Local Bookseller Offers Student Discounts

Devaney, Doak, & Garrett Booksellers Present UMF Student Reward Program

Hi there. I’d like to take moment to introduce DDG Booksellers’ new University of Maine-Farmington Student Reward Program. In 2017 few personal choices have more power to affect the health of our local communities than where we choose to spend our money. We recognize that many college students have potent reasons to be price conscious, but that they are also conscious of the value of supporting businesses which support their communities. DDG has been Farmington’s Independent Bookstore for over 26 years. Our commitment to community is evident in the national and statewide awards we have won recognizing our community outreach to schools. While the UMF Bookstore has ceased carrying books and become an ecampus.com affiliate, DDG remains committed to providing a physical place to carry, sell and discuss books.

To make supporting a community business with your course book purchases possible we are establishing a new student reward program which works with UMF Faculty members who wish their students to have the choice to buy their books at an independent bookstore. The way it works is simple. Students who enroll will receive both a 10% discount on their course book purchases and a 5% customer reward card on all store purchases given after after every ten books bought here. You can sign up by email or when you stop by the bookstore to pick up your course books. Thanks. We really appreciate your business.
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Difficult Women Book Review

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Difficult Women is a collection of short stories by Roxane Gay that explores the lives of different women living in the United States. I chose this book because of my love for short stories and also because I thought it would be interesting to review a collection of multiple stories instead of just one.

As the title suggests, these women are not what one may think of as average or normal. In all of the short stories, there are women who find themselves in difficult situations that allow the reader to see why these people act the way they do. These stories are very hard-hitting and touch on sensitive, emotional topics that some readers may not be comfortable with. The story “I Will Follow You” describes two sisters who were abducted, as children, by a man who raped them continuously over a long period of time. This plot point is not immediately obvious but is brought up later as we see how the adult sisters continue to cope with their past trauma. Another story, “La Negra Blanca”, shows the conflict between a young stripper and an older, rich, white male who is far too pushy.

These more realistic short stories in Gay’s collection cover main themes of violence, sexual trauma, and loss. Gay writes about these events in a way that doesn’t use people’s trauma for entertainment but provides explanation and insight. She writes very bluntly at times, which I think helps to deliver these tough topics in a way that feels genuine. In most of the stories there are descriptions of sexual encounters between people, and while I think it makes the lives of women more realistic and bold, I sometimes feel that this structure is used too much. There is also a great balance in these stories between the past and the present, and Gay weaves these two together well to leave the reader trying to figure out what will happen. In these more lifelike stories, I find that this form, while well-balanced, is sometimes repetitive.

That being said, Gay breaks up these more realistic stories with a style of magical realism. After the incredibly heavy opening story, “I Will Follow You,” is “Water, All Its Weight,” which describes the sad life of a woman who has an unusual problem. No matter where she goes, she is followed by water that leaks through the ceiling above her and creates mold. Others in the story find it hard to be in her presence because there is a constant dampness that seems to seep into their bones and drives them away. Another, “Requiem for a Glass Heart,” follows the life of a couple, the glass woman and the stone thrower, who live together in a glass house with their glass son. My personal favorite was the longest of these mystical tales, “The Sacrifice of Darkness.” The narrator is a woman who is married to the son of a coal miner who was filled with so much darkness from his profession that he flew up and consumed the sun. The narrator falls in love with the son, who is ostracized for being related to the man who took the sun away. There is hope at the end when their child is born and light begins to return to the sky.

I enjoy the impossibility of magical realism in Difficult Women. Gay writes very convincingly in this style and uses it as another way to tackle heavy topics. The writing, particularly in “The Sacrifice of Darkness” is fairytale-esque and pleasant to read. I felt that for these more mystical kinds of stories, there was never a clear ending. I understand that short stories do not need to be clear cut and tied up by the end, but there was too much openness at the end for my liking.

Overall, Difficult Women was a great read. While I sometimes had to take a break after more intense stories, I was always excited to pick it up and keep going. The stories were not meant to simply justify why difficult women act the way they do, it is an acceptance of all kinds of women and their situations in this modern world. This book would be good for someone who wants to read about well developed female characters and unusual scenarios. I would not recommend this book to someone who may be sensitive to topics of sexual assault and rape, or someone who cannot read graphic descriptions of sexual encounters. I would recommend reading this book with feminist ideology in mind because some of the stories are more about commentary on how things are rather than how they should be.

Difficult Women

Roxane Gay

258 pages. Published by Grove Press. Hardcover $25.00

Caps, Coitus, and Caipirinhas

Martha Gellhorn, her late ex-husband, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Hunter Thompson walk into a bar. Gellhorn orders a mojito, Hemingway demands gin, Marquez cracks a bottle of local beer, and Thompson loudly asks to be shown the bottle of Wild Turkey winking at him from behind the bar. They’ve traversed time and space to descend on this little bar on Chicago’s South Side. Thompson thinks about the gun in his belt. Hemingway thinks about the one in his hand. But they haven’t come to shoot, drink, and reminisce about the golden age of print journalism. No, they’ve come to fulfill a higher purpose: picking out an author and novel to carry their legacy on into the 21st century. Someone whose penchant for quick, incisive, dynamic narrative and the subtle beauty of the language can weave a story full of romance, intrigue, and foreign affairs. This author is Idra Novey, and this novel is Ways to Disappear.

Blistering in pace but somehow leisurely in its sentence structure, Idra Novey’s debut novel has made an immediate mark on the literary community. Former contributor to The New Yorker and Professor of Literature at Trinity College Francisco Goldman, quoted on the homepage of Novey’s website, described it as “the most sublime novel I’ve read in a long time” (1). The novel also appeared on the New York Times’ editor’s choice list, and Kirkus called it a “delightful and original Tour de Force” (1). Few authors could dream of bursting onto the scene with such glaring intensity; even Thompson’s The Rum Diary is hotly rivaled by this book.

Novey’s first outing in original prose after a career of translations and poetry collections, Ways to Disappear tells the story of Emma Neufeld, a Portuguese-to-English translator living in Philadelphia. Talented, ambitious, and impulsive, Emma lives with Miles, her boyfriend of five years, working exclusively on translating the work of enigmatic Brazilian novelist Beatriz Yagoda. The novel begins with a single page describing Yagoda climbing into a tree with a heavy suitcase and promptly disappearing. When the news of her author’s disappearance reaches Emma, she leaves Miles to his own devices and takes off for Rio, determined to track down the whereabouts of her idol.

Time flies for us as readers, Novey’s often fleeting chapters flying off the pages faster than I can turn them. Once in Rio, Emma makes the acquaintance of Flamenguinho, a loan shark who makes it perfectly clear to our hero that Yagoda owes him a massive sum of money, and that she had better turn up soon, or else. With this information, Emma seeks out Raquel and Marcus, Yagoda’s children whose starkly disparate personalities bring out Novey’s uncanny ability to create tension in a scene. Raquel, whose eyes “were small and suspicious, her default expression one of displeasure”, and Marcus, whose gaze is described as “sensual and sleepy”, team up with Emma to find a way out of the situation they’ve found themselves in. A wealthy publishing house, an online poker addiction, a severed ear; a torrid, if not painfully predictable, love affair; this adventure has it all.

One of my favorite aspects of this novel is Novey’s penchant for time and place. Throughout the novel, we’re greeted with perfect details of just how Brazilian this story is. Constant mentions of cachaça and brigadeiros, reference after reference to the blazing sun, and a nagging reminder that getting the police involved will only make things worse stick the reader right in the heart of Rio. Novey also employs the broadcast of two radio DJs chiming in every ten or fifteen chapter to frame the story from an outside perspective. All this put together makes for an intensely localized novel. So deep-seated are the references to Brazilian culture that my Brazilian-descended girlfriend has just about reached her tipping point with my stupid questions. She couldn’t believe I didn’t know what a caipirinha was.

In the thick of the novel, Emma recalls a story Yagoda once told her about a man who was killed by a creeping blue fungus—a story which both captures the overarching theme of Ways to Disappear and flashes Novey’s talent for the beauty of language:

“An old man got into bed with the only book he’d ever owned and found that a blue fungus had begun to bloom over the words. The man tried to pick off the fungus with his fingernails. He knew the sentences by heart but he still opened the book for the pleasure of the letters, of seeing them form the words he already knew. Yet the more fungus he scraped off, the bluer his hands became. By the time someone from the village found the old man deceased in his bed, they couldn’t tell where the fungus on the pages ended and the old man’s blued hands began.”

 
At its core, Ways to Disappear is a look at the inner workings of a translator’s mind; an attempt to encapsulate what it means to let a text or series of texts totally consume you. With a skilled tongue and gift for delivering high-energy narrative in a graceful, methodical way, Idra Novey has crafted a story any of the previously mentioned authors would read with pride. Fans of criminal intrigue, foreign adventure, forbidden romance and the frustrating reality of siding always with one’s passion would do themselves right by seeking out this book straight away.

 

WAYS TO DISAPPEAR

By Idra Novey

258 pp. Little, Brown & Company. $25.

 

 

I’m Thinking of Ending Things Book Review

 

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a book by Iain Reid. It’s suspenseful, often toying with the reader to make them wonder what is reality, and what is illusion. I’m actually lucky I even read this book, because it wasn’t my first choice. I had a slew of other books I was considering, but my sister pointed this one out to me. I wasn’t initially intrigued, because I figured I couldn’t get the same effect I would in a book that I would from a movie-format psychological thriller. I also thought the cover was trying too hard to be edgy. However, I was incorrect in my hypothesis about the suspense and horror.

We start the novel off with an ominous phrases. Could be taken as many things. “I’m thinking of ending things” occurs so often in the book, and it’s generally thought that our narrator is considering ending her relationship with her boyfriend, Jake. Our narrator, nameless, is going to go on a long trip with him to visit his parents. That’s where a lot of her thoughts about terminating things culminate. We get a lot of her inside thoughts, and things turn a little ominous. We hear about another character, The Caller.

The Caller is a secret that she’s keeping from Jake. This person calls late at night, leaving eerie voicemails. Whenever the call is picked up, there’s either breathing or an instant hang up. Her thoughts seem to flow back to Jake, and she thinks about how they met at a trivia night at a pub near their college campus. Jake is some kind of scientist, working in a lab. It’s not exactly said what kind of scientist, or what kind of lab. He uses big words and has an expansive vocabulary; his intelligence is referenced all the time.

At the end of the second chapter, we get a page of what seems to be a conversation between two nameless individuals. Not the narrator nor Jake, and it’s separate from the story the narrator is telling. It alludes to some kind of man that did something horrific. It’s not specific in who they people are talking about, or what exactly he did.

We then hear a memory that the narrator has that is particularly unsettling. Late at night, she woke up and looked out the window. There was an extremely tall man outside, she could only see his torso. He was evidently quite tall, and simply stood there. He did weird things with his hands, like rub them together every so often. But he just stood and seemed to be watching, even though he was taller than the window. Music was playing outdoors in addition to him standing there. And then he waves. That’s what makes it so weird, is that it’s not even a malicious gesture. Just a wave.

As they get to the parents’ house, things are even stranger. They live way out in the middle of nowhere, miles from much civilization. There isn’t really any introduction, no exchanging of names or anything that would be expected from a son bringing home his girlfriend from college. Actually, over dinner, the mother talks a lot about how she hears voices and her hearing is going. Then the mother wants to play a game, about impersonating someone. Jake has been quiet through most of the dinner. The mother insists our narrator impersonate Jake. It seems to irritate him, and then Jake imitates the narrator. She explains it as horrifyingly accurate, as if he were a real impersonation of her. After dinner, she goes to the bathroom, and ends up exploring the dark house.

She stumbles across the basement door, covered in scratches. Obviously, since this is a thriller story, she’s going to explore a place she knows she shouldn’t. She comes across weird paintings, girls with claw-like fingernails. She overhears the parents upstairs talking about how they were upset that someone had lost their job at a lab, hadn’t had a job in a long time. The narrator can’t hear them clearly, since they’re upstairs, but thinks they’re talking about Jake. She knocks over a few cans of paint and runs upstairs.

Deciding it was time to leave, the narrator says her goodbyes to the parents. The dad ends up not being around, and the mom seems like she’s almost pleading for her to stay. A little weirded out, she ends up deciding she has to go home. She has a really bad headache and just wants to get home, plus Jake was supposed to have work in the morning. Jake talks about how he had a brother with mental issues, he would follow people and make weird hand gestures, generally stalking people.

They stop at a Dairy Queen, and the girls inside seem like they’re less than pleased to be there so late at night, working. One girl mumbles how she’s scared for the narrator, that she doesn’t have to go anywhere if she doesn’t want to. The narrator doesn’t really understand.

As if the whole story wasn’t weird, they end up stopping at a school, still in the middle of nowhere, to throw out the cups. Jake gets out the car, it’s pitch black and snowing. He comes back and the narrator and him start to make out. Jake freaks and says there’s someone staring at them from inside the school, the janitor working over winter break. Jake gets angry and runs inside to confront the creepy watcher. The watcher also waved. After a while, the narrator gets scared and tries to go in to find Jake. She hears something like rubber boots, and finds an eerie message, the same message she’d been getting on her phone from The Caller. She runs throughout the school. But then the “I” narration switches to “We”. The narrator isn’t a girl. The narrator is Jake. The Caller is Jake. Jake’s parents aren’t still alive, they’d been dead for some time. “What are you waiting for?” in response to the voicemail message is repeated for four pages. The narrator comes to terms that they are Jake, they are unstable, and decides they want to end things. They use a coat hanger and jam it into their neck several times and bunch up in the closet.

I found this book very unsettling. I loved every minute of it, though. I sat down and read it in a few hours, at nighttime. Night is the best time to read or watch something scary, it enhances the whole experience. I think this book could be suited for maybe high schoolers and college students alike, maybe older. Not middle school, there are some dark themes in it that might be kind of a lot. I think that the twist of the narrator not existing and the parents being dead was executed just right, better than I’m describing it. It’s not tacky, and it doesn’t leave the reader feeling like they were cheated. I’d really recommend it to anyone looking for a spooky book to read!

 

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Iain Reid

210 pages. Published by Scout Press. $14.99

Swimming Lessons – Book Review

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Claire Fuller’s book Swimming Lessons is a story of love, loss, and family dysfunction. I read Fuller’s first novel Our Endless Numbered Days recently and I loved it so much I had to read the second. Both her books are adult fiction, and are not for the faint of heart. Both books deal with intense issues, but Fuller has a gift in writing about such issues in a really delicate way.

Swimming Lessons is about a woman named Ingrid who disappeared eleven years ago. She went into the water and never came out.  Ingrid is the wife of the famous author Gil Coleman who wrote the book A Man of Pleasure and is the mother to Flora and Nan. Before she disappeared, she wrote letters to her husband and left them in the books he has collected over the years. Gil collects books with marginalia in them, for he has a passion for seeing what people experience and think while reading. The story is one that alternates chapters, meaning that every other chapter is a letter from Ingrid to Gil, and the alternate chapter takes place in the present in the perspective of Flora, Ingrid’s youngest daughter. In the present, Gil has taken a nasty fall off a promenade because he thought he saw Ingrid and his daughters have come home to take care of him. While home with their father, they discover that his collection of books has gotten out of hand and that he may be more ill than they thought. In the other chapters and through Ingrid’s letters, the reader gets to experience the relationship between Ingrid and Gil which, I’m just warning you, is not a particularly pleasant one. Just as an small example, the way that Ingrid and Gil meet is through college; Gil is Ingrid’s English professor and is twice her age. From there, the reader knows that their relationship is doomed from the start. She starts her first letter with stating that she will be speaking her truth, and boy does she. Within her letters, the reader gets to really experience the emotions of Ingrid and the love and hate she feels towards her husband and the happiness and heartbreak she experiences in those years with him.

I loved this book. From the very beginning, I was hooked. I could not put it down. The concept of the book, the way that Fuller handles the issues that arise within the pages, and her wonderful way of ending each chapter perfectly all add up to a spectacular read. Fuller also alternated chapters in her other novel Our Endless Numbered Days and her talent for this method of writing has not diminished. While reading, I felt everything that all of the characters felt even if I had not experienced what they had experienced. Fuller’s talent for delicately talking about difficult and sensitive issues is second to none, and her ability to allow her characters to show their true selves, no matter how damaged or horrible they are, makes the connection to the characters so much stronger. Even if I dislikes a character, I still wanted to know more about them which is a skill that I have not encountered in many writers. Claire Fuller is a writer who has mastered the ability to drive the desire of the reader to figure out the unknown but have fun and enjoy the ride to finding it out.

If you’re looking for a book that has a happy ending or a book with redemption, this is not the book for you. If that’s what you’re looking for, I don’t think Claire Fuller is the author for you. She tackles hard subjects and issues, as I’ve repeated many times, and if you are a person who does not like hard subjects, do not read this book. However, if you are a person who enjoys a strong connection to characters, mystery, and knowing what it’s like to be in a situation that is less than ideal and having no easy way out, this is the book for you. Fuller’s writing is beautiful and emotional and wonderful, and if you are like me and enjoy a book where you’re not sure what’s going to happen, read this book. You will not be disappointed.

Swimming Lessons 

Claire Fuller

356 pages. Tin House Books. Hardcover, $25.95.

100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared –Book Review

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In his memoir, 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How my Brother Disappeared, Kim Stafford pieces together fragmented memories of the life of his brother as a means of understanding and coming to terms with his suicide. The memoir, separated into four “books” begins with memories the author has of the last few months of his older brother Bret’s life, leading up to the moment he took his life. Stafford muses on the long held belief he has been holding onto that he could have prevented Bret’s death. What follows is a series of anecdotal memories from the two boy’s lives growing up together, and their journeys into adulthood, both together and separate, that have become meaningful to Stafford in his attempt to understand and grapple with the loss of his brother, and closest ally in life. Through these memories, we witness Stafford’s journey to rediscover the memories of his brother that have been clouded by his death. A large majority of the memoir consists of Stafford’s childhood memories both directly and indirectly involved with Bret. Through these memories, we see the differences between Kim and Bret, having Bret in Kim’s life was the single most integral factor in shaping him into the person he became in adulthood. In one section of the book, Stafford describes a memory in which he and his brother had ventured away from their boy scout camping trip, on a solo hike up a mountain, connected by a length of rope tied between them for safety. The image of the rope connecting them becomes symbolic to the reader as more and more of their brotherly bond is reviled, and we understand the deep connection that they felt with each other growing up.

As we read, and more and more memories of friendship and understanding from the boys’ childhood surface, our recollections from the beginning of the book become all the more haunting. As Stafford muses in the opening sections of his memoir, in Bret’s final days on earth, he felt completely alone and in a place that Kim and the rest of their family was unable to reach or even to detect. As Stafford muses on Bret’s behavior in his last weeks, he discovers changes in him that only became visible after it was too late. In the later sections of the book, Stafford reflects on his time with Bret saying “In my life, I observe–in both myself and others–a different habit: we talk about different things at the same time. This is marked by the relative rarity of the following sentence in the flow of our conversations: “Tell me more.” When I remember life with my brother, always eager to tell him what I was accomplishing, I said this too rarely.”

The experience of reading this book was not at all what I expected it to be. I thought the book would be about having a loved one with depression and experiencing their suicide. The book was this in some way, but it was not at all a story of Bret’s death, but rather a story of his life, and for this reason I found the book all the more compelling. As Stafford reflects in the afterward of the book, “I set out to write the story of how my brother disappeared–from the world, and from my family’s conversation–but by writing I find he begins to reappear as a rich dimension in my life. If I did not listen deeply enough to my brother when he was alive, I have been listening since he died.” This assertion that Stafford makes at the end of the memoir was a clarifying moment for me as a reader, who was looking for some kind of unity in the memories that were being recounted. In a way, I feel this is one of the things that makes Stafford’s work so masterful. I did not understand the lesson he had learned, and in turn was passing off to me, until the final page of the book.

For this reason, at times some of the parts of the memoir felt a bit disjointed. Many of the memories that Stafford chose to include did not even include Bret, but in some ways I think this worked for the type of story he was trying to tell. By the end of the book, my understanding as a reader is that the creation of this book, and the compilation of these recollections from the author’s past worked as both a tribute to the life of his brother, but also as means of imparting the truth he has found in these memories. For Stafford, the book is a way of as he puts it,“talking bravely,” which has been something he has recognized as a weakness in not only his own family, but the world at large.

While the message of this book and its lasting impact were insightful and impactful, there were some moments in the narrative that felt inauthentic in the sense of memoir writing. There were moments in the narrative where I felt as if Stafford was blurring the lines between what he felt in the moment, and his feelings about that moment as an adult living in the present. In some cases, it felt like he projected his reflective musings onto his earlier self, often making it seem as if he had found that particular wisdom in the moment, when it seemed more likely that the true meaning of the moment came to him in later contemplation. At times it was difficult to distinguish the difference between what he understood in the moment, and what he now understands the moment to mean.

That being said, the strong aspects of Stafford’s style in the memoir far outweigh the weak. The stylistic choice to divide the story into individual memories made it easy and enjoyable to read. Overall, I think this is the sort of book that anyone can appreciate. In fact, I think for many reasons, the narrative that Stafford has created is one that many people need to hear in this day and age, when hatred and suffering are such prevalent parts of our day to day lives.

Interestingly, I discovered this book during an author panel at the 2017 AWP writer’s conference that was centered around the idea of empathy. In discussion, Stafford mentioned that after writing this book, a friend of his read it and then gave it to both of his sons to read. He felt that it was a type of “medicine” he could give them to help them in the world we live in today. In many respects I think the purpose of this book is to be a kind of medicine for an audience that is programed to hide their vulnerability. Through revealing his own failings, Stafford both atones for the lack of vulnerability he shared with his brother, and coaches his reader on how to find this kind of openness in themselves.

100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared

Kim Stafford

200 pages. Published by Trinity University Press. $16.95

Cliché Without the Cliché: A Review of Lang Leav’s “Memories”

         Lang Leav has become a best-selling poet in the three years she’s been professionally writing. Since 2014 she has published three books of poetry and aside from the occasional book signing, has managed to keep her private life private. She runs a small blog on poetry and the release dates of upcoming books and begins each book with a small letter of introduction. Not much else can be said on Lang Leav; she spends her time jotting down real poems in her New Zealand home with her partner, and fellow poet, Michael Faudet.

The Lang Leav collection I chose to review is titled: Memories. Published in 2015 this collection of poetry is Leav’s third publication and includes pieces from her other two books as well as a few that are new. Her style can be described as personal, right down to the letter of introduction in the beginning. Her poetry centers around the themes of love and loss; both very heavy topics and topics close to the hearts of many people in this world. The danger in writing on love and loss is that it could wind up being a cliché sing-song piece of poetry. It could end up being page after page of the same old thing. Leav has a way of shaking up this worn out concept in the way she structures her poems and the images she uses to create a feeling. The poems in this collection shift back and forth between strictly structured pieces and pieces that flow as if they were prose. I chose the poetry of Lang Leav to review for the originality, how relatable, and the pure talent in her poetry.

Leav has a way of making a paragraph sound poetic. For example page 19 of Memories is where you find the collection’s namesake. The poem, entitled “Memories”, looks at first glance to be a simple paragraph; not poetry at all. But, reading the lines we can see inlaid rhyme such as “…Your mind pulls him to the foreground like a snapped rubber band. And you think of the line he drew in the sand, the one you can’t seem to put a foot past.” (19). While the lines are presented within a paragraph they, like many of the others, set a smooth poetic tone to the piece; giving it the structural form of poetry. This poem is about loss, a simple idea that we have all felt at one moment or another. We know what it feels like to lose somebody but it isn’t a feeling most can put into words. At least, not original words but metaphors handed down to us. We can’t fully express what we feel, yet, in a simple paragraph looking poem its as if Leav has reached into the lives of each of us. “Memories” is the aftermath of loss and the ending sums up what it feels like to remember: ” And the world falls away and you’re exactly where you were on the last night you saw him, when he had his hands in your hair and his mouth on your neck and he never said a word about leaving.” (19). Leav is not afraid of the ideas of intimacy even in it’s most personal form. The ending of this poem gives me goose bumps and makes my voice shake, because that is the feeling. It isn’t a cliché metaphor but a real and powerful image of a memory.

Leav’s poetry is not all about loss. On page 123 there is a poem entitled “Us” that I will talk about briefly for its uniquely real and honest image of what love is. The images are domestic and natural. Things like napping, common forgetfulness and playful arguments over something as mundane as who puts in the DVD. This poem doesn’t showcase the flowers and chocolates and unending adoration that you see in romance movies. Instead, it embraces the normalcy and the love that comes with it. A true relationship that is complete with love. The lines that really captures this attitude come near the end:

“We argue over whose turn it is to put the DVD in the player. / Sometimes no one wins and we end up watching bad TV. / Which is never really a bad thing.” (123).

This line is what sums up Leav’s ability to truly relate to an audience and her unique way of portraying love in a way that is not cliché and embraces the hearts of readers.

While “Us” did have a more poetic form, with line breaks rather than a paragraph, Leav takes us to another format. One much more standard. “Wounded” on page 221 is composed of three four line stanzas with a syllable count of 5,4,4,4. The reason the sudden switches in format: from poetic prose, to free form, to strict structure, are so important is that they show the range of Leav’s grasp of poetic language. Such things combined with her ability to pull emotion from simple, real images and stay away from clichés though her subject matter begs for it, that’s what makes her poetry good.

As a lover of poetry I do read many poems. Most of them are long and complicated or short and seem nonsensical. Lang Leav’s poetry is neither. Her poetry is that which is meant to be read out loud either by yourself or with someone who wants to hear nothing but your voice. Memories fully captures what it is to both love and lose and many of my favorite poems can be found right in this book. I recommend this book for anyone who feels like they just don’t understand what they’re feeling; because maybe, just maybe, they’ll find an answer that isn’t a clichéd metaphor.

 

Memories

Lang Leav

243 pages, Andrews McMeel Publishing, $19.99

The Princess Diarist (Book Review)

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The Princess Diarist, written by Carrie Fisher, also known as the only Princess in the galaxy to have strangled a giant slug with the help of her metal bikini, is the story of the beginning of an acting career. A career which would become much greater than ever anticipated, at the young age of 19 years old. This is Fisher’s seventh book, and sadly, her last. “The Princess Diarist” is one of her three memoirs, the first being Wishful Drinking published in 2008, and the next Shockaholic published in 2011. While her first two autobiographical books cover much of the early years of her life, being raised by her movie star mother Debbie Reynolds and abandoned by her father Eddie Fisher, The Princess Diarist delves into the beginning of Fisher’s own acting career. This began with her very first role in a film called “Shampoo”, and quickly moved to becoming the iconic Princess Leia Organa, in a low-budget Sci-Fi film called Star Wars, which later came to be known as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.

Fisher is incapable of telling a single story without a hint of sarcasm and disenchantment in her voice, from recounting her first experiences with boys (who she now realizes were gay men) in her early teens, to the memories of her affair with her 35-year-old co-star Harrison Ford, who would later become her movie husband, Han Solo. She describes what it’s like to be a young woman, or in her words “jail bait”, working and spending her weekends with an almost entirely male cast and crew in London for the filming of Star Wars. We learn about her infatuation with Harrison, both in her words 40 years after the fact, and through the diary entries written when she was 20, consisting mostly of poetry about her undefined relationship with him. Aside from this topic, Fisher goes into detail about the pressures of fame that she had never expected, and wasn’t necessarily sure she even wanted. Stories were told in full conversations with the crazed fans she would meet, always desperate for what she called a “celebrity lap dance”, or more commonly known as an autograph. She reveals what it was like to no longer be seen as just a woman, but a space Princess. Of course after the hype of the original trilogy died down and years had passed, money started to become a problem. She often found herself at comic conventions, bitterly giving celebrity lap dance after celebrity lap dance for cash. Fisher doesn’t go into a great amount of detail about her struggle with mental health, but it can be understood how it affected her from the way that she thinks and speaks about herself, and especially so when she was a less confident, younger woman. Her cynicism and her wit make it clear that now, 40 years later, as she looks back on the biggest changes in her life, she can’t take it all seriously. Shortly before Fisher passed in December of last year, the Star Wars films were revived, and she took part in two more titled Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. As she describes at the very end of the first chapter, the revival was, “like an acid flashback, only intergalactic, in the moment, and essentially, real.”

“The Princess Diarist” is enjoyable to read primarily because of its humor. Not to say it would be a bad book if it weren’t funny, or that it’s only funny in the way that Fisher is constantly telling jokes, but because she portrays her attitude and voice so well through her writing, the entire recount of her experiences seem like one big joke, making it easy to relate to and laugh at past experiences as she does. Even though this is a story about life-changing experiences, none of it is taken too seriously. You could say that she generally doesn’t take life itself too seriously. For fans of Star Wars, don’t expect to learn too much about the filming of the movie, what it was like to be on set, or what all of her co-stars were like. You don’t learn about Princess Leia, you learn about Carrie, who is dealing with sharing a part of herself with Leia. She comments that frequently they are mistaken for the same person. If you really want to learn more about Carrie Fisher, read this book. She describes her experiences during the filming of Star Wars with new and interesting details, but the important thing is that the way she speaks about them allows readers to understand what these experiences felt like for her.

This book is not just for young women, Star Wars fans, aspiring actresses, or Carrie Fisher fans. Known for speaking her mind and cracking a few jokes in the process, Fisher wrote a book for anyone who can share a laugh about the absurdity that is fame, popular culture, body image, giant hair buns, and love. If you can enjoy sarcasm, obscenities, references to oneself and their breasts as though they were two different entities in the world of film, detailed descriptions of the way Harrison Ford managed to look uninterested all the time, and sad poems about young love, then give it a read. Even better, listen to the audiobook narrated by Carrie Fisher herself, and her daughter Billie Lourd, who reads the diary entries.

The Princess Diarist

Carrie Fisher

272 pages. Published by Blue Rider Press. 2016.

Book Review of A Thin Bright Line

Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s “A Thin Bright Light Line” is a relatively new book as it was published in 2016. Earlier this year I attended a conference and at one of the panels I went to,  Bledsoe did a reading of this book. I was immediately intrigued and after the panel I knew I had to get this book and read it as quickly as possible. It had been a while since I had been so hooked by just a few paragraphs of a novel.A Thin Bright Line

 

“A Thin Bright Line” is a fictitious work that follows the life of a real person and overall has a lot of truth in it. The main character is actually Bledsoe’s deceased aunt, Lucybelle Bledsoe. Lucybelle died in a fire when Bledsoe was a child and therefore she never knew much of her aunt. However, as an adult she became curious about who her aunt was and as she began to research, she stumbled across fascinating information. Lucybelle had worked for the government during the Cold War and was involved with research of ice cores. In addition to that revelation, Bledsoe discovered  her aunt was a lesbian and had been forced to hide that fact due to the time period.

The novel starts in Greenwich Village where Lucybelle is living with her longterm girlfriend, Phyllis. Lucybelle is approached one day by a strange man who knows a lot about her and offers her a significantly better job in Chicago. She refuses at first and returns to her home. However, she discovers that Phyllis is leaving her in order to marry one of their gay male friends. Phyllis felt that her theater career was suffering because of her unmarried status and she desperately wanted a family. Lucybelle is heartbroken and decides to take the job offer in Chicago. However, it is made clear to her that she can’t have any romantic relationships, and that if she does so, there will be repercussions. She is given a fabricated backstory where her husband died in the war and she is now a widow who is uninterested in relationships. She begins her job in Chicago and is an editor of scientific papers on ice cores. She then meets Stella, a woman who runs a taxi cab company with her longterm girlfriend. The two begin a whirlwind affair and fall deeply in love. This all comes to a halting crash when Stella’s girlfriend discovers the affair. Lucybelle is left once again with heartbreak.  She’s relocated to Lebanon, NH to continue research and is accompanied by three secretaries that she also works with. These three women are also lesbians and deeply closeted in order to avoid detection and the possibility of losing their jobs. In Lebanon, Lucybelle begins to write a novel and she falls in love with a researcher, Vera. The novel ends with the night that Lucybelle died in a fire. While the book ends before her death, readers are aware that it is the night she died as each day is marked with date.

I felt that this book was incredibly well written, with a strong plot and even stronger characters. Each character felt developed, unique and were given traits that made them feel real. They were all flawed in believable and very human ways.  Some were incredibly likable, and others were  irritating in a realistic manner.  The ensemble characters allowed for the story to really come to life and showed the diversity that has always existed. Emotions were particularly well developed within this story. By this, I mean that each of Lucybelle’s heartbreaks felt different. She was saddened each time but it was clear that they impacted her differently.  This added to the authenticity of the novel, as no two heartbreaks are the same. The wit infused throughout this novel was also a strength and highlight of it. There were some moments that were genuinely funny and Lucybelle was a sharp and clever character; her observations were frequently amusing and cutting. While this book features a lot of romance, I wouldn’t classify it in anyway as a romance novel. It’s following someone’s life and career, and romance simply happens to be a significant part of that. 

My only real criticism of the novel was that some parts felt as though they were unnecessary. This was particularly how I felt about Phyllis making a brief return in the second part of the book. It furthered the plot temporarily, but I felt as though the plot could have continued just fine without her interference. There was enough tension already without her coming back into Lucybelle’s life, especially because she exited it shortly after. I felt the same way when one of the secretaries repeatedly tried to create a relationship with Lucybelle and later had a large fight with her in front of their work colleagues. I understood that it was there for tension, but by that point, there was enough tension coming from other parts of the book. Occasionally these moments felt overwhelming and like there was simply too much going on at once.
Overall, I’m so happy that I read this book as I deeply enjoyed it. It was intriguing and I found myself consistently invested. I cared about the characters and what would happen to them.  This novel touched upon a lot of important topics,  the civil rights movement being one of them. Stella was black and this wasn’t something that was ignored; when her and Lucybelle were together, the difference in their treatment was made quite clear to the reader. I enjoyed reading a novel where an array of lesbian relationships were being depicted, and that while there was heartbreak, there were also many  loving and successful relationships as well.  I was also pleased to see issues such as having to be closeted being addressed within the narrative. I think that this is a novel that anyone could enjoy, but particularly those are who interested with history and the Cold War era, those who are interested in strong characters and people who like well written romances.

 

A Thin Bright Line

Lucy Jane Bledsoe

323 pages. Published by the University of Wisconsin Press. Hardcover $26.95

Solibo Magnificent; A Book Review On The Significance Of Storytelling Within The Creole Culture

It’s no secret for those who have read Solibo Magnificent by Patrick Chamoiseau, it’s a beautiful illustration of literary technique, and deeper meaning. There are many metaphors and deeper messages to be uncovered within the text, which contributes to the overarching messages, and takeaways behind the story.

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I would like to start by firstly stating that, for those who haven’t read the text you should without a doubt do so. “Patat’ sa!” (Chamoiseau, 8) This was Solibo’s last word before passing away within the first pages of the text, whilst storytelling in the crowded streets of Fort de France during a carnival. There is a greater significance behind this word, and this is just one example of how language plays a central role to how it both constitutes the world within the text, but also how the characters are oriented through the cultural contexts within the story. The word “Patat’ sa” is translated to “This potato!,” in the text. This would seem silly to some, but the significance concerning this word revolves around how it serves as a sort of guideline as a way to define Solibo’s character, and what he stands for. It was the way Solibo wanted to be remembered, and the imprint he wanted to leave, that being through his creative, goofy, genuine, storytelling, and warmth. It’s Solibo’s character of which exemplified the art and cultural aspect of storytelling, but beyond this Solibo knew that the world around him wasn’t on the same page, which is why he did what he did, in hopes to change it. No one fully appreciated Solibo’s art until he had passed, because the culture around him had their backs turned to his talents. I’m going to make the argument here that the relationship between the French and Creole cultures, and language usages is what constitutes the “world” within the text. The entire novel demonstrates how both cultures, and their languages, bash against one another. The two cultural aspects, the French and the Creole, and their linguistic properties, make up the entire text, and it’s this central concept that constitutes everything that happens after the first pages of the text. “The world” in the text is not only Solibo’s investigation, but deeper than that, the chaos that follows it, and the clash between the two cultures, which in turn brings me to my next point which includes the orientation aspect of the text.

The way in which these characters in the text are oriented can be seen through the connection through language. Language is the key ongoing idea throughout the text, and is what drives the characters decisions. The police become frustrated with the witness because of the linguistic tension, and misunderstanding, so a women is beat to death, and many others are beaten and locked away in cells. It’s this aspect of language, and misunderstanding that I think Chamoiseau is trying to get at here. This story reflects modern times fluidly in the sense that our police departments still, today mistreat African Americans simply, because of racial profiling, and cultural tension. This is course isn’t the only reference to modern occurrences, but is a more prominent one. Cultural tension can be seen in the text, and is what language works through throughout the text. Solibo’s practice of storytelling also served as a necessary aspect of orientation in order to salvage a very ancient tradition, and educate as well as entertain others. Although this ended upon Solibo’s passing, language as a whole, and the transition of the story reflect upon Solibo’s imprint on the culture of the story. Solibo more or less is THE symbol for creole language in the text, and Chamoiseau’s narrative works with this concept in such a beautiful way in which as I said above, the orientational aspect of the text revolves around the Creole culture as a whole. These methods of orientation are necessary in the sense that without them, the central concepts, and relationship of language would not be as fluid as it is through Chamoiseau’s narrative. The creole culture acts as the evidence of orientation, which is a reflection of the overarching concept of language, which defines the “world” of the story.

The religious aspect of the text can be seen through the Creole cultural aspects of the story combined with the significance, and interaction through language. Solibo’s uniqueness, and creativity act as a guideline for how the remainder of the text unfolds. There’s an inception-esque feel to the story. By this I mean Solibo’s art of being a storyteller is replaced by the other characters telling his story for him. I think that is what makes the novel so fun, and liberating. Back to what makes the modes of orientation religious, I would have to say this can be seen in language once more. These individuals were raised in this specific cultural setting and exposure and oriented in a specific way, and Solibo brought a new perspective to the table. Alongside this, the overarching metaphor behind how the townspeople thought Solibo had died by a “word,” and was rather not murdered, which is what the police immediately assumed, because of, once again, the clash of cultures. The aspect of religious input is scene through Chamoiseau’s narrative, and attention to how significant Solibo’s words really were, but how he more so lived on through the people around him after his passing. Looking deeper into a metaphorical sense I think Chamoiseau used Solibo as a peacemaker to the entirety of the story, and as a guideline to the structure of the orientation within the world of the text, that being of course the significance of language.

To conclude I want to include the ending to the novel, because it illustrates a “coming full circle” aspect to the text. Chamoiseau’s narrative ends on a positive note, as Solibo’s storytelling did not go unnoticed, and will forever be held in the Creole culture. More than this the language of Solibo will forever be immortalized. In terms of the novel once again I think Chamoiseau does an outstanding job including many metaphors through the life of Solibo, and the art that storytelling plays in that specific culture. More then this I give this book an 8.5 out of 10, and I highly recommend it’s content to new readers.

“And under the barrel Solibo will be all joy he’ll go to the countryless land where the sky is thirteen colors, plus the last color where all the weeds grow less often than the pacala yams, where Air-France got no terminal and where the bekes aint got no kind of plantation factory or big store, where the charcoal needs no fire and where the fire rises without charcoal, where you see children flying with wasps and butterflies, where the sun is a big ka-drum and the moon Is a lute, where the blackman is all joy all music all dance all syrup on life’s back, and where oh children where Solibo himself despite his big mouth and his big tongue, and his big throat, will no longer need . . .  hugckh . . . PATAT’ SA! . . . PATAT’ SA! . . .” (Chamoiseau, 172)

Solibo Magnificent

Patrick Chamoiseau

190 pages

Vintage International/Vintage Books

$15.00 USD

Chamoiseau, Patrick. Solibo Magnificent. New York: Vintage International. 1999. Print.