It’s about time I did another quickie review blog. A lot of times I bypass book reviews for several reasons:
Without further adieu, here are some honorable mentions (and winners):
1. Salvage the Bones – Jesmyn Ward
Don’t get me wrong, I loved this book. I think that this book is an important read for anyone who wants to become a writer. One of the most crucial elements of a book is sadness; a dark side, an element of mystery and madness, tension in your muscles, goosebumps rising along the ridges of your arms. I remember a girl in my advanced fiction class finally unleashed the fury on my professor (Jill McCorkle) because she no longer wanted to write in the dark, she wanted to just write about happiness. (Not gonna happen).
If you ever want to learn how to build tension, this is the first book I would point you to. Throughout, I was expecting Hurricane Katrina to hit like a siren and she doesn’t come until the final chapters, that “blood dazzler.” However, the entire book is tension leading to that storm, to those floods that ripped families and floorboards apart. It’s amazing how Ward captures the tension of landscape and weather with only mentioning the coming eye in brief sentences strung like laundry from clothespins.
“My baby is solid as a squash, because there is this baby inside me, small as Manny’s eyelash in mid-sex on my cheek. And this baby will grow to a fingertip on my hip, a hand on the bowl of my back, an arm over my shoulder, if it survives” (57).
In my journals while reading this book I wrote: “How weird is it when you read passage to decide if you want to buy a book and then you read that passage again within the context of the story and it means something totally different, totally unexpected and you’re not sure how to feel after that moment. It’s like dating someone thinking their historically European and really they’re Native American and whole worlds suddenly open up for the two of you, dream catch.”
2. Authobiography of Red – Anne Carson
This book burned a whole through my idea of poetry. Anne Carson took a restaurant matchbook and lit the small page of poetry in my mind. And to think she did it all with a main character that’s a little red monster with wings. I never knew poetry could look like this, could tell a story this wide and still tell a history of people. This book was kind of an awakening for me. I had believed poetry was like a Peace March and everyone is there for some different reason but you all want to find a collective rhythm to your voices, want to huddle in some sort of crowd. Anne Carson beat the crowds away and wrote on her own terms. What more do people need than someone who writes who they are on the page in a story that has little to do with them at all. I’m floored by this, in fact, I’ve sunken through the floor and I’m in the basement against the cold slab of concrete listening to the silence of the pour.
“It was the year he began to wonder about the noise that colors make. Roses came roaring across the garden at him – of those he interviewed for the science project had to admit they not hear the cries of roses being burned alive in the noonday sun.” I have no page number, I just drew a stick-figure sun here.
3. Eucalyptus – Murray Bail
If you like trees, Australian countryside, and love stories that are hardly told, then this might just be the book for you. It took me a while to get into this book, but I was allured by the tree language of Eucalyptus – how they were all named, how they were founded and grew, where they grew, who collected them and who could name them. Plus, at the heart of this story is a traditional fairytale. A father sets out to find a worthy suitor for his daughter by having men from across rivers and territories name the Eucalyptus plants he has collected for over twenty years. What girl doesn’t fall for the fairytale?
4. Tattoos on the Heart – Gregory “G” Boyle
I didn’t review this book because my social justice rant would have loomed large and so would my Catholic understanding. No really, I would have sounded like Nancy Pelosi at the pulpit. Sometimes I can get a little over the top on my world views and so I kept quiet on this. I did try to write this blog several times and still have a draft post lost in my dashboard. I read this book shortly after coming home from Philadelphia and after working over a year at the teen center. This book and Homeboy Industries cracke open the world for me when I was trying desperately to glue it shut. Can’t let light in without a few cracks though. For this, I can’t say it better than G, so here are quotes from the book:
5. Briar Rose – Jane Yolen
This year my number one book trend has been WWII literature. I think there’s something immeasurable about WWII that makes us all connect in some way to the length of terror that happened. I’m fascinated by WWII because I don’t know my grandfather, but I know he was overseas at that time and came back with PTSD so bad he was calling his own children derogative terms and holding his shaking fingers together like he curled them around a soft neck. I’m fascinated by the way Hitler used language to round up a civilization. The first step in mass-murder, and mass-genocide is the power of language, of propaganda. Whenever someone tells you that infamous nursery school rhyme, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” it’s beyond untrue. (I’m sure I will tell my future kids that though).
Jane Yolan’s Briar Rose is the second retold fairytale into WWII literature that I’ve read this year. The first was The True Story of Hansel and Gretel which left me weeping whenever I was in silence (usually in the car) for about a week. My expectations for Briar Rose were high and I can’t say it didn’t meet expectations, but it was a young adult novel that wasn’t as outrageous as The True Story of Hansel and Gretel. The thing I love about this book is that it’s competent YA literature. Jane Yolen didn’t dumb down the story, she didn’t make sure nothing gruesome was told in less detail – she put it out there and let it fester. I think this is a pitch-perfect YA book and the fact that she retold Briar Rose using it as a scar story rather than a triumph made it all the better. For kids like me who desperately yearn for knowledge of their grandparents and great-grandparents, it’s a fantastic read.
6. Life on Mars: Poems – Tracy K. Smith
This book has lines of beauty and poems that make you feel like a speck of pepper on someones sandwich. Was it the best book of poetry I’ve ever read? No. Did it win a Pulitzer? Yes. Sometimes books that win prizes have agendas far more complicated than just the fact that they’re wonderful books. This year the NASA program had to go through a funding cut, this year Tracy K. Smith wrote Life on Mars mostly about space and its many mysteries but also about her father who worked for a number of years at NASA. This is just a correlation, not a cause and effect of Smith winning the prize. This book of poetry has moments of subtle tenderness, but I can’t say that it’s a complete collection of poetry.
Sometimes, I wasn’t sure if Smith was actually on Mars when she wrote these poems and other times I was right there with her, huddled in the vowel and reading aloud as fast as I could just to feel my body melt into the words and sigh with my “Oh my God, that’s beautiful.” The poems where I was lost or made little sense were altogether frustrating because I could see that she was getting at the heart, her heart, but she never broke through. I hate when poets say they wanted that poem or that line to be ambiguous. While sometimes that can mean “showing not telling” usually it means pure confusion. I hate poems where I feel like she’s so close to saying something meaningful and yet she gets to the crust and backs off. FACK. Don’t back off, cut your feet on the cliffs and jump.
I happened on this wordpress review/conversation and it matches my sentiment exactly. Thank you, Nancy.
7. Embroideries – Maryjane Satrapi
Reading this book was like going to a tupperware party with your grandmother and her Bunko group. Believe me, you’ll never guess what embroideries stands for and you’ll probably never want to experience that meaning without pain medication.
8. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers
Jinger, I’m sorry I have to do this to my dear penpal. I HATED THIS BOOK. THIS IS A SPOILER SENTENCE: You want me to spend a whole book with a mute who loses his odd other half, helps a bunch of people experience a journey that moves them almost nowhere, but through a life that none of them really want, and then kills himself at the end. You have to be kidding me. Was there anything to like about this book ever? …Maybe I liked the way Mick was described as the neighborhood tomboy in her rolled up jean shorts and her secret cigarette purchases. MAYBE.
That’s it. I never want to see this book ever again.
I am a writer, educator and genuine creative living on the coast of NC. Our house is built on sunshine with my husband BJ, dog named Tucker, and our two very sassy cats: Fromage and Jasper.