The Tradition by Jericho Brown (Copper Canyon Press 2019)
Reviewed by Elizabeth Kudlacz
…I am ashamed of America
And confounded by God….
It was these lines from the poem Foreday in the Morning in Jericho Brown’s third, Pulitzer Prize winning book The Tradition that captured the emotion I, as well as many other Americans, felt as we watched George Floyd die by asphyxiation when a police officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while three other officers stood by. Ashamed and confounded not just by this singular outrageous and gross injustice, but by the fact that this sanctioned atrocity, involving another black American male, is a pervasive and persistent malady. This powerful book is built upon a foundation of poems in which Brown repeatedly forces us to confront the issue of racism in this country and the grim, indeed fatal, consequences that so often accompany it.
Deacon King Kong by James McBride (Riverhead Books 2020)
Reviewed by Allison McCausland
During such turbulent times, it is important to have a sense of humor. The juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy has never been as eloquent as in James McBride’s latest novel, Deacon King Kong. McBride’s follow up to his National Book Award winning The Good Lord Bird draws on the same wit and humor as the author observes and records the human condition.
A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum (HarperCollins 2019)
Reviewed by Angela Gualtieri
A book’s purpose is to inform, whether it paints a view of a fantastical world or provides a reflection of everyday life. Sometimes, these purposes indulge our curiosities naturally and slowly. Other times, the author forces our eyes wide open to take in harsh truths we weren’t prepared to face. Etaf Rum’s debut novel, A Woman Is No Man, displays the traditions, culture, and societal expectations of Arab families, but also shows the painful reality for its woman.
Obviously, it’s a weird time to be alive. I won’t say much more about COVID-19 here, other than the fact that I am grateful to find solace in books while home-bound.
In that vein, I asked our editors and frequent contributors to send over a book or two that has made their quarantine more manageable. Some of these are old favorites, some are new finds, but all are solid picks to stave off your quarantine-fueled boredom, and maybe even provide a little hope or inspiration in moments of chaos and confusion.
Evidence of V: A Novel in Fragments, Facts, and Fictions by Sheila O’Connor (Rose Metal Press, 2019)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
We are not taught to think of women in prison. The cells which contain women, we are told, are physical, social – women are victims, and men their assailants. Like so much gendered terminology, we have prisons, and then we have women’s prisons. As if an afterthought, as if a near impossibility that a woman might have the ability, the audacity to act against the norm. Have we not, we ponder, created enough of a cage for women out of invisible walls – out of the nuances of our socially constructed expectations, exploitations? And what to do with a girl who is not considerate of the walls we have put up for her? What to do with a girl who wants something else?
As we embark on a new decade, I wanted to provide a guidebook for a year of reading – a list which might offer, loosely, a template for reading to encourage you to hear new voices, support new authors, and step outside your comfort zone.
in the dream house by carmen maria machado (graywolf, 2019)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
I know many writers obsessed with houses. Houses contain us; we fill them up with ourselves. We share them with our families, lovers, histories, ghosts. In poetry, stanza is another word for room – this makes each poem a house, a self-contained world of its own.
Queer literature isn’t just about representation. It’s about making room for fluidity, hybridity, experimentation, the complicated, difficult to define realities of the way we define ourselves, the ways we love, the ways we see and move through the world. This month, we celebrate LGBTQ+ authors — those we’ve covered in the past, and those we look forward to reading in the near future.
Favorites we recommend…
by Rebecca Valley
In 2017, the U.S. spent more than ever before on natural disaster relief — an astonishing $306 billion. In September and October, as I sat through the first few weeks of my graduate writing program in a peaceful (though unseasonably warm) Massachusetts, three record-breaking hurricanes ravaged the Caribbean and Gulf Coast. Continue reading