Dear Reader, the Epistolary Novel

Okay, high school literary vocabulary time. An epistolary novel is a novel that’s told through letters or a collection of similar documents. Bram Stoker’s Dracula? An epistolary novel composed of letters, medical notes and journal entries. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis? Classic epistolary form. The Diary of Anne Frank? Epistolary, but nonfiction, so it’s not a novel. Those books that retell Shakespeare’s plays through texts peppered with emojis? Arguably epistolary novels.

Maybe the word epistolary sounds so stuffy and old fashioned, or maybe the idea of sending and receiving letters sounds even more old-fashioned, either way you’d be forgiven for wondering if this sort of form still has any place in the modern book world. Well, there are actually loads of brilliant contemporary books that use this form effectively and make for great reading. I recently, mostly accidentally, found myself reading a couple epistolary books in a row, and they are brilliant, so let me lay down some recommendations for you.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society By Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer

Yes, you’ll have to right that title down if you want to remember it, as it is a bit long. This book tells the story of Guernsy Island, an English Channel island occupied by the Nazis in World War II. Technically, the story is told through letters shared after the war, as there were strict rules against any communication with the outside world during the occupation.

The story follows an author looking for a new book idea who starts to correspond with natives of the island. They tell her how forming an initially fake, then real literary society helped them all survive the war. As most stories featuring Nazis, things can take a rather dark turn, but there’s also light, humor and hope in this story as well.

This is an era when telephones and the like technically existed, but email and computers did not, so it makes plenty of sense that written correspondences would still be a huge part of everyday life. Can we expect a story of similar depth in the modern age, when letters and exchanges through writing seem to grow ever shorter, more tweet-like in length? Brett Wright’s venerable work on YOLO Juliet aside, what would an original, modern epistolary novel look like? Probably something like these next couple of books. Boom! Segway into…

Dear Committee Members By Julie Schumacher

I probably couldn’t have fully appreciate this book until I entered college and was first introduced to the unending gauntlet of letters and proposals to project committees, playing email tag with professors and other staff, and of course, the oodles of cover letters you have to write for internships and eventually, hopefully, paying jobs.

Dear Committee Members is composed entirely of letters, memos, etc. surrounding main character Jason Fitger, a creative writing professor sick of putting in more time writing these unending mind numbing letters than into his own creative writing. A lot of reviews praise Julie Schumacher’s work by saying something more or less like, “Yes, finally someone’s made fun of this nonsense! I might have a slightly easier time making it through the school year with this book in my head.” In other words, it’s a parody that needed to be made, one that shows the place the epistolary novel has in the modern landscape.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette By Maria Semple

This book is actually getting adapted into a film, so it’s probably the most well known of the bunch right now. I didn’t even realize it was an epistolary novel when I picked it up. My mom loves the book, and has pushed me to read it for ages. Bernadette is a severely overtaxed suburban mother who suddenly disappears one day right before Christmas. The book tells the story of the days leading up to her disappearance and afterwards, as her daughter Bee tries everything to find her mother.

Actually, describing this plot  now makes me feel like I really need to go and talk to my mom and make sure everything’s okay. She really liked this book… Mom? you know we can talk about this, right?

The book has, again, a great sense of humor and effectively skewers the general upper-middle-class suburbia mentality, something I always enjoy as a lifelong suburban citizen. Passive Aggressive emails, annoyingly gung-ho PTA fundraising announcements, and petty backstabbing messages aplenty do the storytelling here, and it’s all to great effect, creating something like a mystery you need to piece together just like Bee as she looks for her mom.

Congrats, you now have one new vocabulary word and three amazing new books to read. I hope you enjoy them. Let me know what you think in the comments below. Did I miss one of your favorite epistolary books?

Choosing Books for Dad on Father’s Day

So this is a good heads up to get out of the way: Father’s Day is this Sunday. You ready? Did you get him a card? A gift? Anything? Well, you might want to take care of that now. don’t worry though, there are plenty of stores and companies out there willing to tell you exactly what to get with their fancy little “For Dad” display sections, which used to be the “For Mom” sections for Mother’s Day until that holiday passed and they needed a new market to corner.

I’ve noticed some pretty constant and slightly annoying trends in bookstores as far as what they’re promoting as “dad” books. Wherever I go, it looks like the store just scooped most of the car books, some science/tech minded titles, sport bios and some books about beer and cocktails accompanied by fancy whiskey stones together onto a table. Yup, cars, sports, science and a drinking problem. That should cover all dads everywhere. Good to go. Now let’s go pick out a card with a fart joke in it so your manly dad doesn’t need to feel you’re trying to connect with him on a genuine emotional level.

I noticed a similar pattern of strange cliches for Mother’s Day too, of course. I remember finding a book about baby penguins on the “For Mom” table. My guess is they figured “Moms, babies, cute things!” and slapped some baby animal books on the table, except my mother is decidedly indifferent towards penguins. You know who loves penguins? My dad! He’d probably appreciate that baby penguin book a whole lot more than a lamborghini model catalog. Fancy, not-compensating-for-anything-no-sir cars don’t hold much interest for him. A book about penguins, however, and the father penguins that brave the coldest parts of the Antarctic winter without food or shelter to see their little eggs hatch? That might make for a better Father’s Day story.

What about dads that love music (no, don’t just point me at that one Bruce Springsteen memoir and album, of course they already have it,) or dads that like to cook stuff beyond a nice meat chunk on the manly barbecue? What about dads who don’t drink, or dads whoread poetry, literature, or anything in the humanities?

The more I see stores try to make things “easy” for us simple customers, the more I’m convinced that these “For Dad” book displays are exactly what a holiday like this does not need. Sure, I could probably find a Football or Basketball star biography my dad might like on that display. These tables probably have something your dad wouldn’t mind reading, but is “tolerably decent” or “yeah it was pretty good” really the level you want to reach with a Father’s day present?

Maybe I’m sentimental, but I feel like Father’s Day is the sort of occasion you should put a whole lot of heart into. Yes, that might even mean going into the stacks at your local bookstore and exploring sections you know your father might actually enjoy. I’d tell you what I eventually picked out for my dad as an example here, but he’s very likely reading this post himself, and I’m not spoiling the surprise here. Relax dad. I didn’t get you whiskey stones.

2017 Printers Row Festival is LIT(erary)

Okay, I apologize for the terrible pun title, but if I have to take on the wrath of livid pun haters to spread the word about the Chicago Printer’s Row Literary festival this weekend, then so be it.

I’m always excited when the Printer’s Row festival rolls around each summer. So many brilliant writers from different genres and markets come together for panels, presentations, and talks appealing to any book lover attending. I found a vast and varied number of my own interests represented on this year’s guest list. Cory Doctorow, one of my favorite sci-fi writers who’s also dabbled in activism and column writing, will be there. Local poet Kevin Coval, who I’ve previously posted about, will be there, and even Gillian Flynn, the master thriller writer, has a panel too.

Printer’s Row doesn’t just feature guests appealing to hardcore book lovers though. They’ve got some big names that could draw in anyone. Kareem Abdul-Jabar will host a talk regarding his time as an NBA champion, which he wrote a book about. I will not pretend to know a whole lot about the professional sports ball here, but my more athletic friends are definitely excited about that one. Senator Al Franken will promote his own autobiography in one presentation, and TV’s Chopped judge Amanda Freitag will discuss her book The Chef Next Door. From my own experience, a Chopped judge on the guest list should draw moms and aunts from miles around. My mom loves reading anyway, but if you could see how many episodes of the show are currently clogging our DVR, you’d understand what a big deal this is for her.

Beyond all these appearances, there’s what’s perhaps my favorite part of the Festival, the vendors. Booksellers upon booksellers set up tents in the street offering books and paper goods old and new, antique and new release, handmade and mass produced. I’m drafting up my yearly bookshelf contingency plan for when I bring home, yet again, more books than I could ever read in the next year, or even make enough room for. It’s the Sunday sales that always get me. On Sunday, the last day of the festival, booksellers get increasingly desperate to offload their merch, offering  books, even brand new ones, as two-for one deals, and other ridiculously appealing sales meant to move as much books as possible. It just so happens I will be attending the festival this Sunday afternoon, so this could be another record-breaking year for my To Be Read pile. Wish me luck.

There’s a whole lot to draw anyone in the Chicago area to the Printer’s Rows festival this year. Hopefully I’ll see some of you there. If you’re trying to find me, I’ll be the woman hidden by a pile of books so tall it’ll tower over my head.

Wonder Woman in Print

Watching the reviews for the new Wonder Woman movie pour in, I’m equal parts relieved and overjoyed that people responded positively to the film. For me, this will be the first time I’ve ever seen Wonder Woman on the big screen, or any screen in a live action show. I’d fallen in love with her in print without ever seeing her in anything bigger than Saturday morning cartoons. Here’s hoping Wonder Woman’s success will make studio execs realize they need to bring to life some other heroines stuck only in print. Maybe Marvel might finally be cowed into giving Scarlett Johansson a Black Widow movie when they see their rival DC starting to climb out of the gloomy crater created by Man of Steel, Batman Vs. Superman and Suicide Squad failing so badly.

Until then, now what? If you liked the movie, maybe you want to see it a couple more times, get your Wonder Woman fix, but remember what I said about meeting Wonder Woman in her print domain first? If you liked the movie, let me help you out by showing you a couple different books to check so you can spend more time with your favorite Amazonian warrior princess.

First off, I recommend a book that isn’t even a Wonder Woman comic book. Crazy! The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore gives you a peek at the strange life of Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, and the circumstances surrounding Wonder Woman’s creation. Marston was a strange genius who is commonly noted for helping to invent the polygraph machine, the lie detector, and having a notable fixation on bondage, which definitely seeps into many of the early Wonder Woman comics. Yeah, Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth has a stranger origin than you probably imagined, and now you’ll never be able to see that thing on screen again without remembering Marston the weirdo scientist.

If that sort of interesting back story doesn’t repel you, definitely check out Lepore’s book for more. The story only gets more compelling from there. You can learn all about Marston’s mistress, and how Wonder Woman bears a striking visual resemblance to her. The historical emergence of the women’s suffrage movement and early feminism play a huge part in the story, on a wider ideological scale.

But maybe you don’t want to read about kinky scientists and world history. Maybe seeing comic book heroes getting into epic battles on screen made you want to see epic battles in print. Yeah, punching and Nazis and stuff! Wonder Woman started out in WWII, so yeah, punching Nazis and stuff was pretty much the soul focus of the earliest comics, beyond the bondage stuff.

Actually, for my next suggestion, I recommend you check out collections of the early Wonder Woman comics, like the Wonder Woman Chronicles. Vol. 1, for example, presents a collection of the many adventures Wonder Woman had in the 40’s. Reading those stories offers a really interesting contrast to the super dark, brooding and serious tone super hero movies, and even some comics have today.

There’s ridiculous b-movie plots like going back in time to fight dinosaurs, or the sinister plot make milk too expensive. For real, you guys. I couldn’t make this stuff up. These writers weren’t afraid to come up with wonky, outlandish stories, stories that contrast incredibly with the current comic landscape, where everything is taken so seriously. Reading these older comics reminds you of the lighter side these stories can have, and also all the incredibly intense casual racism. I mean, I get we were at war but Wonder Women was too happy to degrade “Jap” soldiers for modern audiences to just read through the early issues uncritically. Hmmm… maybe a more mature and modern Wonder Woman wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.

If you’re looking for an introduction into Wonder Woman’s current comic world, I suggest trying out the New 52. Wonder Woman’s New 52 has a a genuinely great arc that turned me onto the talented Brian Azzarello, and it’s a part of DC’s franchise wide reboot. You can read these comics without having any prior knowledge of a million recurring secondary characters or villains, the part of trying out new superhero comics that’s always the most daunting for me.

Other writers and artists have done more with Wonder Women since, but if you’re just starting out, I say the New 52 is the ideal way to sample what today’s Wonder Woman comics have to offer. If you really like those, you can check out titles written by Gail Simone, Greg Rucka, and even Jodi Picoult, yes, that Jodi Picoult, for some reason.

Well, I hope these recommendations are enough to hold you over until Wonder Woman’s next appearance on screen. Maybe you’ll even find a favorite new book or series to enjoy. Let me know you’re favorite books, comics or otherwise, that feature Wonder Woman in the comments below.

Like Books? Bored? Possibly Psychic? Try Bibliomancy!

Bibliomancy is the art of divining the future through randomly selecting book passages. Due to my own bookish nature, I was playing this game long before I realized it was actually something like and arcane art. Pick up a book, pick a random part to read, think about what it means. Surprise! You are actually practicing real fortune telling. Technically, there’s a bit more to it than that, but if you have books and enough time on your hands, you’re already mostly there.

When I was younger, I would call this game, “talking to the books.” I’d flip to a page with my eyes closed and read the passage my finger landed on, usually out of it’s original context, and see if I could carry on a “conversation” with a book in that way. When one book got too nonsensical or seemed to stop working, I’d pick up another and start “talking” to them. It was a silly game for a silly, over imaginative girl that needed to go outside more, or else find some real, non-paperback friends. That’s what I always told myself anyway.

Then, once I stumbled across the concept of bibliomancy years later, I realized that silly game was most likely my subconscious training me to unlock my dormant psychic powers. Either that, or most fortune telling systems are simple game-like rule sets created by desperate and/or bored people to make sense of this crazy world. Probably I was secretly psychic though.

Since I have secretly trained myself for years in this art, I figure why not give my audience of fellow book-lovers some tips, a fun little game to try with your books, or possibly an ancient mystic art. Go ahead, try it! what’s the worst thing that could happen?

I looked up additional rules for bibliomancy online, just to make sure I was doing it right, and it turns the most common type of bibliomancy uses the bible, letting the book fall open to a random page and putting your finger on the passage. That’s been practiced since medieval ages apparently, but I found a several religious websites that had to remind a straying public that even if it does use the bible, bibliomancy is still a form of divination and therefore a sin. Beware!

Okay then, so don’t use the bible. I don’t really want to cross the sort of people that would make those webpages in the first place. Wikipedia, a much chiller info source says that any book that “contains truth” should do fine, which really opens up our options, and means that what I was doing as a kid probably still counts as psychic powers training.

So, any book that holds truth? That’s basically any favorite book of yours, any one that spoke to you on a deep, emotional level. Suddenly, all my Mary Oliver books are both my favorite poetry books and divination tools. Go ahead and round up your favorite truth-telling books so we can get to this last part, telling the fortune itself.

Now, you can have a question in mind for the text or just come at it with an open mind. Methods to pick the passage vary. Some ancient people used dice or other random input to choose a page, which is kind of like gambling so that could be fun. Just letting the book fall open to a page seems like a bad idea to me, because it’ll just fall open to whatever page you read the most, if it’s thick enough to fall open by itself at all. We want real divination here people, not just random chance.

I personally like to pick up a book, eyes closed then randomly flip through the pages nice and quick, and jam my finger on a page to get my results. I did this with my Mary Oliver essay book Upstream, (a great read even when you’re not trying to tell the future,) and got the line, “What I mean by spirituality is not theology, but attitude.” Good line, right? I’m not sure what that means for my future exactly. I need to be more spiritual? I need to take up more of an attitude about religion, sass back at a priest, maybe? Taking lines from a poetry book or something similar means you’ll get a lot of these wise yet vague sage-like lines, which is why I like using them, but don’t be afraid to try your own favorites, maybe even the bible if you’re not afraid of upsetting some very concerned Christian internet people. Develop those psychic powers!

If you feel like trying this out, make sure you let me know how it turns out! Go ahead and post any fortunes in the comments below. After consulting my own texts, the powers that be tell me the best way to sign off this entry is with the line “Tempest gods send their clerics to inspire fear in the common folk,” whatever that means. I’m still practicing here guys, and I have a lot of fantasy books in my divination tools pile.

Stuff About Stuff I’ve Been Feeling by Alicia Cook

It takes ingenuity and creativity to even get published in the poetry industry. To stand out, it takes even more. I stumbled upon Alicia Cook’s Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately and found a poetry collection innovative enough to stand out as playful, fresh and earnest. I’d first heard mention of Cook’s book when it was nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award for Poetry in 2016. Cook’s book was beaten out by Amanda Lovelace’s The Princess Saves Herself in This One that year. Lovelace definitely deserved the win for her work, no doubt. Cook, though, also created something stand-out and special.

Her book, like the cassette tape drawn on the cover, has two sides. First there’s Side A, her poems, each accompanied by a footnote mentioning what song Cook listened to while creating the piece. Side B holds the “Remixes,” erasure poetry created out of her own work, and separate musical inspiration for that piece as well.

To clarify, erasure poetry is when someone creates a poem by blacking out or erasing all the other words in a pre-existing chunk of text, everything from other poetry to newspaper articles, and creating a new piece of art out of the words you choose to leave. Generally, this form creates a short poem with an air of the strictest essentials laid bare. Most times, the erasure poem’s message is something completely new or else not apparent in the original piece, but the careful selection of each word shows that essence was, in a way,  present the whole time.

There’s something really clever in creating erasure poems with one’s own work. Typically, a poet creates with found pieces, making something of someone else’s. Cook going over her work again does something interesting. It partially plays off the way music informs the structure of this cassette tape masquerading as a poetry collection, that remix element. These poems are songs on a playlist, someone’s favorites and all the remixes.

On another level, we have the writer always eager to continue fiddling with her work and what it says, an impulse that I and just about any writer ever is all too familiar with. It’s the marrying of these two artistic themes, the remixing and the urge to continually self-edit, say something different with the same words that form Stuff I’ve Been Feeling’s unique atmosphere and message. There’s always more to say, and sing, even over what’s already been put down to paper. Many facets of emotional power lay locked in the same set of words.

Cook pieces together this lesson on artistic repetition with a homey, almost handmade air. The poem “tracks” relay intimate personal content, and then that content and it’s remixes create a sort of mix tape bound into print, a small gift that gives you a  truly stand-out poetic work to enjoy.

A Post for my Mother

Mother’s Day is coming up this weekend. I wouldn’t be the special kind of book nerd I am today without my mom. Whenever I say that my mom’s a librarian, people give me a kind of “ahhh…” look, as in, “oh, that explains this nerd’s deal.” Yes, I was indoctrinated from birth to love books, or it was in my DNA, sure. It’s more than that though. Thinking about it like “Welp, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” simplifies what was a warm, loving relationship that featured a slow yet joyful cultivation of a shared passion, something that continues to make my life richer.

The very simple start of it all was my mother reading to me as much as she could, as early as she could. First she’d read as many different picture books to my sister and I as possible, with some recurring favorites like Goodnight Gorilla and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom holding fixed positions in our story time queue. Then, as I got older, I was the one that would have to read to her and my sister, developing and stretching my own reading skills. Eventually, bedtime stories were replaced by me reading to myself every night, which did have it’s perks. Mom always insisted on an end to story time, but alone, I could hide under the covers with a flash light and keep the tales going all night long. New and improved story time did not end the essential roll my mother played in feeding my reading habit though. Things just got even bigger when I got older and she took a job on at the local library.

It was very useful to have a librarian in my pocket growing up. You better believe I never had to worry about late fees. I still don’t. The privilege is real. I’m not sure I can even admit to this next part legally, but My mother sometimes let me peek at some of the hottest books before the release date, before they would even be allowed to go on the shelves. Yeah, pretty sure I definitely wasn’t supposed to mention that. Sorry mom, you’re getting arrested by the publishing police for Mother’s Day.

My mom never liked to take me to the library, funnily enough, because she would basically be walking into work on her off hours. Still, I always managed to get plenty of books out of that place to feed the reading appetite of a growing girl. Having that sort of access to whatever books I wanted to try, coupled with an official librarian’s encouragement and assistance, even when she was off duty, definitely helped grow the bookworm in my heart.

Still today, books are a reason to stay connected to my mom as I start to live away from home. We always have recommendations for each other. We’re their to support each other through tragically bad film adaptations of books we loved. We stick together through all those highs and lows of loving books.

Just recently, I saw my local bookstore, (Anderson’s) announcing Graeme Simsion’s visit to promote his new book, The Best of Adam Sharp. Simsion is currently my mother’s most favorite author of all time thanks to his previous two books, the Rosie Project and Rosie Effect, so, as long a shot as it was, I knew I’d be the worst daughter ever if I didn’t call up my mom and tell her the news. Despite the very short notice, and the event being on a weeknight, she managed to show up, my dad in tow, and we all got to hear Simsion talk about his new book, and got the book signed afterward too.

Looking at the history of my relationship with my mother is by default looking at my history with books, and looking at both helps reveal why I’ve always thought of books as warm, welcoming environments. I’m dedicating this post to my mom today because she’s why I care enough about books to create a book blog in the first place. Mom, all this, including this post for you, only happened because of you and everything you did to help my little book-loving brain grow. Happy Mother’s Day.

23 Book Salute

Hey guys, I recently celebrated my tiny human body living through yet another rotation of the earth around the sun. In other words, I turned twenty-three this week, and for my birthday I definitely got plenty of books, more than my already stuffed full bookshelves are telling me I should be getting, but birthday books must be welcomed onto the shelf. It’s a pretty strict clause in my book collection bylaws. I have a lot of strict bylaws that require I always allow myself to buy more books, even when I have too many already, now that I think about it.

If I’m a bit of a book glutton, it’s only because I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today without books. They’ve been comforts, opportunities for growth, windows into worlds I’d never seen before. As such, I’d like to use this time to give something of an award acceptance speech, a chance to thank all the books that brought me here today. I could mention humans too I suppose, but mostly I’d just be thanking them for giving me books, so let’s just cut out the middle man here.

Hello everyone, I’m just so honored to win the award of somehow being allowed to continue my life for another year, despite many instances of gross incompetence on my part. I couldn’t have made it through my 22nd year without so many books, and I’ll try to thanks them all before the band starts playing me off. I’d like to thank:

  1. Mary Oliver’s Upstream, for introducing me to some of the best essays I’ve ever read, written by the best poet I’ve ever read.
  2. Thanks to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for giving me the answer to life, the universe and everything.
  3. Thank you Saga, a beautifully written and illustrated sci-fi graphic novel series for showing me more alien genitalia than I ever really thought I’d need to see. Lot’s of variety there.
  4. Thanks to the Game of Thrones series, for jump starting the trend of killing off characters with abandon. Truly, none of my favorite protagonists are safe anymore, thanks to you. (This may be a partially sarcastic thank you.)
  5. Thank you Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instrument series, for addressing the serious dearth of quality gay warlock characters in my life and the genre at large, and surviving far too many attempts to be made into a a film, TV series, etc. Stay strong.
  6. Thank you to Lumberjanes for creating touching, realistic friendships in an outlandish setting that almost made me wish my parents had sent me to summer camp.
  7. Thanks The Rosie Project for being one of the funniest books I read in a while and having a character on the autism spectrum depicted tenderly and without gimmicks.
  8. Thank you Pretty Deadly, for proving that Fantasy and Western are indeed compatible genres and making something truly strange and beautiful.
  9. Thank you R.H. Sin’s Whiskey, Words and a Shovel I-III for proving the best strategy is to find the perfect title and stick with it.
  10. Thank you to that one battered copy of Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist for finally making it into my hands during a Christmas Party White Elephant gift exchange this year, so I could at last read this classic.
  11. Thank you Hamilton: The Revolution, for allowing me to be an even more insufferable Hamilton snob than ever before.
  12. Thanks, A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab, for concluding a series I love without breaking my heart, except for that special way that any a writer with power over characters you truly love can, which is mostly good in a strange way.
  13. Thank you a Study in Charlotte, for coming at the “Sherlock Holmes revamped” concept in a fresh way that didn’t have me breaking my eye-rolling muscle, like I did when someone tried to make me watch Elementary.
  14.  Thank you Jen Wilde’s Queens of Geek for your fun and nerdy premise. It was the perfect excuse to cuddle in bed and keep reading during that streak of terrible weather.
  15. Thank you Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, for finding a way to make over a poem which includes an in depth description of a tree’s biological anatomy.
  16. Thank you original Harry Potter series, for remaining a solid rock in my book life, for staying solid and true, even with each subsequent amusement park and frivolous movie adaptation trying exploit
  17. Thanks, Dragons Love Tacos, for restoring my faith in the future of children’s picture books and fine literature with that title alone.
  18. Thank you Wonder by Emma Donoghue, for proving that a book about a quaint Irish farm village can be the farthest thing from a cozy Celtic romance or mystery, if the woman who wrote Room also writes it.
  19. Thank you Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey for tricking the general public into caring about poetry by getting on the New York Times Bestseller list.
  20. Thanks books about Pokemon for existing, so I had something for the large number of younger male cousins with birthday parties I don’t remember getting invited to. Thanks, also, for letting me peek inside you to see what a Litten is so I could kind of understand what they kept going on about.
  21. John Lewis’s March, for inspiring me to travel to the Women’s March on Washington and take part in history.
  22. Thanks so much The Wicked + The Divine for being yet another reason I need to get the Image Comics logo tattooed on my forehead.
  23.  Finally, thank you that one “cozy mystery” book Above the Paw. I still have not read you, nor do I plan to, but every time I see that cover of a dog in a police uniform, looking ready to deal out some justice, along with that title, still sitting there on that shelf at my local bookstore, my day always gets a little bit better.

I’ve had a lot of books make my year better in a lot of different ways. Truly, I can feel so many of the books I read impacting me, changing the person I’m every day, usually for the better. Thanks to each and every one, and here’s to even more books make this coming year better too.

Final National Poetry Month Shout Out: The Great R.H. Sin!

Well guys, here it is, my last poetry post of national poetry month. I’ve had loads of fun doing these, and I came up with enough material, that I really feel I could start up a whole blog on poetry. Hmmm… a project to consider, perhaps. For now though, I want to close out my National Poetry Month round of posts by promoting another poet that I just stumbled into and grew very fond of; R.H. Sin.

R.H. Sin is another poet who was able to find success first through building a fan base online. Like most other Instagram and social media poets, the medium allowed him to also present a visual side to his art, specifically his work as a photographer. It can be  easyto think of work being shared on social media as amateur. Isn’t everyone a photographer on Instagram? Can’t anyone just post poetry online? Well, yeah. That’s what’s so great about this whole medium. Personalities like Sin, like Rupi Kaur, like Michael Faudet and others can rise to prominence on the strength of their vision, speaking to a wide range of people, touching them with a voice and vision that’s in touch with it’s audience because there’s a real intimacy between followers and creators online. I felt that intimacy just reading Sin’s work.

I picked up R.H. Sin’s Whiskey, Words and a Shovel II mostly for the title, I’ll admit. It’s a very compelling title, and the “II” suggested that he had used it before (he did, there are now three WW&S’s out,) realized that he could never come up with a cooler title for a poetry collection than that, and decided to keep it. Yeah, he probably had other, more legitimate reasons regarding artistic vision and all that that made him choose the title, but that’s what stuck in my head when I first saw it, and I have no regrets admitting it. Really though, I should probably get into the meat of his work. This far in and talking about the titles of his books is probably taking things too slow.

Reading Sin is a gentle, reassuring experience. If Rupi Kaur’s writing is a cry for healing, Sin is more of a gentle murmur. He’s constantly reassuring his reader, or perhaps some other person that exists beyond the poem as we experience it, that it’s okay to want better things for yourself, that you have worth, are a survivor, and deserve to be happy. That actually made it a really great read for me after a long day, when I needed some sort of pick me up.

It’s really easy for poetry to be spit-fire agitating, or else flowery and romantic, but Sin’s work isn’t quite either all the way. These loving poems aren’t outpouring odes of devotion, but rather calm and spare reassurances. They are not diatribes about overcoming toxic, unhealthy relationships, but reminders that you deserve to and are able to overcome these tough times. I definitely don’t want to knock down either style I just compared Sin’s work to, but I felt like his work did something just a bit different from so many other poets that’s I’ve read, and it’s something I didn’t know I needed until I found his voice.

So I’ll be going back to more standard prose and so forth book reviews next week, next month already. I’m glad I had such a great final recommendation to finish off this month with. I encourage you to continue to seek out poetry beyond this month, and beyond what I’ve suggested here. Yeah, most poetry sections in bookstores are deplorably under-stocked, but I think you’ve noticed by now that a huge wealth of modern day poets are setting up shop online. Go ahead, check out sites like Instagram, Tumblr, Wattpad, etc. and see if you can find a voice that speaks to you in ways you didn’t know you needed to be spoken to, find something that moves and fulfills you in the best possible. That’s what poetry can do, and I hope you get to bring more of that into your life.

Rupi Kaur, Milk and Honey and Poetry’s Modern Landscape

When I first tried to describe Rupi Kaur’s book Milk and Honey to someone, there was a bit of a misunderstanding.

“So she’s a poet. Her book was a New York Times best seller.”

“Wait, so it’s not a poetry book?”

“What? No, of course it’s a poetry book! It’s a poetry book and a New York Times bestseller.”

“What?”

Yes, it’s almost an oxymoron. A poetry book that is a huge, massive commercial success. So how did Kaur do it? I was surprised as anyone when I saw one book of poetry move from the small shelf hidden in back of bookstores that’s usually reserved for poetry to the front of the store, with the James Patterson, John Grisham and other best seller books. I was happy, but I wanted to know, how did this woman do it? If I figured out what lead to her success, could I figure out what kind of future poetry had? I’m sure many publishers were looking at the same numbers and trying to make their own, greedy calculations about the very same thing, but I’m looking for more than money here. I’m looking for a future where something I love is less irrelevant.

The thing is, it’s silly to talk about Kaur’s path to success like it’s some secret to crack. While she first started writing for her own private needs to heal from a traumatic experience, one you can witness yourself in Milk and Honey. She writes very earnestly about healing after a sexual assault, and people found her words and accompanying line drawings really spoke to them.

You can see her work, and the many people discussing how it speaks to them, on her various social media accounts, though Instagram is probably the platform where she became the most famous, as a part of a movement of poets using visual elements in presenting their work on line. Lang Leav and Tyler Knott Gregson, among others, have also found success, including their own book deals through this route. Their widespread success shows that the power of a vast, quickly created network through social media definitely shows the first step to success in a modern poetry landscape. Rupi Kaur’s book, though, has gone beyond the popularity of that realm even,with just this month marking a million of her books being sold. What other factors, then, are making her work excel?

We live in a fiery age for identity politics. I’m talking about the politics surrounding someone’s race, gender, orientation, that sort of thing. As a woman of color herself, and one that writes to capture a traumatic experience that and reclaim her identity as a woman who can have relationships, sexual and romantic, without fear. This book speaks to people because of how well she captures an experience that has touched far too many lonely lives, yes, but also because she is speaking about things that people are finally ready and  willing to bring out into the open; intersectional feminism, misogyny and sexuality. When I see such honest work like Kaur’s, it makes me pretty glad that we do live in this age.

Milk and Honey is only Rupi Kaur’s first book, and with her popularity, I doubt we’ve heard the last of her. I hope poetry continues to capture readers’ imagination and grow in popularity. With Milk and Honey very likely being an essential piece in that process, I’d be silly not to honor it on National Poetry Month.