Got my signed copy of Sandy Sugawara and Catiana Garcia Kilroy’s incredible photography book Show Me the Way to Go to Home (@showmethewaytogotohome) — An ambitious project that features stunning photographs of the US concentration camps where over 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated during WWII. This is an important work that documents a shocking part of this country’s history, and evokes the vital need to preserve, study, share, and make sure we continue to learn and teach the hard lessons and impacts of this not-so-long-ago chapter. Highly recommend adding this book to your collection.
The word that comes to mind when reading Matt Bell’s Refuse to Be Done is “Rigorous.” His book goes into great detail about taking a novel through the drafting process — specifically three drafts. There are strategies and tips through each draft stage, and Bell does a great job of providing insights into how to take a rather large body of work, and all the complexities of story/theme/plot/character/descriptions/style/tense therein, and use revision and rewriting to get the novel completed in its finest form. What I enjoyed and respected most was that the tenor of the book wasn’t — see how easy all this is, now that I’ve revealed my techniques, but rather — prepare to work hard and be diligent, and just when you think you are done, nope, get back in there and revise and rework some more. Yes, anyone can write a novel. And sure, that means anyone can write a good or even great novel — IF they put the hard work in. This book makes that case very well, and is packed with excellent concepts, strategies and very specific pointers on how to bring that kind of rigorousness to the process of writing and revising a novel. I appreciated the thoroughness and the writer’s writer insights, and most of all, the reality check on how challenging — and rewarding — it is to take the novel writing process to true completion.
Haiku is a form of poetry I return to again and again. Deceptively simple to write, I enjoy the challenge. I’ve written hundreds — maybe thousands. Most are… just okay, if not downright terrible. Some are, well, not bad, but not really hitting the mark. A rare few, if I dare say so myself, are meaningful and resonant. Haiku need to deliver a startling image and an emotional wallop in just a few beats. I’m not a stickler for the 5/7/5 syllable form, but do consider it a helpful and challenging framework to work within.
I swing into the habit of writing haiku as part of my routine — it helps me get started not just with putting something down on paper, but taking an emotional concept or image and describing it with words. The brevity of this particular poetic form helps me distill what I am trying to convey through story, whether that be a chapter in a novel or a longer form poem.
The above images are from Yone Noguchi’s Japanese Hokkus, published in 1920. Noguchi was the first Japanese-born writer to publish poetry in English, and is credited with introducing haiku to America, influencing the Imagist poets of the early 20th century. Here’s a great essay on Noguchi posted at the The Huntington library’s website: “Yone Noguchi and Haiku in the United States.”
Reading Noguchi’s “hokkus” and writing this short entry has inspired me to get back into haiku, as part of a daily creative ritual. Stay tuned!
Whimsy by Shannon McLeod is a wonderful novella, an emotional story about a young woman who is dealing with scars both internal and external. A tragedy has happened in the past, a traumatic experience that haunts her — but the dramatics of that event and the immediate aftermath are in the distance. What this story explores is the quiet echoes and jagged ripples of guilt that continue to impact how she experiences and perceives where she’s at right now — the usual goings on in life — work, dating, family. I was impressed with this exploration — so thoughtful and raw and nuanced. Most definitely worth a read.
Station Eleven is an ambitious and fantastic novel. Ever since I read Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars — one of my favorite books — I am always on the hunt for an interesting literary take on a post-apocalyptic landscape. Definitely glad it lead me to read Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven — was very much drawn into the world and the characters, and especially loved how the arts/theater is such an important part of the story — the plot, yes, but also the way it weaves together such a surprising through line on the befores and afters of the characters. Very much worth a read. If you’ve read and loved Heller’s The Dog Stars, this book meets that high bar. If you have never read The Dog Stars, then definitely add both of these excellent post-apocalyptic literary books to your to-read list.
Very much enjoyed this post-apocalyptic novel by Lily Brooks-Dalton — a well-paced thriller of urgent and massive unknowns that mainly focuses on how to grapple with said unknowns from the far reaches of both space and the earth. One set of characters is on a spaceship returning to Earth from a mission to Jupiter. The others are at an Arctic research center, and something catastrophic has happened across the globe. While this novel is set in the future, it’s the near future, so everything feels very contemporary — that there is a manned space mission to Jupiter is the one major leap. I don’t want to say too much about this book, so as to avoid spoilers. What I will say is that the novel is very inventive in the way it propels the story forward — it truly is a thriller — one that requires you to be patient, because part of the thrill is that you have to wait, just like the characters. I love that the mystery of what has happened is a constant that holds — as is the need to connect. This is a novel ultimately about needing and desiring connection in a very unique and extreme circumstance, across time and space, and that is what drives the story forward and keeps you turning pages until the very intriguing end.
Maggie Umber’s Sound of Snow Falling is a stunning work of art — based in science, rendered in gorgeous paintings, poetic in its wordless storytelling, resonant in its silent observation. It is a graphic novel about a family of Great Horned Owls — no text, just images. The nocturnal setting comes alive, and the perspective of the beautiful creatures living their lives in a wooded habitat — co-existing, predator, prey — is explored from vantage points that do not disturb the natural order of things. As the viewer of the book, we are getting to witness nature unfold in the quiet of a deep, dark night — singular moments, as well as expansive life cycles. It’s like studying stars silently after an epiphany, and feeling connected to who you are at that singular moment and all the pulsing, humming, stirring life in the immediate surroundings of where you stand, seen (maybe, fleetingly) and unseen. Maggie Umber is an extremely talented artist with a very unique way of telling stories through her paintings. I highly recommend this book, and encourage you to keep an eye out for her future projects.
Down comes the snow
a cosmos in the silence
owls fly through our night
I loved the racing pulse of this book by Tatiana Ryckman — sort of a hybrid of a prose poem and a novella, it goes deep on longing and the messes and pleasures created by giving into the unyielding attraction and impulsive desires with that person that you just can’t quit, even though you should, but maybe shouldn’t, never mind where it’s all headed, because you already sort of know – or maybe you don’t. An exquisite capture of the scratched borders of hopeful and hopeless yearning. Everything is from a distance, but up close in memory, anxiousness, and fantasy. Lyrical and propulsive and raw. Highly recommended.
I Don’t Think of You (Until I Do) is published by Future Tense Books — Be sure to check out this fantastic small press’ full catalog.
I’ve been following and reading Anna Vangala Jones’ stories for a while now through her published works in literary journals. Always impressed with the depth and range and emotions evoked through her writing. Turmeric & Sugar, published by Thirty West, is an incredible collection of her stories, and I highly recommend it. “Echo” is my favorite story in the collection, and it’s a piece that is beautiful, haunting, and poetically triumphant. Also, the cover design by Carolyn Brandt is gorgeous. Get this book on your shelf!