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2 by Jim Harrison

Songs of UnreasonSongs of Unreason by Jim Harrison

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Jim Harrison is one of my favorite poets and truly an American treasure. This book further seals his reputation as he explores his primitive self and nature. As a poet, he grows more powerful with age. Highly recommended.





The Ancient Minstrel: NovellasThe Ancient Minstrel: Novellas by Jim Harrison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This is a collection of three novellas, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The first is a semi-autobiographical but much fictionalized account of a writer like Harrison himself as he struggles to raise pigs and keep writing. There's much to amuse in Harrison's jaunty take on himself, but the story feels a bit sluggish. The second and longest is "Eggs," about a woman whose passion is raising chickens who becomes somewhat obsessed with having a child, even though she has no interest in a mate or marriage. Harrison's treatment of women is always a little troubling to me (young women often seem to fall for considerably older men for no discernible reason) and a story about a woman whose obsessions run towards reproduction seems a bit obvious and sexist. This story, too, ends rather abruptly and goes off on tangents, some lovely and necessary, some not. While I appreciate stream of consciousness writing, there also needs to be a point to the rambling. Finally, the last and shortest story is about an old man nearing retirement who is obsessed with and having something of an affair with a fifteen-year-old girl (see my previous comments about Harrison's treatment of women). While this story has the clearest arc of the bunch and the least meandering, its characters and messages are disturbing. Harrison is still a powerful writer and I will read anything he writes, but this is far from his best work.

[I received an advanced electronic copy of this book through Netgalley. This book is due to be published March 1, 2016.]



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Jan. 30th, 2016

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Jan. 25th, 2016

Absolute Solitude: Selected PoemsAbsolute Solitude: Selected Poems by Dulce María Loynaz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


From the description: "Widely published in Spain during the 1950s, Dulce Maria Loynaz's poetry was almost forgotten in Cuba after the Revolution. International recognition came to her late: at the age of ninety she was living in seclusion in Havana when the Royal Spanish Academy awarded her the 1992 Cervantes Prize, the highest literary accolade in the Spanish language. The first English publication of her work, Absolute Solitude contains a selection of poems from each of Loynaz's books, including the acclaimed prose poems from Poems with No Names, a selection of posthumously published work."

The book includes the original Spanish versions of the poems as well as the English translation and capture the poet's essence as she delves into love and its weight, the strength and vulnerability that come with it. Some beautiful work.

[I received an electronic galley of this book through Netgalley.]



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Jan. 25th, 2016

NestNest by Ed Madden

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I have often said, though it bears repeating, that Ed Madden is one of our best living poets and this book simply confirms that opinion. Here, he uses his powers of evocation and place as he travels Ireland, though he returns to his roots in the South and his religious upbringing. He finds magic and memory in the everyday of ordinary life as well as the grandest cathedrals and finds home deep within himself rather than an external place. Highly recommended.



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Jan. 25th, 2016

The Small Backs of ChildrenThe Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Lidia Yuknavitch is perhaps the most underrated writer in America today. Her beautiful memoir, The Chronology of Water, demonstrated her raw talent with language and evoking powerful scenes that are haunting and terrible. In this powerful novel, a photojournalist snaps a photo of a young girl just at the moment her family is obliterated in an explosion behind her. The picture and the girl haunt the photojournalist and many others in her life, and ultimately they decide to find and "rescue" the girl from her war-torn country. The novel becomes a powerful meditation on faith, hope, art, war, and life, written in beautiful poetic language that does not mask the horror of the situation. Highest recommendation.



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Jan. 25th, 2016

Three Moments of an Explosion: StoriesThree Moments of an Explosion: Stories by China Miéville

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


China Mieville is full of great, interesting ideas and his stories often follow these ideas to their full potential. This collection, though, left me a little cold. Some of the ideas are so big and interesting that the format of the short story is too tight for them; they need room to breathe and grow. So some of these stories felt very rushed to me or, worse, felt like just the notes of the ideas rather than being fully fleshed out. For me, the longer stories in this collection are the more successful, though the title story is short and powerful. A mixed bag.

[I received an electronic galley of this book through Netgalley.]



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Jan. 12th, 2016

Dear Mr. YouDear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A memoir of the actress's life told as a series of letters to various people, not necessarily the people you expect. For example, she tells the story of the birth of her son in a letter to the orderly who tried unsuccessfully to take him to the nursery the night he was born. Others are people she's never met, people she's only met in passing, or ex-lovers or crushes. This is not a celebrity vanity project; Parker is a keenly observant sophisticated writer and her book is full of life in all its splendor - humor, heartache, bad mistakes, chance coincidences.

[I received an e-galley of this book through Netgalley.]



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2 books of poetry

The Uses of the BodyThe Uses of the Body by Deborah Landau

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A brutally honest and journey through poetry of a woman's life. It captures the questioning soul striving for answers through being single, being married, and becoming a mother, and finding none. Throughout it is an acerbic, funny, provocative meditation on what being a woman means in contemporary life. Highly recommended.



The Falling Down DanceThe Falling Down Dance by Chris Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A strong collection of poems about the joys, fears, and hopes that come with parenthood. The poet compacts a lot of feeling and truth into very terse lines and the reader gets a sense of the whirlwind ride becoming a parent can be. Sharp and truthful.



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The Resolutionaries are Coming

I have a friend who refers to the "resolutionaries," the people who resolve to get in better shape with the start of the new year, flooding the gym for a week or two or perhaps the whole of January and then disappear.

New Years resolutions do not work. Coming off the holidays and expecting to make a dramatic change in the midst of the winter (I write this on the first bitter cold of the season). Of course we all want to wake up magically different, more disciplined, maybe thinner.

Last year, rather than make resolutions, I chose a theme, something to carry through the year as a point of evolution rather than a distinct goal. The theme of 2015 was "reinvention." That was easy. My wife was expecting in April, we moved from Brooklyn to Inwood, Zim arrived early, I left my job and my stagnating "career" to become a stay-at-home father. It's been challenging, rewarding, frustrating, amazing, and scary. It's like jumping off a cliff, not entirely sure whether you can fly, but there's a fantastic view.

This year I've chosen the theme of commitment. My self-doubt has crushed me for a long time, and having a child has only amplified it. I doubt all my choices often, I spend a lot of time worrying over whether I'm taking a misstep or whether to take a step at all. I've struggled with the notion of being a SAHD - Should I be working? Would Zim be better off in daycare? Am I doing enough for her development? This year, I'm just going to enjoy where I am and do the things I'm interested in. Enjoy my time with Zim, even if it means missing more sleep (I miss sleep soooo much). Read, of course, and not worry I'm missing something. Run, if the weather warms up. And write, like this. Feels good. Of course, I had to wait until she went down and I'm tired and I need a shower.

No one said parenthood was glamorous.

Jan. 4th, 2016

WakingWaking by Ron Rash

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I did not know Ron Rash was a poet until I discovered this book. I am familiar with his novels, particularly the amazing Serena, and short stories, which are distinctly Southern, often focusing on those who work hard yet seem to get pulled down further. His poetry is similar and very much the poetry of a storyteller with particular real locations and characters. There are beautiful moments here and I want to read more of this poet's work.



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