Thursday, March 28, 2013

What I've Been Reading

So far, 2013 has a been a year full of reading. I challenged myself to read fifty books this year and it's only March and I've already read twenty-five. I feel energized and renewed by living here in New York City with so many great bookstores all around me. I just keep buying books, which has kept me reading and reading and reading some more. I wanted to take a moment and highlight a few of my favorites so far.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

 I don't read a lot of non-fiction books, but this one caught my attention when it came out and I heard an interview with the author on FreshAir. It took me awhile to get to it, but this year I did and I couldn't put it down. It tells the true story of Henrietta Lacks who was a black woman who died of cancer in the fifties, but before her death a sample of her cells was taken and became the first cells scientists could keep alive (making them immortal and extremely valuable). Her cells have been used ever since to help with every major medical advancement of the last 60 years. The book examines how no one got permission and her family, a very poor and uneducated family, didn't even know what had happened until the 1970s. Skloot's book is personal, informative, and thought-provoking. She does an amazing job of balancing the various strands of the story and making you question how we view science and privacy issues. I highly recommend it.

Appetite by Aaron Smith

This collection of poems was a quick and exciting read. As a lover of pop culture in poetry, I appreciated so much of what Smith does in this book. My favorite section was the third part, which is a long poem called "I Love the Part." It goes through all of these scenes from a wide range of movies and says what the speaker likes about them. As they build, we get more and more of a glimpse into the speaker and it makes you think about your own experience as a viewer. Smith's book isn't afraid to look at the dirty or ugly parts of our thoughts. I'm proud to be a finalist along side this book for both the Thom Gunn Poetry Award and for the Lambda Literary Award in Gay Poetry.

Render by Collin Kelley

This is another great release from my press Sibling Rivalry (okay, maybe I'm bias). Kelley's book is a very well put together collection that feels like a story unfolding. The poems build on each other in interesting ways, yet each still remains a solid piece on its own. The idea of capturing moments is central to this book as is the overall photographic theme that runs through it, yet Kelley is an accomplished poet who doesn't let this get out of hand or become a gimmick. A lot of the poems focus on the speaker's parents and their relationship throughout various periods. My favorites include "Wonder Woman," "My Mother Demonstrates How to Escape From a Plane Crash," and "Broken Things."

Blowout by Denise Duhamel

This was one of my great finds at AWP. I didn't realize Duhamel had a new book, so when I saw it, I immediately bought it. I love Duhamel's work and she's served as an influence to me in what I try to accomplish through narrative poems. This book is no exception. It's humorous, honest, and heart-breaking. The book focuses heavily on divorce and the breaking down and moving on that comes with it. What I admire about Duhamel is how she plays with the speaker, which is a version of herself (much like I do in a lot of my work). The poems often highlight her own insecurities and the insecurities about writing "personal" poetry. This is highlighted in the knockout poem "Takeout, 2008."

-Stephen (Reader)

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