August 2022 at Roof Beam Reader was devoted to all things Jane Austen. I was, however, doing a lot of reading that was not Austen or Austen-related, so I thought I’d share a quick recap of that reading here, with teeny tiny thoughts on the selections.
Reclaiming Two-Spirits: Sexuality, Spiritual Renewal & Sovereignty in Native America by Gregory D. Smithers: I gave this one four-stars on Goodreads. It was an absolutely fascinating and expectedly heartbreaking read about the stamping out of LGBGQ+ (two-spirit) identities in Native North American tribes. Colonization by Europeans did unspeakable damage to native tribes, as we all know, but one thing less discussed or known is how a once revered people, the two-spirits, who were thought to embody male and female identities in a single form and were thus often revered by indigenous peoples, were destroyed by western European prejudices and violence.
The Collected & Corrected Poems of Wallace Stevens: I gave this one five-stars on Goodreads because I felt like I had to. No, really. I enjoyed the poems, but not as much as I think I should have. Or, maybe appreciated is the better word, there. The thing is, I think Stevens is far too clever for me, and so what I really need to do is re-read these poems, much more closely and much more slowly. I did find some intense inspiration in some of these (and of course he’s written some of my favorites, like “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” which I remember from college.) I even drafted a poem directly inspired by one of these.
The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer: This is another perfect score on Goodreads. It’s a young adult sci-fi novel (queer-focused) that was so much more than I expected it to be. In my review, I wrote, “wow, this was good. What if Vonnegut wrote Romeo & Juliet but made it a gay futuristic dystopia?” I’ve also heard comparisons to Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets Red, White, and Royal Blue. Or maybe I made that one up, too. It’s a good one, so okay, I’ll take credit for that comparison, too. Honestly, though, I don’t know how or why I nearly slept on this one. I really enjoyed it.
Compassionate Recovery: Mindful Healing for Trauma and Addictions by Darren Litteljohn: Two stars on Goodreads. Absolutely fascinated by the idea of this and will definitely pursue more, perhaps through some of the programs mentioned in this book, but overall, I couldn’t get much out of this one. The style is too frantic, topics covered so quickly and briefly, and lots of summative references to things learned or accomplished that just didn’t seem to have been learned or accomplished. Also, this edition desperately needed a proofreader and editor. It felt like the book was pushed out in a rush.
The Vegetarian by Kang Han: I understand the hype surrounding this one. It’s definitely an intriguing premise, the prose reads somewhat like a more neurotic Hemingway (if that’s even possible–and could be due partly to translating), and the themes are powerful and disturbing. Still wasn’t really the story for me, though, nor a style I much enjoyed. I’m normally okay with, even a fan of, multiple narrative perspectives, but it wasn’t my favorite approach in this particular story. Three stars on Goodreads. If you loved this one, I get it and I’m not mad about it.
Madness by sam sax: I think what I enjoyed or appreciated most about this poetry collection is that its major themes are interesting individually but work effectively and cohesively as a group. As its description states, “Madness attempts to build a queer lineage out of inherited language and cultural artifacts; these poems trouble the static categories of sanity, heterosexuality, masculinity, normality, and health.” Any queer person in the United States will tell you that mental and physical health are ever-present concerns. The questions sax asks here are thoughtful and the delivery of these explorations is powerful. The overall style of the poems did not appeal to me, but the collection is tight and the ideas, the talent, unmistakable. Three stars on Goodreads. (This was book 9 for my 2022 TBR Pile Challenge.)
Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace: Much like my recent reading of Richard Siken, after reading this essay collection, I immediately went out and purchased another Wallace book. (To be honest, I almost bought all of them.) Wallace is such a smart, insightful, and thoughtful writer/thinker. He was obviously wildly intelligent, to the point of brilliance, and while I think that kind of intelligence could sometimes come across as elitism, Wallace is also notably cautious. The ego just doesn’t get in the way, which is a rare thing from a writer and thinker of this caliber. I absolutely loved his forays into politics, lobster festivals, and cultural catastrophes. His observations are bright, deeply ruminative, and often delightfully surprising. I found myself thinking along with him, which is the most fun I’ve had with any book recently. Five stars on Goodreads.
Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor by Xiran Jay Zhao: Listen, this book is wild. Definitely reads like a fever dream in some parts, as the author seems more than willing to admit, but it’s pretty awesome overall. Percy Jackson meets Mulan with some Pixar’s Coco mixed in. Like for real, what? Yeah. But I swear to god, what’s going on with proofreading and editors lately? Do these big publishers need someone? Like pay me. I’m here. Spotted at least 3 glaring bloopers in this one. Anyhow, five stars on Goodreads! I can’t wait to read her book Iron Widow. I’ve had my eye on it for months.
Nature Poem by Tommy Pico: My review of this little poetry collection (or long poem, I should say), was going to be mostly muted. I’ve read Pico before and his style is just not something that works for me. I respect his talent. He’s a slam poet and a smart one at that, but I think I’m at a stage in my life where that kind of poetry doesn’t do it for me anymore. It does work for a lot of people and it’s not difficult to understand why. Interestingly, just a few days after reading this long poem, I was reading an essay by Elaine Castillo (in How to Read Now) where she lauds Pico and this book for all the right reasons. I completely agree with her brilliant assessment of Pico’s powerful and important work, and her reading helped me understand its genius even more, but the style still isn’t for me. Three stars on Goodreads. (This was book 10 for my 2022 TBR Pile Challenge.)
How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa: This is a good collection of short stories by Laotian-Canadian author Thammavongsa. Many of the stories deal with issues relevant to refugees and immigrants, especially cultural and family-specific experiences with food, language, and relationships. I think where the collection is strongest is where the stories carry through those themes and threads throughout, though I didn’t find the writing or the stories particularly surprising or groundbreaking. Three out of five stars on Goodreads.
War of the Foxes by Richard Siken: As you might recall from my review of Siken’s Crush, I loved that collection so much that I immediately ran out and purchased this one. While I enjoyed this one, too, and found some similarity in the power of thought and language, and the tightness in terms of thematic elements in the collection, I definitely have a preference for Crush. This collection has at its foundation a focus on art, art making, artistic expression, and the viewing and reception of art. All of this is complicated by ideas of the self and other, of representation, of doubling. It’s a fascinating journey and much like my appreciation for David Foster Wallace’s mind, I’m ever intrigued by the way Siken views the world. Three (and a half) out of five stars on Goodreads.
My favorite this month: