Fore-Side Chats: March & April Reading Catch-Up
In this final preview installment, in anticipation of my normal monthly wrap-ups starting June 2, I’ll be chatting to you about what I read in March & April. These were some great times to be a book in my life. There wasn’t a single one I didn’t love. Though it’s a double header, I was only able to read 14 books across the two months, and some of them are quite small. I drove around the Pacific Northwest for three weeks in April, and while I had an actual suitcase full of books in the back (I’d just been to AWP in LA, where my road trip started), I only got around to reading the two books I’d brought with me in my backpack, plus one tiny chapbook in a zine library in Vancouver. It’s just too beautiful up there.
1. I Want Your Tan – Tracy Dimond (Ink Press Productions 2015)
I picked up Tracy’s book at a reading she did in Baltimore with Amber Sparks earlier this year. I’ve known about I Want Your Tan since she first printed it last year, but hadn’t jumped on it before then because the title sounded kind of light to me, like something all the preppy girls at my high school would have said to one another (me included) every September. I’ll admit to that now, because after watching Tracy read from it, I realize that that’s part of the point—but also this book is so much more. This collection is truly a feminist look at those stereotypes and an ownership of one’s own skin—of one’s own tan. A few lines from the opening poem, “Did You Cover Up”, read: “A costume is no attachment to identity. It’s the impact of/ a different wardrobe. Youth in infinity defined by tan lines.// It’s all fun and games until it’s time to go outside. I don’t/ want to hear the natural sounds of men hollering at me.” The shape and size of it, with its acid green sprayed cover, are very satisfying. This book feels hefty despite its 33-page limit; it holds its weight, and then some. It was put together as Tracy’s MFA thesis, and it’s full and rich and deeply considered. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
2. A Rainbow Reader – Tessa Laird (Clouds 2013)
This book came home with me after the Enjoy Gallery book fair last year in Wellington, New Zealand. I’d had my eye on this one since it first appeared wrapped in plastic on the New Zealand table at Unity Books, and the unknown of it had kept me interested—but also kept me from buying it. Books in New Zealand are expensive. There was one copy at the Enjoy book fair, and it was on sale. Tucked under my arm that night, no less than three arty women approached me to tell me it was their favorite book.
A Rainbow Reader is a beautifully made book consisting of six individual essays in six monochromatic, staple-bound chapbooks in (you guessed it) the colors of the rainbow, all bound up together with some sort of magical adhesive. Part of Tessa’s DFA thesis at the University of Auckland, each essay is a well-researched look at the history of that color. Insightful yet conversational, Tessa’s essays are insanely good to read. With a long list of included topics on the first page of each chapbook, these pages are packed with information and personal anecdote, pivoting flawlessly from a cow’s placenta into coloured hessian, from Klein Blue into William Burroughs’ Amazonian hallucinations. One of my favorite elements of the book is that it’s all grounded in Aotearoa, in Laird’s home and its own history of ‘colour’. On my first read, “The Red Thread”, “Canary-coloured Runway into the Sun”, and “The Other Side” (violet) stood out to me as highlights. It would be impossible to absorb everything on these pages in one read and I will absolutely be dipping back into this one again and again.
3. Oosh Boosh – Shannon Burns (421 Atlanta 2016)
What a book to follow A Rainbow Reader! Shannon’s debut poetry collection is absolutely stunning. I already did a full review of this one over on the Fanzine where I mostly just got excited about Shannon’s use of color in these poems in the context of A Rainbow Reader, so I won’t go too overboard talking about it again in detail here, though there’s a lot at play outside of that context. It is about death, and mourning, and witchiness, and the moon, and time, and the Unknown. This book is a deep, earthy moan, and yet another March read that I’ll be returning to. It stood out to me as an early contender for best full-length poetry collection of 2016, and so far nothing I’ve read has surpassed it. I love this book.
4. Thank You – Zachary German (AFV Press 2015)
Jackson read this short story collection to me on our way home from a short trip to southern Virginia, where we stayed in a yurt in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Originally planned as a cheesy Valentine’s Day getaway where we could act out my Fra Keeler fantasies, snow kept us away in February and we rescheduled for mid-March hoping to avoid bad weather and do more of the hiking. Unfortunately, Jackson slipped in the hot tub on the first night and sprained a toe (hehe!! but rly, ouch. but rly hehe) so no hiking happened anyway. Though we did get to watch Whale Rider and Waterworld, two A+ cinematic productions of their respective times and places. Anyway, my personal Zachary German story involves a bit of misplaced disdain for Eat When You Feel Sad (which probably has more to do with my not-misplaced disdain for Tao Lin), and a truly lovely night in 2012 in which he and Megan Boyle attended a reading in my studio apartment in Washington, DC and spent the evening drawing each other’s blood in my bathtub. Seriously though, they were both so nice.
Thank You gave me a great deal of nostalgia for alt lit circa 2011, which is something that is still remarkably easy to do despite the breadth of time that just keeps getting wider between now and then—though I think it’s getting steadily more difficult to evoke this nostalgia well, or in satisfying ways. Thank You is by far the best thing I’ve read by Zachary German. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about Zachary in a long time. He was never an abundant writer, and I suppose enough time had passed that I assumed, like DJ Berndt and so many others, he’d found something new that made him happy. But 2016 has been a year of revelations that my cohorts are still out there writing (maybe just more secretly). Ana Carrete and Shaun Gannon are most definitely still writing. Meghan Lamb’s incredible reading at All of Us Witches proves she is most definitely still writing. Dalton Day may have surpassed Sara June Woods as most prolific poet, but Sara is most definitely still writing in a new format through her Patreon. This is a beautiful thing.
5. The Forrests – Emily Perkins (Bloomsbury 2012)
This is one heck of a slow-burning family story. Set mostly in the North Island of New Zealand, the pacing of The Forrests is drawn out, and characters are developed across a lifespan—more precisely, across the actual lifespan of Dorothy Forrest. As you’d expect, there isn’t really so much plot going here as character-driven family drama. Reading The Forrests reminded me a lot of watching Steel Magnolias—you never quite know what’s going to happen next, and a lot of the time it’s nothing. Or more accurately, a whole lot of very small things add up to a small something, which is someone’s life. Which is not at all to say it’s tedious, it’s just very much grounded in realism. There is transformation, there is death, there is beauty, but it is very drawn out and it is very real. I wouldn’t say this is always a go-to genre for me, but every now and then the mood strikes me (such as a cold snap in late March) and Emily is an expert in these things.
6. The Most of It – Mary Ruefle (Wave Books 2008)
I first saw Mary Ruefle read at the University of Maryland, College Park in 2012 and then again at the Wellington City Gallery in New Zealand in 2013. She probably thinks I’m her international stalker, and I kind of wish I could afford to be. Mary Ruefle is an amazing reader, and she knows it (and I know she knows it because she talks openly about it). I have heard her read the opening story in The Most of It, called “Snow” at least one of those times, or at least I think I have because I hear her voice reading it in my mind whenever I read it (in my mind). But I suppose that’s how it is with her whole collection, or any of her books for that matter. Once you’ve heard her you can’t un-hear her. You wouldn’t want to.
7. De Appel Cake – Wesley Mulvin (Perro Verlag 2013)
I found this little chapbook while perusing the zine library tucked under the stairs inside Vancouver’s Regional Assembly of Text. Jackson and I sat side by side on a tiny settee and flipped through dozens of zines, but this is the only one we chose to read properly from cover to cover. Since it was a library I couldn’t take it with me, and it’s one in an edition of 50 signed and numbered copies. It was printed on letterpress at the Perro Verlag Printshop in a place called Mayne Island, BC. (pop. 1071). Basically, the title informs the subject; a couple goes abroad and rather than stopping in all the regular tourist destinations, they find as many places to eat apple cake as they can before they have to come home. It is very cute and I really wish I could have taken it home with me. De Appel Cake isn’t for sale on Perro Verlag’s website, but there are a lot of other beautiful handmade books that are.
8. Love in the Anthropocene – Dale Jamieson & Bonnie Nadzam (OR Books 2015)
Alongside The Most of It, Love in the Anthropocene is the only book I took with me to the West Coast. To get pedantic, I don’t even know if this one counts as having been read in the PNW because I read it cover to cover on my flights home (Seattle to Baltimore, with a stopover in Minneapolis). I was sent this book for review and I didn’t know what to expect from it, given the presumed limitations of its premise and that it was a collaborative effort between a novelist and an environmental philosopher. I won’t go into great detail here since I will be reviewing this one in full somewhere separately, but basically you’ve got five short stories grouped around the theme of love in all its varying forms set in a not-too-distant future, with two essays bookending it—one on climate change, one on love. Tying these stories together is not just the idea of love but a dearth of natural environments—so, what you get is a story set inside a kind of biodome, a story about an architect who’s hell bent on clearing the homeless off the California coast and building a new western coastline for the idle rich, a climate-controlled city, a classic father-daughter flyfishing trip where nothing is really real, and a story about the last surviving tiger. This collection was written so seamlessly, and while the realities at play are truly frightening it was a pure joy to read.
9. The Motion – Lucy K Shaw (421 Atlanta 2015)
Do you ever do this thing I do when a friend or someone you have known for a while puts out a book and you just get this overwhelming impulse to save it for a while? I don’t know what it is exactly. Whether it’s wanting to wait for the hype to settle down so I can read it when it feels like I have it all to myself, or whether I get scared it will either be the greatest or the worst thing I’ve ever read and how do you even communicate at those ends of the spectrum. I don’t know why, I just sometimes like to look at them on my shelf and smile and save them for a while. Because I know they’ll be there waiting for me when I’m ready—they’re patient with me, just like my friends—little extensions of my friends.
I know LK Shaw has a million friends on the internet, but Lucy is someone I met for the first time in Baltimore in the summer of 2012. Everything you know about her is true: she has a cheeky smile and a crazy work ethic, and she is an incredibly smart and generous person. Also the day I met her, she was wearing knee high socks and I thought they were so cool. I suppose this is not supposed to be a review of Lucy but of The Motion, and maybe that’s the point. The Motion is Lucy—these are Lucy’s stories, this is very much Lucy’s life. Contemporary, realistic, non-hyperbolic stories inclusive of the minutia, the everyday thoughts, and the big ones, similar to the ones we all have living our very normal, very personal lives—but not, because these are Lucy’s. Her stories feel easy, they feel like life, and that is the best thing. Read it when you’re ready, read it when you’re missing your friends, read it when you want to feel at home and alive at the same time.
10. Reading Walking Writing – Abby Cunnane & Melanie Oliver, eds. (The Physics Room 2015)
I wanted to buy this book at the Enjoy Gallery book fair but I waited too long and it sold out before I could grab a copy. (To be fair, if memory serves me I’m pretty certain they ran out while the editors were still giving their talk about the concept of the book and the process of putting it together!) This is yet another irresistible, beautifully crafted book put together by an art gallery in New Zealand. The grey cover is offset by copper embossing on the word ‘Walking’ and mint-green interior pages. It’s also a great size for putting in a back pocket or coat pocket and walking around with. The concept here was to bring two dozen art writers (defined loosely—there are poems, photographs, lists, and essays here) together for a three-day series of walks and talks centered around a reading list that had been created by the writers themselves and circulated before the trip. The preparatory texts were varied; the reading list includes Renata Adler’s Speedboat and Janice Lee’s Damnation alongside a chapter from A Rainbow Reader (the yellow one!), Roland Barthes’ “Ornamental Cookery”, excerpts from Autobiography of Red, How Should a Person Be?, and The Importance of Being Iceland, and I suppose quite a bit of theory.
Highlights for me include Matilda Fraser’s photographs, Evangeline Riddiford Graham’s essay “Pinktum”, Gregory Kan’s poem “Pulse Hammock”, and Joan Fleming’s “Artifact” and commentary following the poem. Reading this was not like being there (except for maybe Melanie Kung’s inclusion, a study of the vocal inflections of three other participants), but it had me caught up in the excitement of it and the beauty in the simplicity of walking and talking, of thinking in nature, and then going home and shaping it into something to be printed on paper. For the most part, these essays are fresh takes on the somewhat stiff idea of art writing, and that feels good.
11. Secret Thoughts of a Plain Yellow House – Rebecca Dolen (self-published 2007)
This is an even tinier zine I was allowed to take home with me from The Regional Assembly of Text (for CA $6). I flicked through this one in the store but ‘read’ it properly (it’s a picture book) in bed with Jackson one afternoon in April. It follows the dreams of a plain yellow house, and it is very satisfying to look at. It was made by one of the co-owners of the shop.
12. The Land of Lines – Victor Hussenot (Chronicle Books 2015)
This book was also purchased in Vancouver, but it came from a garden store that was part book store, part home goods store, and also sold quite a lot of chocolate and ceramic incense burners. Another wordless picture book, Jackson and I ‘read’ through this one fairly quickly in the store but didn’t get it back out to have a proper discussion of what it really meant until later in April. Originally published in Switzerland in 2014, this is the story of a red boy and a blue girl who find each other while wandering in a landscape that is equally familiar to both of them. Their playful adventures lead them to discover a yellow monster, an unfamiliar character who terrifies them before plunging into a waterfall and emerging transformed into a boy just like them. Their new friend shows them his yellow home, which is an unfamiliar place to the original duo, before the boy returns the red girl to her red home at the end of the day. On the surface, this is a well-crafted depiction of loneliness, and what it’s like to feel misunderstood; one layer deeper, and it’s an insightful take on displacement and what it means to be a refugee. The Land of Lines should be required reading for anyone who feels they are safe from persecution, war, or violence in their own country.
13. Wild Lumploaf – Min Pin (Helio Press 2016)
I follow Helio Press (aka Ashley Ronning’s risograph project out of Melbourne, Australia) on Instagram, which is worth it for this art print of butts by Daisy Catterall alone. I snapped up a copy of Wild Lumploaf on its launch day in fear of missing out on the first print run. It’s such a little beauty. Lumploaf is adorable and so is his adventure. It is a great story of friendship and how to combat loneliness through the power of ice-creams. My mom and I read this one together after it arrived. Wild Lumploaf is an art zine/ chapbook I will treasure forever.
14. The Hungry Ghost Festival – Jen Campbell (The Rialto 2012)
I don’t know how many copies of this debut poetry pamphlet (British for chapbook) by Jen Campbell have made it out into the world via her BookTube channel, but I imagine it’s heaps. She is very, very good at marketing, that Jen. Lucky her, she’s also great at writing. The Hungry Ghost Festival felt less like poetry and more like snipped fairy tales. There are stories of the sea in here, and mermaids and lobster girls. There are fathers and lost childhoods. For me, the opener “Kitchen” is the most memorable, perhaps because I’ve heard her read it out on her channel. Favorites include “The Mountain Miners” and “Ullambana”. Jen’s always hinting at new projects in her videos, and she’ll be announcing a new book of hers in the next week. I’m looking forward to reading a full-length collection of poetry from Jen sometime in the future, and seeing what comes next.
Made it this far? Want more? Check out my other reviews for Real Pants and elsewhere. Leave a comment below specifying which, and I’ll write up a more focused review of any of the books I read in March/April. And stay tuned for the first normal monthly wrap-up, coming up on June 2.