Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Recommendations from My Summer Book Bingo Reading

Summer’s over in Seattle: it’s gone all cool and drizzly except sometimes, I now want to eat things with lots of cinnamon, and I turned in my Book Bingo card. I didn’t quite make it to a full Blackout this year by the Labor Day deadline, alas, but got a couple bingos in there. Here’s a rundown of what I read (typed, to save you from my squinting at my handwriting and saying “huh…?”) with quick thumbs up thumbs down recommendations.

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How to Go All Poetry for #BookBingoNW2016

Suggestions for books of poetry and books by poets for all the #BookBingoNW2016 squares

Well except the Re-Read, Recommended by a Librarian, and You’ve Been Meaning to Read squares of course, but totally including Non-Fiction, Short Stories, and Novel.

It’s Summer Book Bingo time again! The awesome Seattle Arts & Lectures + Seattle Public Library summer reading fun for grown-ups*.  And you don’t have to live in Seattle to play along and stretch your reading wonts a bit. 

If you want to read poetry for more than just the Poetry Collection square, here is a list of suggestions for collections and books by poets that’ll X off this year’s squares, compiled with some brainstorming help from poets Joannie Stangeland (who you could read for Local Author), Alexandar Moysaenko (who works at Open Books: A Poem Emporium) and Billie Swift (soon-to-be-owner of Open Books: A Poem Emporium, where you can of course both pick up these books and get recommendations for lots more).

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*Click on the image for more info, and to download a square to get started!

COOKBOOK OR FOOD MEMOIR

Seasoning: A Poet’s Year by David Young is a beautiful book, and I often give it as a gift. David Young is a fine, fine poet whose other books (and there are many) I recommend highly. In Seasonings he combines memoir, poetry, food writing, nature writing, and recipes organized by month to talk about place,  time, loss, sustenance, and cycles of all kinds of seasons. Joannie and Billie both immediately thought of A Commonplace Book of Pie by Kate Lebo which is described as combining “high art, pop culture, practical resource, and fantasy zodiac to make a collection of facts both real and imagined about pie” which sounds awesome. Also The Immigrants Table by Mary Lou Sinnelli—from Madeleine DeFrees’ blurb: “In this collection, Mary Lou Sanelli brings poems out of the ivory tower, straight to the family dinner table. No fast-food substitutes here, as the poet recreates a culture in which food preparation is a cherished ritual. Sanelli’s clear-eyed, yet loving, awareness of family members’ foibles, including her own, provides the reader with a menu that nourishes both body and spirit, a gourmet treat for the imagination.”

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Independent Bookstore Day Adventures

Oh what a glorious day we had yesterday! My mother and I met the Seattle Independent Bookstore Day Challenge and went to all 17 participating stores, got a fabulous haul of books, and had a blast all day long.

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Proof! (with a funny note from Phinney Books who momentarily caused PANIC when I thought we’d forgotten to get a stamp from them and that they were already closed. But no, they had extended hours yesterday, and we had only gone one store on so we rushed back – turns out they had stamped it, just in the wrong place. Phew! And hey what’s a Challenge without a little adrenaline rush somewhere. I did have a receipt so probably could have proved our visit with that, but I wanted a complete passport and no chance of a technicality problem!

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Briefly Reviewed: the Catch-up Edition

Briefly reviewed: City Boy by Edmund White (2009) | Almost Invisible by Mark Strand (2013) | Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger (1990) | The Fiddler in the Subway by Gene Weingarten (2010) | A Lady’s Life in the Mountains by Isabella Bird (1870s)

I’m behind on my what-I’ve-been-reading posts (moving+new job = such things!) so here’s a catch-up Briefly Reviewed, briefer than usual. This list includes two of the best-written non-fiction books I’ve ever read, and some really excellently executed prose poems.

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Briefly Reviewed: Russia, Philomena, Traitor’s Blade

Briefly Reviewed: Martin Sixsmith’s Russia and The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, and Sebastien de Castell’s Traitor’s Blade.

Martin Sixsmith’s Russia: A 1,000 Year Chronicle of the Wild East was just what I wanted it to be — a basic survey, condensed, of course, but not dumbed-down or super gappy, of 1,000 years of Russian history, emphasis on the 21st century, written in lively, easy-to-read prose with his particular point of view on things argued well enough to disagree or agree with with clarity as you’re reading. If you already know a lot about the USSR, this book will probably bore you. If you have forgotten what happened while you were alive if you’re old enough for that, or what you learned in high school European history if you’re younger, and are interested in the Cold War again because you are watching The Americans (and if you aren’t watching The Americans, you should be because it’s one of the best tv shows out there right now), it’s a good choice.

Sixsmith’s book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee (now misleadingly retitled just Philomena to match the movie) was on the other hand disappointing and unrecommendable.  Continue reading

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Memphis Minnie on the Icebox

By a poet, though not technically a poem, “Memphis Minnie on the Icebox” is this month’s Music post — a hell of a great piece of writing by Langston Hughes penned originally for the Chicago Defender newspaper in 1943.

All of it is fabulous. For instance, the description in this paragraph:

Then, through the smoke and racket of the noisy Chicago bar float Louisiana bayous, muddy old swamps, Mississippi dust and sun, cotton fields, lonesome roads, train whistles in the night, mosquitoes at dawn, and the Rural Free Delivery, that never brings the right letter. All these things cry through the strings on Memphis Minnie’s electric guitar, amplified to machine proportions — a musical version of electric welders plus a rolling mill.

You can hear it, even if you’ve never heard Memphis Minnie (or possibly even if you don’t know what the blues sounds like — hard for me to say on that one, but I’ll venture it’s so).

And then the turn the piece takes from the music to the world from which the music comes, with the gesture of the question, the mindset, “It was last year, 1941, that the war broke out, wasn’t it?” and then that end bit, about the men who take the money. Chillingly, thrillingly good little bit of writing, this piece — it seems to me it does everything a good short essay should. Sets the scene and puts you in it, has something to say, says it, and leaves you feeling your life has another before and after to mark, before and after you first read this.

 

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Briefly Reviewed: Rin Tin Tin & Stiff & Packing for Mars

Susan Orlean’s book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend tells three stories, well four. There’s the partly heartbreaking and partly inspiring tale of Lee Duncan and the puppy he found on a French battlefield and named Rin-Tin-Tin, there’s the legend of Rin Tin Tin in all his film, television, merchandising and dog breeding iterations, and then there’s the story of the changing place of the dog in Americans’ lives in the twentieth century, in our homes, in our wars and on our screens. It’s an engrossing read, and I found the balance of informational detail to pace just right (that’s always my litmus for a good non-fiction book).

And the fourth story is the story of Susan Orlean’s quest to find those other stories. Orlean herself is definitely a figure in the writing, not only why she became interested in Rin-Tin-Tin in the first place, but stating which topics she cares about, and is therefore delving more into than others, and why. (For instance mentioning that it’s unclear in many Rin-Tin-Tin movies which dog is actually playing the part, but not getting much into what is and isn’t provable about that, because that’s not something she finds very interesting). So it’s on that level a different style than, say, Dorothy Ours’ Man O’War: Legend Like Lightning, which I also highly recommend, but which isn’t about Ours’ personal story. I like Orleans’ voice, and found the occasional personal sections worthwhile. It’s a big-hearted book, without getting treacly.


 

I’ve read two Mary Roach books now, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Voidand I highly recommend both for learning, with just the right filter of humor and empathy, about the stuff you might never have thought to ask about the human body or if you had thought to ask wouldn’t have been sure who to ask (or might not have been sure you wanted to). But I also highly recommend not reading them while you’re eating— Continue reading

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2013

2013 ends on a great note, with another poem of mine published in online journal  The Broken City‘s music-themed issue, just posted today! (My poem, “At the Bardot,” is on page 9). 13 was a bit my lucky number this year — I had work in Beatdom‘s #13 issue too, and (though it was doesn’t work for a number-13 trifecta) I was terribly excited to be in issue #89 of FIELD this fall.

And now, after a quick reminder that you can sign up to receive an email alert when there’s a new post in the new year towards the bottom of the page (the “Yes Please” button on the lower left under where it says “Be Alerted To New Posts”), here’s my traditional quick look back at what I read and watched this year… first the books: Continue reading

2012: A Short Look Back At What I Read

Before the look back, a quick look forward. Coming soon (or eventually) in 2013:

  • Reviews of collections by James Arthur, Bruce Beasley, David Biespiel, Stuart Friebert, Laura Jensen, A. E. Stallings, and Wendy Willis
  • Posts about William Matthews’ and Christian Wiman’s poetry
  • The afore-mentioned monthly look at an animal poem (replacing 2012’s Months posts)
  • Some more extensive film reviews on occasion, in addition to the short ones you can always find, frequently updated, on the Film page

Now for the requisite (and for all it’s cliché to do so, enjoyable) quick look back at the reading I did this year. (I stuck the Worst in the middle, because I didn’t want to end on a low note). Continue reading

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Most Vivid Reads #5

This is the final installment of my “Most Vivid Reads” series. (See below for the full list of books).

The Book of Nightmares — Galway Kinnell

I loved this poetry collection when I read it in college, and I still do. It’s melodramatic, its images are overwrought and its underlying emotion is morbid. It talks madness, birth and death, and how mortality underlies everything, speaking alternately straight up and with a bemused chaser, and that’s exactly why I love it. It hits that youthful ‘but life leads to death, death, death’ phase we all go through (especially (?) us artsy types), but it’s such well-written morbid angst. It’s like the best part of revisiting your youthful darkness-obsessed phase, because Kinnell has such a great control of language. I don’t find it amazingly profound or deeply moving in its mysticism, which is what some claim about The Book of Nightmares. But I do love it. Continue reading

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