Reading Room: April

**Every year I do a reading challenge through the site Goodreads. For the last few years, I’ve set my goal as 365 books for the year. It’s not something I realistically think I can achieve, but there’s definitely a sense of accomplishment in striving.**

21 books read this month, three of which were commissioned reviews and I finally completed a slew of NetGalley ARCs received last year. Currently, I’m at 85 book read towards my 365 goal.

This month’s playlist started out more than a bit angry but given that the first 100 days of 45’s term has been a clusterfuck, I think it fitting for the month.

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Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves

Southern literature is typically a dumpster fire of cliche & tiresome local color. Reeves has written a stellar novel that embraces and subverts SouthernLit. It reads smoothly and manages to endear you to not just the characters but get your blood boiling with how casual not just the racism is but the willful ignorance to technology (in this case, electricity) and utter contempt of rights when incarcerated. An exceptional debut.

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The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

Others have written better commentary and reviews of this novel. I’ll say it’s a work incorporating some of the best and most loved sci-fi tropes that then subverts them all by creating a world that is wholly other, completely unlike anything many and most of us have read. It’s embrace of the idea of organic, living technology existing in the utterly unknown and unknowable depths of space is gorgeous–beautiful and grotesque. There is deep intimacy developed between characters as they traverse and confront the world around them.

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Existentialism and Romantic Love by Skye Cleary

There are not enough books on philosophy out there that are compelling and accessible. Most are esoterica for academics, which can be interesting but too often require a more in-depth grounding in the field than what most have. Cleary writes a very lucid, focused study never dumbing down its content and offering some rather fascinating critique. I think what Cleary has examined here can be used as a means to understand how and why certain high end television/streaming shows work as well as they do. But that’s a post for another time…

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God’s Wolf: The Life of the Most Notorious of All Crusaders, Scourge of Saladin by Jeffrey Lee

I’ve always been a sucker for nonfiction about the Crusades. When I was a young teen, it was The Crusades Through Arab Eyes that really turned me onto the historical era. So reading this take on a particular crusader reignited my interest. While not the most scholarly work, it is definitely engaging creating a sense in readers of the varied powers vying for control of the region.

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Conspiracy of Wolves by Ernie Hasler

One of the books I was commissioned to review this month. Hasler’s novel is a political thriller of sorts with a unique strand of religion and liberalism weaving through it.

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Weird Dinosaurs by John Pickrell

A fascinating tour of the locales where new and fascinating dinosaurs have been found and the scientists who have found and assembled them. There’s also some beautiful color illustrations. Pickrell’s prose is precise without being jargonistic or too complicated, a general readership or just dino enthusiast will find this reads fast and well.

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Power Geopolitics in the Pacific Age by C.D. Bay-Hansen

Perhaps the worst book I’ve yet been commissioned to review. This read as if Colonel Gentleman were explaining to me the politics of the Pacific Rim.

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Life Supports: New and Selected Poems by William Bronk 
Metaphor of Trees and Last Poems by William Bronk

As part of National Poetry Month, I decided to re-read two collections of poems by a poet who has influenced me–both reading and writing. I am in awe of Bronk’s work and strive to achieve the kind of voice he has. Alongside Robinson Jeffers and Philip Larkin, Bronk’s poetry has had a lasting influence on me.

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In One Form by Jane Lewty

A formally innovative and very difficult poetry collection dealing with illness and physicality. There’s a lot of the kind of postmodern high modernist mode here–expansive, layered, and tonally varied.

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Daughterrarium by Sheila McMullin

McMullin’s lyricism avoids the airy and merely beautiful in favor of a confrontational fury emanating from her daughter/girl/young woman persona and directed at intimates and strangers. It is a profoundly strong collection of poems that never turns into a diatribe or becomes ugly; her’s is a stunning incisive feminist poetry.

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The Missing Museum by Amy King

I hope to write a longer review in the future, but for now I’ll say that King’s poetry is some of the best out there. Formally innovative, lyrically compelling, & staggeringly emotive, this poetry collection by one of the hardest working poets in the nation is exceptional.

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The Exo Project by Andrew DeYoung

Marketed as a young adult sci-fi adventure, I rather think DeYoung’s novel stands as just as high quality (if not higher) than Susanne Collin’s work. It is also a wonderful story for those of us who are more interested in stars than wands. There is a beautiful balance to this novel as well as an embrace of nonviolence and scientific curiosity that has been lacking from the glut of dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction of the last decade. This novel is second only to Hurley’s as the best science fiction novel this year, and I hope to write a longer review on it in the future.

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Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres

Having been raised by reactionary fundamentalist Christians in the rural upper Midwest, I found Scheeres prose unsettling in its utter accuracy. Both brutal and banal, she writes of casual as well as overt racism, sexual abuse that’s all too common, and the aggressively ignorant beliefs of evangelical Christians who care more about power over people than any kind of goodness. This memoir made me shudder and reminded me of all the shame, rage, fear, and confusion I experienced growing up just a decade off from her and couple states north.

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I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well by James Allen Hall

I’m reluctant to call this a memoir although I think it would easily be put into that category by many and most. However, Hall’s collection of personal essays are more compelling than what comes to mind when considering the genre that is memoir. Here, I suppose, is where creative nonfiction comes into play. Regardless, this collection of essays is one of the most moving and raw I’ve read, and hopefully, I’ll be able to craft a longer, proper review of it in the future.

The next five books have been floating in my digital queue for what feels like ages and I have just this week finally finished the last bits of each.

 

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We Were Feminists Once by Andi Zeisler

This will most likely rub some the wrong way, both those who love to demonize feminism and those who feel co-opting it will lead to them to profit. Zeisler’s book fraught with challenge, which is one of the foundations of feminism. In a culture that has turned ‘feminism’ into a dirty word–the cast of The Handmaiden’s Tale literally refused to call the story feminist for fear of losing market value–Zeisler’s work is a sobering re-calibration.

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Karl Polanyi by Gareth Dale

A wonderful examination of an intellectual whose work is little know outside of academe. Not merely some far left icon, Polanyi’s work reveals to us the subtle ways progressivism as well as neoliberalism augmented our 20th century ideology

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The Poverty Industry by Daniel Hatcher

While not the most elegantly written work on current events or politics, this is certainly the kind of work that those who are part of the United State’s populist movements (both rightwing and left) will find compelling. The villains? The government and corporations. The victims? The working poor. The heroes? The people. At times, far too reductionist but given the lack of nuance and engagement with the realities of poverty, any call to arms is necessary.

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Middle-Aged Boys & Girls by Diane Bracuk

I wanted to like this more than I did, which is not to say Bracuk’s story collection is poor; it’s quite good. These are genuinely literary short stories suggesting Bracuk could write a profoundly good novel. But then again, why not continue giving us these wonderfully nuanced, honest, and biting tales?

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The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

Donoghue’s ‘follow-up’ of sorts to the emotionally crippling & innovative Room, The Wonder solidifies herself as perhaps one of the best novelists writing in English–lyrical at moments with a gentle intensity.

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Beneath the Surface by Matt Hebert

My third commissioned review of the month. This young adult sci-fi novel falls in line with the likes of the Hunger Games and Divergent, only with a boy lead, taking place underneath the ocean. Rather good bit of adventure.

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