Books on My Desk
I thought I should finally clean my desk—I have a lot of books to review there. Here’s a list of some of them, which now I’ve got to find room for somewhere else. These have been sitting here waiting for me to write about them for way too long. Some for so long that they no longer even qualify as “new.”
So if anyone wants one, leave a comment or shoot me an email. Most of these are up for grabs, first come.
Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong (Copper Canyon),
an amazing collection of poetry that I talked about a little bit here. This modest looking book is filled with refined poems as hard as diamonds. In my post about it I wrote, “There’s imagination and abstraction like that tied up in each poem, but what I respond to most is how easy it is to attach all of it to something real, whether the reality is my own experience or just language—strings of words—that I understand at first blush. This happens, for instance, in “Thanksgiving 2016,” which begins “Brooklyn’s too cold tonight” and ends “I am ready to be every animal / you leave behind.””
Camanchaca by Diego Zúñiga (Coffee House)
This is a short novel broken down into page-long sections. It’s the author’s first novel, and it’s translated by Megan McDowell. The first page reads:
My father’s first car was a 1971 Ford Fairlane, which my grandfather gave him when he turned 15.
His second was a 1985 Honda Accord, lead gray.
His third was a 1990 BMW 850i, navy blue, which he killed my Uncle Neno with.
His fourth is a Ford Ranger, smoke colored, which we are driving across the Atacama Desert.
The Atacama Desert is in Chile. This is a 1990 BMW 8501:
I haven’t read this book yet, but I look forward to it. I think it’s one to read in one or two sittings, but something that will influence my writing, and thoughts about writing, forever. Not just because it seems so fragmented, but because (it seems) so immediate. Just from flipping through I can perceive a longing in the narrator. More than that, I can’t say, except that it looks like there’s a section on baseball that draws me in, as well as a description of book shopping that is familiar—how when you don’t have a list, entering a bookstore makes you immediately forget anything you want to read.
I’m putting Camanchaca on the top of my pile. That’s cool, though, I have two if you want the other one.
Corporations Are People, Too! by Jerome Sala, an Advance Review Copy (NYQ Books)
I love that the title of this book has an exclamation point in it!
Sala has worked for many corporations. That’s in his bio, and it’s evident in the poems as well. I’m not sure what the process was for these poems—the sonnets in the first section (Work!) seem like enjambed found memos—but they all seem very authentically based in the depressed corporate-speak that has pervaded our culture. The only note in the book is that the first sonnet, “Sonnet 1,” features lines that were borrowed from a book called Enacting the Corporation—which I only note to say that all the other lines actually aren’t simply culled from things found around the office. Nope, they’re just the “cliches … talking among themselves,” as referenced in the book’s canny Umberto Eco epigraph. Here’s an example:
As your manager, I’ve got a couple
of asks for you. It’s not that I don’t
admire your passion for the work—
this is your profession, after all—
but you’ve got to learn to separate
the facts from the emotions more.
The second section of the book is called Consume! and here the poems are less formal, or wilder on the page. As likely to reference Kit Kat commercials as Ted Berrigan, this is a proficient collection. It goes back to important questions about how we should interact with consumer culture. Any judgment passed on the matter is implicit; this restraint is what makes me keep going back to figure out what Sala is getting at.
Corporations Are People, Too! will be out in May.
Phantom Pains of Madness by Noelle Kocot (Wave)
This curious little book is gorgeous—of course it is, since it’s designed by quemadura—and spare. It’s small, right? 5×7″? The handiest size of all small press books! And all the poems are made up of one-word lines, I think. They’re kinda awesome? Like, if you’re looking for a book to keep nearby for inspirational purposes, or to remember power of a single moment, you might try this one. The last poem is called “Opportunity” and it goes:
… which is just exactly the sort of thing I could write an essay about and feel like I’ve done something with my life. For now, though, I’m just going to keep it in a better spot on my desk and pull it out whenever I need to remember to do more poetry stuff (which is my resolution).
To be honest, I started off feeling antagonistic to this book, but after “confronting” it, I really, really love it.
Muse/A a journal edited by Gregg Murray
Huh, I must be huge because this journal is 8×8″ and my thumb kinda makes it look smaller than that.
Muse/A is edited by the brilliant and brilliantly funny Gregg Murray, who you might know from this Cheez-Its post currently blowing up the Real Pants servers. He owns the kind of pen that’s always exploding in your friend Dan’s pocket (…is a sentence like a sentence he would write). Muse/A is his journal, now in its third issue, and this third issue is the first issue that happens to be in print … which is why it’s on my desk and not in the cloud, where it also is. Gregg and his team of editors have sharp eyes for sharp content, as evidenced by the compelling photography/photocollages by Tommy Nease.
The editors focus on poetry, lyric essays, and art. Gregg smartly designed the book to mirror the website, using the same fonts and structure. He has an essay in the book, which he co-wrote with assistant editor Anya Vostrova Chambers, called “So You Want to Write a Lyric Essay” which is kind of a play-by-play meta-analysis of the form. If you’re the sort of writer who wants to get to know an editor before submitting to their journal, this is perfect for you. Kimberly Ann Southwick’s essay, “Celestial Origami,” is a layered, beautiful, language-y meditation on astronomy—on the universe.
Muse/A is one of my favorite up-and-coming journals, one to watch out for when you’re wandering the AWP Bookfair. While you’re there, say hi to Gregg. He’s the nicest person you’ll ever meet.
for all the other ghosts by Justin Sanders (self-published)
One time I was standing around with a big group of friends in Baltimore, Justin Sanders among them, and I was drunk—we were outside a bar—and I pointed stupidly around the circle naming who I thought was smart. I was liberal with my inane proclamation, but I left Justin out, and then I overheard him whisper to the person next to him, “I speak six languages.” After getting to know him better, I can inanely proclaim him to be one of the smartest people I know. I wish I knew him better!
This small collection of stories—published as his masters thesis at University of Baltimore (where I also went)—is clutch. It’s key. It’s something you should read. I say this unreservedly. The mostly 2-3 page, keenly composed stories—taut, masterful—are relentless in this updated, Baltimorean Stand By Me. Who are all the other ghosts? The cover shows a lynching from which the bodies have been photoshopped out of their nooses. The subtitle classifies the book as “true fiction,” which seems fitting. There’s a lot to think about.
I was going to excerpt some of the lines from this book but they’re all so good … oh what the heck. The first sentences of the first story goes, “The call came from inside the house. It was made by Black Aggie who came downstairs and bashed the babysitter’s pretty little brains out before she stole the pretty white children.”
The second to last story begins:
I’m 6 years old and riding my bike, one of those orange and blue Huffy’s with beads on the wheel spokes. I’m riding it in tight circles. I’m riding it up the big hill at the top of our street. I’m speeding down that hill and braking hard just as the incline flattens, trying to pull off a movie-esque stop and slide. A red pickup truck pulls up alongside me, and the curly brown hair of the woman driving it spills from the window before her eyes, like a mashed blood orange, look down at me to scream, “NIGGER! NIGGER!” Her spit is cold and sticky on me.
Who are all the other ghosts?
Here’s an interview with Justin at the Kenyon Review.
Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett (Harper Wave)
I hate that this book has to exist but I like that it exists. For me it’s a one-stop repository of all the bullshit women deal with that I’ve heard about (and seen firsthand, but only a few painful times). Perhaps in that regard it’s more useful for nice guys like me than women, who don’t need the air they breathe described to them. To dive back into that previous parenthetical, I guess when I say that I’ve seen it firsthand just a few times, I mean the really violent, awful stuff—the violent catcalls—I’ve only seen a few times. They caught me up wincing. Pathetic. That’s partly why there’s this book, but this book also exists for the plainer reality: mansplaining, or comments like “you don’t look like an engineer,” or being told to lean somewhere, all of which can make women feel like imposters. This book breaks it down—the second guessing, the speaking mannerisms, how to interpret “xoxo” signoffs, senators who admonish detractors to “think of his wife.” There are a lot of drawings and bullet points, making it a great book for dabbling, for thumb throughs. But it’s never easy to thumb through this stuff. And if you ask me it’s a bit too funny—just look at the title—but on this matter, don’t ask me.
The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst (H&M Publishers)
This is a really beautiful book that Gregg Murray (nice guy, see above) gave me. You can’t have this book because it’s going in my design library, where it will silently intimidate me. It’s all about typography. It’s exquisitely designed. With this book, I’ll never forget what an ascender is called again.
200 light and easy Coffee Break Crosswords edited by Will Shortz (St. Martin’s)
You can’t have this one either.
Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century edited by Travis Kurowski, Wayne Miller, & Kevin Prufer (Milkweed Editions)
If I read one book this year, it’s going to be this one. This amazing collection features essays on publishing by writers, publishers, editors, and other “industry people” like Jessa Crispin (of Bookslut, RIP), Erin Belieu, Emily Louise Smith, and Richard Nash—some of my favorite thinkers on this important subject. Discussed: Amazon’s effect, books as objects, diversity, criticism, financial aspects, how publishers choose books, and more.
I have two copies, lemme know …
My pile is diminished, but not exhausted. Tune in next year when I talk about that Daniel Borzutzky National Book Award winner, Broder’s amazing So Sad Today, the Curbside Splendor collection of Gwendolyn Brooks, and whatever else piles up between now and then.