Alan King’s newest poetry collection, Crooked Smiling Light, (Plan B Press, 2021) moves from punch to caress, offering the lie of easy and sudden transformation, but in the hard-fought, zig-zag feint of everyday effort. Along the way, the reader encounters metaphors from boxing and marathon, giants of history like Nelson Mandela and Amiri Baraka, Whitman’s Learn’d Astronomer, the Bible’s Goliath, Roy Hargrove and the Black Lives Matter protests. All illustrate a man’s life as he moves from son to father, seeking what we all do—love and a meaningful place in the world.
For our April reading roundup, we’re going dark, with a selection of fantasies and mysteries that take a close look at the often ugly underbelly of the human experience. These books take on dysfunctional relationships, grief, addiction, murder, and even human sacrifice as their subjects. But while the novels in this roundup might have gritty, even frightening, exteriors, at their core they also force us to consider what it means to love and be loved—and how hardship gives us space to reconsider what we value.
Poet Marilyn Nelson has said “when you go to listen to a poet read, you leave having learned not only about the poet’s reality but also about the reality you are living.” She calls this “communal pondering.” Through Rachel Eliza Griffiths’ exquisite fifth book, Seeing the Body, we are invited into communal pondering about the physicality of grief, silence and absence, as the poet grapples with her mother’s death, its effect on the poet’s body and psyche, and the necessity of living beyond such a monumental loss.
Freeman considers gardening as the ultimate art by discussing the notable gardens of two famous, queer woman artists.
Gardens are both art and autobiography, a landscape of self-expression combined with a love for natural beauty. As the great artist and garden-maker, Claude Monet, once observed, “I perhaps owe becoming a painter to flowers. My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece.”
This year, my resolution is to rest more, which is why we’re truly easing into 2022. In our first round-up of the year, we’ve got a little of this and a little of that—a true hodge-podge to appease our sleepy winter brains. From high fantasy to graphic essays, we’ve got something for everyone this month.
Frida Kahlo and My Left Leg is an essay collection by Emily Rapp Black that follows two female artists for whom “create or die” and “laugh or die” are important mottos. These artists, Frida Kahlo and Rapp Black herself, live through their share of heartache. They know that art is survival, especially after several “crucible experience[s].” For Kahlo: polio, a “philandering husband,” miscarriages, and a street car crash that is followed by thirty-two operations, including one that leaves her an amputee. For Rapp Black: five surgeries during her childhood (a birth defect requires that, at the age of four, her left leg be amputated), two divorces, and the loss of her first child—her nearly three-year-old son, Ronan—to a terminal illness, Tay Sachs disease.
This collection of microreviews is a little more eclectic than usual. But these books, which range from history to YA to literary fiction and beyond, share a common thread: the way they ask readers to see the world in new ways. These books offer fresh perspectives through reinvention and retelling, but also by simply narrating from points of view that are rarely heard or respected. This month’s books include a stunning queer retelling of the Peter Pan myth, a genre-bending memoir-cum-historical-treatise on slave revolts, a graphic novel for kids that tackles chronic illness, race, and Latinx culture, and much more. In each story, we are asked to reconsider our old ways of knowing, and make space for new narratives.
“When you don’t understand the meaning of something you read, whose fault is it? Yours or the writer’s? It has to be someone’s fault. Everything does. Anyway, I just ask because this is my book. Do you think I understand everything in this book? If I don’t, can you?” (Epigraph Footnote #4)