Aug 6 2017

Culture Consumption: June & July 2017

With all the traveling and such, I’ve fallen a bit behind. I’ve read some great books and seen some great movies over the past couple of months, though.

Books

“There is a point when a man may swim back to shore, but he was past it. There was nothing left but to be swallowed by the enormity of the sea.”
— from Certain Dark Things

I love vampires and I love Mexico City, so it’s no surprise that I loved Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. The world Moreno-Garcia has created features vampires of many species that live out in the open with humanity. Though vampires have been ousted from many countries around the world, they’ve gained a stronghold in Mexico, forming powerful and dangerous cartels — with the exception of Mexico City, which exists as a vampire-free zone due to the strength of the human gangs.

Certain Dark Things is told from multiple points of view — Domingo, a garbage-collecting street kid; Atl, a descendant of Aztec blood drinkers on the run from a rival vampire gang; Rodrigo, a human servant of vampires hunting Atl; Ana, a cop who becomes wrapped up in events when bodies start turning up; and a few others. Altogether, this is a brilliant crime thriller full of vampires and gangsters and femme fatales. Silvia Moreno-Garcia is fast becoming one of my writers favorite writers, and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.

“There are worlds built on rainbows and worlds built on rain. There are worlds of pure mathematics, where every number chimes like crystal as it rolls into reality. There are worlds of light and worlds of darkness, worlds of rhyme and worlds of reason, and worlds where the only thing that matters is the goodness in a hero’s heart.”
— from Down Among the Sticks and Bones

In Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire, Jacqueline and Jillian are twins born to parents who never really understood or wanted children, parents who believe children are objects to be shaped to their desires. But the world is full of doors to other worlds and Jacqueline and Jillian find their way to a place of darkness and death, where they suddenly have the ability to choose.

Seanan McGuire seems to be getting better and better with every book she writes. The writing in this book is beautiful, often taking on the “fairy tale” tone of an outside narrator as a separate character relating the story.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is a standalone story in the Wayward Children series, and as such, you can read the books in the series in any order. Although if you really want to know what happens to Jack and Jill, then I recommend reading Every Heart a Doorway, which chronologically comes after this one (even though its the first in the series). I hope there are many, many more books in this series, because I’m loving it.
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Jun 14 2017

The Voices of Spring Mother Tongue

Last night, I slipped out of my routine and to check out the Well-RED poetry showcase, featuring poets published in the Spring Mother Tongue anthology at Works/San José. The event was hosted in part by Poetry Center San José, a rad organization and a great place to turn to for more on South Bay Area goings on in poetry. It’s the first time I’ve been out to a literary event in months (probably, maybe, at any rate it’s been a rather long time).

Spring Mother Tongue is an anthology edited by Arlene Angeles Biala, Santa Clara County Poet Laureate. The collection provides a space for poets to share the stories behind each of of their own names. “You may recognize yourself in us. You may recall your own name(s) and stories around it/them and be moved to use your own poetic voice. I hope that you do,” writes Biala in the introduction.


Some of the poets whose work appears in the anthology read at the event — representing a variety of ages and backgrounds and a multitude of voices and poetic styles. These readers included: America Cihuapilli Irineo, ASHA, Arlene Biala, Jade Bradbury, Bill Cozzini, Kiana Del Rosario, Lorenz Dumuk, Parthenia Hicks, Larry Taylor Hollist, Joel Katz, Lita Kurth, Pushpa McFarlane, Quynh-Mai Nguyen, Nils Peterson, Anthony Santa Ana, Ann Sherman, Donna Steelman, and Jarvis Subia

The readings present a nuanced and layered exploration of names and what they mean. Some are funny, some are sweet, some explore the ways names are used to strip power away from us, and some are reclamations of power. It’s a beautiful anthology, one I recommend picking up, especially if you’re a local to the Bay Area, California.

What I’m Reading

I am about halfway through and entirely loving Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, which is about vampires in Mexico City. The story is told from multiple points of view, both those of humans and the vampires themselves. I’m loving learning about the different species of vampires, each with their own evolutionary traits of abilities, strengths, and drawbacks. Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a fantastic writer, quickly rising to the top of my list of favorites.

What I’m Writing

Over the past week, I completed a draft of a six page poem — the longest single poem I’ve ever written. Most of my poems tend toward the shorter side, 30 lines or less, and I’ve thought of myself as a poet who just wasn’t the type to write longer pieces like that — but apparently I’ve proved myself wrong. I’ve set it aside for the time being, letting the original flow of idea rest, so that I can come back to it for an edit later.

I also have episodes of a web series in progress — episode one has been done for a while, and I’ve started in on the opening scene of episode two. If I can focus and not get distracted by all the shiny poems I seem to be wanting to write this week, then I can probably finish drafts of at least two more episodes before I head out on my next big bit of travel in a week and a half.

The Running Life

Got my first run done in over a month on Saturday. It felt great to hit the pavement, good for my muscles and good for my soul. I was able to run a bit farther than I expected considering how long it’s been since I last went for it, which was reassuring. I need to get back into the routine. I can tell that my body needs it.

Total miles in the last week: 2.20
Total Miles for 2017: 70.84 miles

Linky Goodness

Kathleen Ossip explains Why All Poems Are Political:

“a poem is an utterly free space for language; no objective and definite criteria could possibly apply to evaluate it. In fact, poetry is the only utterly free space for language that I’m aware of, and that is what makes it indispensable to me, and also what makes writing it and reading it a political act: Any act where freedom is urgently at issue is a political act, and any space that makes us aware of our innate freedom is a radically political space.”

Leah Schnelbach’s fantastic essay “Sometimes, Horror is the Only Fiction That Understands You” is a wonderful exploration of what Stephen King’s writing has meant to her in life — and as someone who read every King book I could get my hands on in high school, I completely resonate with this.

3 Free Poetry Chapbooks to Read This Summer From Agape Editions


Jun 6 2017

Culture Consumption: May 2017

May was an interesting month, in that it was full of fabulous travels. Still managed to read and watch quite a few great stories.

Books

I adored Bone Gap by Laura Ruby a subtly speculative novel about Finn and Sean O’Sullivan, two brothers surviving in small town full of gaps that people slip through all the time. First, their mother abandons them for a new life, then Roza — the young woman who shows up in their barn and brings light into their lives and the lives of the whole town — vanishes. The story and characters and magical realism and the setting of a small town (where everybody knows everything about everyone, even if they always get the story wrong) is gorgeous. Also, the audiobook narrator Dan Bittner does a fantastic job of bringing each of the characters to life, making them feel distinct when the POV shifts.

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May 5 2017

Culture Consumption: March and April 2017

My, my. I have gotten rather behind, haven’t I.

Books

“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”

I delighted in A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, the audio book of which is read by the author herself, who does a wonderful reading. The novel is told from two points of view — Ruth, a writer on a remote island who finds a mysterious packet in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, containing a journal and letters and other items, and Nao, living in Tokyo, whose story is told through the journal itself.

There are so many layers to my love of this novel. The characters and their stories captivated me. Nao, who has faced such levels of bullying at school and sorrow at home, relates her decision to end her life in a straightforward manner. To her it is the only logical solution to what she’s been through (and she’s been through a lot). In her journal, she presents her life with a sense of self-depreciating humor. After all she’s been through, and despite her resolution, there is an underlying strength to her. It’s an interesting balance between depression, sorrow, and enjoyment of small moments.

Ruth is also fascinating to me. Her life is marked by less overt drama, and her story relates more of the small moments, the routines of her life that both provide her with contentment and feel like traps. As she explore’s Nao’s story through the journal and tries to seek a way to help this girl who lives across the sea, she finds certain threads of her own life loosening, creating their own minor havocs.

This novel is also so meta. One could start with the writer character, Ruth, who shares her name with the author of the book, which suggests the potential of the autobiographical slipping in even if none of it actually is such. Even the title A Tale for the Time Being has double meaning — as in both, a tale for a person who lives in time, and also a tale for right now. I don’t want to get too much into the ways this is a meta narrative, since a lot of it comes at the end, but I will say that it had me thinking about the creation of art and degree to which the reader participates in the creation.

I think this is one of those books I’m going to have to reread many times.

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Apr 30 2017

Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enríquez

The stories in Things We Lost in the Fire are dark, unsettling and powerful. Mariana Enríquez uses horror and the uncanny to explore women’s lives, from schoolgirls to grown women, some impoverished, some wealthy, most reaching for levels of independence or to carve out some space for themselves in the world.

One story tells of three friend drink and drug their way through their young years, a partying haze. Part of the beauty “The Intoxicated Years” is the breathless quality of the prose, moment rushing into moment as the girls rage through their days. At first, it seems a story of reckless freedom, but it becomes clear that all of their adventures are underpinned with a growing viscousness that’s beautifully powerful and raw.

In “Spiderweb,” a woman feels bored and trapped by the marriage she rushed into, and when she brings her husband to visit her family, she’s embarrassed and repelled by him with every passing moment. One a trip with her cousin Natalia and her husband to Asunción (an open market offering mostly knockoffs or illegal items), her frustration comes to the surface. I love the way this story builds on the feeling of being stuck by the choices you’ve made.

“No Flesh Over Our Bones” is the story of a woman finds a human skull, rings it home and names it Vera. The woman becomes more and more obsessed with the skull, desiring to make it whole again. The story approaches the realm of body horror as it explores women’s relationships to their bodies.

In “Under the Black Water,” Marina is an attorney who works with the people who live in impoverished in the slums of Buenos Aires. She learns that strange things, including a dead man coming up out of the water, are happening in the slums. When Marina investigates, events grow more and more disturbing in a way that feels Lovecraftian. This is one of my favorite stories in the collection. I love the main character and how the story is both grittily realistic and strange in the ways it explores poverty and environmentalism.

Among the most disturbing and powerful stories for me was “Things We Lost in the Fire.” Body horror is a key trope in this story, in which women claim their own lives and bodies by setting themselves on fire and living in the world with their scars proudly shown. The scars are presented by this movement of women as a new kind of beauty, with fearlessness and a fervor, and yet.

I’m looking forward to reading more work by Enríquez.

Note: This book was provided as an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.