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.

What I've Read: Bread and Butter #1 by Liz Mayorga

I guess I'm still on my comic book streak! Here's the thing: I'm just starting to get acclimated to NetGalley, and did not realize that I only had until the Archive date to read a book that was approved for me. When I saw that Bread and Butter #1 was archiving soon, I jumped on it!

So, yes: thank you to NetGalley for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This book was ostensibly the first issue of Bread and Butter, a comic series about a young Latina woman named Liana Caudillo living in San Francisco. Anyone who works in the creative industry while also juggling another job knows something about her struggle: finding time to balance the demands of your work while maintaining your true passion and side hustle (hello, me).

This comic is a great entry into these ideas, and displays the central tension in places like San Francisco well. In just 24 pages, Bread and Butter asks how a city maintains it soul with progress and the ills of gentrification. It also asks how we balance our passion with the demands of the day, and how we fall in love with the place we call home while maintaining a complicated relationship to how it operates, its injustices, and all its beauty.

It's also a perfect example of how these dynamics play out within the service industry: the employee doing their best to perform their job well under the constrictions of low pay and high expectations, as well as the challenge of serving people who often exist in a higher socioeconomic strata than your own. Asking these questions under this lens is brilliant; an honest look at the working class and serving class is a good way to get a grounded sense of how the interplay of class and labour operates in a real way (and these viewpoints are generally under-represented in pop culture).

Bread and Butter feels confessional, and, as such, it's a beautifully insightful slice-of-life comic. The artwork is great, and I'm interested to see where the story goes from here. I did regret that it was only the first issue, because it felt like something that would be wonderful to devour in one sitting. I can't wait to see what comes next for Liana Caudillo and the Bread and Butter series.

Friday, September 30, 2016

What I've Read: Equinoxes by Cyril Pedrosa

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

I have a confession to make: I got burned out on comics a few years ago.

I know. Weird, inconvenient timing: it happened even before every second movie in the theatres was a superhero adaptation. Somewhere around 2011, I went from voraciously devouring everything from Clowes to capes to feeling far too oversaturated with superhero and comic culture. This may have had something to do with the emergence of geek culture as a pervasive cultural force. Being the malcontent I sometimes am, I just had to stop before I soured on it forever.

I've been slowly bringing myself back into the rhythm of reading comics and graphic novels, and the rewards, so far, have been many. I got caught up on Rat Queens earlier in the year, have Saga up on the docket, and have just finished the remarkable Equinoxes by Cyril Pedrosa.

Equinoxes follows the intertwining lives of a group of strangers living in France, and all of the muddled beauty that exists in their associated milieu. The artwork is at once unique, familiar and aesthetically intriguing. The plot, narrative and illustrations are all crafted with meticulous attention that flows perfectly from page to page, giving each vignette a dreamy, cinematic quality. The characters are skillfully drawn into life, with their brief interludes leaving a sizable emotional impression as they each explore existential truths, the depth beneath the banal, and the fleeting beauty of each moment. At once raw, cynical, wry, and sentimental, Equinoxes is a graphic novel that demands you pay attention, for the lives depicted in its pages are both familiar and revealing.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

What I've Read: The Best American Poetry 2016

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

Poetry is often plagued by the accusation that it’s written for an audience that consists, primarily, of other poets. The relative universal accessibility of poetry becomes a constant question, which is invariably followed by the sub-question: does the universality or accessibility of poetry actually matter?

I don’t know – I've never been able to answer that, not during my undergrad degree, or in the poetry workshops I attended, or in the pages of literary criticism and books of poetry I’ve read before, during, and after that time. All I know is that poetry has vitality and immediacy that makes the act of reading poetry an important human endeavor.

Are there poems that achieve and embody that vitality and immediacy in The Best American Poetry 2016? Yes, of course. There are beautifully deft, clever, soul-shaking poems contained within. Do I agree with all of the selections? No, but that’s to be expected.

There were poems in it that I actively disliked due to my own aesthetic reader-response tics; I have a general antipathy for pithy references to other poets in poetry (probably in part because it calls back the question of whether poetry is strictly for poets). This presented a bit of a problem, as meta-references to other poets are present in a large amount of the poems selected for this year's anthology. While that aspect can be a distraction, there are poems that either make the reference worthwhile or include it in such a way that it unobtrusively becomes part of the poem’s greater tableau.

As in all things, your mileage may vary – one of the great strengths of the Best American Poetry series is each edition falls under the editorial gaze of other established poets working in the medium and, as such, can contain any number of overt or subtle themes each year.  Either way, it’s always interesting to see what gets selected. Fans of poetry should be checking out this series every year!

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!