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.