Everything I Read in January

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In 2018, I made a commitment not only to read twenty more books than I did last year, but a promise to myself to diversify my reading genres a bit. In the past two years alone, I've really increased the amount and the style of poetry I read, and I've also made an effort to read fiction from as wide a range of genres as I can find. I have a lot of different interests in the non-fiction realm, too. Add onto that the fact that I keep telling myself to read more classics, and then keep bypassing them in the store, and I have quite a lot on my plate in the giant dinner table of literature. So, I decided to set up a checklist for each month: read one fiction book, one poetry book, one non-fiction book, and one classic work every month. This brings me to about one book per week, or 48 books total, so I'll have to work to get in those extra two to make it fifty (I assume I'll find them in the form of poetry collections or plays, as I read through those the fastest). 

This month, I started out strong with six reads accomplished. One of these was a digital advance reader copy of a collection coming out in February, and the other was given to me as a PDF in exchange for a fair review. I'll note those in their individual reviews below. 

NORSE MYTHOLOGY BY NEIL GAIMAN

This book felt calming to me; it was as though Neil Gaiman was reading me bedtime stories. Of course, true to Gaiman's style, they're the kinds of bedtime stories that don't shy away from the gorier or more heartbreaking details. But that just makes them more interesting, doesn't it?

These are stories I remember reading as a kid in an illustrated book that taught myths from around the world. I was always fascinated by the Norse stories, and in that way this book felt a bit like coming home. I was reintroduced to stories I've not thought about in years, and greeted by new ones I hadn't yet heard. There is overarching feeling of magic and wonder in this book. It's absolutely a new favorite, and will definitely be something I return to again and again.

DEAR JUDAS BY MELISSA JENNINGS

I was given a PDF copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Dear Judas will be available on Amazon on February 10, 2018. 

You know how certain books find you at just the right time in your life, delivering just the right words you need to hear? That is Dear Judas for me. I found myself in solidarity with the poet throughout. If you have faced your own Judas, if you have experienced betrayal in some way, this book will speak to your soul. At many points I felt that Melissa was there with me, telling me this story. That is the magic of this book, and of Melissa's incredible writing. It is personal and poignant. It goes straight to your heart.

THE TEMPEST BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

This was my classic pick for the month, and it was something of a re-introduction to the story for me, as the last time I read this book was in my sophomore year in college. Although I definitely understood and appreciated the story more the second time around, I still feel the same sentiments I did the first time: this is a story truly meant to be performed. (Yes, it's a play, and it's purpose is to be performed. But some plays read as well as they present, and others don't.)

I feel like reading The Tempest lets you only see half its mastery. You lose some of the magic, both literally in Prospero and Ariel's enchantments and figuratively in the magic and wonder of the theater, when reading The Tempest merely as text. I enjoyed the story thoroughly, but I kept feeling as thought there was something fundamental missing through reading instead of watching and listening.

THE BOOK OF ALL LOVERS BY BRUNO A. RIBEIRO

I received a digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

This is such an incredibly unique book. I've not explored the realm of the modern epic in great depth, but in what I've read here I can confidently say that Ribeiro is a master of this style. I felt drawn to this narrative as if it were a favorite novel. The story never once got lost inside the verse, and the language throughout was simply lovely. 

The style of the book felt familiar; it was very reminiscent of classic epics. I found myself reminded of Beowulf and The Odyssey. This is something I could see being added to English literature curriculums down the line. It was fit in perfectly. And yet the story felt so new and fresh that I remained sucked in from start to finish. Beautiful work from an incredibly talented poet! 

I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking to branch into new genres of poetry. It's both familiar and refreshing, and it would make an excellent addition to anyone's shelf.

THE SUN AND HER FLOWERS BY RUPI KAUR

This is a beautiful collection of poetry, and Rupi Kaur's talent is undeniable. Her simple illustrations compliment her words wonderfully and overall I genuinely enjoyed this book. There were so many pieces inside that reached directly for my heart. Kaur has a way of taking simple sentences and stringing them in a way that leaves you breathless. 

That said, I did find myself scrawling "milk & honey?" on a few too many pages. I felt like I had read some poems before, and reading other reviews and thumbing back through Kaur's debut confirmed this feeling. While there's nothing wrong with reusing and recycling poetry, I felt it simply happened too much in this collection. I also found myself begging for some punctuation halfway through. I appreciate Kaur's simplistic style and think it works wonders for the tone and impact of her pieces, but I found myself reading and re-reading lines because I kept getting inflections and pauses wrong without punctuation to guide me. I do wonder if this is Kaur's intent? It could certainly be an interesting artistry. 

Overall, this is a good book of poetry. I've definitely dog-eared some pages to return to. The way the book the structured is brilliant, and my absolute favorite section is probably "Rooting". It felt like such an intimate portrayal specifically of Kaur's mother, and struck me right in the heart.

A BRIGHT AND GUILTY PLACE BY RICHARD RAYNER

chapter I was definitely captivated. I bought this books years ago after finishing "L.A. Noir". Having never visited Los Angeles before, and never even going to California, I was surprised at how wrapped-up I got in its history. It's got such a deep, colorful, oftentimes shady history that will definitely pull you in regardless of your proximity to the city. Half the time it feels like you're reading a script for a movie being filmed in its shimmery, famous Hollywood hub, and yet these are all real. Definitely fascinating, and definitely a topic I'd love to read even more about. 

*BONUS SCREENPLAY READ*
THE SHAPE OF WATER BY GUILLERMO DEL TORO & VANESSA TAYLOR

Years ago, when Script Frenzy was still an official National Novel Writing Month event, I taught myself how to format a screenplay so that I could try my hand at film writing. Years after that, I took a formal class in script and screenwriting with the Gotham Writers Workshop, then followed my teacher from that class on to a class in dialogue where I once again used his guidance to learn and grow my screenwriting skills (while also learning how to write more natural and believable dialogue; which is, of course, important in film). I haven't written much for the screen since then, but I want to go back to it, even if just for the personal challenge. As with any form of writing, the best way to learn and improve is to read. With that in mind, I made another commitment to try to read at least one screenplay per month. This month, I chose The Shape of Water.

I saw the film twice in theaters; once on my own, prior to reading the script, and once with a friend, after reading the script. I already thing this story is bizarrely beautiful and full of magic, but there's something about the way the del Toro and Taylor write that just makes it...sing. That sounds cliche, doesn't it? But it's true. The way that they handle these characters, and the way that they visualized this world was perfect. And when seeing the film for the second time, with the script in mind, it's truly remarkable how accurately the story played out on screen. Of course, that's the entire point, but it's just done so perfectly in this case that I remain blown away. 

I know that there's a novelization of the story, too, and now I'm determined to get my hands on it. I love being able to see a story grow and morph and change as it traverses different mediums, and I'd like to see the difference between novel page, script page, and screen.