Reading Room: August

**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.**

This month saw a good deal of books gotten to review, from contests through Goodreads, and as digital ARCs from NetGalley. 

18 books this month towards my current total of 137. Goodreads tells me I’m 102 books behind schedule with 38% complete of my goal of 365. I doubt I will be able to make up the gap, but once again this project is more about consist reading than anything else.

This month’s playlist got a bit longer than others but seems to work reflecting the rather broad list of books finished.

 

***

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Grilled Cheese & Beer by Kevin VanBlarcum and James Edward Davis

Broken up into 3 sections (basic, advanced, & expert) these grilled cheese recipes are brilliant & the beers paired with them are solid. This was read for a short review for San Diego Book Review, but I hope to write a longer post where I tryout some of the recipes.

 

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Naturally Nourished by Sarah Britton

A simple as in direct cookbook that gives us some really great ways to make not eating meat viable. Unfortunately, I found a lot of the recipes boring. Yet, this is a very thorough and useful book that I think a lot of people would enjoy. This was another short review for San Diego Book Review.

 

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Class, Race, and Marxism by David Roediger

Another read for the San Diego Book Review, this collection of essays previously published in academic journals traces the history of critical race studies in regards to what is whiteness and how ‘the Left’ grew and outgrew its conceptions of how race does or doesn’t impact class and vice versa. Somewhat uneven, it’s not until the final two essays that we get real critique instead of narrative that is more inside baseball than anything else.

 

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Policing the Black Man, Angela J. Davis, editor

I finished this while the white domestic terrorists in Charlottesville were rallying and murdering people. The eleven essays by criminal justice scholars assembled by Angela J. Davis are vital in understanding just how and why our justice system seeks to police the black male. The very first essay by Bryan Stevenson asserts “America has never systematically and publicly address the effects of racial violence, the criminalization of African Americans, and the critical role these phenomena have played in shaping the American criminal justice system” and then it and the rest go on to critique and offer potential solutions. This was probably the most vital book I’ve read for the San Diego Book Review.

 

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Fly Me by Daniel Riley

For a 1st novel, this is promising but ultimately middling-to-poor in quality. A ore astute editor would’ve shaved this down by at least a hundred pages. Far too often what is intended to be meaningful is actually trite, purple prose. Yet there are some quality moments (when the main character Suzy is reveling in skateboarding, racing, and flying) and some rather clever send-ups of 70s high literature. Also, Riley writes exceptionally good dialogue, it’s natural, easy, and pleasant.

 

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This Was Never About Basketball by Craig Leener

A commissioned review, this YA novel that could also work as a middle grade novel is about basketball and aliens and family. So why not?

 

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Radicals Chasing Utopia by Jamie Bartlett

These mildly thematically connected essays are the type of articles you’d find in glossy pop culture mags (Vanity Fair, GQ, Esquire, Rolling Stone, etc.) lacking the import to make them literary or critical but most certainly well-crafted journalism. But journalism is more about novelty than it is anything else, so Bartlett gives us a tour of fringe groups as he attempts to show them as actually impactful actors on culture and politics. I can’t say I buy it. Less engaging than I had hoped but still intriguing.

 

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The Power by Naomi Alderman

This is one of the novels my wife brought back with her from her trip overseas. One of the most engaging contemporary science fiction novels I’ve read. Although, sci-fi might be the wrong genre for this, perhaps speculative fiction fits better. The premise is rather simply, gender power is reversed leading to a literal battle of the sexes. At times, this feels a bit too simplistic in its depictions but then you realize the over message is, people are horrible and made monstrous not just through arbitrary gender roles but by fear. 

 

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Waiting for the Punch by Marc Maron & Brendan McDonald

A cross-section of Maron’s WTF podcast arranged into thematic sections. You get a collage of voices around a broad topic, an approach that both works and doesn’t. This isn’t just the podcast transcribed but it doesn’t really become its own thing rather remaining simply a supplement.

 

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Mural by Mahmoud Darwish

Two long poems by not just the greatest Palestinian poet but one of the best poets in the world. The title poem is a fantastic existential mediation deserving of analysis on par with anything written by High Modernists like T.S. Eliot or the New York School icons like John Ashbery. Berger not only co-translates but offers up some doodling illustrations that, depending on your particular tastes, is either meaningless scribbles or compelling ekphrasis.

 

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Novel Destinations by Shannon McKenna Schmidt & Joni Rendon

Another book received from the San Diego Book Review. This heavy book provides the literary enthusiast or literary tourist a guidebook. There are detailed entries on where and how to find the homes, museums, and real-life literary locales of the greatest writers in English.

 

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Four Futures by Peter Frase

A very interesting take on the possible socio-economic paths culture may take as capitalism mutates or, hopefully, dies. However, I think there’s more here to inspire others to comment further, to develop ideas than the ideas themselves.

 

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Alchemy for Cells & Other Beasts by Maya Jewell Zeller and Carrie DeBacker

This collaborative poetry collection was a delight. DeBacker provides beautiful illustrations alongside Zeller’s poetry. The two not only stand independent but also create an illuminating conversation between them creating more depth for the reader.

 

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Flowers & Sky by Aaron Shurin

At once literary criticism and memoir, made of two lectures and a selection of poetry, this gives cutting insight into the poetic process illuminating for readers and writers alike. I’ve written a longer review of it and hopefully it will find a home.

 

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Mary’s Dust by Melinda Mueller

This poetry collection ruminates on the name ‘Mary’ by presenting readers with a combination of persona poems (where the poet inhabits the body of the speaker/character) and portrait poems (a sort of creative biography). Each poem is supremely well crafted formally while the content is deft and subtle in its emotive reach. This collection is also accompanied by an engaging musical score, if you will, by Lori Goldston.

 

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Quarks to Culture by Tyler Volk

Meandering esoterica managing to provide inadequate scientific communication and a grossly superficial of humanities so to create what is essentially a nonsense book with little to no value for anyone in any field. This was an aggressive disappointment.

 

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Parallel Lives: Blondie by Dick Porter and Kris Needs

Nothing really makes this band biography stand out, yet there is very little that distracts or detracts from it. If you are a fan of Blondie or pop music enthusiast, then this will serve as a more than adequate reference book for your rock and roll library. If not, well, this is a plane or beach read–easily picked up, easily put down, with nothing taxing or surprising.

 

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Equipment for Living by Michael Robbins

I had hoped this was going to be a selection of criticism serving to build and deepen the aesthetics of the current poetic moment. Instead, it reads as a pasting together of one-off columns offering up little more than Sunday morning newspaper insight into pop music that has been well if not overly addressed and statements on poetry at best so broad as to be useless for anyone who pays attention to literature.

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