Happy New Year.
Here’s the last 10 I read in 2020. Some of these I mentioned at 49th shelf in November. Some were read since then.
Children of Fury by Rashid Darden Dark Nation, Vol III, (Old Gold Soul Press, 2020)
This is a fantastic novel that I immediately told a couple friends that they should read. Deep in contemporary urban fantasy, it is set in Black Washington D.C. at a high school for kids who didn’t do the regular high school. Little do these kids know that some of their teachers are extraordinary even by the scale of usual teachers. I don’t want to give too much away but it was imbued with hope and a careful eye for detail.
Niagara & Government by Phil Hall (Pedlar, 2020)
Caveat: I have a sweet soft spot for the way Hall thinks. He interrupts himself, overturns his previous statement, works against preciousness and aim for lines that sing and sting, himself perhaps most of all. They walk the line of self-flagellating. Some of these I saw earlier versions of. The edited ones made me as breathless in spots. The writing doesn’t feel like expository public speech but like being inside another head, the brooding accumulating in a way that makes excerpting hard.
Bittersweet by Natasha Ramourar (Mawenzi House, 2020)
Knocked the lungs flat to a degree that can hardly be called healthy. “were we always destined to be like this. Made more emotional than we are, gaslit to the point of explosions.” or “how that one single exhale ignites the light in all of us”. It is very much a yes marginalia. Shall I just keep quoting her? “resilience is born of pain and desire”
Rushes from the River Disappointment by stephanie roberts (McGill-Queens, 2020)
Poor bookie-book. Glad I have a digital copy. Paper shouldn’t be highlighted so much for its structural integrity. That, my dear is how to write. Pause for thought, pause for finding centre again, pause for reflection, pause in respect for beauty made. It took a long time to read. Like Stephen Brockwell does in readings, she read her angry poems, but the poems in pages have an excruciating tenderness as well as a love of science, in her case physics equations such as “the Lorenz factor and time dilation, or “every day I experience thinness cracking to bits along a line of recurring grief” or “the first cucumber on the vine needs to go to seed pronto or the vine hesitates to set more fruit.”
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by Victoria Schwab (Tor, 2020)
My goodness, this was a ride. An ambitious scope, spanning the 1600s to present, epic, except given immortality, it’s one lifetime. How to weave all these threads and yet the character is vivid and ever changing. There’s an opportunity of Forrest Gump to be at key points in history but that acts as background not derailing the story. Almost 80% through a new narrator is introduced yet it works. Surely people will be reading this a century from now.
Divine Animal by Brandon Wint (Write Bloody North, 2020)
Watching Brandon Wint perform is a soothing warming experience. Having an artifact of his mind in hand is a small beauty. “Every sun-licked morning/has grace enough/to turn common men into angels” (“Paradise”). A poetry that takes deep breaths and allows the reader to breathe. Or be permitted to laugh “My feet frantic and shuffling/like two beached fish.” (“Black Power Dance”). It exhorts to live, rather than fights against death like so much poetry. “In every gesture, swim—/make the chest/a splintered seed//Be a moonlight, a devotion/tireless as winter.//Be, if you must, a singular anthem,/soften the brutally human,//sing with the corvids instead.” (“Body, anthem and prayer”).
Infinite redress by Natalie Hanna (Baseline Press, 2020)
Intense poems of the private and common grief “the day they diagnosed you/the sky broke loose//and hail ripped the summer/off our faces”. It’s hard not to pause in a moment and not feel the Pompeii of everyday she points out. Incidentally, Mars is also in our zietgeist. The third book of the year to talk of listening to the video from the surface of Mars.
Obtain No Proof by Carla Harris (Frog Hollow Press, 2020)
A chapbook meditation on the effect of seizures in life, “clench that whips saliva, soft as/beaten egg whites”. Her metaphors are sumptuous. “Chronic illness/is a drug. A mentor.//A caregiver octopus who changes/colour to live vibrantly while crossing fissures in the coral”
Everest Base Camp: Close Call by Catina Noble (Crowe Creations, 2020)
This was surprisingly short, around 100 pages but wonderfully detailed in nitty itty bitty gritties of what gear you need to get to Everest, and insurance and money. It was funny in the sense of relating what a brain hospitalized thinks after getting altitude poisoning. Quite the nerve-wracking ride.
El Camino on a Wrecked Ankle by Catina Noble (Crowe Creations, 2019)
We immediately read aloud this book too, of walking El Camino, after finishing her Everest one. It’s so clear and fresh. Her expression is lively and fun. At a setback, she exclaims, “well, cheese on a cracker!” It was also good to hear from someone who doesn’t booze the route. A lot of accounts seem to praise the joys of the evening with thanks to Dionysus. I think this is the 4th book I’ve read on walking El Camino. Each has its own take, personality and focus. She made the walk seem doable.