Trees of Reverie July 2015 Readathon: Follow-up

I participated in the July 2015 Trees of Reverie Read-a-thon. This post is a collection of reviews I wrote about books completed during the readathon. These reviews were originally shared on Goodreads, which was one of my goals for the readathon, and are quite short.

Books finished:

  1. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (FINISHED; net change: 115 pages)
  2. Supernatural: John Winchester’s Journal by Alex Irvine (FINISHED; net change: 59 pages)
  3. The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld (FINISHED; net change: 121 pages)
  4. Lady of the Moon by Amy Lowell, Mary Meriam, and Lillian Faderman (FINISHED; net change: 98 pages)
  5. A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis (FINISHED; net change: 76 pages)

Reviews:

1. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

This book was… interesting. I blazed through it in four days. As a memoir of grieving, it invoked memories of my own grieving process and connected with me emotionally, but the author and I have very different life experiences, and this was almost enough to pull me out of the experience. Didion moves in wealthy, well-connected television and literary circles, and while I’d love some day to be as published and celebrated and connected as she is, that experience is currently very remote to me.

When mentioning her famous friends, she cites the fact they are famous, which is very distancing, and feels a bit like name-dropping. Other reviewers here are quick to remind us that this is a hallmark of her style, this coolness and emotional distance, but I think the critique is still valid: for a memoir about grief, such distance seems a little bewildering. However, it is still well-written and emotionally stirring, even if my own grief memoir would (will) look nothing like it.

2. Supernatural: John Winchester’s Journal by Alex Irvine

I blazed through a good chunk of this last year and then put it down for several months. The last 1/4 or so seemed to lag a bit — not sure precisely how it was different than the start, but my interest waned.

This book is absolutely only for Supernatural fans — it fills in a bit of backstory, as well as giving a greater sense of John, who we know comparatively little about. Written as a journal, it includes a mix of personal musings, notes about anniversaries and birthdays, and the kind of esoterica you’d expect to find in a hunter’s notebook. I gave it four stars because it lost me for a bit, but it’s still an interesting and enjoyable read.

3. The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

This book was hard, but also amazing. The narrator’s unique voice obscures and reveals, and the revelations are perfectly timed and wondrous. Though the reader does not learn the precise nature of the narrator’s crime, it doesn’t truly matter, in the end. Masterfully crafted, and well-worth the read.

4. Lady of the Moon by Amy Lowell, Mary Meriam, and Lillian Faderman

The construction of this book is interesting, featuring a selection of Lowell’s poems, followed by a critical essay examining the Sapphic imagery of her work in the context of her relationship with Ada Russell, and ending with a sequence of poems that reimagine the courtship and relationship between Lowell and Russell.

Of this, I very much enjoyed the essay, and the context it gave allowed me to better appreciate Lowell’s poetry. By comparison, the poems at the end, the work of Mary Meriam, seem a bit childish. Lowell’s work involves lush description, vivid detail, and sly eroticism. Meriam’s work, particularly the sonnets that begin the sequence, is flat. The rhyming in the sonnets is a trifle unimaginative, and the diction is oddly inconsistent; overall, Meriam’s work is a bit of a let-down, when compared to the clever writing of Lillian Faderman’s essay and Lowell’s own vibrant poetry.

5. A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while, and it was referenced in The Year of Magical Thinking, so I decided to finally dust it off and read it.

This book is very intense. The introduction by Lewis’s stepson gives further insight to the creation of the book, but even without this context, the reader is drawn in. Lewis’s grief is raw and near, and it makes even this dedicated apologist question everything he knows and feels. He grappled with feelings of guilt and sorrow and anger in personal journals following his wife’s death. Later, upon reading them again, he decided to publish them, in the hopes they might help others facing loss heal a little more.

Here, Lewis is not the eloquent and impassioned writer of Christian apologetics, but merely a man of deep faith struggling to get through the loss of the woman he loved. He looked unflinchingly at his own crisis of faith and then shared it with the world, an act of courage. He survived, got himself through one of the hardest times in any person’s life; this book might help anyone else do the same.

To see all Read-a-thon posts, go here.

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.