The My Life Our Books Reading Challenge

Summer is, for me, a time full of reading challenges. I’ve got more time to read in the summer, and library summer reading programs challenge you to read more books than that one retired couple who always claim the biggest prizes at the end of the summer award ceremony. Curse you, pensioners with all your free time! Some reading challenges, though, last longer than just the summer and can be found online too. I myself am nearly finished with POPSUGAR’s reading challenge, which I started at the beginning of the year.

Trying to tick off all the boxes in POPSUGAR’s reading challenge has been a really enlightening adventure. It showed me what I do and do not read, not just my obvious likes and dislikes I mean, but what books I could pick up in the first place. For example, I had to work really hard to find a book by or about a person with a disability, but found yet another WWII era mystery/adventure and checked off that “set during wartime” box pretty easily. I learned partially about my own reading habits, yes, but even more about what books are or are not readily available to me and other readers.

To encourage this kind of exploration, I’ve decided to invent my own reading challenge right now, something to round out the rest of my summer and widen the scope of books I keep an eye out for. Hopefully you might join my too. With this list, I tried to make sure the books could still be fun, enjoyable reads while also showing how difficult, and therefore arguably more important it can be to find books created by and for voices outside your specific circle.

So, without further ado, I present:

The My Life Our Books Reading Challenge Book List:

  1. A book of poetry by someone from a different country than you
  2. A book someone has been recommending to you for ages that you just haven’t gotten around to yet, shame on you!
  3. A non-superhero comic book or graphic novel
  4. A dog book where the dog does not die in the end. (Good luck even finding that one.)
  5. A book with a woman of color as the protagonist.
  6. A book you found at your local library.
  7. A book featuring a healthy and well-developed same-sex relationship. (no burying of any gays!)
  8. A book exploring political views different from your own.
  9. A bestselling poetry book by a poet you’ve never read before.
  10. A book set during a war other than WWII (That cuts out like, over half the war books  ever written, I’m pretty sure.)
  11. A book about and/or set in a time and place you know little about
  12. Your mom or dad’s favorite book. (or whoever raised you.)
  13. A book set in Central and/or South America.
  14. A book by a “famous” person whom you’ve never heard of. (I’m looking at you, guy from the cast of Glee who apparently writes children’s books now.)
  15. A book that made you cry as a kid, or at least made you notably sad, if you were too stone cold for tears as a young’un.
  16. A book translated from another language.
  17. A book about or set in a place you want to visit one day.
  18. A book either featuring a religion different from your own. (Let’s say atheism and agnosticism count as religions.)
  19. A bestselling children’s picture book
  20. Your old favorite. See, I can end on an easy one.

I hope this list gave you some ideas about books you should try, even if you don’t feel like taking a reading challenge. Challenging yourself to read even a few books you never would’ve thought to try before is, to me, the most valuable thing you can take away from a reading challenge.

If your interest is piqued, here’s a great article with a list of even more reading challenges to try. Let me know in the comments if you’ve tried anything like this before, or want to.

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Scribbled in the Dark: Humble Title for a Quality Poetry Collection

So there were a couple reasons I picked up Charles Simic’s  (pronounced Simich due to his Serbian roots,) book of poems Scribbled in the Dark. The “Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet” subtitle’s usually a good sign, and of course we have the cute little cover featuring a charming illustration of an old man feeding pigeons.

Perhaps what drew me the most, before I cracked it open and saw the quality poetry inside of course, was the amusing image conjured up by the title. Oh crap, my new collection is due at my editor’s in an hour, what do I do? (sees pile of scribbled on post-it notes by bedside,) Okay, I can make this work. I’m Pulitzer Prize holding former poet laureate, right? That’s is like poet tenure. I could teach a class in just my underwear and they wouldn’t fire me.

In all seriousness, I connected with Simic’s work, and his chosen title. It’s a very humble name for sure, and I found that refreshing an laid back, not at all like the many pretentious efforts I’ve seen that think themselves superior because they’ve mastered superfluous line breaks and swallowing most of the page with blank space. I remember tutoring too many high school students in English, and groaning as they try to impress their teacher on the poetry assignment by

stretching

out

 

the

 

 

lines and

 

white

 

 

space.

 

They may have also been trying to meet a page requirement. Some seemed like they just wanted to finish the assignment and figured this looked long and poetic enough, and some seemed to think they were exercising their legitimate poetic prowess. Even today, whenever I see a poet relying heavily on line breaks and blank spaces, I think back to my agonizing days as a peer tutor and get a phantom headache. Still, there are poets that know how to use these traits well, and Simic shows he’s one of those artists with this collection, and maybe also all those awards listed in his bio, too.

These pieces are a study in how to actually use brevity and open page space superbly, not just to play at looking poetic.  This whole collection’s clearly grown from the concept hinted at in the title. No, not a last minute idea for the editor, but a so many small little phantoms floating onto the page from a pen, freely in the darkness. See? I only just read Simic and now I’m all waxing poetic. It’s inspirational on top of educational.

Most of these poems are short, small little things that definitely seem like they were all scribbled in the dark. They read like those little thoughts or moments of clarity that you can only have when your brain is half asleep, half awake, the cover of night allowing it to exist as both at once. That’s an annoyingly creative state for me too, and probably many others as well. (I say annoying because really I’d rather be sleeping in many of those moments, but I can usually force myself to jot some short something down, in the dark. So reading these pieces feels familiar. I’m sure they’ve been carefully drafted and edited again and again, but they each echo the way ideas slide so easily out of your head when “scribbled in the dark.”

My Unintentional Hemingway Quest

Ernest Hemingway is not my favorite writer. I acknowledge he’s definitely talented. Look, I’ve even read more than one of his novels. As a person, I find Hemingway far too much of a caricature of toxic masculinity and aggression to develop any cult-like hero worship like some of his fans do, the sort of fans who would intentionally take on the quest I find myself undertaking.

I’ve actually been to an oddly high number of his residences without really trying. This series of coincidences slowly created my unintentional quest: to visit every place Ernest Hemingway ever lived.

I live only a short way from Hemingway’s birthplace Oak Park, Illinois. I’ve visited the town a number of times for the shops and other features before I eventually went with my book nerd family to visit Hemingway’s home, which has since turned into a museum. We got to take a tour of his house, and see it set up all reconstructed to the time it’s famous occupants lived in it. Perhaps because we were so close to my own home, in a neighborhood so like my own in a lot of ways, (minus the fancy Victorian period housing of course,) but I felt a bit weird, realizing how awkward it would be to have a whole bunch of strangers walking through your house, peering in at your bedrooms and bathrooms just because you once used them. Creepy.

Next up was Florida. Hemingway made himself a rather nice home in Key West later in his life. I went out there myself because Florida, and headed out to Key West because it’s supposed to be a lovely island and someone else would be driving the hours long trip from our place all the way to the tip of the Florida Keys. This person also knew I was a bit of a book nerd and said, if I liked, we could go visit Hemingway’s house there.

Another one? Well, I actually enjoy visiting historical sites and museums on my vacations, and it seemed like an odd  coincidence that two Chicago Suburbanites should find themselves out here. Most importantly, the house is well known for it’s only current residents, a large collection of six-toed cats, all descendants of the cat Hemingway’s family originally brought here. If my only legacy is a historical mansion full of weird cats descended from my family pet, I will have lived a good life, even if I prefer dogs.

I did get to see plenty of six-toed cats lazing about in the island sun, and learn more about Hemingway’s life since he was a little kid in Oak Park. By the time I met him in this historic house, he’d grown up, had his own children, and already put several wives behind him. He even had to build a big wall around this home, because he was famous enough by that time that privacy was a valuable resource.

So I’d seen two homes that housed Hemingway at two very different points in his life, young and old, an anonymous child and a famed author. Well, just now I’ve visited yet another one, and mostly by accident.

My family and I were actually returning from another trip, a short family getaway to Canada, when last minute we decided to break up the last day of driving and stop in Petoskey, Michigan for a night. You know who spent every summer of his childhood learning all the outdoorsy skills that would later become a part of his rugged persona in Petoskey? That’s right, Ernest mother-loving Hemingway.

The house by Walloon Lake that he visited every summer here is still owned by his family and kept as a private property, but I was able to explore the town. Really, it was a bit ridiculous. I definitely did not camp in my nice hotel room. I went swimming, but definitely not fishing in the hotel pool. I walked by a bar in town that an older Hemingway frequented when he stayed in the area, and the park where he would watch bare-knuckle boxing matches, according to my sudden flurry of research on the place. Really, I felt ridiculous trying to connect to that past in the current day Petoskey. Everything was all done up for tourists, gift shops and overpriced restaurants everywhere. The only thing scheduled in that park was a summer concert later in the week, definitely no boxing.

Even back then, the town was a favored summer retreat for wealthy families, so I can’t imagine all of these changes would surprise Hemingway. Maybe the only thing that would confuse him about these waterfront gift shops would be the addition of fidget spinners to their shelves. Still, I could feel Hemingway silently bemoaning the death of a world where bare knuckle boxing was no longer considered acceptable public park entertainment. Maybe he would agree the bookstore that I bought two more poetry books from was a good addition. As much as I loathe Hemingway’s obsessive masculinity, at least he was not one of those manly types that felt the written word was for pussies.

Here the story of my unintentional Hemingway mission comes to a close, for now, as that’s how many places I’ve visited with a connection to the author. The man traveled plenty though, so there’s still more. I could be persuaded to drag myself over to Paris, I suppose, and Spain of course. Traveling the world has always been a goal of mine, and it’s nice to know I might find the ghost of a guy from my neck of the woods waiting there for me, whether I mean to find him or not.

Lily and the Octopus: A Dead Dog Book Worth Reading

So I’m reading a really amazing book right now called Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley, and I’m enjoying it enough that I really want to recommend it to my friends and family. The only problem is that the plot largely centers around this one guy’s relationship with his dog Lily, and of course, as with waaay to many dog books, Lily is dying. Specifically, she’s dying of a tumor on her head that looks like an octopus. Yeah, turns out that cute and whimsical sounding title is a warning of just how much heartbreak you’re in for if you try and read this book.

I had someone at work recommend this book to me first, and I didn’t want to read it right away myself. “What? A dog slowly dying of a painful medical condition? Her owner is a single 40 something man that could very easily be undone by her passing? Yeah, sign me up!” After I left work, I politely put the book very far down in the massive stack of recommendations people give me.

Still, something about the story (spoiler, it was the dog. I’m always a sucker for dogs, even terminally ill ones) drew my interest enough that, when I saw it was available at the library, I checked it out and mentally prepared myself to cry a whole lot.

I was pleasantly surprised though. I didn’t feel emotionally baited to ball my eyes out every ten minutes while reading. Rowley writes about a man trying to save his dog an illness he barely understands, something I could relate to on an all too personal level. I thought this personal connection would be the thing that made this book impossible to read, but instead, that connection is what made me connect to the story so readily and actually feel uplifted.

Ted, the human protagonist, definitely faces down one of the most tragic things that could possibly happen to him in this book, but he does so not only with an unflinching determination to fight it to the end, and no small amount of humor and imagination too. I saw a whole lot of myself in Ted. I may not be an aging gay man living alone in LA with my beloved dachsund, but when Ted described his Monopoly Night with Lily, where he had to play the banker and also handle all of Lily’s transactions for her because she was a dog, I definitely saw more than a bit of myself in him. Of course, I never played Monopoly with my dogs. That would be ridiculous. I hate Monopoly; we usually played Clue instead.

I also recognized that steadfast determination, the visceral need to hang onto Lily no matter what that characterized Ted’s approach to her illness. Lily is twelve years old when the octopus hits, so some people give Ted a bit of side eye and suggest that she is pretty old after all, and maybe it would be in her best interest if… But Ted makes them leave the end of that sentence unspoken because putting her down is simply out of the question.

He recognizes, just like many dog owners, that keeping Lily alive could turn into something just as brutal, if not more so, than killing her if he does not make the right decisions, if he doesn’t work hard to make sure she has the best quality of life possible. These parts reintroduced the same feeling of panicked exhaustion I had when my family had to make the same decisions.

Perhaps because I could identify so strongly with Ted, I never felt like the book was trying to take advantage of my emotions or manipulate my tear ducts in a way some other tragic books have. I will definitely not say I didn’t cry while reading this book, but the humor, the magical realism, and for me, what turned out to be a very relatable protagonist made the journey feel like more than another doggie sob story.

If some cruel psychopath comes up to you and says you have to read a book about a dying dog in the near future, you can go ahead and laugh in their faces, because now you’ve got the perfect way out of that situation. Happy sad reading!

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.