Bookseller at Ravenna
Alyson shelves the history, poetry, travel, gardening, crafts, languages, and language-learning sections at Ravenna. When she's not reading or at the bookstore, she is busy attempting to keep a small but mighty army of houseplants alive and watching bad TV shows.
Happy National Poetry Month! Space Struck is a lovely collection. I read this book after listening to a podcast featuring the poet, in which Lewis's voice and presence were so unique that I felt I had to read their written work, just to see how this would translate to the page. The way the poems deal with nature, especially, is really satisfying. Nature is a complicated and cruel character in its own right. Each poem is clever, understated, tight, a little funny, and often sad.
Please be forewarned—if you do not like cows, you will not like this book. However, if you do love cows (even as a general concept, as I do), look no further for a book to satisfy all your cow knowledge needs. I picked up The Farmer's Son as I was looking for a little escapism, and Connell's personal story of returning to his family farm during calving season certainly provides that. Life on the farm is not portrayed as idyllic here, but Connell illustrates the richness of the farming tradition with its due respect.
This book begins as a dedicated ode to Dr. J (Julius Erving, a basketball great). However, in a fashion that is now recognizable to most of Gay's readers, the poem flows and expands, seeping into disparate ideas and gathering them together gently. It follows the motions of Dr. J's famous move in a kind of soaring flight, one sweeping sentence instead of one leap. Ross Gay never disappoints.
Franny Choi's ideas are rooted in science fiction but stretch into fully human ideas of gender and identity. Cyborg and human speakers morph into each other as you progress through the poems, creating a new framework for understanding the self through technology. Eventually, these cyborgs sound more like humans, insecure and sheepish (try page 19 for "Turing Test_Emotional Response" if this interests you). I imagine this book would be even more fun to read if you were more well-versed in science fiction than I am; the poems are often laden with references. There's a lot going on in this book, but Choi finds balance: for every cleverly robotic turn of phrase, there's a heady sensory description.
It's not easy to do surrealism in YA, but A.S. King excels in this space. Her free floating narratives feel natural and true, despite their changing relationships to reality. Each of the five stories told in The Dig are odd, interesting, and often magical in their own right, and they slowly come together to create a fascinating full picture in a reveal that genuinely surprised me. I should also note that the book is not only magical. The characters in this book are young adults dealing with fully adult, real problems: racism, chronic illness, and family estrangement, among others. King's treatment of these topics is deft, and the five characters parse systemic issues with impressive complexity.
The past seven months have proven how vital it is for us to care for each other. Care Work by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha was my first real introduction to disability justice and activism, and it feels like a necessary read for the current moment (and all other moments). Care Work covers the history and dynamics of disability justice, with a constant eye toward a more compassionate future. This book does cover some sensitive topics, but the author treats the subject material with honesty and transparency.
Cameron Awkward-Rich's second poetry collection covers a lot of ground, and does so with intensity and efficiency. As the title suggests, each poem is a compact delivery. Some feel like news briefs, as they speak to social issues of violence and racism, as well as a growing disappointment in the world. Others are glimpses into more personal and intimate moments. I recommend taking an extra moment to be still with "Meditations in an Emergency" (22), a poem that has come back to me with regularity since reading Dispatch several months ago.
Heather Christle is extremely good at gently reminding us of things we know but don't verbalize often enough. Even the observation that crying is the first thing we ever do helps to reframe an activity that most of us don't actively enjoy. I appreciate this book because it treats crying with nuance: not simply glorifying it as cathartic, or focusing on the discomfort in crying. Unsurprisingly, this book is often sad, but also scientific, oddly funny, and sweet.
Saeed Jones's memoir is my favorite fall book so far. Expanded from an essay (entitled How Men Fight For Their Lives) he originally published on The Rumpus in 2012, How We Fight For Our Lives exposes intersections of racism and homophobia in moments of intensity as well as moments of quiet. Jones lets the reader know him--his vulnerability is at the forefront as he details his coming of age, his relationship with his mother, and his understanding of the world and how to survive in it. I read it in one sitting.
Kaminsky's poems are meant to be read aloud, specifically by the poet himself (if you're not familiar, I would highly recommend looking up videos of his readings on YouTube). However, these poems, especially with their small illustrations, are equally beautiful on the page. This book is at once political and personal--Kaminsky introduces empathy to a desolate setting and tells the story of a community under military occupation through careful focus on a few intimate moments.