Reading Room: September

**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 was packed. I had the good fortune to get a several poetry collections, more than few commissioned reviews, and a new freelance project involving business books. So this month I managed to read 35 titles, which is the most I’ve gotten done in a month. Also, I’m dangerously close to completing the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. If all goes well, I’ll be able to finish it before the end of October.

This was also a good month as far as literary work goes. A few reviews I’ve written on some poetry collections have been accepted for publication. The first is a brief take on Dena Rash Guzman’s Joseph, one of the best poetry collections released this year, and another was on Aaron Shurin’s collection Flowers & Sky. I’ll have a couple more appearing over the next month, which makes me feel a modicum of productivity and some slight contribution to the larger literary world discussion.

Books this month were usually either superior or just trash. Having read 35 book this month, I am now 172 books towards my goal of 365

September’s playlist is a bit long and meandering but still rather solid I think. 

Enjoy.

 

**

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The Smoke of Horses, Charles Rafferty, BOA Editions, 2017

These prose poems are accomplished and engaging. However, they are also very beta male chauvinist or, if you prefer, casually sexist in that MFA bro kind of way.

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Just Passing Through, M. Scott Douglass, Paycock Press, 2017

When not being a ridiculous curmudgeon, needlessly sexist, or myopically un-self-aware, these poems work. Unfortunately, more than two thirds of these ‘biker’ poems are, to be judicious, poor.

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Nothing But The Truth, Maryann Karinch, Career Press, 2015

A cynical guide to manipulating others in the name of ‘truth’…for business.

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Beans of Wisdom, Joe Swinger, LID Publishing, 2012

A rambling ham-fisted allegory merging vague ‘leadership’ principles with saccharin platitudes.

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The Adventures of Doc Holliday Hennings, T.K. Bethea, 2017

A middle grade children’s book with some entertaining illustrations, which I think would be a solid addition to any family’s library. This was a commissioned review.

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The Shepherd’s Calculus, C.S. Farrelly, Cavan Bridge Press, 2017

Another commissioned review, this political thriller does an interesting job of melding political campaigning with religious institutional intrigue.

 

 

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When Food Is Your Frenemy, Jacob F. Bustos, 2017

This commissioned review doesn’t register on Goodreads but I’m still adding to my year long challenge. It’s not easy to insert a cookbook, healthy lifestyle book into an already overly saturated market, but Bustos does well to create something of use.

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Stay With Me, Ayobami Adebayo, Knopf, 2017

This Nigerian novel is Adebayo’s first full-length work, and it’s a compelling one. It’s somewhat unfair, but reading this I couldn’t help but make comparisons with Chinua Achebe, yet Adebayo’s work feels superior. I was sent an ARC to review for the San Diego Book Review.
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Matria, Alexandra Lytton Regalado, Black Lawrence Press, 2017

These poems are firmly of both the US and El Salvador making for a fascinating glimpse into Central American culture. Aside from that, however, they are simply compelling poems written from a confident voice.

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Things That Happened Before the Earthquake, Chiara Barzini, Doubleday, 2017

At its best, this is a trite story that’s less coming-of-age and more a dull game of ‘what I remember from the early 90s.’ Aggressively mediocre. None of the characters offer anything of interest, the protagonist is vacuous & ultimately a useless vehicle for any kind of narrative. This novel is a waste of space & an embarrassment to YA & literary fiction. I had such hopes for this but no–another ARC for San Diego Book Review.

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The Sunshine Stone, Forest Henderson, 2017

This commissioned reviewed turned out to be a satisfying novel, well paced and vivid and slightly a break from the norm that is YA fiction currently.

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Hope Is Not A Strategy, Rick Page, McGraw-Hill, 2003

Essentially two hundred pages of hollow jargon that certainly makes up every sales manager’s pep talk.

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How To Be A Muslim: An American Story, Haroon Moghul, Beacon Press, 2017

I heard the author interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air and really found him to be irritating. However, this memoir turned out to be more than tolerable and is an excellent read for any one interested in understanding the religious mind.

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Humankind, Timothy Morton, Verso, 2017

Morton is a fringe thinker. His last book (Dark Ecology) was near total nonsense. Fortunately, with Humankind he actually focuses his attention enough to create readable prose with some gems of thought embedded within. However, I doubt if these gems are worth the excavation. This was another San Diego Book Review ARC.

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Reality Is Broken, Jane McGonigal, Penguin, 2011

Given how quickly gaming technology and tastes change, this work is surprisingly pertinent and useful for developing a broader, more impactful understanding of games, gaming, and gaming culture.

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Silencer, Marcus Wicker, Mariner, 2017

This is, quite simply, one of the best books of poetry released in 2017. Wicker writes some stunning poems that are not only of the contemporary moment but will last into history. I got this ARC through NetGalley and wrote a short review.

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The Infidel and the Professor, Dennis C. Rasmussen, Princeton University Press, 2017

This showed up as an unexpected surprise in my mail. An immensely readable look at a profound friendship which shaped modern thought. Lovers of history and philosophy will be please and general audiences will find themselves comfortable and intrigued.

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They Can’t Kill Us All, Wesley Lowery, Little Brown, 2016

This was one of several NetGalley digital ARCs I was finally able to fully complete this month. Lowery’s book is vital for understanding the Black Lives Matter movement and the chronic abuse of power police across the nation are engaged in. 

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The Blood of Emmett Till, Timothy B. Tyson, Simon & Schuster, 2017

It took me longer than I would have liked to finish this digital ARC from NetGalley. For all the talk of history that white supremacists, white nationalists, and the racist president spew, it’s clear not a single one of them understands the deep, unhealed and grotesquely ignored history of lynching, Jim Crowe, and bloody race relations of our nation. While not really telling us anything new in the case, Tyson’s book can give so many an entry into understanding an American martyr and just how far we each need to go. 

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Islamophobia and Racism in America, Erik Love, New York University Press, 2017

Given the current American cultural climate, this book it vital and a necessary read for anyone looking to understand not just the roots of discrimination but how to change/challenge racism. Another NetGalley digital ARC.

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The Last Bell, Johannes Urzidil, Pushkin Collection, 2017

Not as interesting as I had hoped. This was another digital ARC from NetGalley. These stories are deft and interesting slotting into that kind of post-WWII Eastern European literature that gives us glimpses into a rather strange emotional and psychological aesthetic.
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Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing (Editor), Nils Bubandt (Editor), Elaine Gan(Editor), Heather Anne Swanson (Editor), University of Minnesota Press, 2017

An exceptional anthology moving in unexpected but quite satisfying directions. Perhaps less enjoyable as a digital ARC.

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Dunbar, Edward St. Aubyn, Hogarth Press, 2017

A Goodreads Giveaway win! A quality contribution to this series of Shakespearan retellings (although not as good as Atwood’s). Dunbar/Lear is written here as (melo)dramatically as a white male alpha looking to survive a situation of his own making. This character inhabits a body quite similar to Rupert Murdoch and the story gives a good lens through which to understand the moral bankruptcy of the uber-wealthy.

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Dinner Party & Other Stories, Joshua Ferris, Little Brown, 2017

My first attempt at reading a digital ARC while I was at the gym. I am a serious fan of Ferris. This short story collection perhaps did not live up to my demands, but is of quality. Every story has a sublime moment and resonate with the kind of dark humor which makes Ferris an American master.

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Race to Judgment, Frederic Block, Select Books, 2017

An exceptional legal thriller, the kind of crime fiction that elevates the genre while being vastly entertaining. This was a commissioned review I really enjoyed.

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Popular SongsPercy Bysshe Shelley, Entre Rio Books, 2016

This slim volume of some of Shelley’s revolutionary poetry is interesting and a good addition to any lover of Romanticism’s library.

 

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The After, Melinda Mueller, Karinna Gomez (Artist), Kate Olson (Musician), Naomi Siegel (Musician), Entre Rios Books, 2016

This is a great mix of mediums. The poetry, artwork, music, and spoken word (the collection comes with a CD) blend together wonderfully to create an elliptic lyricism.

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Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny, Eos/Harper Collins, 2004

Another book lent to me by my friend who is a hard sci-fi reader. I was blown away by this, just really enjoyed it. I think a lot of that had to do with just how different it is from the standard sci-fi fare. And, to find out this was written in the late 60s just made it all that more quality.

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The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt, Vintage, 2013

I found this trite, superficial, and all too often clumsy in its metaphor. I imagine, when progressive individuals rail against liberalism, it is this kind of pseudo-intellectualism they intend to hit out at and for just reasons. Haidt has written something the Gladwell crowd can nod over but nothing providing thoughtful persons with any impetus or insight. This is the book of/for a 19 year old white male who just took his first philosophy class and has decided he likes it enough to be a pysch major.

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Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward, Scribner, 2017

The best novel I’ve read in 2017, and I would argue the best novel of 2017. Layers of what we could call magical realism (although I find that unsatisfactory) permeates this story but never make it fanciful. In fact, the keen depth of the characters make it all seem natural, necessary. Ward’s prose flows with a delicate precision making the story truly sublime (tragic, beautiful, all too real, and strange). Not just quality fiction, profoundly great literary fiction as if peak Toni Morrison had been filter through Faulkner. I got this as a digital ARC from NetGalley.

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The Wolf in CIO’s Clothing, Tina Nunno, Routledge, 2015

Honestly, more cookie-cutter business lit failing to provide anything but bullets points and vague notions corresponding to what many and most of us would consider brazen dickishness.

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The Life We Lead: Ascending, George M. Nagle, 2014

This commissioned review continues the thriller groove I’m in only this time giving me something more adventure, spy-esque. Also, The Life We Lead is a kind of YA adventure, something akin to the Kingsmen movies but not nearly so gadgety. 

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

My choice of ‘banned book’ the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. Solid work, great art, and probably something worth passing along to my niece and nephew once they reach middle-grade readership.

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The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

A NetGalley pick-up, this slim novel was stylistically interesting but overall rather disengaging. I think that lovers of the Southern Reach series would very much enjoy this.

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The Summer of the Ubume by Natsuhiko Kyogoku

Lent to me by a friend, this was a stellar work of fantasy fiction–patient yet involved, the dialogue was wonderful.

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