I guess you could say the last few months got away from me. Maybe I was little burnt-out from all the summer reading I did, maybe I was feeling the weight of some emotionally heavy anniversaries, maybe I was just bogged down with books of a more academic nature. Really, it’s combination of all three that lead me to read a little less per month on this summer-fall cusp. But that’s okay - but I still cracked a few spines and flipped a few pages, and now I’ve got three months worth of reviews to share with you! Here’s a round-up of everything I read in August, September, and October.
POETRY MAGAZINE (JULY/AUGUST 2018) EDITED BY DON SHARE
I found it difficult to stay focused through a lot of this edition, especially through the last poem and the last essay of the issue. There were some gems - such as Terrance Hayes' excerpt from "To Float in the Space Between" & Krista Franklin's excerpt from "Under the Knife", both of which made me want to run out and read the full works. I also fond of some of the poems, especially pieces by Dunya Mikhail and Tony Lopez. Overall, though, I felt like this was a weaker issue. The lengthier pieces made it feel like work to read through them, and it felt like there was too much focus being placed on featured, big-name poets. It took away from the magic of the other pieces.
HONEYBEE BY TRISTA MATEER
I'm obsessed with this book. Absolutely, positively obsessed. I've wanted to get my hands on it for a long time, having read quite a few of Trista's chapbooks already. When Trista announced that it had been picked up by Central Avenue Publishing, I couldn't wait to see this beautiful little book with all of Trista's beautiful words perched on a bookstore shelf. Seeing that publishing house dream come true for other writers makes my heart swell, and this was no exception.
Trista has such a unique style to her. It sits somewhere on the hazy border between simplistic and modernized poetry and more layered, metaphorical forms - and each every word is tied up with the poet's own raw nerve-endings. These come from somewhere deep inside her, and reading something so intimate feels a bit like an intrusion and a lot like a privilege. It's one of those poetry books that makes you feel - happy, sad, heartbroken, lost, hopeless, hopeful. And all of that wild emotion can even inspire you to pick a pen. I've always felt that that's how you know a poetry collection works; if a book makes you feel so many things that you have to take a blank page to empty it all out on, then that book has done something right. That' Honeybee. A roller coaster ride of emotions that makes you get off ready to build your own theme park.
I just can't sing this collection's praises enough, and I truly can't wait to see what more Trista has hidden up her sleeve.
WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF BY EDWARD ALBEE
I first watched the film adaptation of this play in a high school creative writing class about seven years ago now, and again had it discussed in college lecture halls, but I'd never - not once - actually sat down and read the book.
I'm so glad I did, because while these words are meant to be read aloud on stage, there's something visceral about letting them playing out in your own head. The most interesting thing about this story to me is that in all my years studying the material, and now in finally reading its source, I don't like a single one of the characters. Not one. And yet, they're still sympathetic. I still feel for them, even if their personalities rub me in all the wrong ways, I still feel for them and I still care about how the story turns out. For a while, I thought this was just from acting choices in the movie pulling at my heartstrings, but just reading the words on a black-and-white page still made me feel for this dysfunctional little cast. That's pure talent on Albee's part: making unlikable people sympathetic. But I think it's also pretty true to life. There have been plenty of people I've met who I might not be crazy for and might not want to grab drinks with on a Saturday night, but I still feel for them when they hit rough patches, because we're all human and we're all just trying our best, and sometimes our best is messy or things just don't work out.
Checking this one off my reading bucket list felt good, but now I'm eager to dive in again and dissect it a little further. I'm just fascinated by the structure of the play and the nuances of its rough-edged players.
THIS SIDE OF PARADISE BY F. SCOTT FITZGERALD
I so wanted to love this book.
F. Scott Fitzgerald has long been one of my literary idols. The effortless way he drips detail into fluid, poetic prose has dragged me since that one day in eleventh grade English when I scanned the opening lines of The Great Gatsby for the first time. I've been hooked ever since, and have even tried (and failed, and tried again) to capture its essence in my own work.
That easy, languid style is present in this book. That's what made it so sensational, and it's what still has copies flying off shelves and into the hands of eager literature buffs. I appreciate that style, and I appreciate the story that it tells, but the characters just didn't grab me the way I wished they would. I found myself just not caring what happened to them. I was bored by them, and that made me apathetic toward the book as a whole. I wanted to care - I tried to care - but, ultimately, I just couldn't. From a literary standpoint, I can understand how this book boosted Fitzgerald to fame. The prose is absolutely beautiful, and he weaves thoughts and actions in a seamless blend that pull you easily from page to page. He threads themes of love and lust and greed and ambition effortlessly into even the simplest of sentences, and he truly as a talent for building fictional words on the foundations of his world's reality. But personally, I just didn't find myself rooting for Amory or caring much about what happened with his varied courtships.
JOHANNES CABAL THE NECROMANCER BY JONATHAN L. HOWARD
I've had this book recommended to me by the same person, over and over again, for about a year. We were book browsing one day (as in, we're two penny-pinching twenty-somethings not looking to spend any money but wanting very much to look at, but not buy, new books - which, in hindsight, was a mission destined to fail) when she got excited and yanked this one right off the shelf. "This one," she said, "This is what I've been telling you about." So I read the first page, and then the second page, and then wound up at the cash register passing bills to the store clerk because damn it I needed to see this thing through.
If you're into the creepy, twisted nature of something like American Horror Story: Freakshow but prefer it with a dash of black comedy a la Beetlejuice or Young Frankenstein, this is the book for you. The world inside these pages is wild and weird and, yes, pretty twisted. But the vivid characters, the moral hopscotch played by Johannes Cabal himself, and the spectacular landscape make the ride so incredibly worth it. It's comedic horror with a heart and everything about it just works so well. The carnival, the demons with their odd-shaped skulls and ghoulish bodies, the portrayal of Hell as a glorified and overheated DMV. It's funny and poignant and everything in between, and I can't wait to dig into the rest of the series!
Honestly, my dream now is to see this story portrayed as a film or mini-series. I'm telling you, it could be Netflix's next cult hit. And I might not have any screenwriting credits to my name, but if Jonathan Howard wants to talk adaptation rights, my line's open. Seriously. Call me.
UNCOMMON TYPE: SOME STORIES BY TOM HANKS
I like Tom Hanks. I like short stories. I like mundane, slice-of-life fiction. Put this all together and you'd think I'd be all about Tom Hanks writing mundane, slice-of-life short fiction and for a few precious moments in this book, you'd think right. There are some real gems in here, and Hanks really does tell all of stories with a genuine and honest voice. I just missed the spark I was really looking for out of this book.
Maybe the problem is that I went in with high expectations. I've read some of his writings before, so I was really ready for Tom Hanks to deliver. On a few pages, he did. On most, there was a lot to be desired. The majority of this book felt like it was scratching the surface of something special, and perhaps a little more digging would've broken through to the full potential each of these stories has. Because they're good. Their characters are solid and their concepts are rich. There's some really unique ideas in here, including a group of friends and a trip to the moon in a DIY rocket ship (a story that feels a little out of place among the other more contemporary pieces in the book, but that is perhaps all the more intriguing because of this). I just wish that there was more to them. This book really could be something incredible - it has so much untapped potential inside. As-is, though, it seems to sit on the cusp of greatness.
OUT OF AFRICA BY KAREN BLIXEN (ISAK DINESEN)
This is such a beautiful book.
I'm going to be completely honest and say that even though I've heard this title batted around hundreds of times before - in and out of classrooms, with other book enthusiasts, on Gilmore Girls - I never really knew what, exactly, it was about. I'm also going to be honest when I say that I'm glad I went in a little ignorant to the content. It made opening up the pages and exploring Blixen's world like an expedition to a new land.
Out of Africa shows the continent, its people, and its daily life in such a warm light. You can feel the love that Karen Blixen has for her farm and for the people she knew because of it. She formed such honest relationships with people whose customs were foreign but whose hearts were big and open. This is like a cross-cultural exploration of a place that truly deserves a bigger spotlight. It's also so historically rich, offering a unique perspective on European colonialism and its direct affects on both native African peoples and the colonists themselves, through Blixen's eyes.
I expected this to be a quick, easy read - and it was, but it was also so much more. It was a living snapshot of Blixen's life, and the life of those on her farm, bursting with color and with pride, with respect and with love.
BARRELHOUSE MAGAZINE ISSUE EIGHTEEN
I absolutely loved this issue, but it was the prose that really stood out to me. The fiction and non-fiction contributors in number eighteen held absolutely nothing back. They pulled at my heartstrings, they made me think, they made me more afraid of swarms of cicadas than I have been since I was a kid. If you want some weird and unique short fiction or seek poignant reflections from fathers and punk rockers, you need to pick this one up. You won’t be disappointed!