Carver: A Life in Poems by Marilyn Nelson
(Front Street, 2001, 112 pages)
The Nelson kick continues…
I loved this George Washington Carver biography told through poems. I feel like he’s a figure people think they know but he’s done so much more than many realize. I had no idea what his backstory was or all the things that he did. His story is inspiring – this quiet, religious, nature-loving intellectual was dedicated to doing what he could to help improve the lives of farmers through his research. He was also committed to the students at Tuskegee University and worked diligently to see them succeed.
This is a beautiful portrayal of his life that will only encourage you to learn more about him. Not to mention it will inspire you to continue reading the fabulous work of Marilyn Nelson 🙂
Saga, Vol. 5 by Brian K. Vaughan; art by Fiona Staples
(Image Comics, 2015, 152 pages)
Well, I apparently read this volume about three years ago… I’m glad I read it again, though! It was so fun getting back into Saga after an unintended hiatus. We still have the same cast of characters, people are trying to stay alive, others are trying to kill… This would end up being spoiler-y for anyone that isn’t as far in the series or who is considering picking it up. For all three volumes in this post I’ll just say that Vaughan and Staples continue to work their magic. It looks like volumes 8 and 9 have moved up in my TBR pile 🙂
Saga, Vol. 6 by Brian K. Vaughan; art by Fiona Staples
(Image Comics, 2016, 152 pages)
Saga, Vol. 7 by Brian K. Vaughan; art by Fiona Staples
(Image Comics, 2017, 152 pages)
How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
(Dial Books, 2014, 112 pages)
I grabbed How I Discovered Poetry after reading A Wreath for Emmett Till. I was hoping to get more insight into Nelson as a poet and this book seemed like it would offer that. The book is slim and is comprised of 50 poems. We see Nelson progress to young adulthood as the United States is gradually progressing toward racial “equality.”
Born in the 1950s Nelson was the daughter of a military man and her family moved often so not only did she see a lot of the United States, she was regularly the new girl and often one of very few black faces in her classrooms. This memoir in poetry was well done but I came to it expecting a little more depth and detail about her life. I’d eagerly read a prose memoir if she ever chose to write one. I think it’s clear I think she has a way with words 🙂
Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh
(Penguin, 2017, 294 pages)
I was fortunate to see David Sedaris give a reading recently and one of the things he regularly does when he “performs” is highlight an author whose work he is enjoying. He did a spotlight on Homesick for Another World and the way he talked about it will undoubtedly lend itself to a boost in sales, especially for the audiobook (which he raved about). My reading of the stories was basically all dark, but Sedaris talked about the humor in the darkness and I honestly didn’t pick up on that while I was reading. When HE read a passage, however, you couldn’t help but laugh… I might need to revisit the stories with that type of reading in mind.
A talented writer, if you’re looking for a dark collection of short stories, Moshfegh delivers. I’m actually interested in reading her novel, Eileen, which was nominated for a number of awards when it was published. We’ll see when that moves up on my “to-read” list 🙂
A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson
(HMH Books for Young Readers, 2005, 48 pages)
This was the book that introduced me to the work of Marilyn Nelson. I was doing some research on the Coretta Scott King Awards and that is how I discovered this title which received an “Award for Author” Honor in 2006. Something about the way it was described compelled me to request it and I found it so incredibly heartbreaking and moving. The art that accompanies the piece was also very well done. At the end of the book there is an explanation of the poems (something Nelson does regularly and which is a feature I love) in addition to an explanation of the art.
This poem tells the story of Emmett Till’s murder while also reminding the reader of his humanity – it’s so easy to just hear the name, remember the story, and not think about him as a boy living in the world, as a son, as a man who didn’t get the chance to grow up. A Wreath for Emmett Till is aimed at younger readers and I think it powerfully combines history and poetry in a way that quickly captures the reader’s attention. This is one of those books that will find its way to my permanent book collection so I have it on hand when my daughter is old enough to read it. It’s hard to say I “enjoyed” it given the subject matter, but it was beautifully done and led me down a Marilyn Nelson path for which I am so grateful.
What is Not Yours is Not Yours: Stories by Helen Oyeyemi
(Riverhead Books, 2016, 325 pages)
I wanted to give this collection of short stories a chance since so many praise Oyeyemi’s writing. There’s no question she’s a talented writer, but as with Boy, Snow, Bird, I came away feeling like I didn’t appreciate the book anywhere near as much as the critics did. Oyeyemi is young and she has an authentic voice in her writing, there is a dark, mystical quality to her work.
What is Not Yours is Not Years is comprised of nine stories, all of which feature a key or lock which loosely connects them. Rather than me attempting to characterize her work, I’ll point you to two reviews, one from the New York Times and the other from NPR. You’ll see, pretty quickly, that this book was clearly appreciated.
I’m not saying I won’t read more of her work because I know that I will. Her way with words keeps me wanting to explore her writing… I’ll probably turn to Mr. Fox next, one of the New York Times 100 Notable Books in 2011.
If you haven’t read any Oyeyemi and you appreciate thoughtful, unique literary fiction I’d encourage you to pick up one of her books.
Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
(Harper, 2017, 263 pages)
I’m a devoted Erdrich fan and will read anything that she writes. Future Home of the Living God veers away from what you would typically expect from Louise Erdrich; it’s a dystopian novel with a different vibe from what she normally produces.
There’s a lot going on in this book so I pulled the following summary from Goodreads:
The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Twenty-six-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.
Though she wants to tell the adoptive parents who raised her from infancy, Cedar first feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, to understand both her and her baby’s origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity.
… a moving meditation on female agency, self-determination, biology, and natural rights that speaks to the troubling changes of our time.
The novel comes across as a response to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which has been noted by a number of reviewers. I appreciated the story but this isn’t an Erdrich title I’d classify as a favorite. Unique and timely, given our political climate, I appreciate this different literary styling from an author that I love.