my first feature performance. I made a video of one of their new songs and hopefully I’ll be able to upload and share it soon.
I also attended the Her Story to Call Her Own open mic, which was a wonderful grounding experience, full of many beautiful women singing or speaking many beautiful words.
What I’m Reading
I just finished Midwinterblood, by Marcus Sedgwick, which was beautiful and not at all what I expected.
Blue by George Elliott Clarke, which is a powerful collection of poetry.
Still enjoying my slow read of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.
What I’m Writing
I made it halfway through a chapbook submission, which I’m starting to feel fairly solid about. I’ve got some more work to do on it, some cleaning up of some of the poems and than I should be able to send it out.
Goal(s) for this week: Finish and submit chapbook.
What’s Inspiring Me Right Now
Amazing women and artists who live in this South Bay community and who open up their voices to share.
Description “On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Once, she was the Justice of Toren – a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.”
I love this book. There are so many layers of world building and character and language that make this fantastic. Beyond the creativity of the world, the just storyline is a straightforward and tense revenge tale and I often found myself unable to put this book down.
The ruling human culture and government is the Radch. The language has no distinction between genders in their culture, so the main character uses “she” for all characters. This is set up and made clear early on, as Breq’s story begins on a world with distinct genders, so that while. Breq uses “she” in all cases, another character might use “he” pointing out the language distinction. Breq also has to be careful to not mis-gender characters in order to avoid confrontation. It might be confusing, except that it’s handled exceptionally well. It was fascinated to note my own assumptions while reading and how they shifted when I learned that a particular character was “male” according to a more binary society.
In addition to the Radch, which is a complex society with rules of power and politeness and a sort of interplanetary manifest destiny, every world had its own societal rules that felt complete and natural to that world.
I also really loved Breq and the idea of a character as being one part of larger being. As Justice of Toren, she was the ship and all of the human-esque counterparts, known as ancillaries, all sharing the same mind. This was another area, where Leckie’s skill is proven as she was able to portray that sense of being a single being existing many place at once in a clear and compelling way without it being overwhelming to the reader. It also created a unique and fascinating layering to Breq’s character, who is the single unit cut off from her former self.
In fact, each of the characters was fascinating to me and those I initially hated turned out to have depth and histories that revealed them to not be bad guys, at least not from their own point of view.
I don’t really know what else to say. I love, love, loved this book and I can’t wait to read the a sequel, Ancillary Sword.
My weekend was filled with FOGcon and I’m pleasantly exhausted. It’s always a blast to go, reconnect with friends, and talk about speculative fiction and movies and other geekery. This year I also did karaoke for the first time and despite my pounding heart had quite a lot of fun.
One especially interesting thought, for me, was the idea that nested stories reflect how life works, in that we are the center of our own stories and our lives are filled with interjections and asides, from the gossip we tell a friend to the stories we relate about ourselves to the wikipedia article we pause to look up in the middle of a conversation. We are constantly stopped by interjecting narrative and it was even suggested that we are the frame narrative for every book we read.
For writers, it was noted that nested stories can sometimes be an engaging way to slip in exposition, reveal layers to the world, or characterization. However, the story needs to be just as compelling as the main (frame) narrative. Since it is interrupting the narrative flow, the first line of the interjected story had better be better than what came before it so that it doesn’t turn readers away. It was also noted that some nested stories work better as fragments instead of complete tales.
Notable book recommendations: The French Lieutenants Woman, by John Fowles Was, by Geoff Ryman Order of the Stick, comic by Rich Burlew
“And the Bastard grant us… in our direst need, the smallest gifts: the nail of the horseshoe, the pin of the axle, the feather at the pivot point, the pebble at the mountain’s peak, the kiss in despair, the one right word.”
I LOVE THIS BOOK! Let me count the ways!
1. It’s so refreshing to have a female main character who is middle aged. At 40 years old, Rowena Ista dy Chalion is free of her past madness and tucked away into a safe, little town away from the demands of the central government. She is coddled and patronized and treated like a child. She’s hard on herself and bitter about her past mistakes. Ista longs only to escape the bounds of her past and of her claustrophobic present life, and so enacts a plan to venture forth on pilgrimage, even though she doesn’t feel slightly pious. Along the way, she curses the gods for the burdens they once placed on her and her failure to carry those burdens. Despite all her hard edges, she’s compassionate toward most people, hoping to do as little harm as possible as she seeks her own freedom.
2. Challion is a well imagined high fantasy setting. The back of the book described it as medieval, but I would more visualize it as similar to 16th century Italy or France. Without overwhelming the reader with details, Bujold presents the society along with its government and religions in a way that rather specific to this world.
3. I love that there clear magical rules and limitations with power sourced either from the gods or demons. The rule provide just enough leeway for mystery to still be possible, although it’s clear that while these rules can be bent, they cannot be outright broken.
3. The fifth god in Challion’s religion is The Bastard, who is less holy than the other gods, enjoys playing tricks, and has a delightfully crude sense of humor.
5. Liss is a courier, who becomes Ista’s lady in waiting on the road. She’s a rough and straightforward girl from a common family, who unabashedly rides faster than any man on the field. I love her.
6. Illvin makes me swoon.
7. The writing is wonderfully vivid, drawing me in so that I can hear the buzzing of green flies or the see the glint of a man’s armor.
8. Though it’s the second book in the series, it stands on its own feeling complete in and of itself. This book is just about perfect for me and my tastes, so much so that I almost don’t want to read the first or third books and risk marring the experience (though I’m sure I’ll read them eventually after some of the shine wears off in my memory).
I’m stoked to be attending FogCon this weekend, where Kim Stanley Robinson and Catherynne M. Valente will be honored guests. In preparation for the excitement, I’ve been doing some homework to mentally prepare by reading Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson and Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente. Joanna Russ will be the Honored Ghost, so I am currently rereading The Female Man.
As a fan of horror (and someone who hopes to write it), I’m stoked that Women in Horror Month exists to promote women in the genre, from filmmakers to artists to novelists. In that vein, here are a five women writers of horror or horror influenced fiction, whose work I’ve loved.
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within.” – from The Haunting of Hill House
The Haunting of Hill House is one of the best ghost stories I’ve ever read. The way the characters bond together and simultaneously become hostile to one another in the face of the horrors of the house is quite compelling. The story is creepy and weird and nothing is every quite resolved.
She’s also well known for the short story, “The Lottery,” which is often taught in high school English classes and for good reason. It’s frightening in a dystopian sort of way. I need to get around to reading more of her short stories sometime.
“Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot — in this case, my brother, Shaun — deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what happens.”— from Feed
Mira Grant is the dark alias of fantasy writer, Seanan McGuire. As Grant, her novels delve into the scientific thrillers with lots of death and mayhem, causing them to overlap with horror.
Her Newsflesh trilogy explores a post-apocalyptic world filled with zombies, in which humanity has clutched a fragile foothold of society. Overlapping the constant threat of being chewed up by or turning into the infected, are dark governmental conspiracies.
I’ve also read Parasite, the start of her Parasitology series, which is thus far proving to be fantastic as well.
Caitlin R. Kiernan
“Hauntings are memes, especially pernicious thought contagions, social contagions that need no viral or bacterial host and are transmitted in a thousand different ways. A book, a poem, a song, a bedtime story, a grandmother’s suicide, the choreography of a dance, a few frames of film, a diagnosis of schizophrenia, a deadly tumble from a horse, a faded photograph, or a story you tell your daughter.” ― from The Drowning Girl
The Drowning Girl tends toward psychological horror, explorations of the psyche more than physical danger. That is certainly the case with The Drowning Girl, in which is told from the point of view of a schizophrenic young woman named India. I almost wouldn’t consider this horror, although there are hauntings and werewolves and mermaids that play their parts and some of the elements are deeply unsettling. The Drowning Girl was a favorite read for me.
Kiernan’s work has been listed on several horror lists and her novels certainly play with the genre.
“The rustling peaked, became a chitinous clicking, and Morrow fought hard to stay still while the whole wheel-scarred road suddenly swarmed with insects — not locusts, but ants the size of bull-mice, their jaws yawning open. Neatly avoiding both Chess and Rook’s boots, they broke in a denuding wave over the corpses, paring them boneward in a mere matter of moments.” – from A Book of Tongues
I was introduced to Files’ writing with the Hexslinger series, a re-imagining of the Wild West in which a violent and dangerous preacher turned sorcerer and some of his fellow outlaws is drawn into a deadly game with the gods. These novels take you uncomfortable and visceral places. Not just gore (though if you like that, there’s plenty), but also in terms of sex, psychology, and emotion.
Writing this reminds me that I still need to buy and read A Tree of Bones. Also, I was excited to learn that her new short story collection, We Will All Go Down Together, was recently be released in late 2014.
“You have to salvage what you can, even if you’re the one who buried it in the first place.” – from “The Wrong Grave”
“The Wrong Grave,” featured in Link’s Pretty Monsters: Stories is wonderfully creepy and strange, involving a boy who goes grave robbing in order to recover the drafts of poetry he left in the casket of a friend — only the discover it’s wrong grave and the dead girl inside is rather annoyed to be disturbed.
While many of the stories in Pretty Monsters are more fantasy than horror (and this collection is more YA), she definitely has a knack for darker fantasy as well. Her collection of adult stories, Get in Trouble, is also supposed to have some horror stories.
I’ve taken some more organizational steps, switching over my 2014 files to 2015 and getting stuff laid out to do my taxes. While taking a look at my files, I noticed that what really needs organizational work is my creative files — my poetry, fiction, notes, etc. I need to figure out to have each poem and story right where I want it when I need to put together a submission packet. I also need to keep more accurate record of drafts, making it clear the most recent versions in both print and on my computer. I would love to hear suggestions in this regard.
What I’m Reading
Almost finished with The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. I’m not normally into military stories, but this is compulsively compelling and a fast read with really interesting ideas.
Next up will be Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. I previously read Robinson’s 2312, which was good but was highly focused on the technical aspects of each world visited and I didn’t quite connect with it. I’m guessing that Red Mars will be similar, but since it will be focused on a single world instead of many, I’m hoping I’ll enjoy it more. It’s also research, as Robinson will be a guest speaker at FogCon 2015, which I will be attending in March.
What I’m Writing
Chapter/poem two of the novel is poems has been completed! Progress has been far slower than I’d like it to be, in part because I need to re-prioritize my time. But still, progress, huzzah!
I completed one other poem last week, a Valentines Day poem, which I read at the fantastically fun Love is in the Air party last week.
Accepted!Nonbinary Review has accepted my poem “Eve and Pandora” for their upcoming issue #4, focused on Bulfinch’s Mythology. Eeeeeee!
Goal(s) for this week: Get my printer set up. Finish chapter three. Put a submission packet together.
What’s Inspiring Me Right Now
I’m having a hard time naming something specific this week. I feel a general sense of momentum, of engagement, partly because I’m working to submit work on a regular basis and partly because I’m actively connecting with artist and writer community in person and online.
My main feeling at this moment is to not let hesitation or fear herd me into poor use of time. It’s all well and good to watch TV/movies and play video games, but it needs to come after making myself and my creative work a priority.
My friend, Laura Ayer, pointed out Bullet Journal, which is a method using the traditional paper and pen method to plan and manage one’s monthly tasks (I recommend watching the introductory video). I love the idea of this, but don’t know if it’s for me. I’m kind of all over the place when it comes to paper, though having a clear method would like this could be a good solution.
If any one has done the Bullet Journal method or something similar, I would love to hear about your experience.
“Only by acknowledging the full extent of slavery’s full grip on U.S. Society — its intimate connections to present day wealth and power, the depth of its injury to black Americans, the shocking nearness in time of its true end — can we reconcile the paradoxes of current American life.”
– Douglas A. Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name
When I was in high school, in regard to black history, I remember learning about the slavery and Civil War, and then jumping ahead to the civil rights movement, with only a brief mention of sharecropping. The impression left from these lessons was that although racism still abounded after Emancipation, African Americans in the South were at least free, able to farm and build a life for themselves.
It turns out this was mostly a myth.
Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon reveals through meticulous research how southern whites by-passed the Emancipation Proclamation and constitutional amendments to continue slavery in the form of convict forced labor. “In the first decades [after Emancipation], the intensity of southern whites’ need to reestablish hegemony over blacks rivaled the most visceral patriotism of the wartime Confederacy,” writes Blackmon. So, they found their way around emancipation by criminalizing black life by writing laws targeted specifically at African Americans, one such law making it illegal for someone to leave their current employment without their employer’s permission.
1. A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
2. Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente
3. Links: A Collection of Short Stories by Kaylia M. Metcalfe
4. Ancient, Ancient: Short Fiction by Kiini Ibura Salaam
Total for the year: 4
Favorite Read: Palimpsest was complex and lyrical and wonderful.
Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month: Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon. I thought I’d be done by now, but it’s fascinating and fact heavy, which is why it’s taking me so long to read.
“Things that are unsightly: birthmarks, infidelity, strangers in one’s kitchen. Too much sunlight. Stitches. Missing teeth. Overlong guests.”
Palimpsest is the story of a city that exists between dreaming and waking, full of living trains, mechanical bees, houses grown from trees, rivers made of coats, and other beautiful, ugly, wonderful, and dangerous imaginings. One of the most interesting aspects of the novel is that access to the city is achieved through sex, as four characters — a woman who loves trains, a man who loves locks and keys, a woman who tends bees, and a man longing for his lost wife — living in different parts of the world discover after chance encounters. As each one longs more desperately to reach the City of Palimpsest, they find they have to put them in increasingly compromising situations with a multitude of complications and consequences.
“Do not ask, he thinks, and tried to clench his throat around it. But the question is a lock and it seeks the key of her and he cannot stop himself, even though the taste of it is like the Volkhov, muddy and reedy and cold.”
The language in Palimpsest is often beautiful, poetic, rich and thick as honey. It’s perfect for the surreal other city of Palimpsest, though for the “real” world it can have feel of distancing, the focus more on the labyrinth of the words than on the characters. At the beginning, when we are just getting to know the characters, I think it creates a distancing effect, making them hard to relate to, their quirks feeling exotic and strange rather than relatable. So, I had a hard time with the novel at first, as it felt more like a complex poem that I couldn’t quite penetrate.
“Every morning she pulled a delicate cup from its brass hook and filled it, hoping that it would be dark and deep and secret as a forest, and each morning it cooled too fast, had too much milk, stained the cup, made her nervous.”
After a certain point, though, when the threads of the characters’ stories began to come together, twisting through the labyrinth of Palimpsest toward the conclusion, I began to really enjoy the novel. I varied between needing to compulsively read and needing to take a break to absorb one or another beautiful phrase. While the ending wasn’t as satisfying as I would have liked, this was still a great journey and one I will reread in the future.
1. The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan
2. Among Others by Jo Walton
3. Red Shirts by Jihn Scalzi
4. The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson
5. Contact by Carl Sagan
6. The City & The City by China Mielville
7. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
8. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
9. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
10. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
Oh, the joys of winter colds. I’ve spent the past three days curled up in blankets, watching TV and trying not to hack up my own lung. I can’t really remember much of my week beyond that.
What I’m reading
I recently finished A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes novel written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Mystery novels are not my cup o’ tea, but I enjoyed reading about Watson’s first impressions of the great detective and the murder mystery has some interesting elements to it. A fun and fairly easy read.
Now, I’ve started in on Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente, which has some beautiful wonderful writing and fascinating moments, but hasn’t fully captured me yet.
What I’m Writing
I’ve been working on my novel in poems, handwriting a new opening poem and editing what will replace the existing chapter one. I’m torn on the idea of whether to call the poems “chapters” or not. At this point, I’m thinking not, simply because coming up with an individual title, rather than a chapter title, helps me to think of each poem as needing to be complete in and of itself.
I poured out a freewrite that should come together as a completed poem and I’ve been creating some blackout poetry, which I’ve posted up at Tumblr.
Goal(s) for this week: Type up and finish two opening chapters of the novel in poems.
Where I’ll Be
If I’m feeling healthy again by Thursday, then I’m planning to attend the the Cito.FAME.Us open mic, starring Q&A on Thursday at Iguanas in San Jose. I’ll be listing to the creepy-sweet tunes of Q&A and will probably bring something to read, too.
What’s Inspiring Me Right Now
While my feelings on Palimpsest as a whole are mixed, the visual poetic language is triggering my inner poet and has me wanting to play with words. It’s a book I can only read in short spurts, because it has me thinking about language as I read. I find myself reading a page or two only to begin reaching for my own notebook, leading me into my own labyrinth of words and corridors of phrases.
Opportunity of the Week
Far Orbit: Apogee is an anthology of science fiction adventure stories created in the “Grand Tradtion” to be edited by Bascomb James. The covers for past anthologies are gorgeous and though I haven’t read past anthologies by this publisher, they look cool. Payment is one cent per word and the deadline to submit is March 15th.
i09 published a list of 67 Science Fiction And Fantasy Movies To Watch Out For In 2015, which has me drooling. Many of these look great, though I’m particularly excited about Avengers: Age of Ultron and the new Mad Max and Star Wars flicks. The list also includes a bunch of indy flicks that look rather interesting, too.
1. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
2. The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 3
3. The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson
4. Siberiak: My Cold War Adventure on the River Ob by Jenny Jaeckel
5. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Hepperman
6. The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
7. Audacious (a novel in verse) by Gabrielle S. Prendergast
8. This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
Fairy tales neatly blend together with the lives of teenage girls in this darkly funny collection of poems for teens. Definitely from a girl’s perspective, these poems explore unfortunate boyfriends, friendships, girl-on-girl cruelty, and other teenage nightmares using the fantastical and strange. As the Hepperman explains, these poems show how a teenage girl walking down the street can feel as though she’s trapped in her own personal tower. Many of these poems are simple, narrative poems told from the point of view of a villain or an innocent, if you believe one is any different from the other. The book is also illustrated with fantastical and surreal black-and-white photography, often evoking fairytale imagery.
A lot of these poems focus on body image, weight issues, anorexia, and so on. It was by far the most common theme among the poems. And for the most part Hepperman explores these issues artfully, though at times it seemed as though there was too much focus on this subject, the impact dulled by overuse and the ultimate message eventually feeling somewhat trite. However, some of these body image poems were also my favorite in the collection, as with “The Wicked Queen’s Legacy”, which shows how easy it is to become obsessed with self-image.
It used to be just the one,
but now all mirrors chatter.
In fact every reflective surface has opinions
on the shape of my nose, the size
of my chest, the hair I wash and brush
until it’s so shiny I can see myself
scribbling notes as each strand
— from “The Wicked Queen’s Legacy”
One of the things I really enjoyed about this collection was how darkly funny many of the poems were. For example, the poem “Big Bad Spa Treatment” describes how you can get sumptuously treated with “deep-tissue Massage Mallets, / leaving you loose / and gristle free” and a “honey barbecue facial mask”. And the evil queen doesn’t stop at Snow White in “Assassin,” but laboriously works to take out Sleeping Beauty, Gretel, Bo Peep, Goldilocks and others in her need to be the fairest.
While I can’t say this was the best collection of poetry I have every read (I think there is more mature work out there), it was certainly enjoyable and I would recommend it for just about any teenage girl. I think it would resonate with that age group quite a lot. I would have been obsessed with this collection as a teenager, reading it dogeared and copying quotes down in my journals. I remember facing my own self loathing around my body in high school and the awkwardness I felt around my peers, and I’m sure this book would resonated. It might have even made me feel stronger, as though I could face the world with courage and awesome.
Volume 3 comprises nights 719 to 1001, as well as the “Aladdin, or the Magic Lamp” standalone story. This third volume has proven to be my favorite, as there is less repetition (same kind of story followed by same kind of story) than in the previous books and some stories that begin on well trodden themes actually branch of in surprising directions. Adventures, romances, and comedy tales mix together with morality tales in a broad spectrum of stories, many of which I found rather fun and interesting.
Shahrazad’s Tale Comes to an End
As I mentioned, in my review of volume 2, we can see Shahrazad’s story and dramatic progression through the tales she tells, guiding King Shahriyar to a different perspective on women. By volume 3, I get the sense that Shahrazad has relaxed, which allows her to explore a greater variety of tales. She probably senses him coming around and so can use the tales more as entertainment than for moral and philosophical lessons.
“In a far future, post-nuclear-holocaust Africa, genocide plagues one region. The aggressors, the Nuru, have decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke. But when the only surviving member of a slain Okeke village is brutally raped, she manages to escape, wandering farther into the desert. She gives birth to a baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand and instinctively knows that her daughter is different. She names her daughter Onyesonwu, which means “Who Fears Death?” in an ancient African tongue.
Reared under the tutelage of a mysterious and traditional shaman, Onyesonwu discovers her magical destiny-to end the genocide of her people. The journey to fulfill her destiny will force her to grapple with nature, tradition, history, true love, the spiritual mysteries of her culture-and eventually death itself.”
I loved many things about this book, fantastic post-apocalyptic worldbuilding, fascinating characters, and a captivating storyline, full of complexity. The writing is clean, giving Onyesonwu a clear voice as she narrates her life story.
Onyesonwu is a wonderfully interesting character, full of both anger and compassion, able to strike out and provide healing, desiring revenge and yet not wanting to engage in the violence she sees around her. Likewise, her companions and teachers (there are many) are complicated too, with a variety of motivations and assumptions based on traditions or superstitions.
The story includes descriptions of rape, genocide, female circumcision, stoning, child soldiers, and other real-world violence that is horrifying (and sometimes hard to read), and yet handled with honesty, precision, and care. In the face of all this horror, the story could have easily turned into a downer, but hope, love, and friendship are weaved into the story as well. The story is powerful, deeply resonant, and one to think about long after having put it down. An amazing work of art.
I will definitely be reading more by Nnedi Okorafor.
Does this blog title sound odd to you? Because it sounds odd to me.
I don’t remember the last time I’ve only finished one book over the course of a month, as I tend to average between 6-8 books a month. This is in part because of my busy November schedule and because my time was spent absorbing longer works. In addition to the one book I’ve completed, I spent the month working my way through the third volume of The Arabian Nights (which is 850 pages long, so I’m still not done after reading around 500 pages this month).
It was also a slow month in movie watching, with only one new-to-me movie watched. Though again, I spent time working my way through a longer storyline, binge watching ten episodes of The Walking Dead on my flight back from London, instead of catching up on current movies like I usually do.
All that is to say, here are my thoughts on the one new book and movie for this month.
Movie – Planet of the Apes (1968)
An astronaut journeying through space lands on a strange planet, on which the human-like inhabitants are mute and are ruled by intelligent apes. Captured and unable to speak due to an injury, the astronaut (played by Charlton Heston) is unable to express his intelligence and is treated like a caged wild animal.
While the makeup and special effects are corny by today’s standards, I totally understand why this movie is a classic. The storyline is compelling as it presents an interesting, critical look at what it means to be human, how we treat animals in cages, and the threat of human’s tendency toward violence. There are many layers and much that could provide ample space for critical discussion (I’m sure many essays and analyses exist). An excellent movie, so much more interesting than ANY remake that has come after it (and I’m sure sequels, too, though I haven’t seen all of them yet to be able to judge).
Book – Sleepwalk by John Saul
I’ve had this on my bookshelf for ages and finally picked it up because it was a lightweight paperback to take on the plane. It served its purpose as something to read, but it annoyed me in several ways. The main character was a teacher; I was a substitute and my sister and friend are teachers, and the descriptions of classrooms and schools in the book did not ring true. None of the characters were particularly interesting either and the evil corporation conspiracy storyline was cliche. Plus the story involved around the concept “noble natives” as connected to nature compared to the people in town people who blindly working at an oil refinery, which is destroying nature. It all felt like it was borrowing old ideas, tropes, and stereoypes mixed together into a novel. Not a winner.
1. Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie
2. Contact (audio book), by Carl Sagan
3. Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older
4. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
5. The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson
6. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (audio book) by Robert Louis Stevenson
Still reading at the end of the month: The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 3, which will probably take me a long while.
Please share what you have been reading in the comments. Nothing better than discussing books!
I received this book as a reward for supporting the kickstarter project that made it possible. “Most written chronicles of history, and most speculative stories, put rulers, conquerors, and invaders front and center,” the editors wrote in the project description. “People with less power, money, or status—enslaved people, indigenous people, people of color, queer people, laborers, women, people with disabilities, the very young and very old, and religious minorities, among others—are relegated to the margins.”
Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History provides alternative narratives, presenting the stories of people that the history books usually ignore. A wide ranging variety of voices populate this excellent collection of stories, offered alongside an individual black and white illustrations, also in a variety of styles. The stories are anchored in time and place, with the date and setting noted at the top of each one, this connection with real-world history makes these stories of the fantastic more believable. There was not a single one in this collection that I didn’t like and, for me, the stories ranged from good to utterly fantastic. Below are a few of my personal favorites.
“In the scant few decades in which humans have pursued radio astronomy, there has never been a real signal from the depths of space, something manufactured, something artificial, something contrived by an alien mind.
And yet the origin of life now seemed to be so easy — and there were so many billions of years available for biological evolution — that it was hard to believe the Galaxy was not teeming with life and intelligence.”
– from Contact by Carl Sagan
So many alien contact stories, especially those presented in movies, show a hostile force invading the Earth, forcing the human race to rally together in order to fight back. This is perspective is often driven by humanity’s history of violence and colonization, as well as human paranoia, such as with 1950s alien invasion movies as a metaphor for Cold War fears.
While I’ve enjoyed many an alien invasion stories (most recently, Falling Skies), I find myself drawn to and prefer first contact stories that are more positive or, at least, more ambiguous.
I think that is part of what made me love the movie Contact so much, when it was released in 1997, that story of ambiguous first contact with alien life based in scientific plausibility. It was a story not wholly built on paranoia and allowed for interesting perspectives to come through — How would people and government and religious groups react if an alien signal arrived from space? Plus it featured a complicated woman, heading the scientific investigation, played by the amazing Jodie Foster. I still get chills just rewatching the movie trailer.
“I’ll tell you one thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty big place. It’s bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it’s just us… seems like an awful waste of space.”
— from Contact (movie version)
It’s taken me a long time to get around to reading the novel, but it’s been on my to-read list ever since I’ve seen the movie. I’m so glad I did.
This is coming to you rather late due to my recent two weeks in Germany, two weeks of hard work and very little play. I’m planning to get a short post up tomorrow with the highlights of the trip, but for now…
1. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
2. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
3. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
4. Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
5. Locke & Key: Head Games, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
6. Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
7. Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
8. Locke & Key: Clockworks, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
9. Locke & Key: Alpha & Omega, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month:
• Contact by Carl Sagan, because the last CD of the audio book was too scratched to listen to and I’m still waiting to get the print edition from the library
• Blue (poems) by George Elliott Clarke
• Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox
• The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 3, which will take me a while to work through
It’s an awful, crappy (insert additional expletives) feeling when you’re in a creative slump, no matter what you’re working on, whether its writing, painting, or a new business proposal. Everyone goes through it — and yet it manages to be a terribly isolated feeling, like you’re trapped inside a dank, dark cave with no sign of rescue on the horizon.
Here are some things you can to do to help pull yourself out of the mire. Or, rather, I should say, here are a few things I’m currently doing to try to dig myself out of my own current slump. As with most bits of advice, your mileage may vary.
Seek Community Engagement
Go out and find fellow artists, writers, creators with which to interact. You can do this online, but if you’re really stuck, I recommend seeking a face-to-face experience. It provides a different level of osmosis. On a really good day, you can feel their excitement, their creativity energy coming off them. I don’t think of this as stealing, so much as basking in their sunlight. It’s great for gathering inspiration
My most recent foray was to attend Writers with Drinks at the Make-Out Room in San Francisco this weekend. Charlie Jane Anders is a live electrical wire on the stage and she always selects amazing writers to perform. It was a fantastic event and I felt energized by the end, excited to get some of my own words down.
1. Foucault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Echo
2. We’re All Infected: Essays on AMC’s The Walking Dead, edited by Dawn Keetley
3. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
4. The Essential Edgar Allan Poe (audio book) by Edgar Allan Poe
5. Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz
6. The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line: Veronica Mars #1, by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham7.
7. The Science of Herself, Plus… by Karen Joy Fowler
Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month:
• Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
• Blue (poems) by George Elliott Clarke
• Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox
• The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
It’s hard to know how to explain the story of House of Leaves, which is deeply layered. I suppose one could start the explanation with what is essentially the core story, Navidson, an acclaimed photographer moves with his family into a country home in order to rebuild bonds and find a calmer, more cohesive life together, only to discover that the house is much more than it seems.
That explanation just barely scratches the surface of this book, however. The story begins with Johnny Truant, who learns of the death of a man named Zampanó and discovers a chaotic stack of papers in the man’s empty apartment. As he starts to put them together, his life starts to fall apart.
1. Dracula, by Bram Stoker
2. A Good Indian Wife, by Anne Cherian
3. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying: Lessons from a Life in Comedy, by Carol Leifer
4. TEN (chapbook), by Val Dering Rojas
Still in progress at the end of the month: Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Echo and We’re All Infected: Essays on AMC’s the Walking Dead and the Fate of the Human by Dawn Keetley — these two books are the reason why it’s been such a slow reading month for me.
if he tried,
I would crumble
like the iridescent shell
of a beetle.
Val Dering Rojas’ TEN consists of ten long poems alongside ten mini-poems that explores the inner working of body and soul through the out workings of color and texture. The ten mini poems act as a form of chapter headings in between each of the longer pieces, providing a framework for the chapbook. Read together, all in one go, these mini-poems provide a poem of their own, which unveils a personal journey, from a place of a place of disconnecting from emotional wounding to a sense of inner calm, a spiritual awareness. As interjections, the mini-poems share thematic progression with the longer pieces.
In “An Instance of Affliction,” a medicine cabinet is contemplated, an “axis of obsolete / streets, old razors roads.” The medicine cabinet, the objects within, and the reflection in the mirror fade behind an deeper reflection. The material world itself becomes metaphor for personal experience.
“How To Leave” expresses the unpacking and dismantling of the meaning love with “its utopian tongue”, expressing both how love fails us and also all the things (objects and feelings) that must be left behind. “Love can’t be found / in these humble jars of honey, / in these everyday teaspoons.” At the same time, there is what remains in the leaving: “You are packing yourself up in bags, // stuffing yourself in boxes.” What do we have in the ending of a relationship, but ourselves? The objects (clothing, books, toiletries, towels, bedding), which gets stuffed into bags and boxes, become representative of the self. And yet, the poem, shows how the things we tell ourselves in leaving (“I hate love” or that “love / doesn’t know any truth at all”) are either lies or, at the least, half truths, because feeling, love, emotion lingers.
The progression of the poems eventually lead the reader to realize that the self is enough. In “While Alone at Topanga Thrift,” the narrator explores the feeling of space while discovering objects in a thrift store: “It occurs to me / that most things are made / to be filled; even now, / these old red dough-bowls / brim with sun.” As with the rest of the poems, it’s easy to relate the outer objects to the inner realm. The imagery of a tiny teacup or a ginger jar becomes moving and beautiful metaphor.
I can’t let you
see me cry,
but if you’d like,
I’ll tell you a sad story.
I’ve returned to these poems several times in the course of reading them, each time discovering something new — a turn of phrase to fall in love with, a deeper meaning to latch onto. Each poem is shown to be lovelier and more evocative each time I read it. All told, a lovely. wonderful collection and I hope to be able to read a full length book from Val in the near future.
Note: A review copy of TEN was provided by the author, whom i consider a friend. Take this review with as much of a grain of salt to taste.
1. The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home, by Margaret Atwood and Naomie Alderman
2. Red, by E.J. Koh
3. The Complete Guide to Buying a Business, by Fred Steingold (DNF)
4. Hum, by Jamaal May
5. The Blue Place, by Nicola Griffith
6. Fangirl (audio book), by Rainbow Rowell
7. Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need, by Blake Snyder
8. Parasite, by Mira Grant
9. The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Vol. 2
Volume 2 of The Arabian Nights begins with night 295 of tales and goes through night 719. The stories at the beginning of the book are all very short, some only around a page or two long, and it wasn’t until about halfway through the book that the tales grew into longer epics once again, including the seven voyages of Sindbad. There’s a lot of risk of tedium when you binge read these books like I’m doing. The shorter tales all stacked on top of each other begin to blur together and longer tales can grow to such epic lengths as to be too long, and long or short there are repeated kinds of stories, themes, and phrases throughout. But if I had not read these books in the rapid way I’m going, I’m not sure that I would have figured out the genius of Shahrazad. Continue reading “Thoughts on The Arabian Nights, Vol. 2”
Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder provides a guide to screenwriting from an industry perspective, focusing on what a writer needs to do to prep for the act of writing. These techniques include creating a logline (or one-line), watching and analyzing movies in your chosen genre, creating a beat sheet, and building a board to layout scenes as a form of outlining. Skipping over actually writing process, he then reveals some screenplay “rules” and somethings to look for during edits if the finished draft isn’t working.
44. [Fangirl] (audio book), by Rainbow Rowell (*****)
Category: Part Four – Just Because
Prepare for caplocks and lots of squee.
Cath and her twin sister Wren have loved Simon Snow since they were kids and avidly lived in the fandom, reading, discussing, and writing fanfic. But when go to college, they head for college, Wren wants her own life and to leave all that behind. Facing a new school with new social rules by herself, Cath retreats further into the fanfic worlds she’s created and that she refuses to leave behind.
I love, love, LOVE this book. Normally I only listen to audio books in the morning on my way to work, because after work I’m too mentally tired to pay attention. But with Fangirl, I couldn’t stop listening, using every available moment in the car that I could to keep listening.
Hum by Jamaal May
Publisher: Alice James Books
Date Published: November 2013
Description: “In May’s debut collection, poems buzz and purr like a well-oiled chassis. Grit, trial, and song thrum through tight syntax and deft prosody. From the resilient pulse of an abandoned machine to the sinuous lament of origami animals, here is the ever-changing hum that vibrates through us all, connecting one mind to the next.”
I admit to being drawn to this collection because of the gorgeous cover and its steampunk robot with a birdcage head, which immediately sparked my imagination. The physical book itself is also beautiful, with a lovely typeset. A smattering of dark pages, each for a “phobia” poem (such as Athazagoraphobia: Fear of Being Ignored”), appear throughout the book, starting out black at first then lightening toward softer grays. It’s an interesting way to highlight a set of associated poems and there’s a subtle effect to reading words with white text on a dark page that suits the “phobia” poems. For example, reading “Athazagoraphobia: Fear of Being Ignored” on one of the rare black pages in the books creates an interesting contrast between text and the physical page.
Hum is dedicated to “to the inner lives of Detroiters.” When I think of Detroit these days, I picture photo essays that show the city in seemingly apocalypticstates of decay. May’s poems reflect this state of everyday apocalypse. “Still Life” presents a “Boy with roof shingles / duct taped to shins and forearms / threading barbed wire through pant loops” as well as other trash can armor in the face of what seems to be a wasteland. While in “The Girl Who Builds Rockets from Bricks,” a girl wanders in “the caverns of deserted houses,” performing “her excavation for spare parts: // shards of whiskey bottle, matches, / anthills erupting from concrete // seams, the discarded husk / of a beetle.”
1. Red Hood’s Revenge, by Jim C. Hines
2. The Snow Queen’s Shadow, by Jim C. Hines
4. Practicing Disaster by Jessie Carty
5. Wormwood by G.P. Taylor
6. Boxers by Gene Luen Yang
7. Saints by Gene Luen Yang
8. Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
Still in progress at the end of the month: The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 2.
I don’t even know how to talk about this book with out flailing with joy.
I love the characters. After years of homeschooling, Maggie is starting public school and finds herself lost and lonely in a crowd of people. I could feel that to the core. She has three brothers, each of whom is unique to themselves and make up part of her big family. It’s great to see them fight and laugh and be an imperfect, trying to be happy family. (Can I just say how great it is to see a main character who has relationships with her family?) Maggie also makes two friends, a punk-style brother and sister duo, both of whom are wonderful characters.
I love the art. It captures the unique personalities of the characters and expresses their emotions so well, often without needing dialog over-layering it. It’s just really beautiful.
I love the geekery. These characters have things they love and it’s clear they really, really love them. It fills me joy to see characters flailing with glee over something they love (much as I’m flailing over this book).
I love the story. It’s really funny and sweet, and it made me happy cry by the end.
Friends with Boys is practically perfect in every way and I will definitely be reading more by Faith Erin Hicks.
“You wish you had coined the word zaftig; that you were OK with abdomens that hung over bikini bottoms.”
— from “Zaftig Profiling”
Practicing Disaster is collection of narrative poetry presenting an exploration of ordinary lives. These are people you could meet on the street, from the a sixteen-year-old hotel maid to a short order cook to any number of strangers you might meet on the street. For example, in “Eating at Work,” an employee travels further and further afield in search of lunchtime solitude. While in “Some Basic Consumer Math,” the owners of a Chinese restaurant tailor their food for their most loyal customers, all from the retirement home nearby, making their Sa-Cha chicken “about as mild as the contents / of a store bought spaghetti sauce.”
Some of the prose poems, in which thought condenses into thought, are among my favorites. They allow a free flow feel of the poem, different from the lined sister poems. In “I was 36”, the narrator describes her first experience getting a pedicure, remembering the same sloughing off of her grandmother’s feet. In that youthful remembering is the memory of childhood discovery and the “lesson in not going through other people’s personal affects”, and just as one can “flake off the dead skin” there is the feeling of flaking off the past.
“The Patient” also explores time passing, like the dropping of green beans into a bucket or the beeping of machines: “The doctor uses the word / aphasia / I focus on the center— / a phase / a moment.” The disjointed, jigsaw pattern of the words on the page (which I couldn’t possibly replicate here) matched the disjointed experience of a patient in the hospital, as well as the way the past jumps forward and seems to collide and become a part of the present.
In the titular poem, a women plays with the idea of disaster on her commute, imagining “overpasses from her car could spill like ink in blotchy slow motion,” and how she might shape catastrophe to set herself free. Knowing the trapped feeling of the commute, I can sympathize with the narrator, have even practiced a few of my own disasters.
Many of these poems reflect similar kinds of personal experience, even if they are outside us (as though we are people watching at a corner cafe). As a reader, there a sense of Yes, me, too; I’ve felt the same. Reading “Zaftig Profiling” (quoted at the top), I also wished I had coined the word zaftig, that I could, as mentioned later in the poem, laugh loudly in mixed company.
At first glance, what’s revealed in these poems could be described as mundane, bits of ordinary lives normally passed over or cast away as unimportant. The narrative voice of these poems, likewise, is straightforward, seemingly plain. However, this initial impression is deceiving. I’ve read through this collection twice now and have made new discoveries on each read, subtleties of voice and thought I hadn’t noticed the first go around. There are layers of humor, breaths of poignancy, beautiful discoveries.
Edited to Add: I should probably note that I received a free review copy from the author.
Live from the Homesick Jamboree is a brave, brash, funny, and tragic hue and cry on growing up female during the 1970s, “when everything was always so awash” that the speaker finds herself adrift among adults who act like children. The book moves from adolescence through a dry-eyed, poignant exploration of two marriages, motherhood, and the larger world, with the headlong perceptiveness and brio characteristic of Adrian Blevins’s work. This poetry is plainspoken and streetwise, brutal and beautiful, provocative and self-incriminating, with much musicality and a corrosive bravura, brilliantly complicated by bursts of vernacular language and flashes of compassion. Whether listening to Emmylou Harris while thinking she should be memorizing Tolstoy, reflecting on her “full-to-bursting motherliness,” aging body, the tensions and lurchings of a relationship, or “the cockamamie lovingness” of it all, the language flies fast and furious.
I’m stoked to read this. Poetry is joy afterall. (^_^)
1. The City & The City, China Miéville (one of the best I’ve read this year)
2. Creepers, by David Morrell
3. The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 1
4. Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins
5. lost boy lost girl, by Peter Straub
6. Camouflage, by Joe Haldeman
7. The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo
8. The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
9. Hourglass Museum (poetry), by Kelli Russell Agodon
10. The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
“If you think you are the mermaid, think again.
You are the ocean holding the mermaid afloat,
trying to change the world one dolphin at a time.”
— from the poem “Souvenir Boxes”
Agodon’s poetry explores a variety of themes within Hourglass Museum. As the title suggests, art is an important source of inspiration here (as can also be seen in the long list of notes at the end of the book), with poems referencing great artists such as Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol. The idea of preservation, via canvass, poem, or as a collection in a museum, of moments captured and held in stasis through artifice and creation are a constant in these poems.
“Dark matter angels mingle over oceans
and bubbling cities filled with unopened jars,
all we had were cupboards and cupboards
— from the poem “A Moment Ago, Everything Was Beautiful”
The outward inspiration of art and museums, is drawn into the personal scope of Agodon’s personal life, both her inner emotional realm and the outer realm of home and family and relationships. This connection between art and home works well, since as human being we often take memories and put them on the shelves of our minds, we collect pieces of anger and store them for later use, attach joy to simple objects, return to each of them again and again, revisit, and Agodon’s poetry reflects this.
“I place solitude in a frame on my desk
and call it, The one I love.”
— from the poem “Line Forms Here”
She explores a variety of emotional states, including depression and loneliness. The language beautifully expresses these emotions and allowed me to connect with them personally. I could see myself in these moments of darkness and in the ways a write approaches such moments, especially through pen. I think these feelings are approachable from a variety of perspectives, allowing many kinds readers to feel them.
“There’s no dessert in the picnic basket,
so I swallow time. My mouth is full
of hands and numbers. I ask for seconds.”
— from the poem “Drowning Girl: A Waterlogged Ars Poetica”
And yet, there is a sense of humor throughout, too, a poking of fun at the supposed importance of depression, so that such darker subjects cannot drag down the reader and instead allow them to explore and transverse the state. It brings a lightness to the poems that makes them great to read.
“I escape disaster by writing a poem with a joke in it:
The past, present, and future walk into a bar — it was tense.”
— from the poem “Sketchbook with an Undercurrent of Grief”
All in all, this was a wonderful collection and, though I own it in digital format, I’m contemplating buying it again in print format as well, just so I can add the tactile sensation to my enjoyment of the book.
“Madness is a meaningful way to exist.”
— from the poem “Menacing Gods: An Abstract”
When King Shahriyar discovers his wife to be unfaithful, he begins to marry young women, only to behead them in the morning. In order to save the young women of the region, Shahrazad gives herself to the King Shahriyar. She is not expected to survive beyond dawn, but during the night she begins to tell tales, each night ending the story in the middle, leaving the king desperate to learn the ending and allowing Shahrazad to live another day.
One of my reading goals for this year is to read the complete version of A Thousand and One Nights. My aim was to find a translation that was as complete as possible, including “Aladdin” and “Ali Babba and the Forty Thieves“, both of which were added in the 1700-1800s. Since there are many translations, I eventually settled in the Penguin Classics version, The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights, which comes in three giant volumes and claims to be as complete as possible. (Plus I really liked the covers.)
Volume 1 is 980 pages long. It includes the beginning of Shahrazad’s marriage to Shahriyar and provides up through night 294 of tales, as well as “Ali Babba and the Forty Thieves” as an appendix.
Shahrazad’s tales range from adventure yarns with djinn to morality tales, love stories, fables, and war epics. Despite the variety of tales, there was also a great level of repetition, with similar descriptions of characters or expected outcomes. Though this should be expected due to how many stories there are, it can get burdensome for some readers, I’m sure.
The stories are also often nested, a tale within a tale within a tale. Just as Shahrazad saves herself through the telling of the tales, many of the characters within her stories also save themselves from death in a similar way. For example, kings are of ten saying, tell me story more wonderful than what has just happened or I’ll cut off your head. The nesting not only allows Shahrazad a longer tale to tell, which keeps her alive for more nights, but also shows how valuable the act of storytelling was thought to be. Sometimes the nesting becomes a bit too much, though, and there are so many stories within stories, it can be easy to forget the original story, until it’s finally returned many pages (and nights) later. Continue reading “Thoughts on The Arabian Nights, Vol. 1”
1. 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson (***1/2)
2. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt (DNF)
3. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (audio book), by Michael Chabon, read by Peter Riegert (*****)
4. The Missing by Sarah Langan (***)
5. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (****)
6. March by Geraldine Brooks (****)
7. Kira-Kira (audiobook) by Cynthia Kadohata (****)
8. The Worm by Elise Gravel (****)
9. Scarecrow Gods by Weston Ochse (*)
10. Colaterales/Collateral by Dianapiera Di Dontao (****)
Well, it was more like “listened” since this was the audio book, read by Peter Riegert, who was fantastic. Riegert has the perfect gravelly voice for a hard broiled detective novel and it adds to the mood of the book beautifully.
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is first a detective novel, playing off the traditional noir genre with sarcastic, mouthy homicide detective Meyer Landsman looking into the shooting of a former chess prodigy and heroine addict. The investigation leads him through the various seedy realms of Yiddish Sitka, Alaska* and it unfolds like a great chess game in which he finds himself “contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, evil, and salvation that are his heritage.” Like most hard broiled detectives, Landsman finds himself seeking his own salvation as he tries to uncover truths.
The book is also a fascinating alternate history, because Yiddish Sitka never existed. Chabon unfolds a fully realized, multi-layered imagining of what this island and its inhabitants would look like if it did, full of worldwide politics and local eccentricities. The details are rich and I could feel both the cold of Alaska and visualize the inner workings of this Jewish community.
On top of a fantastic, complicated plot and an fascinating litany of character, there’s Chabon’s writing style — poetic and rich and beautiful. When he describes a grimy hotel, you can feel the dirt getting underneath your fingernails. When he speaks of breathing in the cold, your teeth ache in sympathy. Chabon is just so, so good.
When the audio book ended and the last word was read, I sat back with a happy sigh and thought to myself, Well. That was just about perfect.
The audio book also includes an interview with Chabon following the book, in which he provides insight into how he came to write the story and how he approached the writing. I love that kind of thing.
*Yay, Alaska! Including Alaska in a story immediately grabs my attention.
I always mean to read more lit journals, both online and in print, but never seem to get around to actually doing so. Managed it this time, and the experience made it clear why I need to do so more often.
Kristina McDonald’s “Dear Prince“, in particular, gave me chills. The poem is from Cinderella’s point of view and I love how the image of the glass slipper is used and where it’s taken. She does a wonderful audio reading of the poem, too.
I’ve been meaning to do a wrap up of FOGcon 4 with a detailed account of the panels I attended like I did with Day One (mentions a panel discussing rape), but I have not had the time or energy to pull it off. I also have to play catch up with two movie review posts that are long overdue, so I’m going to present you with the FOGcon short version here, which is:
It was fabulous.
The honored guests, Seanan McGuire and Tim Powers, were both great. Seanan McGuire was hilarious and nearly had me falling off my chair laughing at some points, and she’s also powerful in the way she passionately speaks on subjects she cares about. Tim Powers was funny and wonderful in entirely different ways. It’s always great to meet the authors you enjoy reading, especially if you find them delightful.
FOGcon also featured an Honored Ghost: James Tiptree, Jr. and there was a panel dedicated to her memory. Moderator and panalists, Debbie Notkin, Bradford Lyau, Pat Murphy, and Naamen Gobert Tilahun were wonderfully passionate and knowledgeable about her life and work, making it a wonderful panel to attend. I haven’t read any of Tiptree’s work, but now it’s clear I’m going to have to.
In fact, throughout the event I found the panels and discussions entertaining and mind-opening.
Also, I picked up some lovely books.
Book grab include:
The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow by Cory Doctorow
The Science of Herself by Karen Joy Fowler
The Wild Girls by Ursula K. Le Guinn
Report from Planet Midnight by Nalo Hopkinson
Links: A Collection of Short Stories by Kaylia M. Metcalfe
Not pictured: a short story mini-chapbook called “Rats!” by Brett James, as well as a copy of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Realms of Fantasy
The “Plus…” series of books are very cool, because in addition to including a novella, they also include essays and interviews and other goodies.
The entire experience of FOGcon left me feeling inspired and joyful and wanting to get back to writing, which is exactly the feeling I need right now.
FOGcon 5 (2015) will have the theme “The Traveler” and will have Kim Stanley Robinson and Catherynne M. Valente as honored guests (OMG!), which sounds so amazing. The dates will immediately go into my calendar and I just hope that I don’t have any work trips that will conflict with the event.
1. Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys by Gilbert King
2. Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
3. Tinkers (audio book), by Paul Harding
4. The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, by Caitlin R. Kiernan
5. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
1. Redshirts, by John Scalzi
2. Among Others, Jo Walton
3. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (audio book), by Junot Diaz
4. Bleak House, by Charles Dickens
5. The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate
Interesting Reading Fact: All three of my first three reads heavily referenced science fiction and fantasy literature, which was expected with Redshirts, but was more of a surprise with Among Others and Oscar Wao. I always find it interesting when the books I read are thematically connected in some unexpected way.
Books Still in Progress at the End of the Month:Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King (riveting!) and The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights, Volume 1 (wonderful, readable stories).
STATS: Total Books Read = 100, of which
67 were Fiction (a mix of scifi, fantasy, horror, and classics)
9 were Nonfiction
13 were Comics/Graphic Novels
11 were Poetry
11 were Audio Books
1 was DNF (read enough to count it, but didn’t actually finish)
Best Reads in 2013
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman Dying is My Business, by Nicolas Kaufmann The House of Mirth (audio book), by Edith Wharton Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson American Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E Butler The Replacement, by Brenna Yovanoff 17 & Gone, by Nova Ren Suma Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
Best Science Fiction Book Parable of the Sower was a reread and I loved this apocalyptic world and the survivors who wander through it just as much the second time around as I did the first.
Runner Up: Even with all the techno babble, Solaris by Stanislaw Lem was fascinating.
Best Horror Novel Rosemary’s Baby just about blew my mind. On the surface, it’s almost not a horror story. It reads like a literary tale of a couple dealing with the challenges of creating a home for themselves, and yet, the thread of threat is subtly there throughout. It’s amazing.
Best YA Novel
Though there are three great YA novels in my best of list, I think I’ll go with Eleanor & Park for my top. It’s just such a sweet story of young love between awkward teenagers.
Best Short Story Collection
I really enjoyed Scheherazade’s Facade: Fantastical Tales of Gender Bending, Cross-Dressing, and Transformation, edited by Michael M. Jones. The stories are consistently good throughout and explore many aspects of gender while telling entertaining speculative tales.
Best Graphic Novel
Alison Bechdel presents a moving portrait of her young years in Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, a story as much about her father and his eventual suicide. The mix of literature and cultural references, along with the structure makes this a fantastic read.
Runner Up: Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol is a fantastic ghost story, which is scary and well told.
Best Poetry Book The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry, edited by Rose Lemberg was by far my favorite poetry read this year. It was a fantastic mix of poetry and voices, all with the speculative spin that I love.
Runner Up: Domestic Work: Poems, by Natasha Trethewey
Best Poetry Chapbook 8th Grade Hippie Chic by Marisa Crawford is a lovely exploration of youth with moments of hurt and humor. Highly recommended.
Best Nonfiction Book The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir by Wenguang Huang told the story of a family torn between honoring their grandmother’s wishes for a proper, traditional burial and respecting the new communist system, which requires cremation. This painted an honest look at family life and was a fascinating look at Chinese culture in a state of transition.
Best Audio Book
Eleanor Bron’s reading of The House of Mirth is spot on. She hit the perfect tone for the story, which contributed to it also winning the honorary award of Book that Made Me Weep in the Front Seat of My Car.
What were your favorite reads this year? Let me know in the comments.
1. Slice of Cherry, by Dia Reeves (***1/2)
2. Two Mini-Chapooks: 8th Grade Hippie Chic by Marisa Crawford (*****) and No Experiences: Poems by Erin J. Watson (****)
3. Fables, Vol. 13: The Great Fables Crossover, by Bill Willingham and multiple illustrators (***)
4. Fables, Vol. 14: Witches, by Bill Willingham and multiple illustrators (****)
5. Fables, Vol. 15: Rose Red, by Bill Willingham and multiple illustrators (****1/2)
6. Fables, Vol. 16: Super Team, by Bill Willingham and multiple illustrators (***1/2)
7. Fables, Vol. 17: Inherit the Wind, by Bill Willingham and multiple illustrators (***1/2)
8. A Handful of Dust, by Evelyn Waugh (****)
9. Trustee from the Toolroom (audio book), by Nevil Shute (****)
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chboski (****)
11. Bunnicula, by Deborah and James Howe (****)
12. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (****)
13. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, by Douglas Adams (***1/2)
14. Life, the Universe and Everything, by Douglas Adams (****)
15. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, by Douglas Adams (****)
16. Mostly Harmless, by Douglas Adams (**)
17. The Illustrated Man (audio book), by Ray Bradbury (****)
18. Currency of Souls, by Kealan Patrick Burke (***1/2)
19. How to Kill a Vampire: Fangs in Folklore, Film and Fiction, by Liisa Ladouceur (***)
20. Lucky Bastard, by S.G. Browne (****)
21. In the Night Room, by Peter Straub (***)
22. Bleeding Violet, by Dia Reeves (****)
I let myself just chill and decompress all last week after the boatload of November’s challenges, so there’s not much to report.
In Writing: At this point, I need to get back to finishing the novel draft. Ideally, I would complete it by the end of December, but I’m not sure I’m going to do that. I basically need to get enough down on the page to be able to edit and I’m not sure struggling through the rest of this draft is the most productive or whether going back and beginning the rewrite process might give me a better sense of where I want to go at the end. Nevertheless, I plan to see what I can get done before the end of the year.
In Body: I kind of slacked off on the running in November, and I’m feeling drawn to get back into it. My body needs it, I can tell.
I’m also trying to get back into a better eating routine, since my habits got all wonky from the comfort eating during the challenges and the Thanksgiving aftermath.
In Reading: I’m enjoying Perks of Being a Wallflower. The structure is interesting, even if it makes for a less poetic flow of words. So far it feels very honest in the sense I think this is how a kid would write, even if this 15 year old sounds younger than other 15 year olds I’ve met.
In Other News: It’s cold outside and dark. Keep in mind I live in Bay Area, California, so those comments are relative. Also, despite spending part of my youth in Alaska, I am now a wimp.
Christmas tree is up in my mom’s house. It took a lot of laughter and two rum-strong eggnogs to accomplish this, due to the tree nearly falling over while we were putting the star on top, ornaments shattering, and light fiascoes. It was a good time, though.
What Needs to Be Accomplished This Week:
Write 3,500 words on Under the Midday Moon (~500/day)
Submit something (poem, story, whatever)
Do a minimum of three workouts (0/3), not including morning yoga
Gift Shopping for the Holidays (le sigh)
How was your week? Are you starting to wind down for the end of the year? Or are you ramping up to get some last minute goals accomplished?
When you French-kissed the class president on the school trip to Boston and we wore yellow feathers in our hair, and I dropped my beaded red velour bag into the harbor, it opened up a crack of light for me.”
— from 8th Grade Hippie Chick
This chapbook of inter connected prose poems calls on the ghosts of memory and youth, unveiling the pain and joy of friendship and young love. Each poem captures a moment with more fluidity than a photograph and opens up the wounds and intimacies of friendship with all it’s music and play and clothing and crushes.
Marisa draws on the small things (“I was wearing a silver ring that said, ‘Imagine’ on it.”), on the little details (“A closet full of Beatles shirts. Tie-dye. A hot pink aura.”) to open up aches and joys. Presented in short paragraphs of text, her words flow over one another to reveal the wider inner world of being young girls. Reading this book, I found myself nostalgic for days and ways that were not my own, longing for a youth that was at once so similar and yet vastly different from my own.
I adore this little stitched book as much as I adored Marisa’s first collection of poems, The Haunted House, which touches on similar themes. I may be biased, since I know Marisa from when we worked at Aunt Lute Books together and I consider her a friend. But she has such a unique voice and her words pluck a cord inside me and resonate with my inner girlhood, and I can’t wait to read more of her work. I wish her many future successes.
“What is a poem after all? you say.
Maybe it is a kind of possessing
a heap of rocks, a buoy or anything”
— from No Experiences
This collection of 24 short poems by Erin Watson began as a playful response to the randomly wise ravings of a popular spam horse, @Horse_ebooks on twitter. The spam horse account spewed phrases that revealed hidden poetry. For each of these poems, Erin took one spam tweet and built a poem around it, posting each one online. Later she kickstarter funded a physical chapbook of the poetry, which is how I discovered the project (and spam horse).
Coming from an experimental project as it did, Erin’s poetry is playful and surprising, each short line taking unexpected twists and turns. The poems are thick with layered images and meaning and they’re the kind of poems that fill up the small space they encompass. They’re poems to sit with and consider the many possible meanings of, they’re poems to read over and over again, to giggle at, to enjoy.
I asked how Erin felt about this, and this was her wonderful response:
“Yeah. I’ve been thinking about it a lot today: like, why does it feel a little duplicitous that something wonderful was someone’s wonderful creation instead of a weird mistake? I don’t know, mostly I’m grateful that I got to inhabit a moment where it seemed real and make a thing with the means available. Everyone should make their own weirdness in the world.”
I’m glad she got to inhabit this moment, too and that it allowed me to read and discover her poetry. I also hope she’s still avidly writing and that she will release more of her words into the world soon.
1. Go Tell it on the Mountain (audio book), by James Baldwin (****)
2. Each Peach Plum Pear, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg (*****)
3. Le Mort d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory (DNF)
4. The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey, by Ernesto “Che” Guevera (***1/2)
5. Dying is My Business, by Nicolas Kaufmann (*****)
6. A Passage to India (audio book), by E.M. Forster (***1/2)
7. A Bend In The River, by V.S. Naipaul (***1/2)
8. Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell (****)
9. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A New Verse Translation, by anonymous, translated by Simon Armitage (****)
10. Domestic Work: Poems, by Natasha Trethewey (****)
1. Thanksgiving yesterday was great, family and food filled fun. Lots of laughing and eating. Turkey and stuffing and salad and twice baked potatoes and candied yams and green beans with bacon, not to mention pecan pies and apple pie and pumpkin cheesecake — all homemade, by the way. Plus lots and lots of champagne.
2. I received a rejection for a poetry chapbook submission, called The Letterbox, sent out many months ago. The rejection included a personal note, thanking me for submitting. The editor said I had a nice narrative arc to my poems and suggested that I submit again. I never take rejections to heart, because they are a part of the process of being a writer, but it’s always great to see that personal touch and get a bit of encouragement.
3. I have no motivation to do anything at all, even though I’m supposed to pull off 18,000 words before midnight tomorrow. *sigh*
4. I’m am enjoying reading Slice of Cheery by Dia Reeves, which has consumed most of my day so far.
5. I’m sure I have enough motivation to seek out more pecan pie, though. Mmmmm, pie. And then a nap.
I bought Eleanor & Park in support of the author due to a censorship controversy that happened, in which parents in Minnesota convinced a local school district, county board, and local library board to cancel Rainbow Rowell’s reading and speaking events, because they believe the book to be obscene.
I am ridiculously glad I bought this book, because it turned out to be one of my favorite books this year. It’s an incredibly funny and sweet love story between two outcast teenagers. The rub for these parents, I suppose, is that Rowell approached the story with honesty, the teenagers are intimate (but not overtly so) and cuss as a direct result of the abuse and bullying they witness. Rowell is an author who doesn’t pull punches, but she does so skillfully to reveal truth and offer hope in bleak circumstances.
Park is something of an outcast. He’s not tormented by the other kids because of being “grandfathered” into the community as one of the locals, but he still doesn’t quite fit in. He doesn’t meet his dad’s standards of being manly or his school’s standards of being cool, so he kind of floats in an in between place of not being friendless while also being rather lonely.
Eleanor moves back in with her mom, brothers, sister, and abusive stepdad after having been kicked out of the house for a year. The loneliness of having been excluded of her family life has left its mark on her and she feels like an outsider in her own home. Desperate to not be abandoned again, she does her best fit within her step father’s rules, while also avoiding him. At school, her sense of exclusion is continued with bullying from the popular kids, who continually call her names and harass her.
Eleanor and Park meet as she climbs the bus for the first time on the way to school. The bus has its own rules and hierarchies, into which Eleanor does not fit and it leaves her standing in the aisle as the bus jolts into motion. Park’s first intention to is to leave her hanging like the rest, but he scoots aside and lets Eleanor sit with him. What starts out as indifference grows into friendship as the two begin sharing and exchanging music and comics, then as their friendship blooms into trust it becomes love.
I loved Rowell’s writing style, which was clean and occasionally poetic. (“His eyes were so green, they could turn carbon dioxide into oxygen.”) And I love how she structured the story, with it being told from both Eleanor and Park’s point of views. This allowed for one part of the conflict to exist in misunderstandings in the way we perceive ourselves and how we think people perceive us. Neither Park nor Eleanor are mind readers and so often presume the negative (he must hate me, she must be embarrassed by my, he must think I’m fat), when the reality is that the thing one is most embarrassed by is one of the things the other loves most.
The way the relationship grows and changes and becomes slowly more intimate throughout the novel is touching and funny and sad. It’s really a great read and one I would recommend to anyone who likes bitter-sweet romance.
As a reader, I can’t help noticing patterns that emerge in the stories I read. Sometimes these stories are spot on, and sometimes I find myself longing for different kinds of stories than what I see on the pages. Here are a few tropes or plots points I would like see occur in more books.*
1. Books That Start with the Characters Already in a Romantic Relationship
So many stories, from romance novels to YA fantasy, begin with two strangers meeting for the first time, having instant attraction, and ultimately finding their way to love. These stories are great, and I enjoy them just as much as the next person.
But these stories seem to stem from the idea the Falling-in-Love aspect is the only interesting or challenging part of a relationship. If our two heroes can just get past these hurdles, then they’ll realize it’s True Love and they’ll be guaranteed their happily ever after.
The reality is that relationships are hard work. It involves day-to-day acts of compassion, understanding, and compromise in order to stay in love.
Staying-in-Love has the potential to be just as compelling and romantic a trope as Falling-in-Love, and would be great to see more stories begin with characters already in a relationship, which they have to hold on to through the storm.
2. Non-Romantic Relationships
Again this is me not so much turning away from romance, but wanting an addendum to it. Many stories, particularly in YA books, focus on the love story to the end that other relationships fade to the background. Sometimes that happens, a person falls in love and is so wrapped up in the feeling, they can’t make the other valuable relationships with friends and family fit in.
But I think life tends to be more multilayered than that and with all the levels of relationships and love — mothers, fathers, siblings, best friends, cousins, etc. — there is a lot of room for emotional complexity. I’m not saying ditch the romance (though I kind of am with my book), but alongside falling in love, lets have some of the other kinds of relationships, too.
I told Miyazaki I love the “gratuitous motion” in his films; instead of every movement being dictated by the story, sometimes people will just sit for a moment, or they will sigh, or look in a running stream, or do something extra, not to advance the story but only to give the sense of time and place and who they are.
“We have a word for that in Japanese,” Miyazaki said. “It’s called ma. Emptiness. It’s there intentionally.”
Is that like the “pillow words” that separate phrases in Japanese poetry?
“I don’t think it’s like the pillow word.” He clapped his hands three or four times. “The time in between my clapping is ma. If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it’s just busyness. But if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension. If you just have constant tension at 80 degrees all the time you just get numb.
Reading this, I thought about how many stories just power through to the ending in one action sequence after another without allowing that space to breathe and feel something.
Placing a quiet, still moment into a story seems easier in a movie, because it’s a visual form. But I think it’s possible to achieve in books, too, and I would like to see more stories, normally rife with action allow a space for the reader to feel about the characters before plunging in again.
What are tropes, plots, ideas that you would like to see appear in more novels?
*And, as I long to see these things, I find myself drawn to writing them in order to fulfill that desire.
* * *
Since this is supposed to be a Friday Five post, here are two more unrelated Things you may be interested in checking out:
“The Man Card concept specifically, however, is insulting to men and women in what it’s saying about our respective roles. Men are supposed be this way, not that way. Do these things, not those things. You’re not a man if you don’t fit society’s (or some section thereof’s) definition of one, and, unfortunately, people who joke this way are denigrating empathy, sympathy, respect for women, honesty, sensitivity, and responsibility. They’re saying real men prize getting their way over cooperating or compromising. Real men don’t care what their girlfriends or wives think. Real men do what they want.
This is dangerous.”
2. Check out Malinda Lo’s Guide to YA. Malinda Lo is the author of a great Cinderella retelling, called Ash, and she’s writing a multitude of posts YA novels, particularly those with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender characters or issues. If you’re a writer at all interested in writing about GBLTQ characters or issues, then I highly recommend working your way through this reading list.
I had plans, you know. I had things to do. But no, you had to provide me with the awesome that is Dying is My Business. Now my laundry remains unfolded. Stacks of papers and other detritus continue to clutter my shelves. All the words I planned to write remain unwritten. And I’m can’t seem to rub the glue from my eyes, as I try to recover from the hours of sleep I lost last night in the desperate need to finish reading.
I was absorbed by the story from page one, when Trent wakes from being shot and killed yet again with another dried out husk of a body nearby. The trade off for his return to life is that someone else must die. As an apparent side effect of his condition, Trent has also lost all of his memories beyond one year before. He’s been taken in by Underwood, a twisted and violent crime boss, who exploits his abilities and sends him out to “collect” various things. Trent’s latest assignment to collect a mysterious box quickly leads him into a new understanding of the world, a world that includes magic, gargoyles, and a whole slew of things most people never knew existed.
Having an amnesiac main character can potentially be annoying, if not handled well. But Trent as a character is spot on. His loss of self and personal history has caused him to be cynical and fatalistic in understandable ways. He longs for the truth about his past without becoming tedious or whiny, and it’s easy to see how Underwood could have drawn him in by promising those truths. Trent is sometimes protagonist, sometimes antagonist, and sometimes both. He carries a great level of guilt for the lives he’s taken and the crimes he’s committed, making for a conflicted and fascinating character.
Now, can I just take a moment express my love for Bethany? This diminutive, spright-like young woman with a passion for the rules, a troubled past, and vest full of charms that will lay you on your ass has won my heart. She is hard edged, intelligent, honest, and kind. She is, in a phrase, many kinds of awesome.
And then there is poor, poor Thompson Thornton (Whoops. Knew I was getting it wrong). My heart is all asunder from his hopeful bravery and ability to crack jokes in the face of his tragedy.
I have love for all the characters really, even the nasty ones. Underwood and his cronies are cruel and unsettling in the most delightful ways. The Black Knight is destructive, powerful, and greedy for power. I shiver at the thought of ever meeting anyone of them in a dark alley.
Last night, I could not stop reading. I turned page after page, ignoring the episodes of Big Bang Theory my roommate turned on and loosing — as I mentioned — much sleep. I continued reading even as my friend began to turn of all the lights in the house, leaving only a single lamp behind my head to illuminate the pages.
Upon finally reaching the end, I began to flail. “No!” I cried, waking my roommate from her deep slumber. “Why?! Why is it over? I need more book! Why isn’t there more book?!”
You’re ending gave me chills, and I find myself awash with feels, saddened and maddened that it’s over. How can it be over, when I want so much to keep reading, to know what happens next, to know the fates of the characters I’ve come to love?
Why would you do this to me, Mr. Kaufmann? What am I supposed to do with my life now?
This had better be the beginning of a series with the second book to come in the near future. Because if I do not have the sequel soon, I will be forced find a way to flay you in a manner that would make Underwood grin.
1. In Search of Captain Zero: A Surfer’s Road Trip Beyond the End of the Road, by Allan Weisbecker (***1/2)
2. Zone One (audio book), by Colson Whitehead (****)
3. Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes (****)
4. Day Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko (***1/2)
5. Alice in Wonderland: A Color Primer, by Jennifer Adams, art by Alison Oliver (*****)
6. The War of the Worlds, by HG Wells (***1/2)
7. A Stir of Echoes, by Richard Matheson (****)
8. The Eye Book, by Dr. Seuss (writing as Theo LeSieg) (****)
9. American Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett (*****)
1. The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling (****)
2. Burnout, written by Rebecca Donner, illustrated by Inaki Miranda (**1/2)
3. The Outcast Oracle, by Laury A Egan (****)
4. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman (*****)
5. Sister Slam and the Poetic Motormouth Road Trip, by Linda Oatman High (***1/2)
6. Memento Mori, by Murial Spark (****)
7. Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E Butler (*****)
8. Parable of the Talents, by Octavia E Butler (****)
9. Shadow, by Suzy Lee (*****)
Neil Gaiman is a long favorite of mine. I’ve read almost all of his bibliography, so I was thrilled to learn this novel was coming out.
The story revolves around a man who returns to where he grew up and begins to remember a series of terrifying events when he was a child. As a seven year old, he made friends with Lettie, the youngest member of the Hempstocks who live at the end of the lane. When a border within his home commits suicide, it sets of a series of strange events and unleashes frightening creatures.
This story didn’t disappoint me one bit. It’s interesting that this has been described as an adult novel, since its so clearly from the young boy’s POV and Gaiman captures that youth, wonder, and fear perfectly. The boy is fully realized and made me remember my own youth. I saw one reviewer describe the sex scene as awkward, but it wasn’t. It was sex from a child’s perspective, which makes it seem strange and undefinable at the same time. The scene was well executed and showed the character’s youth even more as the rent seemed unimportant to him.
I especially loved the Hempstocks and how they are portrayed. The three women are so clearly more than what they appear and have latent power. They are loving and warm and fascinating characters. I would love to see them turn up in more stories.
Gaiman also has a way of making magic seem matter of fact, just another part of the natural order, which I LOVE. It’s one of my favorite things about his writing in general. That, along with his invention of creepy creatures that are dark and terrifying and yet somehow sympathetic, too. Ursula was evil and wicked and cruel and yet I pitied her in the end.
As I’m still playing catchup, so here’s my be-lated reading list.
1. Hands of Flame, by C.E. Murphy
2. 17 & Gone, by Nova Ren Suma
3. Arthurian Romances, by Chrétien de Troyes
4. Late Eclipses, by Seanan McGuire
5. Anya’s Ghost (graphic novel), by Vera Brosgol
6. The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton
7. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (audio book), by Muriel Spark
Did not and won’t finish (at this time): The Witching Hour by Anne Rice
The verse written by 12th century poet Chrétien de Troyes represents the earliest of the Arturian romances as we recognize them today. These poems have been widely popular and have influenced the shape of every King Arthur and his Knights tales that came after. This translation of these five tales puts the verse into prose format, which has it’s pluses and minuses.
“Erec and Enide” follows the story of the two title characters, starting with Erec’s adventures and eventual winning of Enide’s hand, followed by Erec and Enide riding off to wander the land in search of quests together.
“Cligés” is a more meandering tale, which begins with Alexandre of Greece’s journey to King Arthur’s court in order to win renown, and then his son Cliges’ adventures and his romance with his uncle’s wife.
“The Knight of the Cart” is Lancelot’s tale, in which the queen Guinevere is taken away by an evil knight. Lancelot pursues her and fights many adventure in his great love for her. It’s an interesting one, because Lancelot is made to look foolish more than once in his love for her.
“The Knight with the Lion” is Yvain’s tale and follows a similar format as the other in that a knight goes off to meet a great adventure. Along the way he wins the love of a maiden, who then casts him off when he fails to return when he’s told to. He goes temporarily insane and has to fight many adventures before he can win her back.
“The Story of the Grail” is Perceval’s quest, though it also includes much of Gawain’s adventures. Perceval starts out as an idiotic ass, leaving a wake of damage on his way to becoming a knight. The grail has less of the Christian affiliations in this version and has to do with the Fisher King (not Arthur), who suffers from wounds that will not heal. There’s a lance that bleeds from its tip, as well as the grail in association with the Fisher King. This tale was not finished by Troyes, but the translator gives a nice round up of the various continuations written by other poets of the time period, which begin to bring in the more heavy handed Christian elements.
Some random thoughts, in no particular order:
1. The storytelling skill gets better with each subsequent story, which makes me think that “Eric and Enide” was written first and Troyes skill improved with each story he told (though I can’t be sure of that). The last three tales are the best in the book, and “The Knight with the Lion” is probably my favorite.
2. There’s a lot of redundancy. Characters will say one thing, repeat it in a slightly different order, then repeat it a third time, just to make sure you really know that they mean what they say. Also, the plot lines repeat fairly often and by the end of the book it’s easy to tell exactly how each battle will turn out: with the knights starting on equal footing, landing many great blows, and the blood flowing and so on. This repetition can make the reading kind of tedious.
3. The people in this era apparently believed that a fight could prove guilt or innocence. If you’re accused of treason or a crime, welp, facts don’t matter as long you have the best knight to fight for you. The winner is proved right, because God would only let the right one win. Uh-huh.
4. People were also rather obsessed with beauty. Beauty = good. Ugliness = evil. All the heroes are the most handsome of knights and draw the eye of every spectator to them. All the good maidens are beautiful and fair.
5. Arthur is kind of a fool. The most obvious demonstration of this is in “Eric and Enide,” in which it essentially goes:
Arthur: I want to do this thing, because it would be sooooo coool.
Gawain: That’s a very bad idea, because something bad will happen.
Arthur: You’re right, but I’m going to do the thing anyway, because I’m the king and the king should do whatever he wants.
*does the thing*
*the bad starts to happen*
Gawain: I told you if you did the thing something bad would happen.
Arthur: I know. You’re so smart. Now tell me how to fix it.
6. Kay is interesting in that he starts out noble and well loved in “Eric and Enide” but gradually becomes more of an ass by the time “The Story of the Grail” rolls around, when he’s called evil tongued and rude and worse and yet they still love him. I would have booted him to the curb.
7. As much as maidens and women are almost never given names and act as objects for the knights to win, they also have a surprising amount of autonomy and strength. Women are often found hanging out alone in the woods and it’s not uncommon for a girl to take up a horse and ride over hill and dale in search of a knight to help her, essentially having her own form adventure. Many of the women also own their own lands and rule their own castles. However, when women have power over men, their demands tend to be rather arbitrary and often have to do with keep the man by her side. In the end, the demands seem not to be so much about her wishes as they seem to be about setting up an adventure for some guy.
8. Morgan le Fay, sister to Arthur and always a favorite of mine, appears only in passing in these stories. But when she does, she is presented in a positive light, as a powerful healer and known for creating the best tinctures and good potions. Apparently, it’s not until later versions that she begins to play the part of the evil traitor.
9. The people are ridiculously prone to emotion. When saddened, they pull their hair, scratch their faces, threatened suicide, faint from sorrow and boredom, but all that can turn around in an instant to beaming dancing joy. A knight leaving darkens the skies and is an end to all good feeling; his return that very night is a cause for feasting and celebration. I’m surprised anyone got anything done with all this flailing about from one mood to another.
10. Oh, I have lots more thoughts about this and that, but this list is already long, so I’ll just leave off here.
“Girls go missing every day. They slip out bedroom windows and into strange cars. They leave good bye notes or they don’t get a chance to tell anyone. They cross borders. They hitch rides, squeezing themselves into overcrowded backseats, sitting on willing laps. They curl up and crouch down, or they shove their bodies out of sunroofs and give off victory shouts. Girls make plans to go, but they also vanish without meaning to, and sometimes people confuse one for the other. Some girls go kicking and screaming and clawing out the eyes of whoever won’t let them stay. And then there are the girls who never reach where they are going. Who disappear. Their ends are ends are endless, their stories unknown.”
I adored Nova Ren Suma’s previous book Imaginary Girls (and even mapped out how I would approach making the movie, if I could), which was a wonderfully surreal and creepy tale of two sisters and their loyalty to one another. So, 17 & Gone was a must read for me. It hooked me from page one, and by page three I had chills and was smiling from ear to ear.
When Lauren finds a missing poster for Abby, she begins to be haunted. Abby appears to her, tangled and lost, a seventeen-year-old girl gone missing, a girl who wants something from Lauren. But Abby isn’t alone and following behind her are other girls, all seventeen years old, all missing without a trace, all wanting their stories heard, all wanting to be remembered. As the visions of these girls multiply, Lauren begins to loose the tether to her own life and, seventeen herself, she begins to wonder, if maybe she’ll be the next girl to vanish.
Lauren’s self becomes submerged beneath beneath the stories of the girls and we get to see bits and pieces of her personal life like we’re coming up for air. In a sense this makes it a little hard to get to know her as the main character, but her story unfolds as the novel goes on and this erasure works as she looses herself under the tide of girls and their stories. It fits with the storyline and the discoveries at the conclusion.
Her writing is rich and vivid, and it’s really impressive how Nova Ren is able to layer the stories of the girls with Lauren’s thoughts and personal life, creating a complex web of narratives that is nevertheless easy to follow. She makes it look easy, though I know it couldn’t possibly have been.
As a side note, I suggest that you do not read the Author’s Note at the end of the book (as I did) before you finish, as it will spoil the ending. But even with the ending twist spoiled, I still loved this book, wholeheartedly.
My ultimate sadness is that Nova Ren only has one other book out, her first book Dani Noir (which was later republished under the title Fade Out). After I devour that one, I’ll have to patiently (or not-so-patiently) wait until 2015 for her next book, The Walls Around Us to be released.