Elizabeth Acevedo, Hieu Minh Nguyen, LGBT, Mary Oliver, Ocean Vuong, Poetry, Poetry Project, Thomas C. Foster, Timothy Liu, Verse Novel, Vietnamese

A Successful Poetry Month

For the last two months, I’ve pursued some themed-reading. This is something I tried a couple of years ago as a year-long project, changing my reading theme every month, but it didn’t quite work. It seems to work better if I choose something just prior to the new month beginning, because it allows me to read what I’m actually interested in in that given moment. So, in June, I read a whole bunch of LGBTQ+ books (most of which were awesome) and in July, I read a lot of poetry and/or books about poetry.

I specifically chose to read poetry this month because I’ve been writing my own young adult novel, and I found that reading creative works that are well outside of the genre I’m writing in helps me to stay motivated and to think about language without getting distracted by works that are too similar in genre, audience, theme, etc. Considering I finished the first draft of my novel yesterday, I’d say this was a good plan!

Here are the works I read in July, with some thoughts:

How to Read Poetry Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster: This is the third in Foster’s “How to Read…” series that I’ve read, after How to Read Novels Like a Professor and How to Read Literature Like a Professor. As always, I find his style approachable, his sense of humor engaging, and the examples plus explantations that he gives very helpful. Poetry has always been the weaker literary genre for me (fiction, non-fiction, drama, poetry, in that order!), but Foster manages to explain a lot about the basics in a way that makes sense. The other benefit is I’ve added to my reading list quite substantially. I rated this one 4 out of 5 on Goodreads.

Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry, edited by Timothy Liu: What an incredible find, this was! Timothy Liu is one of my favorite poets. I’ve been a little obsessed with Asian-American queer male poets lately and recently re-read Liu’s collection, Burnt Offerings, which inspired me to find his other publications. This anthology covers self-identified gay poets writing and publishing in America since about 1900. It’s a hefty tome, but the diversity of style and theme are wonderful. I was introduced to a lot of new-to-me poets, many of whose works were quickly added to my TBR. I also found some of my favorites in this collection, like Dennis Cooper and Mark Doty. It was fun to revisit them, especially in the context of a gay poetry anthology, where one can see the communication that is happening between poets and poets, and between poets and their audiences. I rated this one 5 out of 5 on Goodreads.

Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong: I’ll admit right now that I’ve become obsessed with Ocean Vuong. It’s very strange to me to be a “fanboy” for any living writer (most of my mania is reserved for deceased writers, like Kurt Vonnegut, Virginia Woolf, John Steinbeck.) The only other living writer I’m so passionate about is probably Joan Didion. That said, Ocean Vuong is giving me everything I need right now, which is to say, an incredibly interesting and poetic exploration of language, life, and all their possibilities and complexities. I read Vuong’s first novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, last month and was blown away. Night Skies With Exit Wounds is just as breathtaking. Vuong is one of the most unique, courageous, and honest writers I’ve read recently. I rated this one 5 out of 5 on Goodreads.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo: This one is a verse novel written as a series of prose poems. It explores the life of a contemporary Dominican-American teenager and her relationship with her very conservative-Christian mother. Verse novels are becoming more and more popular, in large part, I think, due to the successes of Ellen Hopkins, whose stories are compelling and beautifully told. Acevedo’s perspective adds a welcome and refreshing perspective to the genre, and I think it will go a long way to propelling this genre forward. I enjoyed the diary-like entries and the way Acevedo manages to treat the narrator’s road to becoming a poet as a theme in the development of the verses themselves. It’s delightfully meta! I rated this one 4 out of 5 on Goodreads.

A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver: What can you expect from an “On Poetry” book by one of the most recognized and celebrated poetry writers today? It’s an inviting, edifying journey into form, style, history, and all the rules (many of which are meant to be broken.) Reading this one alongside Thomas C. Foster’s turned out to be an incredibly helpful and rewarding experience. They reinforced some of the major ideas, but each took different approaches to the various items of importance for readers and writers of poetry, including the examples they provide. If I could, I would spend an entire semester reading books like this one (and Foster’s). I already feel much more confident reading poetry and will be trying my hand at writing more of it soon. I rated this one 4 out of 5 on Goodreads.

Not Here by Hieu Minh Nguyen: Reading this one in the same month as Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky With Exit Wounds was fascinating. Both writers are gay men, both are Vietnamese-American, and both write extensively about their relationship with their mothers. (This is a theme for Acevedo, too, which suddenly makes me want to research the theme of mother/child relationships in American poetry.) Nguyen’s collection is held together by intercalary poems about his white lovers and how his relationship to white men has defined, or ill-defined, him as an Asian-American. Nguyen’s pain, even resentment, brought on by racism and fetishization is strikingly powerful and deeply saddening, but his triumphs are powerful, too. I particularly appreciated the end poem, an exploration of depression that reads like an open wound. I rated this one a 4 out of 5 on Goodreads.

So, I planned to read six books of/about poetry for my personal poetry month, and that’s exactly what I did. I feel accomplished, but even better, I feel inspired. Poetry has always been a little intimidating for me, but I allowed myself to relax into it, to read them as closely as I can, and to give myself a little support with the Foster and Oliver texts. All this to say: I can’t wait to read more poetry, and I can’t wait to write more of it.

Do you like poetry? Have any favorite poets or collections/anthologies I should try?

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Blog Post, Blog Tour, Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood Live in Conversation about The Testaments

Today, I’m thrilled to be sharing some exciting news about an upcoming project in support of the release of Margaret Atwood’s THE TESTAMENTS, a long-awaited sequel to the incredibly popular and disturbing THE HANDMAID’S TALE. Many thanks to the publicists for including me in the process.

Have you read THE HANDMAID’S TALE? I know you will be as excited about this event as I am! 

Toronto, ON, March 7, 2019 – Fane Productions presents Margaret Atwood live on stage and in cinemas on Tuesday, September 10th in celebration of the global publication of The Testaments, Atwood’s highly anticipated sequel to her seminal work, The Handmaid’s Tale.

Margaret Atwood: Live in Cinemas will be broadcast to over 1,000 cinemas across the globe, including cinemas throughout the US, UK and Canada, with delayed screenings planned in Australia and New Zealand. Filmed live from the National Theatre in London, BBC journalist and New York Times best-selling author Samira Ahmed will interview Atwood about her remarkable career, her diverse range of works and why she has returned to her handmaid story, 34 years later. The event, presented in partnership with Equality Now, will include a number of special guests to be announced later this year.

Margaret Atwood: Live in Cinemas will be broadcast to Cineplex cinemas across Canada.

Cinema tickets go on sale Friday, March 8 at 10AM ET at http://www.margaretatwoodlive.com.

Margaret Atwood says: “I am delighted that the launch of The Testaments will take place not only in London on September 10th, but also by live-streaming to over 1000 cinemas around the world. I can’t be in all the places at once in my analogue body, but I look forward to being with so many readers via the big screen.”

Alex Fane says: “We are thrilled to announce the continuation of our relationship with Margaret. To launch her new novel on an unprecedented global scale feels like a fitting gesture for such an innovative author whose work speaks to so many.”

The publication of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985 and the current, Emmy Award-winning television series have created a cultural phenomenon, as handmaids have become a symbol of women’s rights and a protest of misogyny and oppression. In this brilliant sequel, acclaimed author Margaret Atwood answers the questions that have tantalized readers for decades. When the van door slammed on Offred’s future at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale, readers had no way of telling what lay ahead. Margaret Atwood’s sequel The Testaments picks up the story fifteen years after Offred stepped into the unknown, with the explosive testaments of three female narrators from Gilead.

‘Dear Readers: Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.’ – Margaret Atwood

The Testaments will be published by Penguin Random House and will be released on September 10, 2019.

Fane Productions’ live cinema broadcast is Executive Produced by David Sabel, the creator of National Theatre Live, with BY Experience, the New York based event cinema pioneer, global distribution representative of The Met: Live in HD and the global (ex-UK) distributor of National Theatre Live, distributing to cinemas, ex-UK. UK cinema distribution by National Theatre Live.

Women’s rights, female empowerment and resistance are at the core of Atwood’s story and in partnership with Equality Now these events will take on the issues faced by women in today’s world with vivid imagination and unflinching clarity.

“Equality Now uses a combination of national, regional and international human rights law to secure justice for survivors of discrimination and violence, to hold governments accountable for their promises, and to bring local issues to the attention of human rights bodies. Margaret Atwood’s work has had a huge impact on bringing attention to our cause and we are privileged to be partnering with her on these events.” – Yasmeen Hassan, Global Executive Director, Equality Now

Margaret Atwood is the author of more than fifty books of fiction, poetry and critical essays. Her novels include Cat’s Eye, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin and The MaddAddam Trilogy. Her 1985 classic The Handmaid’s Tale went back into the bestseller charts with the election of Donald Trump, when the Handmaids became a symbol of resistance against him; and the 2017 release of the award-winning Channel 4 TV series. Sales of the English language edition have now topped 8 million copies worldwide. Atwood has won numerous awards including the Booker Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Imagination in Service to Society, the Franz Kafka Prize, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade and the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award. She has also worked as a cartoonist, illustrator, librettist, playwright and puppeteer. She lives in Toronto, Canada.

http://www.margaretatwoodlive.com

For more information, interviews or photos, please contact:

Touchwood PR (for Cineplex) Keira Hunt
Publicist
P: 416-593-0777 X 210

E: keira@touchwoodpr.com

Cineplex
Tiana McPhee
Associate, Communications and Investor Relations
P: 416-323-7479
E: tiana.mcphee@cineplex.com

ABOUT FANE PRODUCTIONS

Fane Productions specializes in the production of bespoke live events for leading talent. We work with a diverse range of artists at the top of their respective professions, for whom live work adds an exciting dimension to their principal careers, whilst also acting as agents for other live work such as corporate bookings and keynotes. An innovative and collaborative company, Fane Productions work alongside agents, publishers and producers with a focus on creating dynamic live platforms to present and promote both the client and their work; be that a book, TV series, podcast or other venture. Over 350,000 tickets were sold in its first two years through events with the likes of John le Carré, Margaret Atwood, Nigella Lawson, Dolly Alderton, Stacey Dooley and Grayson Perry. Our programming team run the Sunday nights at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, as well as putting on over 800 shows per year at central London venue, Crazy Coqs, with a mix of music, theatre, cabaret, comedy and literary events in one extraordinary 80 seat venue. Words Weekend – our own take on a literary festival – was launched in November 2018 and the first three festivals will take place at Sage Gateshead, The Lowry in Salford and Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. In December 2018 Fane Productions acquired JHI Ltd, a creative marketing company who provide services for live theatre events, both nationally and on an international platform.

ABOUT BY EXPERIENCE

BY Experience, the “live cinema event powerhouse” (Variety) is “in the business of breaking through the barriers posed both by time limitations and space” (Fast Company”). BY Experience pioneered the digital revolution of live events to movie theaters and other locations globally with David Bowie’s 2003 Reality album launch and since then, millions of tickets have been sold worldwide for cinema events BY Experience has distributed globally. Current cinema series credits: Distribution Representative, The Met: Live in HD (Worldwide; since 2006), the UK’s National Theatre Live (ex-UK; since 2009), Bolshoi Ballet (North America; since 2014), Stratford Festival on Film (U.S. 2019) and Great Art on Screen (U.S. 2019). BY Experience has executive produced and/or distributed several diverse programs for cinema including numerous rock concerts, radio programs, fine art exhibits, major studio anniversary events, faith programs, spoken word, and other events. BY Experience distributes to over 75 countries, to over 3,000 movie screens. http://www.byexperience.net.

ABOUT EQUALITY NOW

Equality Now is an international human rights organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world by combining grassroots activism with international, regional and national legal advocacy. It’s international network of lawyers, activists, and supporters achieve legal and systemic change by holding governments responsible for enacting and enforcing laws and policies that end legal inequality, sex trafficking, sexual violence, and harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation. For more information go to http://www.equalitynow.org.

ABOUT CINEPLEX EVENTS

Cineplex Events brings unique world-class entertainment to theatres across Canada and provides guests with a front-row seat and backstage access. Presented in high-definition with digital surround sound, communities large and small can experience the best in original one-night only and series- based programming from around the globe. Programming includes The Met: Live in HD, Exhibition on Screen, Stratford Festival HD and National Theatre Live, in addition to Broadway productions, concerts, eSports and documentaries. More information is available at Cineplex.com/Events.

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2019 TBR Pile Challenge

July Checkpoint! #TBR2019RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

I hope your summer is going well. We are now in the second-half of our annual challenge, and I’ve seen and read a lot of awesome updates and reviews for challenge books. Thank you for sharing!

As promised in June, this month’s checkpoint comes with the third of four planned mini-challenges. I hope you’ll all take the opportunity to play the game and have a little fun. It doesn’t matter how far you are into your challenge, this time! Anyone who pre-registered for our challenge and linked up their list on time, way back in January, can enjoy this one. See below for details. 

Progress: 7 of 12 Completed / 7 of 12 Reviewed

I made a lot of progress in June, but none in July so far. That’s largely due to the fact that I decided to work on my own writing this summer and, in July specifically, I’m “avoiding” fiction in order to read poetry instead. I’m also starting a project on Buddhism, so I’m reading a lot of that as well. I find that reading poetry while writing my own fiction is helpful in keeping my creative juices flowing without unduly influencing my own work. That said, I’m technically on pace, having read 7 books in 7 months. I hope to sneak in a few more challenge reads before summer ends, to give myself a head start before fall term begins, when I know I’ll struggle to keep up. How are you doing!? 

Books read:

How are you doing?

index

Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated!

MINI-CHALLENGE #3: Book poetry! Can you create a poem using the titles of the books on your TBR Pile Challenge list (finished or unfinished?) Give it a shot! The “best” poem entry, left in the comments of this checkpoint post, will win a book of choice, $20USD or less, to be shipped from The Book Depository! So get creative, and good luck! (P.S. Best is entirely subjective. I’m picking whichever one I happen to like most.) 

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS! 

 

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2019 TBR Pile Challenge, coming out, Coming-of-Age, Lesbian Lit, LGBT, Poetry, pride month, Sarah Henstra, Young Adult

A Lesbian Classic & Walt Whitman

I wrap-up my Pride Month reading with two final pieces of fiction, one a classic adult novel of lesbian literature, the other a young adult novel inspired by Walt Whitman. Please feel free to check out the rest of my pride month reads. I had planned to read 5 LGBTQ books this month but managed to read 7, and I wasn’t disappointed at all!

Don Juan in the Village

Jane DeLynn’s novel, Don Juan in the Village (1990), is a classic of lesbian fiction. It follows the escapades and sexual conquests of its female protagonist, a lady Don Juan, as she travels the world and sleeps with as many women as she can. The narrative spans the course of 20 years, beginning sometime in the 1970s and ending sometime in the 1990s. There is a clear and stark, sometimes painful, contrast between the freedom of the post-1960s sexual revolution and the advent of what the narrator labels, “the plague.”

Each chapter is titled with the name of a different place to which the protagonist travels. Within, she describes not just the place she is visiting, but the women—and types of women—she meets there and makes love to. These experiences range from the soft and sensual to the nearly sadistic, but in any case, the narrator is almost always “very wet.” Yes, indeed, the story is that bold, that graphic, that open about sexuality, and female sexuality in particular. As a gay male, these experiences are about as far removed from my own as is possible, and yet the importance of this kind of text, particularly in the cannon of LGBTQ+ fiction, particularly in the canon of women’s literature, and particularly at a time when AIDS was devastating the gay community, is not lost on me.
So, while the writing style did not particularly appeal to me (rather dry, like a kind of Gertrude Stein meeting Ernest Hemingway at the middle of an intersection), it also makes sense: what better way to share taboo experiences to the widest range of readers as possible than in a clinically modernist way, as if “these are the facts, and if you can’t handle them, you’re the problem.” So, upon consideration, it’s an incredibly smart approach by an obviously talented writer. I think many readers will respond to this one, though it wasn’t right for me. That said, readers of LGBTQ fiction and those interested in LGBT literary history, as I am, should not pass it up.

This book is also one of my TBR Pile Challenge reads for 2019.

We Contain Multitudes

Sarah Henstra’s We Contain Multitudes (2019) is one of those rare novels that catches my attention right away, keeps it word-for-word, line-for-line, and page-by-page, and then upends everything just as I’m wondering if I could possibly love a book more. Somewhere about 75% into the novel (no, let’s be honest, I counted the pages and it was exactly 75% of the way in), the story takes an unexpected turn, one that I was not prepared for and one that I did not appreciate. It felt like my world was shattering. I understand how hyperbolic that must sound. IT’S JUST A BOOK, MAN, you’re probably thinking. Except that’s just it. This wasn’t just a book. This novel, these two young Whitman lovers, these two young Walt Whitmans, indeed, are much bigger than a story.

The novel is told in epistolary form, as a series of letters written between two high school boys, a sophomore and a senior. They are given an assignment to write to each other, typically with some kind of prompt from their English teacher. As they are in different classes, of different ages, and in wildly different social circles, they had never spoken to each other before, though they each knew who the other one is. This is because, in their own way, they are both wildly inconspicuous. What begins as a series of assigned letters, though, quickly drifts away from a mandatory task and into true, good old-fashioned letter-writing. Henstra adroitly creates two different styles and voices that match the two different teenage protagonists.

One struggle is that, given the design, the boys must re-tell each other the events to which they were both a party (otherwise, how would the reader know about them?) That said, even the author recognizes this complication and manages to address it through the characters’ letters as well. This is perhaps the only place where the author’s identity (or narrator’s, if we want to be more academic) can be felt. That said, a benefit to this is that the boys recount their shared experiences from their own perspectives, which turns out to be revealing to the reader, but also to the other person involved. A significant question that comes about, then, is how much can we really know another person?

I won’t reveal what happens at that three-quarter mark, except to say that it crushed me. The book resolves in a mostly satisfactory way, in my opinion, but I personally had been so distraught over the major conflict, that I was—I still am—left reeling. In a way, this speaks to the brilliance of Whitman, first of all, and to the brilliance of this novel and its characters, too. Upon reflection, I realize that Adam Kurlansky is deeper and more complex than he is given credit, and far crueler than I am or could ever be. I realize that Jonathan Hopkirk is stronger and more flawed than he seems, and far more forgiving than I am ore ever could be. And so, in this way, the point is proven: they do contain multitudes. We all do. The poetry is the point, and the poetry is in us all.

I haven’t felt this connected to Whitman or to myself since, well, since reading Whitman. It is not without its pains, nor without its fearsome joys. When I finished reading, I could only think of Whitman’s poem, “To You,” which, unless I’m mistaken, does not make an appearance in this novel. And yet…

Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem,

I whisper with my lips close to your ear,

I have loved many women and men, but I love none better than you. O I have been dilatory and dumb,

I should have made my way straight to you long ago,

I should have blabb’d nothing but you, I should have chanted nothing but you.

-Excerpt, “To You” (Walt Whitman)

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AIDS, coming out, Coming-of-Age, Gender Identity, Historical Fiction, immigrant literature, Iranian-American, LGBT, pride month, Sexuality, Young Adult

Thoughts on Two LGBTQ Pride Reads

Like A Love Story

Abdi Nazemian’s young adult historical fiction novel, Like A Love Story, is the fourth LGBTQ-themed book I’ve read this month. Like the others, it has not disappointed. Every good coming-out-story, like every good coming-of-age story from Little Women to The Catcher in the Rye, manages to do this, to balance a personal, individual story with a unique experience in time and place and the larger issues this entails. What the author does best in this novel is to integrate powerful and accurate portrayals of two difficult events, the Iran revolution and the AIDS crisis, into a story about an immigrant boy’s coming-of-age and coming out. Magically, it is all held together by the unlikeliest but most appropriate of figures: Madonna.

Reza is that immigrant boy. He arrives in New York City, by way of Canada, after his family flees Iran. Reza has always been the good boy, the one his mother can depend on, while his older sister has always been the rebel and troublemaker. But when Reza meets the beautiful punk photographer, Art, and his best friend Judy, everything changes. Reza is thrust into a world that values independence and individuality, and into a sphere that is fighting desperately to survive. Judy’s uncle Stephen is dying of AIDS, and through his example of activism, friendship, patience, and counter-pop culture, Reza, Judy, and Art learn to thrive, to live, and to love.

Like A Love Story is not only a beautifully-written young adult novel, but it is a historically and socially important one. Nazemian reminds the reader just how hard gay and lesbian people had to fight to win their freedoms and equal protections, a fight that continues to this day and that is constantly under attack. The author includes several important historical lessons, weaving them seamlessly into the story of these characters’ lives, so that readers who give this work a chance will find themselves learning critical history that is often overlooked, forgotten, or under-appreciated, while at the same time enjoying an excellent story. At the heart of it are themes of friendship, forgiveness, and first loves, as well as first losses and the reality of mourning. These very human themes are so universal that the reader, while connecting with the fictional of it all, might find themselves relating to a story well beyond their own lived experience.

This is one of the most important and illuminating LGBTQ novels published in recent memory.

Symptoms of Being Human

The fifth book I read for Pride Month is Jeff Garvin’s The Symptoms of Being Human, a young/new adult novel about a gender fluid protagonist’s coming-out experience. Riley Cavanaugh’s father is a conservative politician in a conservative Orange County, California district, in the middle of a re-election campaign. Riley’s mother is kind and well-meaning, but much of her time is devoted to her duties as a politician’s spouse. Just as the election season is heating up, Riley suffers a kind of panic attack at an important event, after which they are hospitalized for attempted suicide. To ease some of the tension, Riley transfers out of her private Catholic school, where they were tormented, to a public school, where they hope to be better treated. Unfortunately, high school is still high school, conservative areas are still conservative areas, and plans often go sour.

While Riley struggles to figure out who they are, some days feeling like a girl and some days like a boy, and other days not like either one, they also navigate the process of healing from self-harm, dealing with anxiety, hiding a powerful secret from their parents and, let’s face it, an entire district that has the Cavanaugh family under its microscope, and trying to make friends, or at least avoid making enemies, at a new school. Any one of these conflicts would be difficult but trying to deal with all of them simultaneously is beyond unlucky. To help, Riley’s therapist suggests that they start a blog and share privately and anonymously what cannot be shared publicly. To write is Riley’s true therapy, and as it turns out, they are very good at it. Ironically, this talent is what causes the largest crisis of all.

Somehow, Riley finds themselves with a popular blog that only grows in popularity as its presence is picked-up by one of the largest LGBTQ community websites online. Riley receives thousands and then tens of thousands of followers and is bombarded with comments of praise, questions for advice, and plenty of hate mail, too. Eventually, Riley’s identity is discovered, right around the time some of the advice they have given to a transgender teen goes terribly wrong, and suddenly they are thrust, with their secrets, into the glaring spotlight that is a political election season.

The major climax itself did feel unnecessary to me, in an almost troubling way. In my reading, the event felt manufactured to fit a gap in the construction of the narrative, rather than necessarily and organically manifested by the sequence of the story itself. It is also a device so often used in stories of sex/gender diversion that, at this point, it has become cliché. This is not to say the problem is not real, because it is very real and all too common, but the introduction and handling of it (and particularly the “fall out”) are even more important for that reason. This is the one element that pulled me out of an otherwise truly engaging, interesting, and important work that deals with gender fluidity, family, hate crimes, coming-of-age, and mental health.

One of the most incredible things about Symptoms of Being Human is that the author manages to treat Riley Cavanaugh’s gender fluidity with complete honesty throughout the course of the narrative. It is never revealed whether the protagonist was born biologically male or female, nor what their parents assume to be Riley’s sex or gender. This is an impressive feat. The story is well-paced, moving slowly and thoughtfully through the complex areas, then speeding up rapidly during moments of intensity. I was able to read the entire thing over the course of one round-trip flight, and rarely did I want to stop to put it down.


I’m currently reading Jane DeLynn’s DON JUAN IN THE VILLAGE, which will be my 6th book for Pride month (this one features a lesbian protagonists sexual experiences around the world), completing my planned reads for the month, though I hope to get one more snuck in under the wire. DON JUAN is also a book on my 2019 TBR Pile Challenge List. Check out my thoughts on earlier Pride Month reads, ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS as well as GEMINI and HOLD MY HAND.

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Addiction, Coming-of-Age, Contemporary American, LGBT, Literature, Ocean Vuong, pride month, Vietnamese

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

The irony is not lost on me that, just a couple of days after claiming that I no longer plan to write formal/lengthy book reviews for this blog, I finish reading Ocean Vuong’s first novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. It would be absolutely thrilling to think that I can articulate just why it is so necessary for me to write a full-length reflection about this novel, but the idea that I can do this book justice is ludicrous. Still, I’ll try my best.

Ocean Vuong is an acclaimed Vietnamese-American poet who has already won numerous prestigious awards, including the T.S. Eliot award for poetry. His collection, Night Sky With Exit Wounds, is one of the highest regarded contemporary collections on the market, which made the anticipation about this first novel all the more extreme. It is rare to see a talented writer in one genre, like poetry, crossover into another genre, like fiction, and even rarer still to find that she or he manages it expertly. Vuong is such a rarity.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is marketed as a letter from a Vietnamese-American boy to his mother, who cannot read. Taken literally, this is the case. Little Dog is writing to his mother about all the secrets he has kept, all the memories he has buried, and all the love he carries for his mother and his grandmother, both of whom are reeling from the traumas of war, immigration, loss of language, and Alzheimer’s. So, it is a kind of love letter to these women, to their past, but also to himself as a boy and to his future self, the man who will be made possible. He knows his mother cannot understand the words he writes, the language he speaks, so he shares without restraint and sends the letter to us all.

One of the reasons why I enjoyed and appreciated this novel so much is that it is written by a poet. This is clear not just in the language, but in the shape and delivery of the major themes and ideas. Vuong, through Little Dog, looks at the world through the eyes of the poet and describes what he sees in a way that only a poet could. The mundane is made miraculous, the painful is paradox, and the beautiful is wrenching. He manages to make the reader empathize with a host of characters, from the quietly rebellious protagonist, to his contradictorily abusive yet loving mother, and to his young boyfriend, a country redneck simultaneously terrified of yielding himself to another boy while still capable of treating his lover with the greatest compassion and tenderest care.

What holds it together most, what makes it a masterpiece, is its honesty. Words like “courageous” are often applied to novels like this one, stories that tell of family traumas, of coming-of-age and coming out. But Vuong’s honesty, here, is on a different level altogether. The way he describes his coming out and his growing up, his ever-progressing awareness of self, his first love and loss, moves beyond courageous. It is an act of total surrender, a giving up of everything that the world tells us should be kept to ourselves. In this way, Vuong allows Little Dog to reach the two kinds of readers who most need his story: the readers like Little Dog, who experienced or will experience the unique moments of gay life, of immigrant life, of life as an outcast, that can rarely be discussed in public, if ever. And the readers who know nothing of this type of journey, but who might learn what it means to be the someone else, the one without words or defense in a world that is terribly loud and aggressive. To be the dove in a crow’s nest.

For me, Ocean Vuong’s novel comes at a time when I am re-examining my own life and past. It comes at a time when Eugene Lee Yang releases his beautiful artistic articulation of a similar journey. For me, it seems, a universe of ellipses is falling into place at exactly the right moment, and to read a perfect book in a turbulent and confusing time is perhaps the most miraculous way to think of one’s place in that universe as intentional, purposeful, and necessary.

Notable Quotes:
“The nameless yellow body was not considered human because it did not fit in a slot on a piece of paper. Sometimes you are erased before you are given the choice of stating who you are” (63).

“The children, the veal, they stand very still because tenderness depends on how little the world touches you. To stay tender, the weight of your life cannot lean on your bones” (156).

“To be clean again. To be good again. What have we become to each other if not what we’ve done to each other?” (206)

“The thing is, I don’t want my sadness to be othered from me just as I don’t want my happiness to be othered. They’re both mine” (181).

“The sunset, like survival, exists only on the verge of its own disappearing. To be gorgeous, you must first be seen, but to be seen allows you to be hunted” (238).

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2019 TBR Pile Challenge

June Checkpoint! #TBR2019RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

Welcome to the MID-WAY POINT for our 2019 TBR Pile Challenge! I don’t know about you, but the time seems to be flying for me. I’m already too many weeks into my summer “break” and feel like far too many months in the year have passed. 

That said, I have somehow, someway managed to keep pace with this challenge (sort of.) I’ve read and reviewed exactly 6 of my 12 required books. Since I hope to read all 14 on my list, this does put me a bit behind schedule, technically, but “to win,” one only needs to hit 12 of 12, so I’m counting it as pretty good performance thus far, even if my reviews have gotten rather brief.

Progress: 6 of 12 Completed / 6 of 12 Reviewed

As you can see, the more recent reviews are pretty short in comparison to what I usually write, but that’s partly because “book blogging” or “reviewing,” anyway, is becoming less of a priority for me. I still plan to keep up with this blog and sharing my thoughts on the books that I’m reading, but it will likely not be in the form of full-on reviews. I think the next book on my list I want to try will be either The Ascent of Woman or Light the Dark: Writers On Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process. 

Books read:

How are you doing?

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Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated!

MINI-CHALLENGE #2 WINNER: Lindsay from Three Good Rats! Lindsay chose to receive a copy of OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon. Congratulations, Lindsay! Good luck to you all next month, when Mini-Challenge #3 comes around. 🙂 

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS! 

 

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