Delicious Foods, by James Hannaham

Reviewed by Jennifer Spiegel

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Back Bay Books, 2016

I waited till the very end of 2016 to read it, though I picked up the paperback in January (it came out in hardback in 2015). I don’t know why. Nestled on my shelf between must-reads and supposed-to-reads, Delicious Foods remained unread throughout the year: missing the havoc of the election, skipping the annual list-making season in which readers formulate their Top Ten Books of 2016. My own book-reviewing gig, Snotty Literati, made its list. And, well, Delicious Foods is not on it.

It should’ve been. While not necessarily as large in its philosophy or cultural commentary as my 2016 pick for Best Book (which remains my first pick)—Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad—this one was among my favorite novels of the year. Delicious Foods is a great book. It’s an original story with a—dare I say?—suspenseful plot, soulful characters, and amazing language.

Start with the cover. Such a lovely cover. I love that cover.

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Parts Per Trillion, by Claudine Nash

Reviewed by Caroline Reddy

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Aldrich Press, 2016

Claudine Nash’s Parts Per Trillion is a collection of hermetic poetry that authentically embodies the human condition. Universal themes such as death, grief, longing and healing are deconstructed in a heartfelt and witty manner. Readers sink into philosophical realms where they hover and slip between half thoughts, somberly inspect unfinished business and speak unspoken words.

The psychological and existential notion of clinging, while longing to let go, threads throughout the collection. “Fine Print,” orbits the remnants of archival memories that lament “empty mood states” and “warped perceptions of reality.” We are advised that if we mull over infinite recollections we will be “spinning into loops and circles.”

Often, in poems like Hold That Thought, we linger in the subconscious and are instructed to “slip them into the sea as the tide sets out” and “become old school gangsters and make some silence.” In Insomnia we puckishly envision “the stalled night as nothing but a school girl playing hopscotch on the clock.”  Through reflection, stillness and “Micro moments,” the poet’s sagacious voice dissects our hearts and awakens our neurological palette. Continue reading

A Conversation Between Lois Marie Harrod and Christine Beck

Two poets published by Five Oaks Press, Lois Marie Harrod, author of Nightmares of the Minor Poet, and Christine Beck, author of Stirred, Not Shaken, discuss their works.

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(Five Oaks Press, 2016)

How we met—

Christine: Lois and I met at the Poetry Getaway in Cape May, N.J. in 2010.  Lois was leading a workshop on how to put together a poetry manuscript.  I was impressed with the generosity of her critique and used many of her ideas when I wrote my first book, Blinding Light, as my M.F.A. thesis three years later. I love coincidences, so when I discovered Lois lives in the town where my grandparents had their farm, I figured our paths would meet again.

Lois: That workshop was the first one I did on putting a poetry manuscript together, and I remember that there were 8 poets and 8 manuscripts which we looked at in 5 3-hour sessions. I remember thinking it was too rushed, so I am so pleased that Christine found it helpful. In workshops since then we have had fewer participants and spend 3 hours on each manuscript.  Maybe this is the place too where I should put in a plug too for Peter Murphy’s workshops and getaways—which offer “insightful feedback and an encouraging community” to poets and writers: http://wintergetaway.com/

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(Five Oaks Press, 2016)

I believe that writers write best when they are part of a community of writers.

How our collections came about—

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East Hollywood: Memorial to Reason, by Harry Northup

Review by Toni Fuhrman

 

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Cahuenga Press, 2015

East Hollywood is a neighborhood of some 80,000 souls in central Los Angeles. It’s shaped like a rough-cut diamond, cut through the middle by Santa Monica Boulevard, edged (roughly) by the Hollywood Freeway (101), Western Avenue, Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, and Virgil Avenue. On its borders are Hollywood, Los Feliz, Silver Lake, and Koreatown. Within its borders are Thai Town, Little Armenia, The Church of Scientology, Los Angeles City College (UCLA’s original campus), and a thriving Spanish-speaking population. From atop Mount Hollywood to the north, Griffith Observatory benignly stands sentry over all.

It is here, in this neighborhood, that Harry Northup lives, walks, and writes the poetry collected in East Hollywood: Memorial to Reason (Cahuenga Press, 2015). This is Northup’s eleventh book, and the voice we hear in the poems is exuberant, Whitmanesque.

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Just Kids by Patti Smith

Review by Jennifer Spiegel

Who isn’t listening to audiobooks these days? I was late, as I am to many trends, as I was with Patti Smith. I think I only “discovered” her in the nineties. Actually, I know exactly when and where I was. The nineties, the East Village, a used record shop (are they still there?) Me, trying, failing, to be cool. I bought Patti Smith’s Gone Again. Hooked, ready for Horses.

I finally listened to Just Kids, which is narrated by Smith. It’s extraordinary. Though the book focuses on her relationship with Artist Robert Mapplethorpe (who, admittedly, interests me considerably less), it was Smith who lulled me with her prose. When poets commit to narrative, sometimes amazing things happen.

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Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin

Review by Jill Moore

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(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1961)

I finished Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin on the morning of November 8, 2016. The day stands out because of the election and all of the information that swirled around it. As it turns out, it was a bad day for me. What I had read in a book published in 1961 was not so different from the news I was seeing in my Facebook feed. It has taken me more than a week to process my thoughts on that day and this book.

 
John Howard Griffin was born in Texas. He studied music and medicine in France and joined the French Resistance in 1939 at age 19, where he helped to transport Austrian Jews to safety in England. Griffin joined the Army and spent 1943-1944 as the only European-American (read: white guy) on Nuni, one of the Solomon Islands, where his assignment was to study the local culture. These two pieces of his personal history form the basis of his interest in and writings surrounding ethnology.

The Girls by Emma Cline

Review by Jennifer Spiegel

When was the Summer of Love again?

Sixty-seven.

I don’t really know what’s going on with me, but I seem to be hovering in my bookish ways around a certain era. I found myself listening to Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. West Coast hippie-splendor. Some Joan Baez, a little Haight-Ashbury. Right now, I’m into Patti Smith’s Just Kids, which is but one step ahead, but on the East Coast. Andy Warhol, the Chelsea Hotel, punk rock.

I took a fictional reprieve with Emma Cline’s The Girls (published this year), which takes place mostly in Northern California in 1969. After the Summer of Love, we had Charles Manson. Irony, yes? What’s going on there? This debut—Cline’s first novel!—imagines the girls in a Manson-like cult, moving towards murder. Though the cult, with its creepy/sexy leader, is fascinating, Cline’s girls are the real focus. An exploration of girlhood, of females on the brink of being women. Vulnerability on the brink. Continue reading

Haunting the Last House on Holland Island, Fallen into the Bay by Sarah Ann Winn

Review by Tammy Bendetti

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(Porkbelly Press 2016)

In Sarah Ann Winn’s latest poetry microchapbook, you don’t leave home – home leaves you. Winn builds her ghost story around the real-life collapse of Holland Island, Maryland, into the Chesapeake. Her thrifty six poems behave like a house, a bounded space lavish with meaning. But here, home is no longer itself, and can anchor us no more.

The opening and closing poems are centos, or poems made from pieces of other things. They disorder the familiar, acting out the central idea of the book. In the topsy-turvy bedrooms and kitchens of Haunting, the living become the ghosts. Winn explores the space with playful intimacy. Her poems’ speakers complain about the Home Owners’ Association, grown even more absurdly irrelevant now that the house is underwater. They invite divers to look out the window to view the Titanic. They offer up a tacky ghost tour, complete with “convincing 3D.” Continue reading

The Wanting by Kevin Clark (author interview)

Interview by Lynn Houston

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(Five Oaks Press, 2016)

Did you serve in Vietnam? What were you doing during that time? What is it you remember most of all about that historical era? 

I consider myself fortunate. My lottery number was 202. The army drafted up to 195. I was a junior at the University of Florida, where I’d gone to run track. The sixties diverted me away from track and on to all the issues of the day. Politically I most remember Bobby Kennedy’s assassination and then Watergate. Personally, I was swept up in the counterculture. Continue reading

The Neapolitan Novel Quartet by Elena Ferrante

review by Jennifer Spiegel

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My Brilliant Friend (2012), The Story of a New Name (2013), Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2014), and The Story of the Lost Child (2015): doesn’t this four-book-in-a-row thing blow you away?

My introduction to Ferrante came on the operating table, minutes before I had both breasts cut off. Probably my most-trusted literary confidante had told me to read Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment (2005), and—for some no-doubt predestined reason—that was the book I took to the hospital to get a double mastectomy in the summer of 2015. I read parts of it, in a hospital gown with only socks on—no underwear. The protagonist’s marriage was over. Reality, contorted. I woke up and read again. My body, compromised.

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