Now that it’s officially summer, let’s embrace the heat and incorporate it into our writing this week.
Bo Bartlett, Firefly, 1993. Oil on linen. www.bobartlett.com
Frank Webster, Rockaway Dawn, 2015. Acrylic on canvas. www.fwebster.com
Danielle Richard, Eau qui dort, 2007. Acrylic on canvas. www.daniellerichard.com
I’m not sure what it is, but lately I’ve been drawn to all kinds of nonfiction and memoir. It’s a genre I previously didn’t read much, and it’s been surprising with how quickly I’ve fallen into it. Maybe it’s the time of my life, things I’m going through, or maybe it’s just I didn’t give the genre a fair chance until now. Whatever it is, I’m excited to share the books I’ve been so enthusiastic about with you, dear readers. I’ve already mentioned a couple in previous reviews (A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota edited by Sun Yung Shin and It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny Purmort). But here are some more that I either have read and loved, or are on my short-list to read this summer.
The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father by Kao Kalia Yang
You’ll likely see a full review of this soon. (If you haven’t read her first book, The Latehomecomer, pick that up, too.) I heard Yang read from this book at her book launch, which was a packed house, and where there were at least ten people in my immediate vicinity crying at one point or another. Yang’s gentle but unflinching honesty, and the way she sees love in unexpected places is enough to crack the hardest nut. This memoir follows the life of her father, Bee Yang. Bee was a traditional Hmong song poet who became a refugee in Minnesota, with many sacrifices made to support his family. Through her writing, Yang gives her father his song poet voice back. Please do pick this up, and I dare you to not be moved.
The World Is On Fire: Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of Apocalypse by Joni Tevis
This is one of the books that launched me from poetry (my main genre) into nonfiction, mostly because Tevis writes both, in my opinion. This series of essays reads like poetry in many ways. Visions of apocalypse are at the center of this collection’s focus, as Tevis draws from sermons from her childhood. These visions change locations and subjects, from faith to contemporary culture, to nature and the complexity of human beings. It’s a rich landscape that you can’t look away from.
Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight by Margaret Lazarus Dean
Who knew the space program could be so interesting?? I didn’t. The author witnessed the last three NASA space shuttle launches in 2011, and therefore witnessed the end of an era. She chronicles the history of the space program, the monumental steps taken in spaceflight, and reckons with the end of this part of history. Dean takes on the role of journalist, eulogist, and spellbinder. It’s a fascinating exploration, and fully immersive, thanks to Dean’s deft writing.
What memoirs or nonfiction have you been reading lately?
I can’t keep up with the books coming out that I want to read. Perhaps it’s because the weather is nice now, and I’m not inside as much as in colder months. Or perhaps it’s because there are just that many intriguing books that I want to dig into all at once. Either way, it’s a good problem to have. Let me share a sampling of the plethora of books out there for your own summer reading.
Receipt by Karen Leona Anderson (Milkweed Editions, April 2016)
This book of poems is divided into three sections: Recipe, Receipt, and Re. These poems are pithy, playful, and well-manicured. Anderson dissects mainstream norms under lenses of feminism, economy, and culture. Anderson’s writing style is precise, unearthing much of the natural world lurking beneath these norms with calculated ease. It’s a book of poems that will challenge you and leave you digesting for days.
Green Card Youth Voices edited by Green Card Voices (May 2016)
The subtitle for this book is “Immigration Stories from a Minneapolis High School”, and is a compilation of 30 essays from new American youth. A coworker heard a reading from a handful of the students recently at Open Book, and was struck by the power of these individual stories. You can find these on the Green Card Voices’ website as well as their multi-media book. The book comes equipped with QR codes linking to video interviews with each student, as well as educational aids on immigration.
Amateurs by Dylan Hicks (Coffee House Press 2016)
Local author Dylan Hicks is at it again with Amateurs. Friendships and love, money and comedy all collide in this second novel from Hicks. I’m jealous of this description that I read from Michael Schaub in the Los Angeles Times: “Hicks is a wonderful, meticulous author, even if the lives of his characters, like just about everybody’s, are a shambles.” (Full review.) Fine, Michael, you win this round of best reviewer. But to my original point, go read this book or whatever, I guess. Michael and I say so.
King of the Worlds by M. Thomas Gammarino (Chin Music Press, April 2016)
This is the wild card of the list. If you’re looking for something unexpected, with a strong dose of zany, and a dash of genre-mixology, this is the one for you. It’s a dark comedic novel following Dylan Greenyears, a once-idolized actor on verge of collapse. Enter chaos with a box fan mail, a midlife crisis, supercomputers, androids, alternate universes, and exoplanets. Dig in, fellow weirdos. Dig in.
It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool, Too) by Nora McInerny Purmort (Harper Collins Publishers, May 2016)
I randomly stumbled upon Nora McInerny Purmort’s Instagram account months ago (ok, fine, I may have a slight Insta-obsession), where she won me over with humor and heart. From what I’ve read and heard of this book, it’s no different. Hilarious, honest, heartbreaking (can I get bonus points for all the alliteration here?!), this memoir follows Nora’s relationship with her husband, Aaron. Aaron died, but not before they got engaged, married, and had a son, all while he was being treated for a rare form of brain cancer. Two apt descriptions are on the publisher’s website: “comedy = tragedy + time/rosé” and also: “This book is for people who have been through some shit.”
What books are stacking up in your bedside table that you want to get to ASAP?