Tessara’s 2016 Top Ten Recommended Reads

I like books. If you follow this blog, you know that. (Also, if you follow me on Tumblr or Instagram, or if you spend any amount of time with me in person.) Since the holidays are coming up, I wanted to share a list of 10 books (okay, 11) I read this year that I recommend. Many of them are poetry books, but there’s memoir, fiction, and history in here, too.

Do yourself a favor and pick these up. If you’ll be travelling to visit folks, these would make great plane, bus, or train reading. Is there a reader in your life that you’re shopping for? These would also make great gifts. I’m just saying you should buy, beg, or borrow these books. You won’t regret it.

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program, and I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

 

1. March Book 1 & Book 2 by John Lewis

These are scary, comforting, thrilling, painful, and so much. John Lewis’s graphic memoir trilogy is a love letter to the Civil Rights Movement, a reflection on the youth of a lifelong activist and advocate. Though I haven’t read the 3rd one yet, I am fully confident that it would also belong on this list. Recommended for organizers, graphic art fans, students of history, memoir lovers, and people who need a little strength in their lives today. Get them at Amazon: March: Book One & March: Book Two

2. The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat

This novel in stories circles around the titular character, each chapter told by a different character in his community. This book encompasses the terror of Haiti under Papa Doc Duvalier and the uncertainty of a New York Haitian neighborhood. The threads of shared experience bind the characters together: 1960s Haiti echoes in their lives, even (perhaps especially) those who seek to escape it the most. A brilliant read. Recommended for immigrants, the children of immigrants, diasporan people, and anyone looking for a deep read. Buy the book here: The Dew Breaker

3. After by Fatimah Asghar

My GoodReads Review: Asghar plays with space and form in ways that challenge the reader. Some pieces are physically difficult to decipher, structure lending itself to complex meanings and resisting the simple. Many of the poems are hard to read in content rather than form, and the combination of pieces works well. The occasional levity, such as that created by “Medusa Apologizes” rounds out this thoughtful, lovingly produced collection. Definitely recommended! Recommended for survivors, victims, heartbroken lovers, and resilient women.

4. to love as aswang by Barbara Jane Reyes

This collection of poems is beautiful and painful. Drawing on community experiences, cultural history, and myths, Reyes examines and affirms the lives of Filipina Americans, refusing to shy away from the painful even as she embraces the beautiful. Though the foundations are sometimes horrifying, the concept one takes away is resistance, a history of struggle and strength embodied every day. Recommended for Pinay, feminists, new Americans, survivors, and defiantly monstrous women.

5. The Gunnywolf by Megan Snyder-Camp

I reviewed this, along with Snyder-Camp’s other 2016 release, Wintering, for Mom Egg Review—click here to read that review. The Gunnywolf uses the mythical figure of the gunnywolf to reflect on race in the United States, and the author’s own place in racial justice movements of today. Recommended for poets, fans of folk tales, white allies, and anyone feeling out a new existence in a post-Ferguson world. Snag a copy: The Gunnywolf

6. Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire

Beyonce loves Warsan Shire, and you should too. This is an amazing and heartfelt collection of poems, definitely among the best I’ve read this year. Recommended for poets, immigrants, the children of immigrants, and lovers of beautiful difficult things. Buy a copy here: Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth (Mouthmark)

7. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This was a hard read, but a very important one. HeLa cells have been at the heart of much scientific progress, but this book tells the little-known story of the woman behind the cells. The author takes us through the struggles of a family and the medical community that has so often failed them, managing nevertheless to highlight the humanity of both. Recommended for scientists, activists, fans of memoir and history, and anyone willing to look unflinchingly at the legacy of scientific racism. Get a copy: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

8. My People Are Rising: Memoir of a Black Panther Party Captain by Aaron Dixon

This was a really interesting read. I met Aaron Dixon in 2013 when he came to speak at my university about his time organizing with the Panthers. He was a really calm presence, and a sweet and humble guy. His memoir is a great read, and really gives insight to the history of the Party. Recommended for revolutionaries, memoir fans, BPP fans, and readers interested in US organizing history. Pick up a copy here: My People Are Rising: Memoir of a Black Panther Party Captain

9. [insert] boy by Danez Smith

My GoodReads Review: Dang. DANG. Recommended for Black folks, poets, poetry fans, QTPOC. Get it at Amazon: [insert] boy (Kate Tufts Discovery Award)

10. The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss

I’m actually still reading this one, but it’s been great so far. I’m about 2/3 of the way through it. It’s fun and funny, while also being very informative—I’m not really a scholar of European history, and reading this has actually filled in some gaps for me regarding French history. Recommended for the lay historian, Francophiles, literature nerds, and anyone who loves adventure stories. Pick it up here: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

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Trees of Reverie Readathon: Dec15-Jan16, Challenge 1

Hi, hi!

I hope y’all are having a great new year. I’ve been keeping busy, trying to get ready for the start of the next term, getting my small press’s books into shops here in Portland, and trying to squeeze in time with friends before classes start. I’ve been writing, drawing, and reading, as well.

I’ve signed up for the December 2015/January 2016 Trees of Reverie Readathon, hoping to finish up some personal reading before I head into the term and only have time for school reading. (Which will be awesome reading, my classes are brilliant, I just also love my personal reading choices.) Unfortunately, my laptop died (on Christmas morning and everything!), so while I’ve been reading, I haven’t been able to participate in the blogging part of it — until now!

Bookish Challenge 1: TBR List & Reading Goals

TBR List

  • To continue:
    • Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
      • This book is brilliant. It’s also really long. (GoodReads says the ebook is 832 pages, though my file shows 1315 pages, so my version may have shorter pages or something.) I have no hopes of finishing this during this readathon, because classes begin Monday, and it’s a very long read. I’m currently just over 1/4 of the way through, and I love it so far. I am interested in history, and this is the kind of book I want to write someday: a funny, interesting, conversational approach to history, that engages the reader and relates facts without bogging down the narrative with strings of dates and incidents just rattled off one after the other. The style is educational, but not entirely impartial. I very much appreciate Chernow’s willingness to question the morality of choices made by the people he writes about. He does not dance around the horror of slavery, nor does he avoid acknowledging that people we consider great owned slaves. While I am a little uncomfortable with his veneration for capitalism, and I am wary of his embrace of empire, overall I think this is a brilliant, well-written book, and I’ll probably come back to it when I begin to research and write history books in the future.
  • To start/finish:
    • Washington’s Spymaster: Memoir of Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge by Benjamin Tallmadge
      • I started this because I wanted to squeeze in something short at the end of the year, to boost my number for the 2015 GoodReads Reading Challenge. It ended up, however, being a lot harder to read than expected, because (to be frank) it’s kind of boring. While I love history, I prefer something more like Chernow’s style. This book is very dry, less a memoir than it is a listing of battles and actions of the US Revolutionary War, with special note of where Tallmadge was serving in relation to the main action. It also features very little mention of spying — it comes up for the first time 34% of the way through, and is not dwelt on at length.
    • Scars/Stars by Walidah Imarisha
      • I know Walidah; she teaches in the Black Studies department at my university, and I have had the pleasure of taking her History of the Black Panther Party course. She is a wonderful scholar and a brilliant poet. She co-edited Octavia’s Brood, and her story in that collection is funny and poignant. Recently, I was able to get a copy of her poetry book Scars/Stars, and I’m loving it, though it will definitely warrant a re-read. This one’s been slow going for me, as I read over each poem, annotate it, and digest it one by one.
    • Medicine River by Thomas King
      • This is actually overdue for a prior class — I never finished it during the term, and I feel a little guilty about that. I got about a third of the way through, but just couldn’t get it done then. I’ve since got about another third under my belt, and I’m hoping to power through the rest in the next week. It’s a funny read, but I’m struggling with it for some reason.
    • MARCH Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell
      • I happened to come across this at Powell’s Books recently, and snatched it up. I read the first volume a couple months back, and loved it, and I can’t wait to settle down with this and get into it. The previous one was well-written and beautifully illustrated, and I don’t doubt that this one will be as well.

Bookish Goals for 2016:

  • My GoodReads 2016 Reading Challenge goal is 60 books. That’s 10 more than last year’s goal, and double my 2014 goal. I think I can make it happen.
  • I would love to write up reviews of 10 books here on the blog, at least a couple hundred words per book. This is a soft goal, though, since I already have a lot on my plate this year, so it would be great to do it, and I’m not going to cry if I can’t get it done.
  • I’m in a ton of GoodReads groups who do group reads, and I haven’t actually participated in any of them, I think, so that’s another thing I’d like to do this year.

Brief life update

Hello, all!

I’m just popping in to share a round up of my latest pieces published, and a little bit about how life’s going.

By the way, most of my pieces are shared as they come out on my Facebook page, and I also share a lot of stuff on there, like essays by other writers and poems I like. Currently, I have a series going where I’m sharing a poem I love every Friday through the summer. If you have a Facebook and are interested in my work, I recommend liking that page. (Yay, shameless self-promotion!)

My pieces published in the last month:

I’ve been keeping busy with writing and school, and some behind-the-scenes stuff. In fact, I just ordered proof copies for my first book published through Mourning Glory Publishing, and I’m about to send contributor contracts out for another. I’m really excited and ready to get these books out and into the hands of readers!

Have a lovely week, everyone. ❤

Book Review: Here Versus Elsewhere

A while back, I received a review copy of Allison Carter’s 2014 book of poems Here Versus Elsewhere.9780991109289-FrontCover-Sm_1024x1024

This book took a long time to read, because I had to digest every poem individually. I read each one 2 or 3 times, feeling out nuances of meaning and sitting in the feelings evoked.

I found it worked best to read them out loud; many were best experienced when the sound of the words chosen was given space. Rolling them around in my head was certainly interesting, but hearing them aloud really enabled me to connect with each piece. The language used is very deliberate, and reading silently doesn’t do it justice.

The book is broken up into four titled sections—1. Poems for Baby Ghosts; 2. All Bodies Are The Same/And They Have the Same Reactions; 3. Ghost Stories For Ghosts; 4. Advice—and each section has a through-line or theme that was rather exciting to experience unfolding. Sometimes the connections between poems were very obvious, and sometimes they weren’t, but each section worked as a whole in themselves. I often found myself finishing one poem and then going back to a poem earlier in the section to track the appearance of words and concepts, reading both poems again from a more complete, understanding place. Each poem informed my understanding of the ones that came before it.

There are many lines that stilled me, that gave me a little shiver of yes! when I read them, which I immediately re-read over with pleasure. A sampling:

from Sea View Avenue, pg 22:

some on stilts to be eye level
with the soul

from Useless Metals and Time, pg 27:

The kind of day where
you eat the sounds of things:
the sound of peach, not the
peach itself

from Brevity, pg 68:

A party is a buyer’s market in which supply exceeds demand.

from The End of the Hole, pg 78:

At the end of the hole you will encounter a moth made of precious metals and time.

Okay, I can’t quote the whole thing—you’ll have to get the collection for more of this lovely stuff! I absolutely recommend it. The feel of many of the poems was dreamy, a sort of floating feeling I settled into as I went along. The author experiments and plays with words in a way that left me wanting to write. I was even inspired to write a poem review!

Here Versus Elsewhere
At times
Ephemeral beyond belief
With the sound
Of sunset goodbyes
Sandy hellos

A mumbling
Whisper-shout signal
Brings snow in September
And sun in March

Breathless
Long winding
Verbose
Sparkling grandeur
Ermine fur
And puppy kisses
Narrowing
Down
To a
Point

A morsel following
Leaves you
Wanting
And satisfied

I cannot tell why
The telling is futile
Only the turning page can
The necessity of a poem
The ebb and flow of thunder words
Like ocean lightning
Foam white paper
Spilling down
Rushing and crashing until
A sudden withdrawal
That was un-unexpected
In its brilliance

Review: The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano

Last year, a friend of mine won two passes to go to the Pacific NW Bookseller’s Association Fall Tradeshow and decided to take me along. We got to attend many great panels, and got to go to the author’s dinner, where we got to ask questions of published authors and take away autographed copies of one of their books.

One of the best parts, though, was the tradeshow itself. My friend and I both collected large bags of recently published and soon-to-be published books, and I am just now getting around to working through them.

cover_revolutionofevelynserrano

One of the books I got was The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano.

Wow.

This book tells the story of a young woman, Rosa Maria Evelyn del Carmen Serrano, living in a Puerto Rican neighbourhood in New York. She makes everyone call her Evelyn because it is the Whitest-sounding of her names. The story is about learning to love her family and growing in her understanding of the world as the Young Lords tried to improve the neighbourhood in 1969.

A really amazing thing about the book is the history that it tells. The Young Lords were a gang in Chicago that turned into a Puerto Rican rights organisation in the late 1960s. They fought gentrification in Chicago, sought social uplift for poor Puerto Ricans living in the US, and advocated for an independent Puerto Rico. The media has largely re-imagined them — like the Black Panther Party before them — into a dangerous group of hoodlums, but they wanted to create change and bring justice to their communities.

Though they are an important piece of the book, Revolution isn’t really about the Young Lords; it’s mostly the tale of Evelyn, her mother, and her grandmother learning to be a family as the neighbourhood changes around them.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The Spanish sprinkled throughout the text lends realism to the conversations and characters. There is humour aplenty, but it also is sombre in some parts. Most of all, it is real in the way that some things are: though I did not grow up a poor young woman in a Puerto Rican neighbourhood in the 1960s, I have lived in poverty. I have heard poetry that seemed to be about me, and told me something true about the world and how I move in it. I have been in moments of social justice community where everything seems to be on the verge of change, and you’re riding high on the shared feeling of possibility around you.

This is a fictionalised version of events, but that doesn’t stop it being true in the most important ways.