2017

29 books
  • Madness

    Sam Sax

    Poems on themes of queerness, mental health, and STI stigmas. Structured around an excerpt of the DSM-I (from 1952), it fractures and reframes around these concepts throughout the four sections. A couple titles get revisited exactly across the book: Psychotherapy, On Prep or on Prayer; while Diagnosis progresses from Pre to Post. Madness felt more intense than I was expecting, even though it’s candidly so from the start. I had to let it sit for a while, but when I dug back in complexity was all the richer.

    Klonopin

    a doctor names the chemical imbalance in my brain

    & suddenly there’s an infant wailing up there.

    i swear the cradle appeared concomitant

    with the diagnosis, a migraine-white

    ...more
  • Life in Code

    Ellen Ullman

    After reading Ellen Ullman’s novel By Blood, I’ve been meaning to get to her memoir Close to the Machine, but before I could get around to that, she published another book centered around her experiences as a programmer, from before and during the early years of the internet. These essays were written from that inchoate era of the 1990s to today and build on each other excellently. Ullman has both a personal and critical perspective on how technology has changed nearly every aspect of our lives, at least for those of us with access to the internet.

    In “Programming for the Millions,” she digs into this question of accessibility, not just to get on the internet, but to understand...more

  • Forest Dark

    Nicole Krauss

    Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love has been a standby favorite I recommend to people often — something I’ve noted while writing about every subsequent book of hers that I’ve read. Realizing now that it’s been nearly ten years since I’ve read it makes me think it’s time for a re-read, especially after feeling let down by this new novel.

    Forest Dark is a very personal book, approximately half the story involves a writer named Nicole at the end of a marriage that has become entirely focused on the shared parenting of the children. It gets rather self-referential about writing and creativity, with several moments where Nicole ponders on questions of writing and narrative:

    Why had I really come to Tel Aviv? In

    ...more
  • The Chronology of Water

    Lidia Yuknavitch

    I thought I would love this, based on recommendations. But I did have one friend say she wasn’t as entranced as she expected, and I found my reaction much the same. A memoir told in vignettes that roughly progresses chronologically, Lidia Yuknavitch grew up in an abusive, neglectful household, and her one escape was swimming. At the end of high school, she pursues a scholarship in hopes of escape, yet despite her success in securing her independence, she struggles with addiction and self-destructive habits for many years.

    There are some really hard parts to read in this, most especially the one where Yuknavitch writes of causing a head-on car collision with someone she describes as “a 5′ tall brown skinned...more

  • Under Wildwood

    Colin Meloy & Carson Ellis

    When I read the first book in this trilogy, I made a comment about reading this second part “at my earliest convenience,” which turned out to be about five years later. This volume explores more areas of the fantastical land of Wildwood, where people and anthropomorphized animals coexist. It is a fairly straightforward sort of story where characters are either good or bad, and there is no development in between. But it’s a pleasant page-turner, and the book is written to make best use of Carson Ellis’s nostalgic illustration style.more

  • Devotion

    Patti Smith

    Compared to Just Kids or M Train, this little book feels so slight and incomplete. But as a small continuation of the themes of creation and artistic drive, it’s a pleasure. Devotion is an expansion of a talk she gave at the 2016 Windham-Campbell Lectures, published as part of the Why I Write series.

    I could probably read about Patti Smith’s travels to artists’ homes and grave sites for a thousand pages. Here she takes a spontaneous trip to Simone Weil’s grave and later accepts an invitation to visit Camus’s house in the south of France, the latter of which prompts her to question:

    Why is one compelled to write? To set oneself apart, cocooned, rapt in solitude, despite the

    ...more
  • I’ll Never Write My Memoirs

    Grace Jones

    As celebrity memoirs go, this one is fully par for the course. Rock writer Paul Morley has shaped Grace Jones’s life stories into somewhat of a narrative, but it still has a tendency to ramble back and forth over time, likely from hours and hours of conversation that did just that. Her stories are fascinating, no doubt, even more so if you have any interest in the Studio 54 era and reading about people doing tons of drugs.

    The book opens with Jones’ troubled upbringing, she and her siblings are left with their grandmother and their abusive, strictly religious step-grandfather in Jamaica while their parents move to the US to establish themselves before bringing their children over, having no...more

  • My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter

    Aja Monet

    she is an archipelago of shanty towns, she is invention and

    necessity. found scraps, a bouquet of bloody music in her

    hands. cane of sugar, leaves of tobacco, a cluster or bananas,

    coffee beans, the husk of corn, a poppy seed, tea shrub, spikelet

     

    of wheat, rice flower, gold nuggets, diamonds & coltan—she is

    an incantation bellowing from the fields and mines. look for her

    in the ruins, at the funeral procession, drunk off palm wine,

    screaming in a traffic of arms. lonely, but not alone.

    An “ode to mothers, daughters, and sisters,” My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter feels like an epic volume of poetry, woven from experiences in East New...more

  • The First Rule of Punk

    Celia C. Pérez

    I am 100% biased with this book, as Celia is a longtime friend. But while it could be possible that I loved this solely from seeing Celia’s heart and humor within the narrative, she has been getting so much amazing feedback (including NPR interviews, shout outs from John Green, and this insightful extended review #humblefriendbrags) that it can’t just be my partiality at play.

    The star of the book is Malú, who feels that she relates more to her punk rock father than her mother, who she calls “SuperMexican,” as her mom is so devoted to embodying her cultural heritage. When her mom gets a two-year academic job in Chicago, the two of them will need...more

  • We Gon’ Be Alright

    Jeff Chang

    Essays on race arguing that inequality impacts everyone. Jeff Chang whittles big concepts down into a manageable book — it’s a petite volume, but I marked it up a lot. I’m gonna be lazy and just share a bunch of excerpts here since I took so long to get around to writing something up, and his words are more succinct than mine would be.

    In “Is Diversity for White People?” Chang questions who the notion of diversity serves, at one point stating:

    Diversity allows whites to remove themselves while requiring the Other to continue performing for them.

    “What a Time to be Alive” is about student protest, where he quotes from Mari Matsuda before digging into some ideas on resegregation:

    “Tolerance of hate speech

    ...more

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