Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Book Stack ~ May 2021

A monthly post about my progress toward finishing a very large stack of books. Past months' posts:

I finally emerged from this year's reading slump and made it through a good-sized pile in May. My theme for the month was short and fragmented--I just couldn't get enough of prose poems/lyric essays/micro essays/flash nonfiction/whatever you want to call it.

In the nonfiction/poetry realm (I'm not sure where the line is for some of these selections), I read:

Sound Machine by Rachel Zucker. A kind of meta-exploration of confessional poetry and the life of the poet/mother/wife as she writes the poems and teaches poetry in a form I'm not sure how to describe: really short paragraphs, sentences broken into stanzas--proesms?

Bluets by Maggie Nelson. This is the go-to book whenever anyone talks about lyric essay or fragmented writing, and while I enjoyed the style, I was a little more meh  on the concept--obsession over a color and obsession over an ex-boyfriend. I mean, ugh, get over him and move on.

Heating & Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly. I loved these "micro-memoirs," some only a sentence long, most around a page, and I just love Fennelly's spirit that leaps right off the page in humor and insight.

The Book of Delights by Ross Gay. This book is a joy to read. Gay set out to write about one delight per day for a year and ended up with around 100 short meditations on quotidian aspects of days spent in gardens, coffee shops, and airports, and finds something wonderful in everyday, ordinary things. I did not want it to end.

Flash Count Diary by Darcey Steinke. This book veers away from the ultra-short prose theme of the month, being a memoir in longish essays about a year in the midst of menopause. I'd heard about it as a book about "menopause and whales," which intrigued me. Whales do make a significant appearance--the killer whale being one of the few animals other than humans that experiences menopause--but there's a lot more to it as Steinke explores the medical, cultural, and scientific approaches to this stage in life that half of the human population goes through yet is poorly understood, little discussed, pathologized, and stigmatized.

Writing Wild by Kathryn Aalto. I really enjoyed this book of mini biographies (back to the miniature theme) of women nature writers of England, the US, and Canada. I was familiar with many of the writers featured but enjoyed learning more about them, and I was thrilled to be introduced to a few I'd never heard of. And I love any nature writing anthology or collection that isn't just "a bunch of old white dudes plus Rachel Carson." It's also beautifully illustrated, which is fun.

Onto fiction, and back to fragments, I read Jenny Offill's novel Weather, about a woman juggling motherhood and climate anxiety in near-future New York City. The fragmentary nature of the prose is a perfect fit for the mental state our modern times engender.

Finally, I finally read a book a friend gave me many years ago, a collection of short stories by Lucia Berlin, A Manual for Cleaning Women. Oh! These stories are so good! I read a lot of short stories in grad school, and so many of them leave me cold, but these are so colorful and lively and interesting and heartbreaking and funny and all the feels. I can't believe I've never encountered Berlin anywhere else. This would have been a brilliant book to read when I was trying to be a short story writer. Go forth and find yourself a copy!

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