Monday, October 9, 2017

What I've Read: peluda by Melissa Lozada-Oliva

Thank you to NetGalley for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for review.
I love me some free-form, thoughtful, intersectional feminist poetry, so I'm thrilled that I was able to pick up peluda by Melissa Lozada-Oliva.

Filled with biting, vibrant poetry, peluda is a close examination of girlhood, cultural identity, Latina identity, immigration, and body hair. This series of poems tackles heady and deeply personal subject matter with wit, grace, anger and humour, organically illustrating the complexity of gender in both public and private space. These intersections of identity are chronicled through each poem, giving a confessional tone throughout the text. Occasionally experimental in form, the poems of peluda are also filled with complex language and metaphors, code-switching between English and Spanish, enhancing the conversational and confessional tone. Melissa Lozada-Oliva balances these multitudinous ideas and themes in a way that never feels overwhelming, confidently allowing the reader to consider the many things being said.

To that end, peluda isn't afraid to ask what hair does and means, what our bodies do and mean, and how they are compromised, protected, and negotiated by external - and often oppressive - systems. It's a bold and thoughtful account of femininity, the body, and the ways in which those concepts and realities are expressed.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

What I've Read: Park Bench by Christopher Chabouté

Christopher Chabout√©'s Park Bench is a quiet, meditative graphic novel centered around - you guessed it- a park bench.

A unique approach to graphic narrative, the story at the center of Park Bench is told entirely without written dialogue. Instead, the reader bears witness to the peculiar rhythms of life for a rotating cast of characters: the marginalized, the retired, the reckless, the quiet, all interacting in the liminal spaces of both the comic panel and the park depicted therein.

The lack of dialogue gives a definitively cinematic and voyeuristic sensibility to the story - the reader feels at once immersed in its world, and distinctly outside of it, unable to be fully absorbed. The effect is also one in which the reader is writing the story themselves, being guided by the images on the page, all culminating in a satisfying - but not entirely dramatic - conclusion.

Park Bench is a graphic exploration of the concept of sonder - "the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own". It's a fun, heartfelt, and quietly moving journey into the concepts of space and stranger - and how we understand them as part of ourselves.

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

What I've Read: Best American Poetry 2017

Every year, I look forward to the latest in the Best American Poetry series; it's a wonderful way to gaze upon a sampling of the previous year's poetic output. I mean, I love poetry, but who could possibly keep up with every single piece in every single journal each year? We're so lucky to have a glut of access to great poetry, and equally lucky to have poetry anthologies to help us sort through it all.

This year's Best American Poetry anthology is particularly remarkable in that I don't know if there would be any anthology - a nonfiction/journalistic one, perhaps, but not necessarily - that would better encapsulate the social, emotional, and political turmoil of 2016-2017 than guest editor Natasha Trethewey's poetry selections.

The poems featured in this year's Best American series vary widely in terms of theme, execution, technique, et al. When placed together, however, a remarkable unfolding occurs: grief and joy share space; anger and upheaval marry revolution and hope. The text unflinchingly and properly examines what it means for the political to be personal and vice versa. Many of the poems carry their emotional heft in the interplay of this examination. There is, also, a balance of the individual and the collective, the historical and the personal, so the reader never feels lost in the chaos of the past year. This is anthology is reckoning, reflection, and revelation. The poems are representative of all of the confusion, clarity, and celebration that emerge as a result.

I would definitely recommend this for fans of poetry in general and the Best American Poetry series.

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

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

What I've Read: Generations by Flavia Biondi

Thank you to NetGalley and Lion Forge for providing copies of this book.

I love a good graphic memoir - it's probably my favorite genre of comic, especially after having been long burnt out on the superhero genre - at Generations by Flavia Biondi is a stunning example of the genre.

At once confessional, heartfelt, and introspective, Generations follows a brief period of coming of age for its protagonist, Matteo. He's back in his country hometown after a harsh breakup in Milan, living with his ailing grandmother and colorful aunts, and dealing with the dual challenges of being closeted and heartbroken.

Generations explores grief and love in its many iterations, framed principally by Matteo's breakup with his ex-boyfriend Massimo, as well as the difficulty of being estranged from his father shortly after coming out.

The introspection and self-growth in Generations unfolds organically, packing several emotional punches but never feeling overwrought or melodramatic. A beautiful examination of what it means to grow into oneself - and finding your place in your family and your own skin.

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.