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.

Monday, October 17, 2016

What I've Read: Sun & Urn by Christopher Salerno


Thank you to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

The poems of Sun & Urn by Christopher Salerno are a multifaceted exploration of grief – its contradictions, the beauty that can be found in the midst of sorrow, and, naturally, the keenly felt despair that comes with loss. This exploration evokes sentimental tones and subjects that never delve into the trite, always pushing forth into sublimity and surprise.

The grieving process of Sun & Urn is focused through ordinary objects that are elevated in surprising ways. In “The Evening Report”, Salerno writes: “
I am falling in love with the material world”, reinforcing the necessity of attention to object; the emphasis on concrete forms that exist around us make them a grounding force in both life and poem. That is, the objects of Sun & Urn remind us that even after death there are bodies, there are material things, there is life. This sense is even reflected in the title Sun & Urn, emphasizing the large, universal, and distant in conjunction with the immediate material witness of past, present, and future.

In this way, each poem unpacks emotional upheaval directly and honestly in its exploration of what is left – in endings, death, beginnings, there are scattered aspects of people and lives left behind. These poems channel that sense of transformation, and carry with them a certain breathless witness that comes with contending with the inevitability of life and death.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

What I've Read: bodys by Vanessa Roveto

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

bodys, the debut book of poetry by Vanessa Roveto, is a dreamlike landscape that underscores the inherent chaos of being human. The bodies of bodys are objects colliding with each other, and none of the anonymous characters of its prose poems are safe from objectification and otherness. Images related to food, sex, the body, medicine, death, and the trappings of modern culture all intersect with each other in a surreal, stream-of-consciousness fashion. Each poem is at once intimate, tender and brutal; the text refuses to let the reader be comfortable, subverting expectations and loosening structures as it builds them. Wry, eviscerating, and experimental, bodys tests the reader's comprehension of its numerous ideas and commands for attention in every phrase. There is an inherent orality to the poetic voice that situates the poems staunchly in the performative, uncomfortable, and dynamic - like bodies, these poems are both actors and acted upon.

I'd whole-heartedly recommend bodys for fans of surrealist poetry, bizarro fiction, and experimental literature in general. Squeamish readers or staunch traditionalists might want look elsewhere - unless they want to read something that challenges conventions at every turn and leaves them with much to unpack.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

What I've Read: Upstream by Mary Oliver

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

There is a lot to be celebrated in iconic American poet Mary Oliver's writing. Her style combines a frenzy of details, lyrically drawn analyses, and impossibly precise revelations, creating in both poetry and prose a distinctive and vital voice in contemporary American literature.

The essays in Upstream largely cover topics ranging nature to natural evil to various American writers. While these topics are undoubtedly and respectively fascinating, the essays themselves are made all the more remarkable for the contemplative lines that are blurred between subjects. The deeply personal flourishes here, and Oliver's anecdotes underscore her numinous amazement and practical ruminations when it comes to life - not just human life, but all life.

Oliver's writing is eminently enjoyable and perfectly quotable, almost aphoristic, in a manner not unlike the Transcendentalist writers she profiles and examines. With skillfully deployed experimentation, Oliver provides a detailed, poetic taxonomy of the natural world and insight into some of America's most revered writers (as well as the act of writing itself). The essays here are luminous, nearly mystical in their emotional resonance, but also filled with shocking clarity and deep revelation. Upstream provides us with exactly what we need to hear about life, death, literature, and the natural world - even if we didn't know it yet.