Here doth exist a video in which I talk about my top ten favorite things from last year — books movies, games, travel, writing stuff, and more. The hardest part was choosing a single novel and poetry book for the year — which is why I have separate top ten lists for each.
I’ve had a youtube account for about 11 years. For a few years, I was posting regularly on a variety of topics with no real rhyme or reason — and then I took a seven year break because of lack of time, access to technology, and other challenges. But I’ve been wanting to jump back into it, so hear we are.
This video was a fun challenge to put together. Talking to a camera is weird thing and it takes practice to get back into the rhythm of it, so it took 49 minutes to record — followed by and hours and hours of editing over the course of several days in order to eliminate all the awkward pauses and unnecessary rambling asides, finally reaching a more manageable 22 minutes. Still long-ish, but I’m pretty happy with it.
I hope you enjoy it, and I would love to know some of the things you’ve loved in 2019.
As I mentioned top ten fiction books list, I read 55 books in 2019 — of these 26 were collections of poetry. This large uptick in poetry reading is largely impacted by the spotlight and podcast interviews that I’ve been putting out over the past year.
I’ve read so many amazing poetry books last year and I hate to leave any one out — but sometimes a collection just resonate with where your at in any given moment. These are some of the poetry books and chapbooks that spoke to me this year (in no particular order).
Mary Shelley Makes a Monster by Octavia Cade (Aqueduct Press)
As the title suggests, Mary Shelley does indeed make a monster, crafting it out of the remnants of her own heartbreak and sorrow. Abandoned and alone after her death, the monster searches for someone to fill her place. Its journey carries it across continents and time, visiting other female authors throughout the decades — Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Octavia Butler, and others. These poems are a beautifully moving examination of the eccentricities of authors and how monsters reflect ourselves.
Locus by Jason Bayani (Omnidawn)
Drawing on his heritage and cultural experience, Bayani delves into the fragmented identities of Pilipinx Americans. Blending memoir and lyricism and inspired by hip-hop and DJ culture, these poems do powerful work in recovering the voices of silenced communities, reflecting on the importance of family and history in understanding oneself. (Podcast interview.)
Brute by Emily Skaja (Graywolf Press)
Winner of the Walt Whitman Award, Emily Skaja’s Brute is a stunning collection of poetry that navigates the dark corridors found at the end of an abusive relationship. Her poetry considers the intersections of both love and violence, evoking a range of emotional experiences — ranging from sorrow and loss to rage, guilt, hope, self discovery, and reinvention. One of the many things I love about this collection is the way the poems reflect the present moment — ripe of cell phones, social media, and technologies that shift the way humans interact with each other — while maintaining a mythic quality, with the speaker feeling like a character struggling to survive in a surreal fairy tale world just waiting to eat her up. (Podcast interview.)
Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned by Sara Ryan (Porkbelly Press)
This chapbook of poems about taxidermy dives into the liminal space between the living and dead, exploring the nature of body down to the bone. Footnotes intricately offer additional layers to the poetry, providing an expanded philosophical look at the art of preservation. (Spotlight interview.)
Oculus by Sally Wen Mao (Graywolf Press)
Pop culture blends with technology to examine how we reveal ourselves, how we see each other, and the power structures involved in who gets to tell the story. One series of poems is written from the perspective of Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American movie star, who time travels her way through the history and future of cinema. Through the eyes of Wong, Mao considers the portrayals of Asian characters in movies, from Bruce Lee to Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Sixteen Candles. (Podcast interview.)
As One Fire Consumes Another by John Sibley Williams (Orison Books)
The poems in this collection present a familiar world full of burnings carried out on both the grand and intimate scale. Newspaper-like columns of prose poetry in his work provide a social critique of violence in American culture, while working within the boundaries of self, family, and the natural world. The book permeates an apocalyptic tension, but what makes it so great is the way in which his poems envision the kind of fires that not only provide destruction but also illuminate a spark of hope. (Podcast interview.)
Death by Sex Machine by Franny Choi (Sibling Rivalry Press)
In this stunning chapbook, Choi examines her own experience as a queer Asian American femme through the lens of robots, androids, and AI. There’s a beautiful combination of hard science and tender intimacy expressed in her lyrical work as she delves into what it means to have a body.
The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes by Sara Tantlinger (Rooster Republic)
Horror poetry can be profoundly chilling. Tantlinger’s collection blends fact and supposition to relate the life and times of the man thought to be America’s first serial killer. The poems are individually visceral, while coming together as a whole to provide a fascinating narrative arc. (Podcast interview.)
all this can be yours by Isobel O’Hare (University of Hell Press)
O’Hare uses erasure poetry (the act of erasing or crossing out another text to discover a poem) as a dynamic tool to reexamine a multitude of celebrity sexual assault apologies that came out during the #MeToo movement. These poems are fierce explorations of how the men (and some women) making these apologies try to evade their own culpability. (Podcast interview.)
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf Press)
This justifiably lauded collection of poetry and essays offers an unflinching look at the everyday realities of racism in America, with the second person narration drawing the reader directly into the experience. The prose poetry and essay styles combined with art make for a powerful and necessary read.
What were some of your favorite poems, poets, or poetry books from last year?
Most everyone (as far as I’ve seen) throws up their top lists in December, but I’ve never been able to get it together to be able to do it before January — so here I am. In 2019, I read a total of 55 books, many of which were great reads. Here are the ten fiction books that stood out to me over the course of the year. I’ll be talking about my favorite poetry books in a separate post.
The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste
In the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, the future looks bleak, with the city in a state of decay, cracked streets lined with broken bottles and the skyline lined with factories left to rust. Having graduated from high school, Phoebe and her best friend Jacqueline make plans to escape — but then the girls in their neighborhood begin to change, their “bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.” No one understands what’s happening, not the girl’s parents, the doctors, or the government men. Faced with loosing her best friend, Phoebe desperately struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens.
The body horror of the girl’s transformations is counterbalanced by the horror of how the people in the city treat them, with Phoebe at the center, caught between the two. At times this book is unsettling, and at times it is touchingly beautiful, with the relationships between the girls at the center. This was a book I clutched to by chest as soon as I was done reading. (Full review.)
Rolling in the Deep / Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
If you’ve been longing for a book about terrifying, blood thirsty mermaids, then the novella Rolling in the Deep and the full-length novel Into the Drowning Deep are the books for you.*
In Rolling in the Deep, a crew of filmmakers and scientists on the ship Atargatis set out on a journey to the middle of the ocean to film a “documentary” examining the possible existence of mermaids — something no one on the team believes in. What they discover is so much more horrifying than they expected.
Into the Drowning Deep follows a number of years after the events of the first book. A new and more thoroughly outfitted team is of scientists, security guards, hunters, and filmmakers is assembled with the primarily aim of finding out the truth of what happened to the Atargatis. For all their focus on defense, none of them are fully prepared for the terrible dangers they encounter.
While Rolling in the Deep plays feels more like horror comedy, using a found footage style to express the absurd horrors that befall the crew, Into the Drowning Deep is straightforwardly thrilling and, at times, legitimately terrifying. There were moments reading Drowning Deep in which I was too scared to keep reading, but also too compelled to put the book down. Paired together, these two volumes can make anyway wary of the shadowy ocean depths and what they might be hiding.
*Yes, technically, this is cheating, since it’s two separate books, but the first one is a novella that you can easily read through in an hour or two, and they’re part of the same series, so they really go together — and, besides, it’s my blog, so I do what I want. 😉
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss
Following her mother’s death, Mary Jekyll is left alone and penniless. Seeking a way to keep herself afloat, she dives into her father’s mysterious past and discovers that Edward Hyde, a murder and her father’s former friend, may be still be alive. With the hope of a substantial reward, she pursues the breadcrumbs before her and discovers other young women who are tied to a deep and dangerous mystery.
Many stories have taken up the task of retelling classic horror and scoff stories, from Frankenstein to Sherlock Holmes to Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Using a witty and fun style, Goss brings these stories together, centering them on clever, intelligent, and strong women, who find in each other a makeshift family. With two more books in the trilogy, I’m looking forward to reading more of these adventures.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Casiopea Tun works as a servant in her grandfather’s household, dreaming of a life beyond its oppressive walls. When she opens a chest and accidentally releases the Mayan god of death, Casiopea is bound by blood and bone to help the god regain his throne or meet her own death. Their journey carries them across the states of Mexico in the 1920s — offering up a charming adventure, full of magic and danger, humor and romance. Another fantastic read from Moreno-Garcia.
The Houseguest and Other Stories by Amparo Dávila
Amparo Dávila is considered to be vital and foundational figure in Mexican horror. Appearing in English for the first time, her short stories examine the social conditions of women in Mexico under the guise of chilling tales. Whether it’s women faced with the threat of a terrifying houseguest, an unsettling breakfast conversation, or the oppression of a family secrete, these tales offer a subdued beauty that calls forth the underlying tensions and terrors of daily life. (Full review.)
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison
When an illness decimates a large percentage of the human population, a bleak world is left behind. Children are nonexistent, women are rare, and many of the men who are left rove around in gangs claiming the few women still alive as slaves. An unnamed woman protects herself by pretending to be a male and roaming from place to place, looking for food and safe shelter in which to survive. When she encounters others, particularly women, she issues what little help she can in the form of medical care and contraceptives to prevent pregnancies that could be life threatening.
Apocalyptic stories can be bleak, presenting the worst side of humanity — and The Book of the Unnamed Midwife is no exception. However, the book doesn’t dwell there alone. For all the awful things that happen, there are people who show compassion, try to help, or at the very least try not to do harm. Ultimately, this story carries the slender thread of hope through its pages, moving me to tears several times.
Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler
Waking in pain and suffering, Shori has no member of who or what she is. All she knows is that she is wounded, lost, and starving — and all that will sate her hunger is blood. Fledgeling is one of the most fascinating portrays of vampires and vampire society that I’ve read in a long while. Wrapped in a compelling mystery, this novel provides a number of compelling layers to unpack — from the fact that Shori is a 53-year old black vampire who looks like she’s a twelve-year-old girl to considerations like racism, genetic manipulation, familial power structures, polyamorous, just to name a few. It makes for a meaty, fascinating storyline complicated, interesting characters.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Magic in Orïsha is gone, the maji long dead. Only their children remain, marked as outcasts by their silver hair. After a chance encounter with a rogue princess, Zélie learns that magic may return — if Zélie, her brother, and the princess can survive long enough to conduct an ancient ritual. With rich an fascinating world building, Adeyemi presents an epic YA fantasy with multi-layered characters and complex relationships. The second book in the trilogy comes out this year, and I’l definitely be continuing on.
Wilder Girls by Rory Power
When a strange disease called the Tox strikes an island, the Raxter School for Girls becomes quarantined. The disease twists the people and creatures who are infected with it into strange new forms, making monsters of the wildlife outside of the school fences. The girls are changing, silver scales, seeping wounds, glowing hair, and other odd developments appearing on their bodies. In the face of hunger and near certain death, Hetty and her friends Byatt and Reese band together to survive — no matter what it takes. Wilder Girls is a fantastically told story of body horror, offset by a claustrophobic sense of isolation and complex, intimate relationships between the friends.
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
Established on a tidally locked planet (in which one side is always facing the sun), the people of Xiosphant live strictly regulated lives determined by circadian rhythms. Stepping out of the rules even a little bit can result in severe punishment, as Sophie learns when she is cast out into the dark beyond the city’s walls and left to die of hypothermia or at the teeth of one of the planet’s vicious wildlife. Instead, she makes an unexpected friend that who could change everything. With wonderfully complex worldbuilding, The City in the Middle of the Night offers interwoven storylines that explore how human beings can become emotionally entangled with other humans in ways that sometimes feel more like a chain than a bond. A strange and beautiful book.
Honorable Mention:Books of Blood, Vol. 1-3 by Clive Barker, because this was a phenomenal collection of disturbingly beautiful horror stories — and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the volumes.
A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up, in which the fabulous Athena Dixon speaks with Becca Klaver about her book Ready for the World (Black Lawrence Press, 2020).
“Becca Klaver writes in the poem ‘Hooliganism Was the Charge,’ It offered reassurance which said, “You are not alone; I can hear you.” Her forthcoming collection, Ready for the World (Black Lawrence Press 2020), reminds us that no matter the digital distance between us we are never quite alone. A collection that both casts and dispels the bindings ever present via social media, patriarchy, and our own paths to growth, this collection allows readers to blur the lines between our sometimes carefully curated online lives and the magical beings we truly are.
Part spell book and a rumination on technology, Klaver explores womanhood and feminism from a distance and up close. These poems ask for us to find a remembrance and a reconnecting. She asks in the poem ‘Manifesto of the Lyric Selfie,’ what is burning in our little hearts?, and dares us to tear down what we think we know to find what we feel.”
You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.
I’m an optimistic soul. I tend to be flooded with ambition at the beginning of each new year. THIS will be the one, I tell myself. This is will be the year when I will do better, be better, accomplish all the things. In past years, I’ve set clear goals — sometimes massive lists of things I’d like to achieve, sometimes a single goal (as with last year).
There is value in taking stock of where you’ve been and envisioning a path for where you want to be. The way forward is sometimes confusing, and it helps to come up with a roadmap.
Figuring out how to shape that map is a form of experimentation in and of itself — setting up resolutions, goals, or habits, and testing them out to see what works. Maybe it’s a single word to embody the year. Maybe it’s a specific habit you want to create. Maybe it’s a new area of learning or craft you want to pursue. Maybe it’s a list of specific things you want to get done.
Coming into 2020, I’m feeling a little more tentative about my goal setting. The single goal that I set for last year locked me into path that caused more confusion and frustration than pleasure. I learned a lot from that experience, though it left me a little tender.