Monday, August 8, 2016

What I've Read: Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs by Dave Holmes

Do you remember the '90s? That's when MTV VJ Dave Holmes came into the spotlight as part of MTV's "Want to Be a VJ" Contest. Paired against the enigmatically charismatic Jesse Camp, Dave Holmes lost - but still worked at MTV in the years afterward. This is but one part of Holmes' fascinating pop culture journey.

This memoir goes into the years prior to his MTV career, and delves much deeper than the twenty-one songs mentioned in the tagline. It's a heartfelt, conversational and frequently laugh-out-loud funny chronicle of Holmes' time as a pop-culture obsessed outcast struggling to express, retain, and reconcile his identity as he came of age.

Holmes' overview of pop culture from the past 30-odd years is enjoyable to read. The memoir is at its most successful and engaging when it delves deeply into its subject; Holmes' description of the highs and lows of coming of age as a gay man in a pre-Marriage Equality, pre-Ellen, time is worth reading in its own right.

I received this e-book through Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review, and I'm very glad I did. It's a fun, easy, engaging read that will find fans among readers of pop culture memoirs like those of Chuck Klosterman and Rob Sheffield.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

What I've Read: Trébuchet by Danniel Schoonebeek

Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

The poems of Trébuchet are perfect for the nebulous social chaos of 2016. Stark, skillful, and unsentimental, these poems steel their focus on a world at the precipice of collapse. The tone and thematic tensions are established early; in the introduction Schoonebeek warns, “These poems were written to put you on a government watch list”. In the rest of the poem (as well as the poems that follow) the narrative is underscored by a playful, anxious kind of interpellation, best illustrated when Schoonebeek writes, “If these poems don’t throw themselves through your windows please burn them.”

The poems frequently veer into the territory of nihilism and paranoia, but manage to do so without cheapening or compromising the social critique at the heart of the collection. Trébuchet is deftly experimental in its styling and structure, and each individual poem carries its weight into the thrilling culmination found in “Dark-Eyed Junco Was Her Name”.

A startling, striking, and demanding book that rewards you with poems both finely-tuned and unforgettable.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Year in Shakespeare: August 2016

I can't believe I haven't mentioned my life goal of reading the entirety of Shakespeare's canon on this blog. That's A Thing. A major thing, to me, in my life. I'd posted previously about my recalcitrant attitude post-high school vis-a-vis all things The Bard. I was, like I sometimes am, empirically wrong.

My university's 2000-level Shakespeare class renewed my passion for Shakespeare's work and all things Shakespearean adaptation, riff, and remix (well, somewhat. I have a lot of opinions and my mileage varies). Regardless, the class was a fantastic dip into the majority of Shakespeare's work; the year-long class covered a large swath of the tragedies, comedies, and history plays (with a soupçon of poetry).

I'm not really a completist in other areas of my life. I like what I like, am juggling two careers and three mental illnesses (which is to say that keeping my shit relatively together is another full-time job). But with so much of it under my belt, I figured, why not try to complete it?

I've read all of the tragedies except for Timon of Athens and all of the history plays save for Henry VIII and King John. That left me with a metric fuck-ton (not a real unit of measurement) of the comedies to read in 2016.

So far, I've read: The Comedy of Errors, Measure for Measure, All's Well That Ends Well, and The Merry Wives of Windsor, all thanks to the Folger Digital Texts archive.

                                     These covers are pretty but digitization is convenient!

Of these, Measure for Measure was my definite favorite; my preference for Shakespearean tragedy made the "problem play" automatically pique my interest, and I was rewarded with an execution plot, moral and existential questioning, and gallows humor.

Conversely, The Merry Wives of Windsor was one of the silliest things I've ever read, in any genre (this includes longform articles about juggalo culture). Reportedly written because the Queen wanted a "Falstaff love story", this play delivers that, and more. Spoilers, but, Falstaff gets his comeuppance when he's tricked into thinking other characters are fairies. 

I don't really have much to say about The Comedy of Errors and All's Well That Ends Well. They were perfectly serviceable Shakespearean comedies and probably more fun in performance than on the page - reading Shakespeare is always a delight, but sometimes it does take seeing it performed for it to become magical.

Hopefully, I'll get a chance to read more comedies, explore the apocrypha, and see a performance by local troupe Shakespeare By The Sea. Until then, rest you merry!

What I've Read: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

There is incredible value in reading widely, isn't there? I pre-planned a certain amount of disbursement among genres this year; of my 100 books, 25 were to be horror, 25 to be nonfiction, 25 to be YA, and 25 to be miscellaneous. The "miscellaneous" category, so far, consists of everything from poetry to graphic novels. It also has a new addition: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.

Sci-fi thriller isn't a genre I typically seek out, but something about this book intrigued me from the moment I read about it. This book is filled with deft, beautifully written language that expresses the complex problems at the heart of individual identity and human existence. The question of identity that is inherent to the story - what makes you who you are? - is complicated by the paradoxes implicit to quantum mechanics.The plot vacillates gracefully between the trappings of the sci-fi and thriller genres while adding unique and fresh elements of horror and romance. Emotionally resonant, complex, and filled with existential questions, Dark Matter will leave you wondering 'who am I and what does that mean' long after you've finished it.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

I'm Baaack

Hey hello hi! Rumours of this blog's obsolescence may have been slightly exaggerated.

My apologies for how long it's been since my last post. You see, there was a rather large project on my hands last year: my wedding! Unfortunately, this blog got put aside as I got swept up in the wonderful fun (and stress!) of planning. My husband and I, being the bookworms that we are, were so happy to be able to host our nuptials at our city's new, state-of-the-art library:

from ArchiPaper
We said our vows up in the top floor. The sunset streamed in through those massive windows, the city busy below us. Our friends were kind enough to read selections from Rumi and Jane Hirshfeld's poetry during the ceremony. Afterward, we drank craft beer on the patio and our laughter carried into the night.

So, what else happened in 2016? Well, I didn't reach my goal of reading 52 books. I came aggravatingly close, though: 49 of 52! The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison tied with Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem for my favorite read of 2015. It would be nigh impossible for me to choose which I enjoyed more, but it's worth noting that Jamison's powerfully raw piece, "Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain", remains one of my favorite essays ever written.

There were other lovely reading experiences, too: I finally picked up those newfangled "Harry Potter" books. You may not have heard of the series, it's pretty obscure. I loved them as an entire story of magical bildungsroman; my enjoyment of the individual books tended to vary. They're most enjoyable as one large fantastical assemblage, anyway.

Honorable mentions: The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht, Dead Spots by Rhiannon Frater, and Arachnophile by Betty Rocksteady.

Let's see, what else? Oh yeah, I did NaNoWriMo for the first time, and got to about 20,000 words on my YA novel about 90s punk witches in rural Canada. It's the longest anything I've managed to write (especially considering my start in poetry). I published a few short stories here and there.

In doing research for the novel, I eventually wound up discovering witchcraft. I've been a practicing pagan ever since! Luckily, a pretty big part of the practice is reading, reading, reading.

It was a busy, joyful, scattered year, full of good things and good reads.

2016? It's been pretty good so far. I discovered that I adore doing yoga. I've been doing witchy things, writing things, reading things. Since I've been writing mainly in the horror genre, I have very much amped up my horror reading. I'm at 37 of my goal of 100 books this year. Pretty ambitious, since I didn't make last year's 52, but I say go big or go home! Nothing ventured, nothing gained! Etc!

2016 selections run kind of ridiculous to sublime: indie publishers, commercial horror fiction, experimental horror fiction, woo-woo self-help stuff, some truly fantastic YA, some fair to middling nonfiction. Here's a peek:

Please stay tuned - I can't wait to share more with you!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Shakespeare Saturday: Beware the Ides of March

                                             Remember March, the ides of March remember:
                                               Did not great Julius bleed for justice' sake?
  - Brutus, Julius Caesar, IV. iii.

    Earlier today, I was thinking of this article from the Poetry Foundation, detailing how poet John Keats would spend his Sundays reading Shakespeare instead of going to church (Keats and I have this in common). It occurred to me to do a similar bout of Shakespeare worship on my blog and write a weekly recap of 'my life in Shakespeare' each week. Why not, right?

    Naturally, I had one particular Shakespeare play in mind this week, given that the Ides of March came and went: none other than 10th grade English class MVP Julius Caesar.

With the play being forever immortalized by those same high school English classes, their allusion in the title of John Green superhit The Fault in Our Stars (which I've never read- I assume the intertext ends there), and film classic Mean Girls-

-I'm left wondering: do 'the kids' still love this play? I'm pretty sure it was the first Shakespeare play I'd ever read, and I know that I loved it at the time. It kick-started my mild teenaged obsession with ancient Rome. I might still love Albert Camus' Caligula more than Julius Caesar, but that's neither here nor there.

It was my intention to re-read the play on March 15, because I'm a sucker for a synchronous gimmick. I ended up being distracted, and only skimmed it while listening to the BBC Production. Even still, I was stunned by the power of the language, the meta-theatrical themes of politics as performance, et al. It deserves a re-read, but it's admittedly hard to prioritize when I still have new-to-me Shakespeare plays on the docket. The fault in my reading list, amirite?

Other Shakespeare things from this week:

Totally coveting this 'Shakespeare Love Quotes' mug, from the Unemployed Philosophers Guild (which is a great name, and I totally wish I could steal it for a band name, the bastards):

I have a wedding coming up. I wasn't planning on having a registry, but if literary mugs are a thing I can request, I just might start one.

Anyway, I also stumbled across this great photo set, based on the Three Witches in Macbeth (my favorite Shakespeare play):

from frerin, on tumblr

I feel like this set perfectly captures the moody, foreboding gloom of the play. Also, yeah, I'm totally a sucker for photosets like these. I regret nothing.

Next time on Shakespeare Saturday: erm, I don't know. I desperately need to get back to the Wars of the Roses cycle, so, probably that.

Until then, rest you merry!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The better to read with, my dear: contests, what I'm reading, and my latest haul!

In the past month, I've developed a new hobby: entering contests and giveaways. Not only is it a fun way to roll the proverbial dice and see what you can win, but it's also a great way to discover new blogs and books. It's like gambling, but all it costs is your time!
and possibly your EpiPen.
So far, two of my wins have resulted in some serious joie de livre. The first was a pair of eyeglasses from polette eyewear! They have some truly beautiful frames, with some for as low as $6.99 for frames and lenses! Here I was, paying, like, $60 at a box store like a damned chump.

It's also really hard to take selfies without lens flare on glasses, I've learned.
It's so nice to be able to see again. Reading has gotten easier, and it's wonderful to see the details in life, from the eerie, Hoth-like moonscape of Halifax this winter to the '90s Vanilla Ice lookalike who stared at me on the bus while eating from a box of cereal.
The other contest I won was a copy of The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales by Franz Xaver von Schönwerth, courtesy of Tor Publishing!
I remembered reading about those uncovered fairy tales back in 2012, and I'm a sucker for fairy tales in general, so I'm really excited to receive this book and get to reading. Maybe Disney will acquire the rights to adapt some of them and finally release the parents and teachers of the world from their ongoing hostage situation with Frozen.

It's like the Iran hostage crisis in every way.
 My latest two book hauls resulted in books that range from the ridiculous to the sublime:

I bought the Camille Paglia book almost as a lark, feeling open-minded enough to do some "devil's advocate" reading, and being a creative nonfiction/cultural theory junkie, figured it might be okay. Except that when I cracked it open on the bus home from work and read her apologist stance on campus rape, I almost threw the book clear across the aisle at some unwitting undergrad. I seriously considered just throwing the book into one of our mountainous snowbanks, but didn't want to risk an impressionable mind finding it. Now I don't know what to do with it. I'm open to suggestions.

I'm currently reading Night Bites as my Cafeteria reading, and so far, it's been pretty outstanding. Filled with vampire stories written by women, it's, thankfully, no Twilight. It features some inventive re-interpretations of Dracula and the vampire mythos in general, and tackles issues of motherhood, death, and sex. It also fulfills my 'scary book' reading challenge, so, that's nice.

The other books seemed interesting to me, especially Darwin's Bastards, though I haven't had the chance to crack it open yet. I love Margaret Atwood's nonfiction, never finished Sexing the Cherry, and used to spend my in-between class time in university holed up in the library with a coffee, reading the poetry in Wascana Review. I'm definitely pleased with this latest haul.

As for what I've recently read, sadly, this past month has been pretty slow-going. I hate getting in those "don't feel like reading" funks, which usually means, for me, that I'm only reading three books in a month.

The two that I read:

 The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

The last book club selection was Helen DeWitt's The Last Samurai, a bildungsroman featuring a precocious child in search of his real father. While this is a weirdly prevalent '00s literary fiction trope, it managed to feel fresh and inventive, due to DeWitt's use of pop culture (Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai is ubiquitous in the text, and inspires some of the central plot structure), as well as her deconstruction of language. I had the odd experience of being the only person in my book club who was really enthusiastic about the material, but that might have been partially because it gave me the opportunity to make lots of Tom Cruise jokes. The first section of the book is deftly experimental, which made me more excited as a writer than a reader, but DeWitt's bold storytelling choices definitely made this book stand out from lesser books tackling the same thematic tones.
Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
I'm a sucker for roadtrips, as well as roadtrip narratives, so I'm not sure why it took me so many years after purchasing this book to actually read it. I'd read some of Steinbeck's work as a teenager, but didn't engage with it all that much. My friend was reading Travels with Charley at the same time, for her book club, and didn't seem enamoured with it. I loved it. Steinbeck's prose and observations about the landscape and people of a changing America sparkled on the page, and made me feel as though I was with him, driving along in the passenger seat. The development of mobile home communities, emerging domestic technology, the construction of suburbs, the encroachment of urbanization on the rural, and, of course, the issues surrounding gentrification, are all tackled in the sprawling prose. Among those things that I'd taken for granted as mid-20th-century reality were analyzed and ruminated upon in ways that I found fascinating. It's my favorite book that I've read so far this year.

Next on my blog (which will not take another month, promise): The Night Bites anthology, Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and Megan Daum's The Unspeakable.