The Stack of Books Next to My Bed

stack-of-books2016-8

I read a lot, and keep a massive stack of unread books next to my bed that I’ve bought, found, or been given. I’ve got two main principles when it comes to reading:

  1. It should be fun.
  2. There’s a whole lot of different books out there to check out.

Up until 2017 I wrote about each book I read in 99 words or less and posted one review a week to keep myself on track. I post these reviews less frequently now, but here’s hoping you find something you like.

Telling My Father, by James Crews (2017)

James Crews’s poetry is poignant, thoughtful, easy to read, and most importantly, leaves you thinking in ways that feel genuine instead of forced.  The first of this collection’s four parts relays the poet’s memories of his father that, far from waxing nostalgic, unfold into a complex web of admiration, unease, guilt, and self-discovery that culminates in an unspoken, shared moment.  Here the power lies in the placement of each poem, and Telling My Father shows how it’s not just the writing that matters, but the space between the writing that lets us form the most meaningful connections.

More

Telling My Father at Southeast Missouri State University Press

Longer Review at The Hopper

James Crews Talks Grad School and the Creative Life with Yours Truly

The Best Stuff I Read in 2017

A few years ago I realized that I was buying more books than I was reading, and that I wasn’t reading as often as I wanted to.  If these trends had continued I would have kept falling further and further behind until I had a stack of to-read books from floor to ceiling but would still be wading through things I’d picked up in the grad school free pile.

A lot’s changed since then, but the pile’s still just as towering: as of today, 62 books remain in the stack, a slight increase that came with the holiday season since I hit up a few book sales and got a lot of Christmas gifts.  In any case, I keep finding things that look interesting and wanting read them, which in my mind is a good thing.

I don’t think I’ll ever stop buying books—the real trick lies in realistically deciding Continue reading »

Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr. (2009)

A genius baby is born to a Maine family with an alcoholic mother and a cocaine-addict older son, but the kicker is that the baby knows that a stray comet’s going to destroy the world in 2010.  The novel goes in wildly varied directions from here using different narrators and styles, with no two sections alike and plenty of black humor.  The second-person sections take some getting used to but add an otherworldly flair that becomes essential plot-wise, resulting in a thoughtful meditation on what it means to enjoy life and find meaning in the face of tragedy.

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Forever. . . by Judy Blume (1975)

This is the Judy Blume book where they fuck, and where the characters use the word “fuck” kind of a lot for 1975, which made this book a pretty big deal when it came out. It’s a story about love and sex—those youthful ideals we all have before we discover what relationships are, get adjusted, then move on—a lot for 200 pages. As a guilty pleasure, most of it holds up pretty well aside from some clichéd issues, with Blume perfectly capturing the magnitude of 18 year-old Katherine and Michael’s first love and sexual fumbling.

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Solanin, by Inio Asano (2005)

Meiko Inoue is a twentysomething living with her boyfriend in Tokyo, working in an office, and wondering whether her life could be something more.  There’s a lot more to the story than that (hint: the “more” involves playing in a band), but this manga’s most profound moments come in the characters’ contemplations about the creative life versus a stable work life, along with the emptiness that comes from not having a passionate outlet.  It’s rougher and very different than Asano’s Nijigahara Holograph, though the images share the same majestic beauty and the story captures a similar sense of wonder.

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In the Woods of Memory, by Shun Medoruma (2009, translated by Takuma Smiley, 2017)

In the Woods of Memory tells of the rape of a teenage girl during the American occupation after the Battle of Okinawa and the subsequent attack on an American soldier by a young Japanese fisherman.  Though the novel begins in 1945, most of it takes place sixty years later as Medoruma places us in the perspectives of nine Japanese and American characters, bridging the events across time.  The novel’s real power unfolds as readers merge its events together on their own, pinnacling in the stream-of-consciousness Seiji chapter (originally written using Okinawan dialect) that evokes the most powerful modernist fiction.

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More

In the Woods of Memory at Stone Bridge Press

In the Cards, by Angela D’Onofrio (2016)

D’Onofrio’s novels take place in fictitious Aviario, Connecticut, a town where the underground lines of magic intersect and supernatural happenings abound. This second book in the series revolves around a string of murders, a demon that haunts one of the town’s oldest families, and a romance that everyone except the main character thinks is a bad idea.  The story’s real energy, however, comes from its twentysomething cast of characters who read tarot cards, run a magic shop, play table-top games, and never fail to talk like real people, making the whole novel feel decidedly current (spirit animals notwithstanding).

More

Angela D’Onofrio’s website

Author interview

The Possessed, by Elif Batuman (2010)

Elif Batuman is a grad student in Russian literature, and these essays are about her adventures.  Aside from some dense portions related to the actual Russian literature, this book moves, due in no small part to Batuman’s dry, quick-witted humor that pokes fun at everyone from the Uzbek landlord who feeds her from an ant-covered jam jar to the elderly professor who literally shits his pants.  The real gems, however, are Batuman’s introduction on why she avoided creative writing (reminiscent of her essay “Get a Real Degree”) and her reflections on grad student obsessions—both pointed commentaries on academia.

Rating

Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis (1951)

While waiting for a train, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are sucked back into a much-changed Narnia to help the rightful Prince Caspian regain his throne.  I’ve realized that for me the most lukewarm sections of the Narnia books are the battles, which Lewis relates either through dialogue, summary, or another distancing mechanism.  With World War II a recent memory in 1951, these battles are clearly important to Lewis, but fail to capture the modern imagination.  A shame, since the rest of this is quite immersive, with the Christian symbolism once again revealed in a more controlled manner.

Rating

The Horse and His Boy, by C.S. Lewis (1954)

A boy raised in the Calormen desert south of Narnia meets a talking horse and flees a life of slavery on a journey north.  Lewis’s Christian symbolism grows even more painfully obvious here, espousing an outdated fable of a heathen from the backward Pagan lands (Calormen) embracing Jesus (Aslan) as he works to get to heaven (Narnia).  This feels more egregious when you consider Lewis’s treatment of Calormen with a Middle Eastern theme, though his protagonist’s skin is “fair and white” like the “beautiful barbarians of the north.”  Combine this with an unimaginative plot and the result is….not worthwhile.

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The Magician’s Nephew, by C.S. Lewis (1955)

After finishing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe I decided to give the rest of the series a try—plus I found a cheap set of the other Narnia books at Salvation Army.  The Magician’s Nephew is Lewis’s prequel, with a Genesis-type story that tells how Narnia came to be, with more than a few Biblical allusions.  Though the first half is genuinely solid children’s lit (magic rings, a lost world, childhood observations, etc.), the creation scenes go on for far too long.  Still, it’s worth reading for the London sections and the introduction of the White Witch.

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The Wanting Seed, by Anthony Burgess (1962)

In a vastly overpopulated future, London’s Ministry of Infertility coerces the populace to either stop having children or take up with your own sex.  Though the concept has tremendous potential, Burgess seems more interested in his theories of overpopulation and cycles of government than in the plot, which merely serves as a vehicle for his ideas—as thought-provoking as they are, the book itself is a bit of a slog.  Its 1960s treatment of homosexuality is also downright insulting today, combined with a few cringeworthy thoughts on race.  Better to read A Clockwork Orange and leave this one buried.

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