Very infrequently does a poet arrest their reader in so few pages and with such a delicate touch as does Noreen Ocampo. Following her debut micro collection Teaspoons, Ocampo’s Not Flowers continues her exploration of the soft, the familial, and the power of memory. The poetry of Not Flowers reads with the serenity of a Studio Ghibli meadow combined with the timeless Victorian illustrations by Kate Greenaway, curating a fantasy-adjacent field of poetry combining memory and the senses. Nonetheless, Ocampo’s Not Flowers remains deeply rooted in the present, utilizing the power of sensorial memory to curate the speaker’s soft, loving contemporary moment. Ultimately, Ocampo disrupts the seemingly dichotomous relationship between being a flower versus a “not-flower” and finds tenderness and nostalgia to be elements of strength, rather than of weakness.
It’s August! And we have three remarkably tasty reads that turn genre fiction on its head. This month, you’ll find short stories so delectable you’ll swear some passages came straight from the pages of cookbook. Plus, we’ve got a feminist Western to satisfy all your cowboy cravings and a book of literary science fiction full of violins, Faustian bargains, and donuts. Order up!
A few days ago, a friend sent me an article about a black hole at the center of the Milky Way, which scientists recently captured on film for the first time. The author writes: “despite its ‘supermassive” designation, is not very large in the grand scheme of things.”
In 2017, I decided to read every day. A simple task, unqualified by subject or quantity. I thought I could be successful. To an extent, I was. Though I missed often, my days began to arrange themselves around reading. I took books everywhere. Metro-rides, restaurants, grocery stores. Eventually, office spaces. You see, 2017 was also the year my mental health decided to abandon me. It took me forty-two days to read my first full-length book in many years (Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.) When I finished reading it, I inscribed the month—August, I think–—on the first page.
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.
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.
The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary by NoNieqa Ramos (Carolrhoda Lab 2019)
Reviewed by Kathryn Leonard-Peck
In this hybrid review, Leonard-Peck combines poetry and critical reading to map the emotional landscape of this stunning YA novel, which as a 2019 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection and a 2018 New York Public Library Best Book for Teens. For more reviews that challenge the form, click here.
If I really wanted to do Phil Stamper’s debut YA novel The Gravity of Us justice, I’d pull out my phone and video myself live walking through the streets of New York City while I shared my thoughts with you. To review the book this way would be the best homage to Cal, the wonderful narrator Stamper has crafted, a social-media-savvy, budding seventeen year-old reporter from Brooklyn who suddenly finds himself transplanted to Clear Lake, Texas when his dad is picked as an astronaut candidate for NASA’s first mission to Mars. In Clear Lake, Cal is pulled away from everything he loves from Brooklyn, but unexpectedly brought closer to Leon, the son of another astronaut and the perfect love match for Cal.