Perfectly Titled: The Kingdom of Ordinary Time by Marie Howe

Your English teacher probably taught that any poem should be read twice. The first time through you try to wrap your head around what’s being said. The second pass is for figuring out how that message is communicated. More often than not with the stuffy old poetry set in front of high school students, reading a poem twice through simply adds insult to injury. With Milton or Wordsworth or Shelly or Shakespeare, that first read is likely an exercise in how little you understood of what just happened and the second time only serves to underscore your inadequacies.

In Marie Howe’s collection The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, a second read serves its intended purpose, revealing nuance, new ideas, new connections. The language of Howe’s poems is simple and modern, but simple words, rightly arranged, can reveal complex ideas. Continue reading “Perfectly Titled: The Kingdom of Ordinary Time by Marie Howe”

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Christmas Gift #2: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

Fact: Humans need the nutrients provided by food to survive.

Anna O’Donnell has not consumed food in four months. The pious Roman Catholic girl spends her days praying and reading and singing, but appears happy and healthy, according to her village’s aging doctor. Anna claims she is sustained on manna from heaven.

That’s impossible thinks Lib Wright, Florence Nightingale trained nurse, veteran of the Crimean war.

Continue reading “Christmas Gift #2: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue”

Rec from a Friend: Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing

In her famous play, Fires in the Mirror, Anna Deavere Smith depicts both Black and orthodox Jewish residents of the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn. The play is a series of monologues, and each monologue is written in free verse.

Is poetry not just the province of Shakespeare and Milton, but of everyday speech? Eve L. Ewing, in Electric Arches seems to answer Smith’s hypothesis with a resounding “yes.”

Continue reading “Rec from a Friend: Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing”

Christmas Gift #1: Slow Horses by Mick Herron

Imagine this: my parents gave me books for Christmas! In 2018, instead of any particular goal, I’m going to use this blog to document and share what I read, from the Personal Library and beyond.

There is no greater happiness than a well-crafted thriller.

Plotiness is the most important quality: unexpected twists and turns, the occasional stiff, an ever shifting landscape of who’s good and who’s bad, who can be trusted and who can’t. Plotiness depends up premise: where does our protagonist come from, where does the adventure begin? Sure, anybody or anything could be the start of a good story, but how cliché is the “random bystander turned protagonist bad-ass”? (hint: very). A good premise, on the other hand, sets up moral dilemmas and establishes interesting characters. Ah, character, the third element. Plenty of thrillers run thin in the character development department, but the best ones? Yeah, they have complex characters, too.

Plotiness. Premise. Character. Get all three right and the result is the kind of novel that can’t help but be engaging.

Mick Herron’s Slow Horses is a masterpiece.

Continue reading “Christmas Gift #1: Slow Horses by Mick Herron”

Talk About Your Feelings: A River Runs Through It and other stories by Norman Maclean

If men would just talk about their feelings, Norman Maclean would be out of a job. Maclean’s characters (all men, except for the occasional whore or wife who belongs to them) are incapable of speaking their minds and so invent all sorts of ways to compensate for this short coming. The two-sentence letter is perhaps the most conventional. Loaning the right fishing fly at the right time represents brotherly love; messing up a master sawyer’s rhythm, an act of resentment; being banished to a mountain top lookout, punishment for upsetting the social order.

Continue reading “Talk About Your Feelings: A River Runs Through It and other stories by Norman Maclean”

Incompatible Genres: The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy

In The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, Louise Murphy maintains the iconic elements of her fairy-tale source material: the brother and sister, the breadcrumbs, the witch in the woods, the oven. But, through situating the story in Nazi occupied Poland, she makes those elements fit her own means. The oven is the clearest example of this: yes, the witch shoves Hansel and Gretel in the oven, but it is to save them, not harm them. Indeed, setting the twins-lost-in-the-woods story in such a historical moment certainly raises the stakes: as Jews on the run from the Nazis, the consequences of being discovered are much more traumatic than just a vengeful step-mother. Continue reading “Incompatible Genres: The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy”

The Bloody Heirlooms of Slavery: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

On September 15, 2017, Jason Stockley, a white St. Louis police officer, was acquitted of shooting and killing Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man. The prosecution presented evidence that Stockley made premeditated comments about killing the man they were chasing and that he planted a gun in Smith’s car after the shooting. The white judge, somehow, did not find this evidence damning.

In Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates recalls the death of a friend from Howard University, how Prince Jones was mistaken by the cops to be the drug dealer suspect they were looking for, despite not matching the height or weigh description, how he was chased out of Prince George County in Maryland to Northern Virginia, where he was shot and killed. The officer, a known liar, claimed Jones tried to run him over in his Jeep. The officer was hardly investigated and never charged. Continue reading “The Bloody Heirlooms of Slavery: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates”