Books From Near and Far and In Between

It was another quiet week here in the library at Winkelman Abbey, which is good, considering that, as far as I can tell, I own about a thousand more books than I have actually read. Per Umberto Eco’s antilibrary, I don’t actually consider this to be a problem.

On the left is the newest book published by our very own Caffeinated Press: Trust, the first book in Jean Davis‘s new trilogy The Narvan. Davis is one of the brightest literary lights here in West Michigan. She is a consummate professional, a dedicated booster and supporter of the West Michigan writing scene, and a superb writer.

In the middle is Elemental, a collection of nonfiction writing by Michigan writers, published as part of the Made in Michigan Writers Series of Wayne State University Press. This was an impulse buy of sorts; I noticed it on the WSU Press website when I pre-ordered Jack Ridl’s Saint Peter and the Goldfinch, and added it to my order on a whim. It’s on the top of my stack of to-read books, starting in May.

On the right is Bright by Duanwad Pimwana, the most recent delivery from my subscription to Two Lines Press. I’m looking forward to this one in particular because, as near as I can tell, this is the first book in my collection from a Thai author.

In reading news, I continue to burn through my collection of poetry. Since my last post I have read When the Moon Knows You’re Wandering by Ruth Ellen Kocher, and The Somnambulist by Lara Mimosa Montes. I admit I had a hard time getting into the Kocher poems, and finally gave up about halfway through the book. This is not a slight on the quality of the poetry; the type of poetry she writes was simply not where my head was when I was trying to read it.

The Somnambulist, on the other hand, was great! It can be read either as a long poem broken into fever-dream fragments, or a many short poems assembled into a barbed narrative. Had I the time I could easily have read it in one session.

I would also like to give a shout out here to the publisher of The Somnambulist, Horse Less Press, a Grand Rapids outfit which is currently on indefinite hiatus from publishing. They turn out some top-notch work — full length poetry collections and hand-stitched chapbooks. Being part of a publishing house myself I understand the need for breaks from the work routine, and hope they find the mental and emotional energy to resume work. The world needs what they have to offer.

In the evenings as I drift off to sleep I am still working my way through Laurus, and it continues to be a remarkable book. I suspect I will revisit this one again and again in the years to come.

Warm Days are Good Days for Reading

A little while ago, and for the first time this year, I sat out on my porch and wrote in my journal. The warm weather isn’t expected to last, but I will take every minute I can get.

The first week of April was another fairly quiet week here at Winkelman Abbey. I picked up four new books, three of which are new purchases.

On the left is issue 2 of Michael J. DeLuca‘s fine journal Reckoning, which publishes “creative writing on environmental justice.” I picked up issue 1 at ConFusion back in January, where I also met and shared beers with Mr. DeLuca (as well as several other excellent folks from the genre writing community).

Next is the second volume of the Breakbeat Poets anthology, Black Girl Magic. I picked up volume 1 when my significant other and I visited City Lights Books in June of 2018. I love these anthologies! They are full of powerful, important work which I would almost certainly have never encountered otherwise.

Third up is the revised edition of Conversations with Jim Harrison, a collection of interviews with the late poet and author. I picked up the first edition seven or eight years ago, and read it ferociously, writing down every book, poet, writer and recipe Mr. Harrison mentioned through several dozen interviews. This edition includes additional material up to Harrison’s death in late March of 2016.

Last up is I Am the Abyss, a collection of dark fiction novellas from a Kickstarter campaign I contributed to about three years ago. Things (as they often do) Happened, and production was delayed and further delayed. But the book has finally been released, and it is a thing of beauty! Nine novellas, each with its own custom artwork, all in a very well-produced, high-quality paperback.

In reading news, I finished The Monster Baru Cormorant at around 10:30 in the evening on March 31, thus opening the way for the stack of poetry books I am working my way through during National Poetry Month. So far I have completed the fiftieth anniversary edition of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind; Jack Ridl’s latest collection Saint Peter and the Goldfinch, and sam sax’s remarkable book madness. I am currently partway through When the Moon Knows You’re Wandering by Ruth Ellen Kocher.

Speaking of Jack Ridl, this past Friday I attended the Saint Peter and the Goldfinch book release party in Douglas, Michigan. It was a small quiet affair – Mr. Ridl and his family and over 200 of his closest friends filled the Douglas UCC Church to overflowing for a three hour event full of music and poetry and good fellowship. Jack was accompanied on stage by the superb John Shea Trio, who occasionally joined him for, as he put it, “poetry with jazz, rather than jazz poetry.”

Best of all? Jack signed my book.

During National Poetry Month I am tweeting brief snippets of poems from each of the poets we have published in the pages of The 3288 Review. I was going to do one a day but, well, we have published far too many poets for that to work, so each day I am tweeting out, oh, several, give or take.

It feels good to go back through the several years of publication and see the work which has inspired me to participate in the West Michigan literary community. It really feels like…home.

Cold Days Are Good Days For Reading

Books for the week of March 24, 2019

It’s been a quiet week here at Winkelman Abbey, in the literary sense. My subscriptions came through, of course, but no new purchases or Kickstarter releases. On the left is the latest issue of Poetry Magazine. Next to it is the new Amazing Stories, which is actually a Kickstarter originated subscription. Third in line is the most recent New Ohio Review, which I subscribed to when I submitted a few poems to NOR. I haven’t heard back yet, but it is a very well put together journal so it is already a positive experience. The last is The Polyglot Lovers, the latest from my subscription to And Other Stories. According to LibraryThing I have 19 books from And Other Stories, of which I have read several, though not all. One of these days…

In reading news, I am less than fifty pages from the end of The Monster Baru Cormorant. I still plan to finish by the end of the month, which gives me (checks clock) slightly less than seven hours.

In the spare bits of time I have read two books of poetry, Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver, and Ha Ha Ha Thump by West Michigan poet Amorak Huey. I also read a few more pages of Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin, which is still extraordinary.

National Poetry Month starts tomorrow and, Laurus notwithstanding, I plan to read only books of poetry for the month, with the occasional dip into the contents of journals. There’s just so much good poetry out there, and I have a lot of catching up to do.

Links and Notes for the Week of March 24, 2019

Over the past couple of weeks I have resurrected an old Flash experiment from back around, oh, 2007: The Lindenmayer Explorer. The image at the top of this post was created in the Explorer. Head over and check it out! If you create anything interesting, post it online and add a link in the comments here. Basic instructions are on the page. More detailed instructions and notes to follow.

The First Book Post of Spring

The first (partial) week of spring brought with it only two books, but really, no book is *only* a book.

On the left is Saint Peter and the Goldfinch, the new collection from West Michigan’s own Jack Ridl. I will be attending the book launch party in a couple of weeks and am sincerely looking forward to seeing Jack again, as well as the other members of the West Michigan literary community.

On the right is The Boy by Marcus Malte, the latest delivery from my subscription to Restless Books. According to LibraryThing, I now own 34 Restless Books titles. One day I may even read all of them.

Today is the 100th (!) birthday of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. That he is still alive is extraordinary. That he is still writing is astonishing! His latest book, Little Boy, was released just a few of days ago. I have not yet picked it up. In reviewing my collection I see that I am unfortunately light in the Ferlinghetti department. I have the fiftieth anniversary edition of A Coney Island of the Mind, and his book of travel journals, Writing Across the Landscape. I should probably pick up a couple more in the near future.

Ferlinghetti was never a tremendous influence on my, directly. Indirectly, of course, with the creation of City Lights Publishing, as well as his involvement with the beat poetry scene, and the broader scene in general, it was impossible to NOT be influenced by him in some way or another.

Not long after I started working at Schuler Books & Music (which at the time was simply called Schuler Books), a bunch of us writerly employees got together to watch Poetry in Motion. I had had very little experience with poetry (other than a brief overview of The Canon in college) at the time, being much more interested in high fantasy and hard science fiction, so this film blew my mind wide open. I think we watched it not long after Charles Bukowski died. Definitely before Ginsberg died. I was grabbing coffee in Socrates Cafe here in Grand Rapids when I heard of Ginsberg’s passing. I was only passing familiar with Ginsberg’s work at the time, but it still had an impact.

In reading news, I am approaching the end of The Monster Baru Cormorant. I expected to be finished by now, but I have been distracted by poetry collections from W.S. Merwin, the aforementioned Jack Ridl, and Mary Oliver. Also on a whim I pulled down Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin, and immediately fell in love. I still plan to finish The Monster Baru Cormorant by the end of the month, but now my plan of only reading poetry for the upcoming National Poetry Month is in jeopardy. Laurus is just that good.

Finally, here is Ferlinghetti’s poem “I Am Waiting,” from A Coney Island of the Mind.

Time Keeps On Slipping

Another quiet week here at Winkelman Abbey, as we approach the end of winter. On the left is Surreal Expulsion, the newest collection from excellent West Michigan poet D.R. James, who has been published in two issues of The 3288 Review. On the right is the new issue of Rain Taxi, about which I cannot say enough good things. I have to keep my wits about me when reading Rain Taxi or I might accidentally purchase every book they review in every issue.

Just above the poetry book is the stone I use to massage by head when struck with a tension (or other) headache. Seriously. It feels good to work the locked-up tendons and muscles on the side of my head with a smooth, cool piece of rock. And of course it also feels good when I stop.

In reading news I finished A People’s Future of the United States and can whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone and everyone who has an interest in superb speculative fiction. It is a masterful collection. I am now about halfway through The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson. This is the sequel to The Traitor Baru Cormorant, which I read a couple of year ago. Monster is every bit as good as Traitor, and I recommend both to anyone who likes dense, intricately plotted fantasy history novels. These books would fit comfortably on the shelf next to Umberto Eco‘s The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum, and K.J. Bishop‘s The Etched City.

I am also browsing through The Essential W.S. Merwin, in order to re-familiarize myself with the work of the former poet laureate who passed away a couple of days ago. With Mary Oliver‘s death back in January, this makes two towering figures of arts and letters who have left us behind this winter. I have a sinking feeling that 2019 will be for poets what 2016 was for musicians. I hope I am wrong.

Here are some Merwin links:

Suddenly, A Stack of Books

So I started this week expecting to maybe get one or two books from my various subscriptions, and maybe buy myself a little something. This in fact happened – the right-most book in the second row of the above photo (“Muslim”: A Novel) is the latest from Deep Vellum Publishing. Just to its left is Screaming Like War from Sault Ste. Marie poet Mark Senkus, which I picked up over the weekend while in the Upper Peninsula visiting my girlfriend’s family.

All the rest of these books appeared unexpectedly.

The bottom row consists of the contents of the new shipment from Ugly Duckling Presse. Four books of poetry, one of experimental prose, and Emergency INDEX, which is a listing of well over 100 performance art works in calendar year 2018. It’s all brilliant stuff, and I wish I had a couple of years free so I could bury myself in the beauty therein.

The top row, and the first three titles in the second row, are books of poetry which I unexpectedly acquired when I attended the Evening of Literary Luminescence, a fundraiser for local literary organization Write616. Not surprisingly, almost all of the poetry is by local and regional writers, so extra bonus there.

And now reading news:

Last week I finished Scarborough and, needing something lighter, read Kelly Link‘s wonderful Origin Stories, which is a hardcover chapbook published by Subterranean Press.

Currently I am over halfway through A People’s Future of the United States. It is, simply, an amazing collection of stories. They follow the theme of the possibility of hope standing against the logical outcome of the current (reactionary right-wing, racist, bigoted, sadistic, misogynistic, jingoist, xenophobic, capital-fetishizing, violence-loving, neo-fascist, Dominionist) political and social climate. The stories are beautiful, sad, infuriating, hopeful, astonishing, intelligent and above all necessary. Every imagined dystopian future in this book is easily extrapolated from the actions of the current dominant power structures. And each of these futures must be recognized and resisted.

In other literary news, I am almost done re-integrating at Caffeinated Press and am at various stages in four projects: Issues 4.1, 5.1 and 5.2 of The 3288 Review, and layout work for the next edition of our Brewed Awakenings anthology. Other things are afoot as well, which will be revealed in the fullness of time. Selah!

A Big Book in a Small Stack

It was a quiet week for the acquisitions department here at Winkelman Abbey. But what it lacked in the X axis it more than made up for in the Y. From left, we have A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, followed by the most recent issues of Jacobin, Willow Springs, and Poetry Magazine. On the right is To Leave with the Reindeer by Olivia Rosenthal, the latest from my subscription to the catalog of And Other Stories.

All of which is to say, one deliberate purchase this week.

I feel like I have been orbiting Deleuze and Guattari for a very long time. Back in my Angry Young Man days in the late 1990s I amassed a collection of titles published by Autonomedia and Semiotext(e), publishers of very wild and far-out titles from a wide variety of unconventional, leftist and radical writers and thinkers. One of those books (unfortunately lost in a long-ago purge) was Nomadology: War Machine, from the chapter of the same title in the then-unknown-to-me A Thousand Plateaus. I understood very little of it at the time, but it haunted me. These were words from thinkers operating on a plane of existence so far above my own that they might as well have been performing magic.

Over the years I forgot their names but the sense of the conversations stuck with me. It felt like peeling back a layer of reality and seeing some of the inner workings of the universe.

This past summer my girlfriend and I traveled to San Francisco where we made a pilgrimage to City Lights Bookstore, which had been a goal of mine for some decades. Wow, what a store – probably the best-curated bookstore I have ever seen. The Philosophy section held scores of titles and thinkers which were new to me, or which I had only ever seen as references in other places. And of course. A Thousand Plateaus was one of them. That brought Deleuze and Guattari back into my awareness.

Shortly thereafter I borrowed Plateaus from the Grand Rapids Public Library, attempted to make sense of it, and made almost zero headway. Then I did so again, a month later. Then I resigned myself to the fact that I will be forever haunted by D and G if I did not add this book to my personal library, and so here it is.

In the reading side of things, I finished The Black God’s Drums by P. Djeli Clark this past Thursday, and absolutely loved it. Probably my favorite read of the year so far. Clark’s use of language and patois in world-building is wonderful and, though this is not precisely the New Orleans so near and dear to my heart, it is close enough to make me feel some serious longing and wanderlust.

Currently I am a little over halfway through Scarborough, by Catherine Hernandez. I picked this one up several months ago and attempted to read it while on a business trip to Las Vegas. Reading that book in that city made me want to burn everything to the ground. So I set it aside. Now that I am not in the worst city in the world I am able to read and enjoy this beautiful, heartbreaking book.

Links and Notes for the Week of February 3, 2019

The Books That Are Not ConFusion Books

Lest the last few posts give the impression that I only purchase books at conventions, here are some others which arrived in the past week.

On the left is The Black God’s Drums by P. Djeli Clark, which has been on my radar for a couple of months now. Next to it is Katherine Arden‘s The Bear and the Nightingale, because Russian folklore. Also about a year ago I wrote most of a Baba Yaga story for an anthology call, and in the research for that story this book came up repeatedly.

The third is The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty, the sequel to her excellent The City of Brass which I read several months ago. Next to it is Friday Black, a collection of short stories by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah which came to my attention when LitHub posted the story “Zimmer Land“.

The bottom row includes reading material from various subscription. First is Night School by Zsófia Bán, then I Am God by Giacomo Sartori, and finally the latest issue of Poetry.

In reading, I finished Fix by Ferret Steinmetz (which Mr. Steinmetz signed at ConFusion 2019!) and am now bouncing between three of my ConFusion acquisitions: Reckoning #1, Death March by Phil Tucker, and The Blood-Tainted Winter by T L Greylock.

For this year I am keeping a list of the books I read, and I plan to write reviews (GoodReads, Amazon, etc.) both to boost the signal of those authors and to give me practice at writing reviews.

That’s all for now. The books continue to accumulate.