Art is a rich vehicle for critique. We’ve all been forced out of our everyday lives in a way that allows us to both create and consume art from a quasi-outsider perspective—maybe more objective, maybe more thoughtful about who we used to be, what the world used to be, and how we’ve all changed in the past couple of years. What do we miss? What do we never want to go back to? How were we surprised at how much we adapted to a particular aspect of lockdown? Who did we talk to? Who did we want to reach out to?
While there have certainly been moments over the past year that may have temporarily diminished my faith in the human species, I think what gives me a sense of possibility are my students—young, smart people who legitimately care about the planet, are already doing so much for their communities, and are thinking intentionally about how their chosen disciplines might help provide for a better future in even small or unexpected ways.
Find out more about Sequoia Nagamatsu on sequoianagamatsu.com.Sequoia’s book How High We Go in the Dark (January 2022) is available from William Morrow.
“I think each of us speak multiple languages. Not necessarily whole different tongues like Russian and English, but we speak different glosses. I like to think of those as languages.”
I recently spoke with author Ian Ross Singleton about his own changing identity throughout the writing of Two Big Differences, as well as the many ways language and translation are transmitted and embodied throughout his debut novel.You can read the full interview here on Fiction Writers Review.
Humor really is the Odessan language. We talked about Isaac Babel, who is arguably the most quintessential Odessan writer (and you can’t make up a name like that, talking about the relationship to the Tower of Babel). So of course I had to have an epigraph from Isaac Babel, and it’s where the title comes from. The idea of “Two Big Differences”—that in itself is a joke. Odessa is so different, there’s two big differences.
Find out more about Ian Ross Singleton on singletonian.com.Ian’s book Two Big Differences (October 2021) is available from MGraphics.
It’s always a bit staggering — to find oneself and the world arriving yet again at a December 31st. Here we are, on the precipice of hope, and yet, how easy it is to feel the loss of the year past — how we want to hold so much in ourselves at once.
It has become a tradition of mine to celebrate December 31st with a remembrance and appreciation for some books I encountered during the year, books that brought company, wisdom, linguistic splendor, and perspective — for in times of uncertainty, books are a stalwart, omnipresent friend. Throughout electric days, blue days, and the always-prowling fog, look — a book is here, waiting to sing to you as you hold each other close.
It would be impossible to include them all, but here is a sampling of a few books I would like to highlight: texts that were exquisitely staining and impactful to me in one way or another — and have inevitably shattered and rearranged my glass body, my glass path … books that after reading, I will never be quite the same.
2021 was a year in which I also became reacquainted with the audiobook — a wonderful format to slow down, marvel at the sound of language on a tongue, and invite voices and oral storytelling into our private ear rooms. The book via the voice vessel becomes a secret companion on so many walks. Another reminder that a life with books is a life of abundance. A star next to a book title means that I listened to and enjoyed the audiobook version, and you might enjoy it, too! (Hint: Did you know you can borrow audiobooks from your library system through the Libby app?)
So, on this pensive day of old and new, I give a fizzy thanks to those who write books, make books, bind books, share books, give books, read books, and love books! Happy New Year, and Happy Reading.
An opposition to politicized forgetting is precisely the task of art. We are responsible, as artists, for documenting, witnessing, and remembering even those truths that are not in our political interest to recall…I believe we are called to recover whatever truths we have the knowledge and the desire to hunt down, those are the truths we are required (by some sacred unwritten universal law) to write down and preserve.
I recently talked with author Joanna Eleftheriou about her debut essay collection, This Way Back, how to engage in the dialectic of identity, confront the privilege of choosing an identity, and how writers prioritize discovery. You can read the full interview here on The Common Online.
We deserve to see ourselves in art. We deserve to see ourselves on TV. There is no greater anguish than the sense of not-existing that our absence in (popular) culture incurs.
Find out more about Joanna Eleftheriou on joannaeleftheriou.com. Joanna’s book This Way Back (September 2020) is available from West Virginia University Press.
I’m striving to approach my writing with renewed joy, to recognize that motherhood—in all of its messy, infuriating, exhilarating ups and downs—informs my writing like no other experience.
I recently talked with author Lara Ehrlich about her prize-winning debut story collection, Animal Wife, and the possibility, power, and resilience steeping within. You can read the full interview here on CRAFT.
That defiance against becoming the thing we are told we should become plays through the rest of the stories, in different forms. We’re told we should be mothers, and that we should devote our whole selves to motherhood. To me, the answer is not to refuse motherhood—it’s to choose for ourselves how we define motherhood. We’re told we should act like ladies. The answer is not to act like men, but to choose for ourselves what it means to be a woman. That is the true resistance.
Find out more about Lara Ehrlich on laraehrlich.com. Lara’s book Animal Wife (September 2020) is available from Red Hen Press.
While 2020 was tumultuous and strange in so many ways, books continuously bring light and connection and hope. The following list is an appreciation for some of the books that brought company, wisdom, and perspective during so many shadowy days.
Below you will find a compiled list of some resources from my bibliography that I hope encourage your further exploration into the topic of the atomic bomb, nuclear weapons and waste, Japanese/Korean studies, and more. Keep in mind that this is an incomplete list, as there are many more resources I could have included. But I hope as you explore the links, you discover a new fact, a new perspective, or a new direction for your peace work. Please do write in the comments if something in this list resonates with you. And of course, if you come across a title that is not on this list, let me know!
Here’s a biblio challenge for your Summer Solstice! Today, we’re celebrating the scrumptious covers published by New Directions. Can you recognize all 12 covers hiding in plain sight? Leave your guesses in the comments!
In some ways, summer is the time when I get my best education because I have my eyes glued inside books at all times (or at least, in between the FIFA Women’s World Cup games). I am able to read freely and widely; I can linger over phrases; I can sing the words out loud; I can take the time to really study how a piece is put together; I can laugh and cry and feel the emotions rising from the page like aromatic toast; I can be fully entertained as I immerse my mind in the mind of another. Ahh, that sacred intimacy of reading.
This summer, I’ve been working my way through a stack of slim novels, novellas, and collections of poems and stories. I find that I’m more drawn to these smaller tomes, perhaps because I know my time with them is limited to begin with. So I find ways to test that limit by drawing out the experience with them as much as I can. Like stretching out a piece of gum farther and farther until it snaps and breaks in two.
Below, you’ll find a quote from each of the books I’ve read in the past month as well as a link in case you want to own a copy for your own bookshelf! And don’t forget to tell me in the comments what you’ve been reading lately and what is in your queue. Happy reading!
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett – “There were times I’d thought I knew people. Brynn, who I’d loved more than anything. The other half of me. My father, a man I’d adored, someone I’d considered to be the strongest person on the planet. We spent so much time looking for pieces of ourselves in other people that we never realized they were busy searching for the same things in us.” (You can read my interview with Kristen Arnett here at Michigan Quarterly Review!)
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros – “In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he is shaving, songs like sobbing.”
The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa (translated by Sawako Nakayasu) – “Dreams are severed fruit / Auburn pears have fallen in the field / Parsley blooms on the plate / Sometimes the leghorn appears to have six toes / I crack an egg and the moon comes out”
Wheeling Motel: Poems by Franz Wright – “River as verb, that’s the assignment, until the next time I fail / you. / And did you know the snail sometimes sleeps for a year? / And you will survive, that’s an order … ” (Check out these incredible recordings of Franz Wright reading poems from Wheeling Motel. My favorite one is“Intake Interview.”)
The Lonesome Bodybuilder: Stories by Yukiko Motoya – “If you genuinely desire not to be alone, I recommend that you take a bicycle saddle as your next partner. You think that’s out of the question? But a saddle is shaped surprisingly like a human face, and once you pull it off the bicycle, you can take each other out anywhere. When you go on vacation, the money you save on the second fare means you can make many more happy memories than if you were with another human. Best of all, a saddle can’t speak.”
Something Bright, Then Holes by Maggie Nelson – “It is what / it is. But / what is it? / What it is— / Some soft / tautology / whose terms/ are touch / Time to give, time / to give it up.”
Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verseby Anne Carson – “Are there many little boys who think they are a Monster? But in my case I am right said Geryon to the Dog they were sitting on the bluffs The dog regarded him Joyfully” (I devoured this book in two days and immediately put it on my favorite of all-time list. Thank you to this Village Voice interview with artist Elle Pérez for introducing me to Anne Carson’s masterpiece.)
Gasolineby Gregory Corso – “Four windmills, acquaintanceships, / were spied one morning eating tulips. / Noon / and the entire city flips / screaming: Apocalypse! Apocalypse!”
I Am A Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju – “The map of wind that the birds abandoned searched for the labyrinth of birds, but at night it broke quietly into pieces. If, toward a single person, the endodermis of time could forge a connection in the direction of one mind, could my humanity become a cry? Don’t say the inside of every skin has been answered.”
An Untouched Houseby Willem Frederik Hermans – “Back in the house, entering my bedroom, I had to slide the cat out of the way with the door. He had been lying on the floor behind it and I just managed to grab him by the scruff of the neck as he tried to slip past me to get to the locked room. Together we lay down on the bed while I held him tightly in my arms. “Nothing’s allowed to change,” I whispered in his ear, “we’re staying here. Everything’s staying like it is. One day the war will be over. The Germans will withdraw. And we’ll stay here forever.””
Walter Benjamin Reimaginedby Frances Cannon – “The street that runs through houses is the track of a ghost through the walls. The dread of doors that won’t close is something everyone knows from dreams. The path we travel through the arcades is fundamentally just a ghost walk, on which doors give way and walls yield.”
Belladonna by Daša Drndić – I recently read in Merve Emre’s article at The New York Review of Books that the late Croatian novelist’s Belladonna was perhaps the most ambitious novel of the twenty-first century so far…and now I’m obsessed with tracking it down and finding out what said ambition looks like!