Friday, April 14, 2017

What I've Read: Land on Fire by Gary Ferguson

I have a strange confession to make:

I am absolutely fascinated by fire. I don't know why, exactly, and it's not in a pyromaniac sense - I, quite reasonably, fear fire - but the human relationship with fire is a surprisingly rich area of history. I went through a phase where I was heavily researching the history of arson investigation and talking about it with anyone who I thought might care (spoiler: no one did). I then moved on to volcanology. I then read a longform article about the Yarnell Hill fire and devoured it in one sitting, ignoring the pile of work next to me.

So when I saw Land on Fire in the NetGalley offerings, I hit "request" immediately.

Wildfires seem to dominate the news cycles every summer, with hot, arid conditions, lightning strikes, and human error all contributing to what can be a truly devastating force of nature. Land on Fire brings the world of wildfires and everything involved with them to lifegiving a comprehensive overview of everything from what causes them to the intricacies of how they're fought. With its focus centered on the American West, Land on Fire steers itself away from jargon, covering the sometimes complex information in a way that's clear to people who might be unfamiliar with the biology or bureaucracy involved in fire suppression.

There are also stunning photographs peppered throughout, providing astonishing visual aids to accompany the text. Some of the information might be a little dry or dense at times, but Ferguson does well to make it come alive, even including specific historical examples to illustrate the text. When discussing the natural world, in particular, Ferguson's prose is rich with the lushness appropriate for describing a living, breathing forest.

I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in fire, natural history, biology, climate science, or fire-fighting.

Thank you to NetGalley and Timber Press for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What I've Read: Odd Bloom Seen From Space

Thank you to NetGalley and University of Iowa Press for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Odd Bloom Seen From Space is a remarkable collection, not the least of which is for what it accomplishes and balances in each poem. At once, these poems are biographical and confessional and nostalgic, but never precious; self-aware but never smugly so; unflinching but without callousness. Thematically, these poems are filled with the reconciliation of histories, personal and public; memory, ancestry, and pop culture; man and literature and landscapes. In "Outside Los Banos, California", Welch writes "There's a brutal distance / between men", and it's this brutal distance that Odd Bloom Seen From Space investigates, makes known, and contends with in each verse. There are parts that are brutal, that unflinchingly meditate on alienation, and yet others that undermine the gravitas of all that and are, instead, flippant and funny. These elements never compete with each other, finding a reflexive balance in each poem that reads instead as simple truth. There are moments of confession, moments of reconciliation, and moments of amusement, all strewn together into a lively melange of poems that surprise, challenge, and delight the reader.

The poem "Carried By A Bee" also features what is almost certainly one of my favorite lines I've read this year: "if we are not the victims of our own kind hearts then / our stupid lives are sad".

Saturday, February 4, 2017

What I've Read: I Feel Bad by Orli Auslander

Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Group for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for review.

I Feel Bad. All Day. Every Day. About Everything is a deft graphic exploration of guilt. Each page features an illustration and a reason why the author has felt guilty about something, collected into 100 drawings and reasons in total. These deeply personal reminsciences are unflinchingly candid and resonantly therapeudic. Particularly striking are Auslander's comments on parenthood; in a world where mommy bloggers dominate and Instagram-ready images of perfect families abound, Auslander's depictions of the frustration, humor, and guilt of parenting are refreshingly candid. Some of the reasons she "feels bad" can feel repetitive, but there is also a rich tapestry of areas Auslander explores in a short time and small space. She touches upon the cultural, personal, mental, emotional, and gendered, and how these factors all tie into daily life, family history, and family rearing. It's tempting to wish that the text was more memoir interspersed with drawing, but this type of honesty is stark, refreshing, and in its short form becomes even more impactful. The humor of her entries is more dark than one might anticipate, but that's a feature, not a bug: when dealing with this level of emotional intimacy, being completely light-hearted would feel much more jarring.

I would recommend this short read in particular for fans of Allie Brosh and Laurie Notaro.

Monday, January 2, 2017

What I've Read: There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce by Morgan Parker

I couldn't wait to have this book be my first read of 2017.

I love poetry, I love Beyonce (the release of Lemonade was doubtlessly a high point of 2016), and I love work that incorporates deft, political, experimental examinations of pop culture and identity. This book is all of that, and more.

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce is a voyage of self-definition in the midst of history, contemporary problems both personal and systemic, and the invisible and visible structures that seek to impose definition and inhibit growth. The result illustrates the myriad ways in which exploring and celebrating self-growth, self-definition, and wide-awake witness to the world around us is what constitutes authenticity.

The image of Beyonce, herself, exists as a Muse, a rubric, and a challenge; the poems that utilize her as an icon engage with her in this way. She is an emblem for simultaneous embrace and response. There is an ever-present tension and celebration in how Beyonce operates in the text, demanding that we attend to iterations of womanhood, modernity, race, and class. The tone of the book is also largely one of exasperation; this is a point at which Parker unfolds the wry humor, biting wit, and moments of celebration present in the poems. More often than not, these elements are all present in the same poem.

The care with which Parker attends to each poem is evident. Most of the poems, both experimental and free-verse, are filled with allusions to literature, history, and pop culture (not only Beyonce), resulting in an overall effect that is deftly kaleidoscopic. The themes, tones, and allusions shift and turn in Parker's stunning examination of the exhausting and raw beauty of self-definition and womanhood.

Thank you to NetGalley for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for review.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

What I've Read: 100 Books in 2016

2016 is almost at a close, and it's certainly been a year filled with challenges and change!

Aside from the nitty-gritty, more difficult personal stuff: I started a new position at work, started a blog covering my witchcraft practice, and published more this year than any previous, excluding 2010, but those were all unpaid. This year? All paid gigs. I'm working for free no longer!

I started training myself in reading Tarot cards. I dabbled in brushing up on my French. I started practicing yoga and keeping a day planner (hey, no achievement is too small)!

I'm proud of myself for having reached my goal of 100 books. It's been a busy, messy, wonderful, challenging time!

Here's a round-up of my favorite books from the year:

Favorite Book Published in 2016:

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch!

As I wrote in my post on this book, I don't usually read in the sci-fi/sci-fi thriller genre, but I'd heard so much hype about this book and was so intrigued by its description that I snapped it up from Blogging for Books as soon as I could. The twists in the plot, its philosophical themes, and its mysterious tone all made this one of the books published in 2016 that I enjoyed the most. I highly recommend it to one and all.


Favorite Classic Book:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte!


I don't know if it's possible for a classic to be underrated, but when I'd signed up for the BerkeleyX Book Club through EdX, I'd fully expected to find the book to be boring. Instead, it was a beautiful Gothic meditation on identity, loneliness, and love - as well as self-preservation, class division, and secrecy. It quickly became one of my favorites of all time.

Favorite Nonfiction Book:
A tie between A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit and Upstream by Mary Oliver.



Mary Oliver is definitely an American national treasure, whether it's through her poetry, scholarship, or nonfiction writing - check out my thoughts on Upstream here. Solnit's A Field Guide to Getting Lost was the first book I'd read in 2016, and it was a beautiful meditation on wandering and being lost, interspersed with history and memoir. 

Favorite Poetry Book:
Trebuchet by Danniel Schoonebeek!

I posted my review of Schoonebeek's Trebuchet here, but it's certainly worth talking about again. I read a lot of truly amazing poetry this year (a cursory glance through this blog will tell you as much) and will read hopefully even more next year, but Trebuchet remains my favorite of them all. Stark, experimental, and deftly observational, this book is poetry truly perfect for the times we live in.


Favorite Shakespeare:

Measure for Measure! Yes, the Bard gets his own category - I don't call myself a Shakespeare fangirl for nothing!

Not only is Measure for Measure my favorite Shakespeare play that I've read in 2016, but it's one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, ever, ranking with tragedies like Macbeth and Titus Andronicus and the sole other comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream. (As You Like It is pretty okay, too).

A dark comedy, this play features executions, dick jokes, and contemplation on morality and mortality both - a 'problem play', to be sure!

Favorite Young Adult Book:

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero!

I'm not a Mexican-American teenage girl, but this book still read as true to an essential part of the teenage experience. Sure, some plot points are a little over-the-top, but the voice of this narrative nonetheless makes it believable, fresh, and engaging. It's also a rare moment of a book containing diagetic poetry written by the narrator wherein the poetry is just as enjoyable as the prose.

                                                               Favorite Horror Book:

The Troop by Nick Cutter!

I had to distinguish this book from other books read this year, since this is also the category I write in - I didn't want to include anything published by myself or my friends! I also read The Shining for the first time this year, but figured handing it to Stephen King would be a cop-out. Everyone knows that The Shining is scary.

Anyway, I made the mistake of reading this body-horror book on my lunch breaks. At work. In a hospital cafeteria.

Suffice it to say that I still can't eat roast beef sandwiches without thinking of the visceral horror of isolation, starvation, and parasites.

Other Books I Read and Was Surprised to Enjoy:

The Hobbit! A Study in Scarlet! Gone Girl!

And with that, we bid my 2016 Reading Challenge adieu! May the new year find you merry!


Monday, December 26, 2016

What I've Read: Tremulous Hinge by Adam Gianelli

The poems of Tremulous Hinge are delightful in their play with theme and form; poet Adam Giannelli has a clear love of language and continuously utilizes it in an interesting way. Words become their own preoccupation in the text, being elaborated upon, challenged, and measured against each other in a manner both artful and thoughtful (which is to say that it never becomes too heavy-handed and meta-referential). This play with form is most apparent on a sentence-by-sentence basis, as Giannelli's skillfully deploys assonance, consonance, alliteration, et al. As a result, a number of the poems practically demand to be read aloud.

Striking images also populate the text, providing an artful sense of illustration to themes as widely varying as stuttering, loss, love and the myriad ways in which we find solace and consolation. Each poem is deftly felt and witnessed, often distilling particular moments into verse in a way that feels tonally similar to haiku, even if the poem itself is multi-stanza and/or free verse.

Giannelli's poems are carefully crafted with an impeccable alignment of details, making Tremulous Hinge an exciting and fresh debut poetry collection.

Thank you to NetGalley and the University of Iowa Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for review.

What I've Read: Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales: An Anthology

Birds are creepy, aren't they? From the poetry of Poe to the classic Hitchockian masterpiece The Birds, avian anxiety has long populated the horror medium.

Black Feathers, a new horror anthology selected by awesomely ubiquitous editor Ellen Datlow, adds its answer in the affirmative. The stories that populate these pages take on a wide variety bird species, including parrots, swallows, and, yes, the classic ravens, magpies, and crows. Each story is uniquely fraught with tension, offering new visions of the feathered fiends - some grim, some gory, and some gorgeously grotesque.

 Black Feathers includes stories from Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen Graham Jones, Paul Tremblay and many others who deftly examine the multitudinous angles of avian horror. The writing styles and story lengths offer a great deal of diversity within the anthology; none of the stories run together and all of them add something essential to the collection. Black Feathers will doubtlessly find fans in its well-executed examination of the unsettling, liminal realm of the avian.

Thank you to NetGalley for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.