Monthly Archives: January 2016

Book Review — Shaler’s Fish

Shaler's Fish by Helen Macdonald

Shaler’s Fish by Helen Macdonald is a collection of poetry from the author H is for Hawk and Falcon. Macdonald is a writer, poet, historian, illustrator and naturalist. She’s worked as a Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge. She is an affiliate of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge.

This is probably the most difficult collection of poetry I have read since Eric Linsker’s La Far. There is a definite lyrical quality to the poems. In fact, the reader will get caught up in the flow of words. There is a beauty to the words and phrasing but it is very difficult to create imagery. From “Poem:”

small fowles

rain runs from their back in nomadic immortality holes
for each eye, pygostyle, furcula, pinions oiled & the grease
directs neat beads from throat chat chat hatching barbs
and sills broken white a flint egg.

There is still something that needs to be discovered in this collection. It has the appeal of a song you like and keeps popping into your head, but the words elude you. Eventually, however, everything comes together. I imagine it will take several more reflective reads before it all clicks together. The vocabulary is difficult, but the rhythm created keeps calling the reader back. For those with a taste for interesting and complex poetry, this is a worth read.



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Book Review — History

History by David O’Hanlon is his first collection of poetry. A quick search finds little information on the poet but his publisher is from North Yorkshire.

This is a very readable collection of poems covering mythical, historical, and personal history. The historical and mythical blend well together in the larger first section of the book. O’Hanlon certainly has an appreciation for the Greek and Roman mythology and history. Unlike many specialized poems that seem to concentrate on the subject rather than the form, O’Hanlon finds a balance. Likewise, his subject specific poetry does not lose the subject to the form of poetry. Nothing is worse than finding poetry on a topic you like, say bicycling, and find beautifully written lines that are technically wrong in practice. Here, O’Hanlon achieves perfect balance. I had the advantage of reading the Kindle edition of this collection so I was able to highlight the title name and refresh my memory on the god, hero, or historical person being written about. Most names were familiar but the nudge did help me and O’Hanlon’s words play a perfect tribute.

The personal observations are equally well done. In the poem, The Line notes items that make lines — wires from headphones, a crack in a mended statue. One item is different:

My name is in pieces. It has been for years. Since I abandoned cursive, in fact.

History is an outstanding first collection of poetry. It triggers thinking in its subjects and the words gently pull the reader in. Learning and observing as an art form. Extremely well done and earns a very rare five stars from me.

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Book Review — The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian by Han Kang is a South Korean novel told in three parts. Kang is the daughter of novelist Han Seung-won. She has gone on to win the Yi Sang Literary Prize (2005), Today’s Young Artist Award, and the Korean Literature Novel Award. As of summer 2013, Han teaches creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts while writing stories and novels.

The Vegetarian starts with a simple premise. A woman, Yeong-hye, decides to become a vegetarian and her family reacts to her decision. The novel is much deeper than that, though. The first part of the book his told by her husband. He recalls there is nothing special with Yeong-hye. She is plain looking. Her hair neither long or short. Her plain black shoes moved along neither fast nor slow. Her future husband felt no special attraction to her nor any drawbacks. She became a completely ordinary wife. The only odd thing about Yeong-hye was she did not like wearing a bra. She remained completely ordinary

She had a dream that changes her life. A graphic and bloody dream that turns her away from meat and all animal products. It is an annoyance to her husband who sees it’s not a plant based diet she is living, but a plant-like life. The rest of her family takes issue and things spiral out of control. The second part is told by her brother-in-law and takes the reader deeper into obsession. The final part is told by her sister. Each section reflects a movement into the future and a different look at Yeong-hye. Yeong-hye role is the pivot point for the story although she tells very little of her own story. The book is written in the first person by her three relations.

As a vegetarian myself, I thought it would be interesting to see how it would be taken in Korea. I expected it would not be an issue in a country where a quarter of the population Buddhist. I found myself mistaken and found it was much more socially acceptable to be a vegetarian in Texas than Korea. The novel, however, is not about vegetarianism as much as it is about obsession and acting on obsessions. There is a difference between being a little rebellious and going against societal norms. Yeong-hye perhaps is not the center point, but the microscope that allows us to see our own selves in detail.

It is a hard to categorize novel, but one plenty to think about. It is a bit disturbing at times but never turns the reader away. People have complained that Yeong-hye is flat and one-dimensional and perhaps that is the point. She does not get to tell her story. We have to rely on those around her to tell the story and wade through their personal issues, prejudices, and obsessions. A very well done story that stays with you long after you finish.

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Book Review –Best Poems of the Brontë Sisters

Best Poems of the Brontë Sisters by Emily Brontë

The Best Poems of the Brontë Sisters published by Dover Publications is a collection of poetry from the three sisters best known for their prose. Although classics Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall they do not complete the sister’s range of works.

There is a similarity in style between the sisters and it holds to the form of 19th century English poetry. There are several poems that were written on the spur of the moment. Poems are written on a windy afternoon or from a place in the woods. There is, without a doubt, plenty of the romantic movement in their collective writing.

Emily Brontë’s poems seem to take a darker tone than the other sisters, but it is Charlotte who writes the poems in eulogy for her sisters. There is a turn in Charlotte outlook as she seems drained and suffering loss in her later poems. This is a well-collected selection of poetry that demonstrates the best of 19th-century writing and, more importantly, the works of women in poetry. Ask most people, even those who took English literature in college, to name a 19th-century female poet and perhaps they may mention Mary Shelley but little mention of anyone else. The Brontë sisters, although famous for their novels, should have their fair share fame for their poetry.

This is a great collection for those interested in poetry. English 19th-century poetry is almost the ideal of poetry in most people’s minds. This collection will introduce readers to a great period of literature and great women poets.

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Book Review — The Nile Conspiracy

The Nile Conspiracy (Legends of the Winged Scarab, #5)
The Legend of the Winged Scarab continues in book five of the series, The Nile Conspiracy. We see the return of Jonathan, Naunet, and former “pharaoh” of the Cairo Museum Egyptian Jabari El-Masri. Several other previous characters return including a favorite of mine, Vergil, a sly and crafty character, who acts in own self-interest. In the previous books, Borg forms a story surrounding regional political events like the revolution in Egypt that overthrew Mubarak and natural events like the Khamsin and Sirocco. All the natural phenomena used in the stories are real. In a previous book the supervolcano, the Yellowstone Caldera, erupted causing a great disruption in the world order and removing the United States from position power.

In this story, Egypt is still trying to seek stability after the revolution and dealing with a major threat to its existence. Ethiopia is is constructing the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Nile which is a threat to Egypt’s water supply. Ethiopia is the source 85% of the Nile’s water of which Egypt counts on for 80% of its water needs. This provides the catalyst of the story and what draws all the characters together — from familiar characters to Egypt’s top leadership. There is action and adventure all within the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief, much like a Clive Cussler novel.

The two storylines of protecting Egypt’s water supply and the quest for control of the fifty ancient golden tablets and their meaning also continues. Their location is known but they are simply out of reach. The story also includes some mythology going back to the first book, which took place before the Egyptian civilization. This, although adding a supernatural aspect to the book, creates a stronger tie into the story and the events.

The story is fast moving and the storylines tie in nicely. The writing is clear and pulls heavily from real events. Borg does her research well and takes the current political situation and ties it in with real or possible natural effects. Even though the writing is fiction the reader can pick up real world issues like the effects of Ethiopia building the world’s largest hydroelectric dam on the river that has been a source of life in North East Africa and center of an ancient civilization. I liked this series from the beginning. It’s smart. It makes the reader want to research aspects of the story. It is not your average cookie cutter fiction or action/adventure series; it holds your attention and has you looking into current events and history. It is a series you actually become involved in.

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Book Review — Wait Till I’m Dead: Uncollected Poems

Wait Till I'm Dead by Allen Ginsberg

Wait Till I’m Dead: Uncollected Poems by Allen Ginsberg edited by Bill Morgan is the latest and possibly the last update to the complete works of Allen Ginsberg which already number at over 1,200 pages. Ginsberg needs little introduction even to the most secluded or unread person — The standout poet from the Beat era who continued to write poetry until his death in 1997.

Wait Til I’m Dead is a collection that spans Ginsberg entire career and from a variety of publications. Included areMarrahwannah Quarterly, High Times, Shambhala, Fag RagCity Lights Journal, and from a live impromptu performance at Shakespeare and Company in Paris. Many of these were pieces done at the spur of the moment like “Cleveland Airport.” Others are memories like his last conversation with Carl Solomon as Solomon lie dying in a hospital.

The introduction is provided by Rachel Zucker who first read Ginsberg in college and want more poetry in her education. She calls Ginsberg her gateway drug to poetry. The English chair was happy to comply with Bishop, Moore, and Plath but nothing moved Zucker like Ginsberg. In what is probably the best quote on poetry I have read, Zucker says, “Allen was a good mother to me. He invited me into the kitchen of poetry and made me a sandwich.”

This is a great collection of Ginsberg’s work that has not made it in his complete collection. Because these poems were not included in the complete collection of his work one may wonder if they are worthy of reading or just poems rejected by previous editors. The work here is well worth the read. It is Ginsberg, and as far as the quality of the work, it is like a bootleg Bob Dylan concert. It is the artist in perhaps in his truest form. There is a visible evolution in the work as it covers half a century of writing that is more recognizable in a shorter collection, yet it is always, without a doubt, Ginsberg.

Death spoke out of the singer’s throat; While, staring through a drunkard’s eyes, Fate confounded drinker’s lies:
For all the drinks that they had tried, Death still sat there at their side.
And death peered with contemptuous calm. From the barman’s open palm.

“A Night in the Village”, 1944

Where can he go with alcohol and the landlord’s
eviction notice comes to us all?
gentrification will oust us from our nest
where to put books and file cabinets heavy with paper gold? Wake, smoke,
another cigarette with aching back and the last breath though cancered

Bob Dylan Touring with Grateful Dead, 1986

I meet Carl Solomon.
What is it like in the afterworld?
“It’s just like the mental hospital. You get along if you follow the rules.”

Dream of Carl Solomon, 1996

Wait Till I’m Dead: Uncollected Poems is a worthwhile addition to any Ginsberg or Beat book collection. Grab a sandwich for poetry’s kitchen and enjoy.

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Book Review — While the City Slept: Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man’s Descent into Violence

While the City Slept by Eli Sanders

While the City Slept: Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man’s Descent into Violence by Eli Sanders is the account of violence and murder in a Seattle community. Eli Sanders is the associate editor of Seattle’s weekly newspaper The Stranger. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2012 for his reporting on the murder of Teresa Butz. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Seattle Times, The American Prospect, and Salon, among other publications.

I usually don’t read true crime books and I am not a fan of narrative nonfiction. This book, however, is a game changer. The story is told well and with enough detail that the idea to check sources passed by me. Sanders takes an almost personal role in the story telling. It was his news story back in 2012 and, much like Jon Krakauer’s reporting of a death in Alaska for Outside Magazine, the story has been extended with research down several avenues.

Teresa Butz, tomgirl, traveler, and searching for her role in life is examined from early life as one of eleven children in a Catholic family. Jennifer Hopper, a talented singer, who could not find the proper role in music New York. The two meet in Seattle and become a couple and set a date for a commitment ceremony. The book opens with the aftermath of rape and violent assault that left Teresa Butz dead and Jennifer Hopper finding refuge with a neighbor. The man responsible, Isaiah Kalebu, also has a story.

His story is told to present the how a terrible crime could happen and sadly on how it could have been prevented. It is not told for the reader to take pity on the killer. It is told to show how things work in practice rather than in reality. There are more than gaps in the system. There are gaping holes. From a bridge that has been damaged by earthquakes, caseloads for judges, and mental health budgets. Sanders points out that there are more people in prison mental health facilities than there are outside of prison. It has much more to do with budgets than the number of people requiring care. The system is not intentionally callous as it does have people who care, but so many are overworked and overscheduled to do much good.

While the City Slept, gives a very worthwhile account of the lives of Butz and Hopper and although their same-sex relationship is what brought them together, Sanders does not make that point a central theme or a rallying point. They are treated no different than a heterosexual couple which is nice to see the acceptance of relationships as norms rather than the exception. Sanders also does an excellent job of drawing the road map that brings the three people on a collision course. It is an eye-opening book on the system we all live in. Surprising too the is the role of the police in the story. The investigation of the crime takes little time and effort for the police. Isaiah Kalebu is arrested less than a week after the crime. An intensely interesting read that is difficult to put down.

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