Sunday, May 19, 2019
Black voices Book reviews Fiction Indie publisher LGBTQIA+ Memoir Monthly wrap-up Nonfiction Poetry Reading challenge

April Reading Wrap-Up and Really Good Rec’s

April ended two weeks ago (?!), but like all of us out here in this world, I’m somehow busier than I expect so I’m a little behind on, well, everything. But I did read a lot last month, so I’m here with a wrap-up for you!

April is National Poetry Month, and I read a lot of poetry, but only two collections are included in this wrap-up. And the reason for that is is, I already wrote about poetry for Buzzfeed, where I recommend 13 stellar queer poetry collections. You can read that post here; consider it wrap-up Part 1. Everything else is below- 10 books, many of which I listened to on audio. I’m a true believer in audiobooks- not every audiobook works for me, but when they work, they work so well. And I can read at the same time I’m doing all the other things I’m behind on! It’s so efficient. Anyway, here’s April’s stats breakdown:

11 books

  • Authors of color: 6
  • Women/nonbinary or trans: 10
  • LGBTQIA+ writers and/or content: 8
  • Mental or physical illness: 4 (mental illness)
  • White: 5
  • Poetry: 2 (but like, 13)

Reading Women prompts fulfilled:

  1. A book you bought or borrowed in 2019: Brown White Black: An American Family at the Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality and Religion by Nishta J. Mehra

Year of Indies challenge: 7 – 1 Tin House (Mostly Dead Things), 1 Dzanc (The Archive of Alternate Endings), 1 Catapult (Joy), 1 Fiction Advocate (A Little In Love with Everyone), 1 BOA Editions (When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities), and 1 each from Oregon State University & Yale University Press (Gathering Moss & The Year of Blue Water, respectively).

Poetry roundup: 13 Books by Queer Poets to Add to Your Reading List on Buzzfeed

bag of books april poetry month
I carried these books around for a long time

Fiction

Mostly Dead Things Kristen Arnett 2

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett (June 4)

I wrote a whole post on this book, which you can read here.

Patsy Nicole Dennis-Benn

Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn (June 4)

Wow, the words ‘epic saga’ certainly fit this book- it is so rich in detail, both imagery-wise and plot-wise, that I almost feel like I have a hangover from it. Like Dennis-Benn’s previous novel, there are a huge array of characters here, all of whom are flawed but sympathetic, which is no easy feat. And despite the number of characters, I didn’t feel lost as to who was who- also not easy to pull off.

The mother-daughter duo at the center of the story are so well realized and so beautifully gender/sexuality nonconforming that I shed some tears of joy at the representation. I wholeheartedly recommend this book based on that alone, but their parallel stories are much richer than those singular identities, so there’s a lot more here to love. I felt so close to their characters and so invested in being immersed in their stories. The book is long, and though I sometimes felt it didn’t need to be quite that long, I do feel that the payoff is worth it- in the end, I felt like I knew these women so well, like I’d known them for years.

Thank you to Liveright/WW Norton for the ARC; opinions are my own.

Normal People Sally Rooney 2

Normal People by Sally Rooney

I finally succumbed to the hype. I listened to Conversations With Friends last year and thought it was okay, but I wasn’t the biggest fan. I found the characters just a little too irritating. That might’ve been because I read it *immediately* after reading Motherhood by Sheila Heti, which was similarly existential; I might’ve been a little burned out on 30-something angst. (Also because I live in it every day, ha.) I enjoyed Normal People quite a bit more. I also listened to it on audio and really liked the narrator. While both Connell and Marianne had their eye-roll-y moments, I was surprisingly invested in them and their strangely pure relationship. I feel Rooney really nailed the voices, both literal and figurative, of these characters, more so than the characters in Conversations With Friends. Also there seemed to be just the right amount more plot in this one, which helped put it over the edge into super-readable territory.

While I don’t LOVE in all caps this book like so many others do, I did thoroughly enjoy it and think it was extremely well-written. It didn’t take itself too seriously but still managed to resonate on an unexpectedly heart-squeezing level, and as we all know, Rooney is a master of dialogue. I definitely recommend this book; it’s a quick read too.

Archive of Alternate Endings Lindsay Drager

The Archive of Alternate Endings by Lindsay Drager

“What is a story if not the safe harbor for our most disturbing imaginings?

This book is like the literary manifestation of the nautilus that dons its cover. It’s ostensibly a novel though I would say it leans more toward poetry. The structure – shell, if you will- of the narrative is a chronicle or archive of the story of Hansel & Gretel through time, corresponding with Halley’s Comet passing earth. It’s the story of a story, real and imagined, and how it both changes and stays the same through centuries. There’s a slew of characters named and unnamed, including Hansel and Gretel themselves, the Grimm brothers, Johannes Gutenberg, a lesbian illustrator in an asylum, a ‘witch’ who cares for gay men in the AIDS crisis, a dancer and a tech developer, some inanimate probes sending binary code into space, and more. The language circles itself, as do repeating images of a cookie jar, a comet, digging in a field, sand, seeing things from above, and always a brother and a sister in the center of it all. Just like the nautilus is visually mesmerizing, the writing in this tight little book is hypnotic. If it’s not clear, I loved it, it’s unlike anything I’ve read before and I’m in awe of Lindsay Drager’s brain.

I received an ARC of this book from the Dzanc Books in exchange for an honest review. Opinions are my own.

Joy Erin McGraw

Joy: And 52 Other Very Short Stories by Erin McGraw

I really love the premise of this book: 53 short stories no more than a few pages each, providing a diverse array of slice-of-life vignettes about characters with vastly different lives. The universal messiness of humanity strings them together. It takes a lot of skill to convey enough information in just two or three pages that the reader feels like they have a sense of the character and their life, and McGraw is great at it. The only reason I didn’t love it more is that I wasn’t super invested in these stories- they are well-written, but most didn’t emotionally resonate with me. That said, I think it’s a worthwhile read because it’s easy to dip in and out of, and it’s a great example of what can be done within the form of short story.

I received a review copy of this book from Catapult; opinions are my own.

Nonfiction & Memoir

A Little in Love with Everyone Genevieve Hudson

A Little In Love With Everyone by Genevieve Hudson

This book uses Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home as a touchstone for a meditation on queer loneliness and queer connection; queer histories, archives, stories; queer secrets and queer bodies. Every sentence and sentiment reverberates like the clearest, saddest, most beautiful musical note through my whole body. Basically everything Genevieve Hudson writes is perfect and that’s all you need to know.

Gathering Moss Robin Wall Kimmerer audiobook 2

Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Robin Wall Kimmerer is such a wonderful storyteller. She could write/talk about anything in the world and it would be engrossing. I knew a little about mosses from my botany days, but not much, and Kimmerer’s deft narration of the lives of mosses- and by extension, the lives of humans and entire ecosystems- was fascinating. She uses humor too, and tragedy, and everything in between to convey a sense of pure wonder at life and the natural world. She’s also very skilled at relating tiny details to large structural issues including colonialism/imperialism; talking about traditional ways of knowing; and examining life in the world as it is and struggling with how best to live it. In my opinion Kimmerer is one of the best writers out there, especially when it comes to the intersection between natural science and humanity.

Well Read Black Girl
Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves
, edited by Glory Edim

This is a really great collection of essays by and about Black women who found and created themselves in books- in reading, writing, and connecting with stories. So many amazing writers contributed to this collection. It’s also full of great book recommendations across genres and themes. Definitely recommend this book, though I would say go for the print version, the audio didn’t grab me that much. The content is amazing though.

Brown White Black audiobook 2

Brown White Black: An American Family at the Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality and Religion by Nishta J. Mehra

This fantastic memoir is such a welcome change from the glut of motherhood narratives that’s been overwhelming bookshelves lately, namely white women having existential crises about whether or not they want to have children. It’s not that there’s no place for those, but (thankfully, for me, because I’m over them) this is not that book. This is the story of someone who never questioned their desire to be a parent, though her wife did, and how she and her family navigate the world. The author is of Indian descent, her wife is white, and the son they adopted is Black (and, at the time of this story, 5 years old). The honesty and clarity with which she lays out how the family traverses and makes decisions around race, gender, and social structures is so refreshing to read, even for someone who has zero interest in parenthood. It’s so interesting to hear how they’re able to be both pragmatic and idealistic about raising their gender nonconforming Black child as a mixed-race lesbian couple in America. Definitely recommend this read.

Poetry

April poetry month stack 2

The Year of Blue Water by Yanyi

“Every day we were so rootless, we/ had to make the same friends over and over again.”

“There are places I can’t go, like outside my body.” 

“For a long time, I was attached my my she/her as my pronouns, even when I was nonbinary. They didn’t seem as sharp as I wanted it to be. And I like precision.”

“…hunger as the enemy of consciousness, the present as an enemy of the past.”

I read this beautiful little book of poetry in one hour. This book was written to “women, women of color, queers, gentlequeers, spectra, crystals, animals,” and it speaks to me on that level.  It’s such a delicate and potent meditation on loneliness and connection, grounding in the body and rootlessness. The rootlessness of immigration, of queerness, of transness, of solitude. It’s also about locating oneself in the body, about writing and art as both solitude and as community, and about queer searching through tarot, TV, reading. Needless to say this resonated deeply with me. I highly recommend this collection!

I received a copy of this book from Yale University Press in exchange for an honest review; opinions are my own.

When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen

This is one of the most wonderful books of any genre I’ve ever read. I am smitten. Chen writes with such a magical and clear-headed blend of humor, vernacular, tenderness, observation, and craft skill that I am left speechless. I savored every poem like candy, and stretched out my reading of it so it wouldn’t have to end. I was lucky enough to see Chen read at The Rumpus’s Queer Syllabus night at AWP (aka one of the best nights of my life), and he is as much of a delight in person as his poems are on the page. There is no single theme to this collection, but it encompasses identity, family, immigration, queerness, religion; and more precise and mundane things like reading, eating popcorn, dirty snow in winter, summer love. But all of it punches at the heart in the best way, whether the lines are about popcorn or depression. Take this example from Self Portrait as So Much Potential:

“Dreaming of one day being as fearless as a mango./ as friendly as a tomato. Merciless to chin & shirtfront./ Realizing I hate the word ‘sip.’/ But that’s all I do./ I drink. So slowly./ & say ‘I’m tasting it.’ When I’m just bad at taking in liquid./ I’m no mango or tomato…/ I’m a gay sipper”

The way in which Chen uses specific images to convey messy human experience, they way he is so adept at weaving these images and themes across stanzas, the playful nature of these poems, even the darker ones; I just… I love it. I love it so much. So yeah definitely read this if you haven’t. I can’t wait for more from him.

April poetry month stack 1

That’s it for this month! (I mean last month.) See you back here halfway through June for May’s wrap-up!


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Sarah Neilson
<p>Reading mainly own voices books, usually in the genres of memoir, literary fiction, nonfiction and poetry. I love reading and hope you'll find some great reviews here!</p>

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