Thursday, December 31, 2015

Books Read in 2016

My friend Melanie always reports on the books she has read every year. I would like to do that as a tradition, so I thought I would begin tonight, on NYE of 2015.

Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick: It's a quick but rich read, wonderful in its analysis and in putting together the context of the story with Melville and 1850. I appreciate this as a writer, too, as Philbrick breaks things down in themes and analysis. 

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr: How could I not pick this one up?! Her frankness, humor, and ease are wonderful and inspirational. Really, she lays out the truth as she knows it, one of the things she says about memoir writing.

Postmarked: Bleeding Kansas, Letters from the Birthplace of the Civil War, Pioneer Dispatches from Edward and Sarah Fitch: Living in Lawrence during 1855-63, ending with Quantrill's raid of Lawrence. This is a wonderful book of letters--full of hope, struggle, and heartbreak. 

Map: Exploring the World by Phaidon Press: Cartography Lovers Unite! This is the one to get, as it shows so many wonderful maps throughout time, the stories behind them, and how maps say more in what is omitted in them.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: As Toni Morrison says, "This is required reading." Memoir meets history meets you need to read this. Race is a fabrication by white supremacy built on slavery, redlining, police brutality, and incarceration. Also, very heartfelt, vulnerable, and NEEDED!

Moby-Dick (Norton Critical Editions, Second Edition) by Herman Melville: A classic, rediscovered while researching Bleeding Kansas and the books released around that time.

Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of Eight Hybrid Literary Genres, edited by Marcela Sulak and Jacqueline Kolosov. It is basically the things I have loved reading this past decade all in one. This serves as an explanation I hadn't thought of: why I love flash fiction, prose poetry, etc. Well, the hybridity of these things--I am in love with how hybrid writing becomes metaphor, becomes meta-, and why did I not think of this sooner? Each writer includes an essay about her or his work, then a part of the work. In fact, many of my favorite writers are here. 43 authors is a good number, but I am looking forward to Volume Two.

Like Water for Chocolate

Oscar Wao

Food, Inc. Reading Supplement

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Book Review of My Secret Wars of 1984 by Melissa Fite Johnson

I am deeply moved by this book review, as it touches on the things I hoped to accomplish with the book.


Dennis Etzel, Jr.’s deeply inspired My Secret Wars of 1984 is a wholly original collection. Each page contains an untitled prose poem, which add up to 366 alphabetized sentences, one for each day in 1984. That year is emphasized on every page, as song and film titles from that time take on new meaning. For Etzel, it was a “cruel summer,” and the way he and his family were treated was a “neverending story.”
Each poem feels like a jumble, a burst of thought—perhaps a representation of how a sensitive young boy’s mind might work. As I worked my way through the book, the significance of Etzel’s form became clear: “By drawing a panel for my story, a box surrounds me” (29). Indeed, comic books and superheroes play a huge part in this book, starting with the title, a reference to the 1984 comic book series Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars. Etzel, “a scholar of origin stories” (26), finds comfort in “the walls of comic books” (42), where he feels safe from wars both global and personal.
Etzel contrasts huge political events—“Reagan says” is a refrain that appears in more than twenty poems—with seemingly smaller personal events. However, the message this book conveys so beautifully is that no war is more or less important than another. The ache of transitioning “from middle to high school, from thirteen to fourteen” (19), of being bullied, of not being able to protect one’s mother, is as palpable as any Armageddon. Rather than dwell in painful moments, Etzel reveals flashes. His gym teacher tells him, “I hope you fall in life” after he falls from the chin-up bar. The Topeka ice storm, “the most damaging…in the city’s history” (50), is both literal and figurative; after Etzel’s mother comes out, “the neighborhood pushes us to the far side of the block, out of bounds” (72).
Another theme of this book is language as a lifeline. For writers, language is all we’ve got to make ourselves heard, but it’s so imperfect: “If language induces a yearning for comprehension, for perfect and complete expression, it also guards against it” (46). However, Etzel shouldn’t worry. His experiment with form—his 366 alphabetized sentences—is in no way gimmicky. Rather, it adds a layer to an already profound collection. In My Secret Wars of 1984, Etzel has found order in the chaos.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Part of my winter reading list: Bleeding Kansas

 Peacekeeping on the Plains : Army operations in bleeding Kansas
 Postmarked, bleeding Kansas : letters from the birthplace of the Civil War
 John Brown's holy war
 War to the knife : bleeding Kansas, 1854-1861
 Underground Railroad
 The abolitionists
 Capital dames : the Civil War and the women of Washington, 1848-1868
Fleeing for freedom : stories of the Underground Railroad
Give me liberty : speakers and speeches that have shaped America
How to be a heroine, or, What I've learned from reading too much
Indian Wars : the campaign for the American West

Friday, December 4, 2015


Hello anyone who is reading this.

I have to say, I am starting a project that is completely new to me, but not new to many.

It sounds ambiguous and I hate to be that one, but, really, it is something I want to wait to announce. More to come.

For now, check this out: