The Week in Reading #imwayr 8/10/20

On the blog:

I have been having fun with my new Detroit Public Library card today! One very mild pandemic benefit: closed libraries in Michigan meant that all I had to do to get a temporary library card was type in my new address and ten minutes later, I was ready to check out books! I also discovered Hoopla this week (sometimes I am VERY late to things), and they have a terrific selection of poetry, which is just what I need for my current reading challenge.

So I have to start reading more YA, and I started with Nic Stone’s Jackpot, which was a good choice to ease me back into the genre. Some things I do like in YA fiction: voice, parents who may not be perfect but are at least present and trying, work scenes, school scenes, sparkly dialogue, pets. Jackpot had all but the pets.

It’s got a good hook: Rico, who works at a convenience store, sells a winning lottery ticket to a little old lady who then doesn’t come forward to claim her prize; Rico teams up with hot Zan to try to find LOL (little old lady). Things I don’t like in YA: main characters who are devastatingly beautiful but don’t know it, unbelievable plot obstacles that keep dragging things out, unbelievable plot obstacles that keep the obviously right-for-each-other characters from getting together on page 15. And Jackpot has plenty of those things too. It’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen between Zan and Rico from the second they meet, and Stone had to put a lot of effort in to keep them apart for 300+ pages. But it’s a fun story with plenty of heart and will be easy to booktalk.

Of course I loved Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem. It felt like the best possible pandemic reading. So uplifting. So hopeful. Of course I would love any book with a Mercy Watson cameo.

Wonderful collection from Aimee Nezhukumatathil, whose work I knew I would love after listening to her interview on Vs, the terrific Poetry Foundation podcast hosted by Danez Smith and Franny Choi. I don’t know how to write about poetry (probably a challenge to figure out another time as right now all I can focus on is making time to read a whole book of them each day), but these poems are full of wonder and curiosity, grounded in Nezhukumatathil’s knowledge and observations of the natural world, often focused on family and relationships. I love that they’re about mostly daily things, but the depth and richness of her metaphors makes something very resonant out of even the smallest observations. There is something really generous and warm about the speaker and the world created in these poems. I can’t wait to read another collection by her (as well as her collection of essays about nature that will publish next month).

One way I plan to get through my current reading challenge of a poetry collection a day for August is to intersperse micro chapbooks that are available online. Here’s one I just happened upon. I enjoyed the references to childhood toys, games, and TV shows and movies, and the overall conceit is clever. And I have not been able to stop thinking about the last two pieces in the collection which focus on traumatic abuse. But overall, this collection did not work for me. I don’t like unnecessarily opaque poems, but I do like craft and beautiful language, and I felt like these poems were short on both.

This definitely won’t be my last collection by Ada Limon this month. Bright Dead Things is really, really good. I liked the strong feminist perspective, the meditations on place, the surprising ways she found to write about grief. I had many favorites in this collection, and the poems are also a bit challenging to unlock and lend themselves to more than one reading.

Not My White Savior is a kind of memoir in poems written by a Korean adoptee about the politics of international adoption and the incredible damage that white Christian saviorism can do as a family narrative. I think that adoptees, especially, will see themselves, their search for identity and heritage, their anger and pain powerfully centered in this book, and as an adoptive parent, this book was a gift (though not an easy read). The Goodreads reviews are full of words like heartbreaking, gutting, powerful, furious, devastating. This book did make me think about what, besides line breaks and focus, makes a poem. Imagery, metaphor, language aren’t the point here. It’s all about ideas and emotion.

Eve Ewing’s 1919 is so powerful and very much the book that many readers need right now. It’s a collection of poems about the 1919 race riot in Chicago, rooted in Ewing’s reading of a 1922 report called The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot. Quotations from the report begin each poem, and there are also photos from that summer interspersed throughout the collection. Ewing’s poems are formally inventive, elegant, highly crafted, and highly readable. I read this collection in one sitting and then wanted to go back and start all over again.

Not sure what’s up next. More poetry, certainly. Time to start another YA novel. And I’ve also started Zadie Smith’s tiny collection of pandemic essays which I will try to read very slowly. What are you reading this week?

5 thoughts on “The Week in Reading #imwayr 8/10/20

  1. These books sound great! I appreciate your thoughts about Jackpot—I haven’t read it, but I’ve read several other books where the characters who are clearly going to fall in love don’t for far too long. Not My White Savior sounds like an excellent and impactful book as well. Thanks for the great post!

  2. I love Ada Limon, too, & this Bright Dead Things opened my eyes to new ways of looking, so good. I’ll look for 1919 & The One Where I Ruined Your Childhood. What a great challenge, Elisabeth, and I’m glad you got that library card fast!

  3. I find Teen Love the dullest part of YA books. I am old and jaded. Your poetry project sounds wonderful. And library cards are a true solace. Our libraries just started Curbside Pick Up and I’ve gone a bit crazy.

  4. Wow thanks for this list of poets. They are all new to me.
    What I hate most in YA is the angst. Any kind of angst for any kind of reason.

    On a completely different topic. After you introduced me to Murderbot, I introduced a number of people to these books. Out of the blue today I got a message from my niece saying, “Artificial Condition, the latest Murderbot was so good!” We are both gnashing our teeth waiting for the next book in 2021.

  5. I’ve enjoyed other books by Nic Stone so will likely eventually get to Jackpot. I am intrigued by the 1919 book and want to find Zadie Smith’s essays. Thank you!

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