I set a reading goal for myself this year to read one book a month, and so far it’s been an easy goal. I have been sharing my reading adventure on Instagram, because accountability, people. Accountability. I am the kind of person who will be all, “Well, no one will know if we skip a month…” which is true, but sharing makes it feel like I’m doing something. A service to the community, if you will, or will not, I dunno where your willingness lies. Anywho, I thought I’d enlighten the masses here as well, do a little recap of what I’ve read so far, and tell y’all what’s coming up. So, this is what that is: A review of my 2,200-word reviews of books I’ve read. Best to just stop reading here.
I started out my “New Year, New Me” (just kidding, there is no such thing with me) reading a novel by a friend and former classmate, Misha Lazzara. Misha and I met in grad school at UNC Charlotte, in an interesting, fun, and quietly absurd Victorian Literature class. Maybe not so quietly absurd, but definitely fun and interesting. We initially bonded over having sons who were the same age and doing this dogged thing of being moms in grad school. I was struggling with what I wanted to do with my life, struggling with calling myself a writer, but Misha already knew she was a writer, and I envied her determination.
We both went on to MFA programs and when her debut novel, “Manmade Constellations” came out last year I did a little happy dance for her. It’s so freaking nice to see your people do the damn thing! So, I decided to start there. Here’s what I wrote about the novel when I was just 40 pages in: “I’m only on page 40, but I’m already deeply in love with these imperfect characters, navigating this crazy life. For my friends who love ‘real’ characters with a magnetic sense of place, check out this novel!
Yeah, it was all about place in this novel, several places to be exact: The Midwest, the Southwest, the roads that gather dust in between. It was a road-trip of sorts, both for the characters and the readers with themes of breaking free from childhood trauma, setting new boundaries, learning about oneself, and opening up to worlds and people that we sometimes refuse to see. You can purchase the book from Blackstone.
February’s book, “Groundglass: An Essay” by Kathryn Savage, was lovely and necessary, complicated and tragic.
I stumbled upon this book in West Trade Review’s “West End” section, which features book reviews, craft essays, interviews, and criticisms. Full disclosure, I’m an Associate Fiction Editor for West Trade Review and was tasked with writing reviews of my own, so I was checking out what has been done, as to not reinvent any wheels, when I stumbled upon Tara Friedman’s review of “Groundglass” and knew I would need to read this book.
I’m a lover of intersectional nonfiction. I’m also obsessed with how we can be so blind to the earth and ground we so callously contaminate. I’ve been working on my own story concerning the Superfund Site in Picher, Oklahoma for years now.
In the end I wrote: “A lyric prose on four US Superfund sites in the US, Savage explores grief and ecology, as well as the connections between our bodies and where we live, which we need to reconcile with, no matter how much we may want to ignore it. I highly recommend it.”
You can purchase a copy at Coffee House Press.
March was an adventure! I started with bell hooks, but quickly realized “all about love” was gonna take some time. Lots of note-taking, lots of ideas that, turns out, I’m not ready for. It’s on my bedside table now. I’m tackling it in bursts when I can, mentally and emotionally. It’s work and it’s important, so I want to get it right.
So, I revisited my TBR stack and shifted to Melissa Febos’ “Body Work,” which was exactly what I needed. I grabbed Febos’ book (part craft, part memoir) last year at AWP, after I attended her panel with Brandon Taylor on narrative craft. I highly recommend the conversation. Like most of my AWP purchases, both Febos’ and Taylor’s books went straight to my bookshelf because I was revising my thesis and who has time to read during revision?
Whew, this book turned out to be enlightening, accessible, and rich with lessons on life, love, and craft. I’m a Febos Fan because she’s relatable and honest, the inspiration she gives is a plus. If you’re finding it difficult to tackle the “hard” stuff in CNF, read this book.
A few days after I finished “Body Work” I was perusing a used book store with Jackson, he’s on the hunt for all the banned books, when I came upon Kendra Allen’s memoir, “Fruit Punch.” I knew Allen’s name in the context of Southwest Review, when I’d happened upon “Bitches Be Repressed” some time ago. I was struck by her voice, first and foremost. Y’all know I’m a sucker for voice. She is electric, gravitational, and fresh.
As soon as I saw this cover, I was in. I snatched it up, took it home, and read it that night.
Allen takes us DEEP into her community and family. Growing up a Black woman in Texas she saw everything. Her memory is astute, her feelings wide and complicated. This isn’t your mom’s essay collection. The structure is as unique as her voice. She tells her readers up front to put the book down if it’s too much, but readers, it was never too much. It was a reminder, among other things, not to look away. And I couldn’t.
If you are so inclined, all about love, Body Work, and Fruit Punch.
The exciting news for April is that I’m doing my first book review for West Trade Review, which means I’m expecting my ARC of Samantha Irby’s “Quietly Hostile” any day now, and y’all, you all. I am excited. 🦨 😍
Aside from Samantha Irby, who I adore, I’ve got Brandon Taylor’s linked story collection, “Filthy Animals” (as mentioned above) on deck, as well as Michelle Zauner’s memoir, “Crying in H Mart.” It’s gonna be a good spring!
Let’s talk books again soon,