stuff I read

All Cats Are Introverts by Francesco Marciuliano

43821546Summary from Goodreads:
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of I Could Pee on This, Francesco Marciuliano presents this humorous and all too relatable book written from the perspective of some pensive, sometimes intense, but nonetheless insightful pets.

Have you ever been labeled as “antisocial,” “shy,” or “lost in your own thoughts” because you don’t realize someone’s been calling your name 148 times? The cats understand. All Cats Are Introverts is a collection of self-reflective poetry from cats that clearly shows them to be the insightful, often alert, crowd-averse, personally engaging, probably napping-as-we-speak introverts of the animal kingdom. Enjoy this completely relatable and hilarious book, and perhaps you will soon see the cat—and even yourself—in a whole new light.

Super-cute and a nice entry in the “stocking-stuffer funny books” category for the holidays. Five stars for the cute cat pictures, four stars for humor, three stars for the actual poems (they’re fine). (And if you want to know, I have one introverted cat – Aphra – and one attention-seeking, food-motivated drama queen – Shakespeare.  Of course.)

All Cats are Introverts is out October 15.

stuff I read

How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones

43682552Summary from Goodreads:
From award-winning poet Saeed Jones, How We Fight for Our Lives is a stunning coming-of-age memoir written at the crossroads of sex, race, and power.

“People don’t just happen,” writes Saeed Jones. “We sacrifice former versions of ourselves. We sacrifice the people who dared to raise us. The ‘I’ it seems doesn’t exist until we are able to say, ‘I am no longer yours.’ ”

Haunted and haunting, Jones’s memoir tells the story of a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family, within his country, within his own hopes, desires, and fears. Through a series of vignettes that chart a course across the American landscape, Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence—into tumultuous relationships with his mother and grandmother, into passing flings with lovers, friends and strangers. Each piece builds into a larger examination of race and queerness, power and vulnerability, love and grief: a portrait of what we all do for one another—and to one another—as we fight to become ourselves.

Blending poetry and prose, Jones has developed a style that is equal parts sensual, beautiful, and powerful—a voice that’s by turns a river, a blues, and a nightscape set ablaze. How We Fight for Our Lives is a one of a kind memoir and a book that cements Saeed Jones as an essential writer for our time.

I have followed Saeed Jones on social media and read his articles for a long time so I was so excited when his memoir was announced. And then How We Fight For Our Lives got picked as a Barnes and Noble Fall 2019 Discover title.

Wow. Simply, wow. Not a word wasted, not a word out of place. How We Fight For Our Lives is a beautiful, spare, rich memoir about being black and gay and how little space is given to those men as they grow from childhood to adulthood, especially when they grow up in a very conservative town. Internalized self-loathing is so common among these pages that I can’t even imagine the work Saeed must have done to be able to bare those emotions for the reader. The book is also a love letter to his late mother, those last few chapters cut me to the quick. A must-read, one of the best books of 2019.

How We Fight For Our Lives is out today.

Dear FTC: I read an advance copy of this book provided to my store for the Discover program.

mini-review · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Knitting the Fog by Claudia D. Hernández

43192004Summary from Goodreads:
Weaving together narrative essay and bilingual poetry, Claudia D. Hernández’s lyrical debut follows her tumultuous adolescence and fraught homecomings as she crisscrosses the American continent.

Seven-year-old Claudia wakes up one day to find her mother gone, having left for the United States to flee domestic abuse and pursue economic prosperity. Claudia and her two older sisters are taken in by their great aunt and their grandmother, their father no longer in the picture. Three years later, her mother returns for her daughters, and the family begins the month-long journey to El Norte. But in Los Angeles, Claudia has trouble assimilating: she doesn’t speak English, and her Spanish sticks out as “weird” in their primarily Mexican neighborhood. When her family returns to Guatemala years later, she is startled to find she no longer belongs there either.

A harrowing story told with the candid innocence of childhood, Hernández’s memoir depicts a complex self-portrait of the struggle and resilience inherent to immigration today.

Knitting the Fog is a moving memoir told through essays and poems about the author’s childhood in Guatemala and migrating to the US at the age of 10. It’s a very slice-of-life book, full of the details that a child remembers about playing with neighbors, the oddities of the neighborhood, and being raised by strong women. However, I found the balance of poetry-to-prose memoir made it tricky to read. In my opinion, the prose essays were the stronger of the two styles and could have been enlarged.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Golden Goblet: Selected Poems of Goethe by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Zsuzsanna Ozsváth (Translator), Frederick Turner (Translator)

45361728._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
The Golden Goblet traces Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s poetry from the idealism of youth to the liberation of maturity. In contrast to his rococo contemporaries, Goethe’s poetry draws on the graceful simplicity of German folk rhythms to develop complex, transcendent themes. This robust selection, artfully translated by Zsuzsanna Ozsváth and Frederick Turner, explores transformation, revolution, and illumination in Goethe’s lush lyrical style that forever altered the course of German literature.

The notes on the translators’ work and the introduction explaining how Goethe’s language changed over time and influenced art and literature were very interesting.

The poems? Eh, maybe not. The translators of The Golden Goblet were very careful to preserve the rhyme scheme and meter of the poems, but in doing so the poems felt very cold. Not inspiring or passionate, which are the first things one thinks of with Goethe. It may have been better had the publishers chose to do a facing-page style presentation, with the original German on one page and the new English translation facing the other. Because it was hard to judge how much Goethe was changing since he didn’t write in English. Since I read German, that would have been fun.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

Without Protection by Gala Mukomolova

41745837Summary from Goodreads:
In poems rich with sensuality and discord, Mukomolova explores her complex identity―Russian, Jewish, refugee, New Yorker, lesbian― through the Russian tale of Vasilyssa, a young girl left to fend for herself against the witch Baba Yaga. Heavy with family and fable, these poems are a beautiful articulation of difference under duress.

I saw the cover for Without Protection in the Coffee House Press catalog and decided to give it a go. These poems are raw and spare, in some cases autobiographical (there are Notes, which I can’t decide were necessary or not). It was a hard collection to read; it didn’t flow well. I think this is a case where the arrangement of the poems in the collection did a disservice – it felt jumbled and confusing.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

Mitochondrial Night by Ed Bok Lee

39974939._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Taking mitochondrial DNA as his guide, Lee explores familial and national legacies, and their persistence across shifting boundaries and the erosions of time. In these poems, the trait of an ancestor appears in the face of a newborn, and in her cry generations of women’s voices echo. Stories, both benign and traumatic, travel as lore and DNA. Using lush, exact imagery, whether about the corner bar or a hilltop in Korea, Lee is a careful observer, tracking and documenting the way that seemingly small moments can lead to larger insights.

Mitochondrial Night is a collection that I really, really want to love but I feel like the physical structure of some of the poems (lots of creative spacing, shapes, etc) gets in the way of the reading. The strongest poems were ones where Lee spoke of fatherhood or his daughter. The final poem, “Water in Love,” is gorgeous. A few poems (especially one written in Prince’s voice) really didn’t work for me. But all the poems were very narrative, with sweeping story arcs, and I deeply appreciated Lee’s work with those narrative shapes.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Twenty-Ninth Year by Hala Alyan

37570526Summary from Goodreads:
In Islamic and Western tradition, age twenty-nine is a milestone, a year of transformation and upheaval.

For Hala Alyan, this is a year in which the past–memories of family members, old friends and past lovers, the heat of another land, another language, a different faith–winds itself around the present. Hala’s ever-shifting, subversive verse sifts together and through different forms of forced displacement and the tolls they take on mind and body. Poems leap from war-torn cities in the Middle East, to an Oklahoma Olive Garden, a Brooklyn brownstone; from alcoholism to recovery; from a single woman to a wife. This collection summons breathtaking chaos, one that seeps into the bones of these odes, the shape of these elegies.

A vivid catalog of trauma, heartache, loneliness, and joy, The Twenty-Ninth Year is an education in looking for home and self in the space between disparate identities.

I was impressed with the poetic nature of Alyan’s novel Salt Houses so I was really interested in her new poetry collection. The poems in The Twenty-Ninth Year twist around themselves, unable to find an anchor in the body, in addiction, in middle America, or in the Middle East. It reminded me quite a lot of Porochista Khakpour’s excellent memoir Sick with that feeling of displacement. I didn’t quite feel that all the poems went together as a collection, though they are all good.

The Twenty Ninth Year is out now in the US.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

stuff I read

A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland by DaMaris B. Hill

40046136Summary from Goodreads:
A Publishers Weekly Top 10 History Title for the season
Booklist’s Top 10 Diverse Nonfiction titles for the year
BookRiot’s “50 Must-Read Poetry Collections”
Most Anticipated Books of the Year– The Rumpus, Nylon

A revelatory work in the tradition of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, DaMaris Hill’s searing and powerful narrative-in-verse bears witness to American women of color burdened by incarceration.

“It is costly to stay free and appear / sane.”

From Harriet Tubman to Assata Shakur, Ida B. Wells to Sandra Bland and Black Lives Matter, black women freedom fighters have braved violence, scorn, despair, and isolation in order to lodge their protests. In A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing, DaMaris Hill honors their experiences with at times harrowing, at times hopeful responses to her heroes, illustrated with black-and-white photographs throughout.

For black American women, the experience of being bound has taken many forms: from the bondage of slavery to the Reconstruction-era criminalization of women; from the brutal constraints of Jim Crow to our own era’s prison industrial complex, where between 1980 and 2014, the number of incarcerated women increased by 700%.* For those women who lived and died resisting the dehumanization of confinement–physical, social, intellectual–the threat of being bound was real, constant, and lethal.

In A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing, Hill presents bitter, unflinching history that artfully captures the personas of these captivating, bound yet unbridled African-American women. Hill’s passionate odes to Zora Neale Hurston, Lucille Clifton, Fannie Lou Hamer, Grace Jones, Eartha Kitt, and others also celebrate the modern-day inheritors of their load and light, binding history, author, and reader in an essential legacy of struggle.

*(The Sentencing Project)

I inadvertently finished my first #ReadHarder2019 task – poetry collection pubbed after 2014 – because the flap copy for this book doesn’t mention that DaMaris Hill’s responses are in poetry form! 🙀 (well, the Claudia Rankine comp should have clued me in, maybe)

Here I was, ready for some rather academic essays about the incarceration of Black women, and got slapped up the side of the head by Hill’s poems. And they are STUNNING. Each poem (or section of poems) is for a Black woman “bound” by incarceration, whether enslavement, racism, Jim Crow, misogyny, or the modern prison-industrial complex. Highly recommend.

The highlight of this collection is a poem cycle for Ida B. Wells that is presented first as a mathematical or logic equation then translated into poems. An incredible work of art.

A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing published yesterday, January 16.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.