Reading is a political act

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 ever 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.

I want to acknowledge — there are dozens of books that are still stacked on my floor, yelping to be read. There are dozens (thousands?) of books I mightily wish I could have included in this year’s list, but alas I have not met them yet! For me, the prospect of meeting new books, new poetic or narrative friends, gives me great hope for the new year. So, with the fact that it is impossible to include every book that has made an impact on me, here is my annual 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.

In 2022, I posed the question: “Why do we make “end of the year” lists anyway? What is the purpose? Why uplift the books that we do and not others? Who does that serve? How do we make decisions for which books to include in our end of the year lists, and how influenced are we by the lists that others make and share?”

I posed these questions to you, to consider and graze on your own.

Here’s how I said I approach these questions: “Sometimes I think of books as bandaids, adhering to my body, healing me wherever I go.

Sometimes I think of books and their content as organic material invisibly floating through the air and collecting on my skin, in my bloodstream. These book particles are vital invigorators, as vital to life as yeast is to a sourdough starter.

In both scenarios, there’s something that sticks to me…for some scientific or spiritual or poetic reason beyond my knowing. It is up to me to pay attention to this adhesive phenomenon; to notice the words that beg to stay, the wisdoms that make a home in me.

Of course, there are some books that just enter into our lives, through trusted recommendation or by a life-changing sweep of the hand at the bookstore or library. There’s a fascinating tango of choice and serendipity that dictates which books we read in a year, the only kind of uncertainty and dare that my soul can bear to look forward to.”

In 2023, I say undoubtedly, what we choose to read is also a deliberate political act.

I cannot write this post without writing about the genocide in Gaza. I cannot write this post without writing that almost 22,000 Palestinian people have been murdered since October. I cannot write this post without writing that the country I live in is actively funding the genocide in Gaza.

My question in 2023 is: What use is a book list when people are being murdered?

As I gather together my book list, starting off with the novel by Palestinian writer Adania Shibli, I notice an obvious thread between them all. Every book in this list confronts and exposes state violence on bodies (queer bodies, BIPOC bodies, disabled bodies, poor bodies, foster bodies, sick bodies, bodies of water, more-than-human bodies) and/or imagines a life of liberation for our collective future. It is not the book list itself that matters; it is the acknowledgement and gratitude of all the time and energy, the trust and passion, the vulnerability and sacrifice that went into the creation of these works. It is a celebration of their existence; of the power of their words and craft to bear witness, speak truth, resist erasure, and activate change.

So, on this pensive day of old and new, I give thanks to those who write books, make books, bind books, share books, give books, read books, and love books. While I do encourage joy to be sought out in small and large ways in 2024, I will not say happy new year. I will say these words: Liberation. End the occupation. Read openly. Open your heart. Wear a mask. Abolish state violence. Love more.

starting from the bottom right corner: 

Minor Detail by Adania Shibli, trans. by Elisabeth Jaquette *

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra *

Who Owns the Clouds? by Mario Brassard, illustrated by Gérard Dubois

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers *

Generations by Lucille Clifton

One Hundred Saturdays by Michael Frank, illustrated by Maira Kalman *

Mothers of our Own Little Love by Jesse Eagle

Greek Lessons by Han Kang, trans. by Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won *

Ghost Of by Diana Khoi Nguyen

Maybe This is What I Deserve by Tucker Leighty-Phillips

How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures by Sabrina Imbler *

Call Me Cassandra by Marcial Gala, trans. by Anna Kushner

Abolishing State Violence by Ray Acheson

Blackouts by Justin Torres

Thrust by Lidia Yuknavitch *

A Minor Chorus by Billy-Ray Belcourt

A Luminous History of the Palm by Jessica Sequiera

The Old Philosopher by Vi Khi Nao

Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe

Civil Service by Claire Schwartz

The Employees by Olga Ravn, trans. by Martin Aitken

Gold by Rumi, trans. by Haleh Liza Gafori

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa, trans. by Richard Zenith

 

* 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?)

Wisdom from Writers: Jessica Sequeira

I think of the Sephardic Jewish tradition where a texture of fabric, bit of gold filigree, painted twig, strike of the tambourine, song lyric or dance step is never alone, but connected to the whole. The luminous glow in each individual element has to do with its sense of belonging. Idiosyncrasy finds its dignity and respect through recognition in a lifeworld of people and nature.

I recently spoke with writer and translator Jessica Sequeira about her electric and incandescent collection of linked flash narratives,  A Luminous History of the Palm, Sephardic Jewish traditions, palm genuses, the flexibility of the human essence, and more.You can read the full interview here at Tiny Molecules.

A point of view can change so much based on where one is, the language one is speaking, the culture, and the resources that are available. To translate between realities perhaps gives a sense of personality not as essence, but as something more akin to Tarot cards, where the image matters less than the way it’s interpreted and how it finds itself in the larger system of relations.

Find out more about Jessica Sequeira  on www.jessicasequeira.com. Jessica’s book A Luminous History of the Palm (April 2020) is available from Sublunary Editions. 

Wisdom from Writers: Bruna Dantas Lobato

Translation felt like a way to be my full self again, to make my Brazilian self and my American self be in dialogue with each other.

I recently spoke with writer and translator Bruna Dantas Lobato about her acclaimed translation of Caio Fernando Abreu’s story collection, Moldy Strawberries, untranslatable moments in texts, joy and curiosity as an act of genuine artful engagement, Brazilian writers you should know about, and more.You can read the full interview here at Tiny Molecules.

I’m drawn to books that are formally innovative and show a side of Brazil we don’t see often in English, especially if there’s room for me to play with the style and be surprised and challenged by it.

Find out more about Bruna Dantas Lobato on https://www.brunadantaslobato.com/. Bruna’s translation of Moldy Strawberries (June 2022) is available from Archipelago Books.

 

 

Wisdom from Writers: Tucker Leighty-Phillips

I am always thinking about–how do we defamiliarize our world? How do we return a childlike wonder to everything around us? How do we regain an innocence, excitement, and enthusiasm that feels dragged out of us through the cynicism of adulthood?

I recently spoke with author Tucker Leighty-Phillips about his debut story collection, Maybe This Is What I Deserve, children’s games, rural life, poverty, Runescape, and more.You can read the full interview here at Tiny Molecules.

Intuition in storytelling is a strange thing. Sometimes it means making up words that “sound right.” Sometimes it means cutting out entire sections of prose and letting white space do the talking.

Find out more about Tucker Leighty-Phillips on tuckerlp.net. Tucker’s book Maybe This Is What I Deserve (June 2023) is forthcoming from Split/Lip Press.

 

 

Wisdom from Writers: A Conversation with Elizabeth Kirschner

Writing is such intense, I mean really intense, cerebral work, it’s positively brain-scraping. The concentration is excessively demanding, requires such a full and strict attention, that I’ve always needed a counter-balance, that is, physically demanding work, which brings me into the garden.

I recently spoke with author Elizabeth Kirschner about her story collection, Because the Sky is a Thousand Soft Hurts, lyrical language, breaking points, gardening, and more.You can read the full interview here at Tiny Molecules.

I always packed and unpacked my books first, as these were my most beloved possessions. I couldn’t inhabit a new ratty apartment if books weren’t on the shelves, which says something, I believe, about my relationship to language. It was more important than my even rattier relationships to men.

Find out more about Elizabeth Kirschner on https://kirschnerwriter.com/. Elizabeth’s book Because the Sky is a Thousand Soft Hurts (June 2021) is available from Atmosphere Press.

PoetTreeTown!

Hello Michigan poet friends!

I’m very excited to be organizing the inaugural PoetTreeTown event for this upcoming April Poetry Month 2023.

What is PoetTreeTown? It’s a community-centered “poetry in public” celebration of Michigan-based poets, in which select poems will be printed and displayed in the local shop windows of downtown Ann Arbor businesses during the entire month of April! Participating businesses include Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor District Library, Downtown Home and Garden, 826michigan, Avalon International Breads, Third Mind Books, The Pretzel Bell, Blue Tractor, Grizzly Peak Brewing Company, Bivouac Ann Arbor, Cherry Republic, TeaHaus, Vault of Midnight, Comet Coffee, Slurping Turtle Ann Arbor, FOUND gallery, Vinology Ann Arbor, Mindo Chocolate Makers, Ann Arbor Art Center, Bløm Meadworks, and more!

All folks based in Washtenaw County, Michigan are invited to submit an original poem for consideration. All ages welcome, no prior poetry experience required. I’m hoping we receive a range of submissions, from elementary school writers to debut adult poets to published Poet Laureates. Poetry is for everyone, of course!

Submissions are now open through February 15, 2023. I’ve included the form link here, which explains the submission guidelines:


And make sure to follow PoetTreeTown on Facebook for all the updates! https://www.facebook.com/PoetTreeTownA2/


I’d be so grateful if you could share this submission call with Michigan-based writers in your life. Questions can be sent to PoetTreeTownA2@gmail.com.

Thank you for helping us bring Poetry to the People!!!!

xx,
Cam

Let me sing to you now about how books turn me into other things

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 ever 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.

I want to acknowledge — there are dozens of books that are still stacked on my floor, yelping to be read. There are dozens (thousands?) of books I mightily wish I could have included in this year’s list, but alas I have not met them yet! For me, the prospect of meeting new books, new poetic or narrative friends, gives me great hope for the new year. So, with the fact that it is impossible to include every book that has made an impact on me, here is my annual 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.

In 2022, I’ve been questioning everything lately. So it seems appropriate to question this project as well. Why do we make “end of the year” lists anyway? What is the purpose? Why uplift the books that we do and not others? Who does that serve? How do we make decisions for which books to include in our end of the year lists, and how influenced are we by the lists that others make and share?

I pose these questions to you, to consider and graze on your own.

Here’s how I approach these questions: Sometimes I think of books as bandaids, adhering to my body, healing me wherever I go.

Sometimes I think of books and their content as organic material invisibly floating through the air and collecting on my skin, in my bloodstream. These book particles are vital invigorators, as vital to life as yeast is to a sourdough starter.

In both scenarios, there’s something that sticks to me…for some scientific or spiritual or poetic reason beyond my knowing. It is up to me to pay attention to this adhesive phenomenon; to notice the words that beg to stay, the wisdoms that make a home in me.

Of course, there are some books that just enter into our lives, through trusted recommendation or by a life-changing sweep of the hand at the bookstore or library. There’s a fascinating tango of choice and serendipity that dictates which books we read in a year, the only kind of uncertainty and dare that my soul can bear to look forward to.

Perhaps most of all, my “end of the year” list is a memorial, a reverent bow towards my bethlehem which will forever always be a city made of books and language and the experimental living spirit.

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.

 

(in no particular order:)

Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad *

Manywhere: Stories by Morgan Thomas

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater *

My Volcano by John Elizabeth Stintzi

If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English by Noor Naga

There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness by M. Leona Godin *

feeld by Jos Charles

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi *

Call Me Athena: Girl From Detroit by Colby Cedar Smith *

How I Became a Tree by Sumana Roy

The Overstory by Richard Powers *

Moldy Strawberries: Stories by Caio Fernando Abreu, translated by Bruna Dantas Lobato

Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit *

This Body I Wore by Diana Goetsch *

Autoportrait by Jesse Ball

Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh*

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk *

The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade *

Everybody: A Book about Freedom by Olivia Laing

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi *

Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong*

Read Dangerously by Azar Nafisi *

Voice of the Fish by Lars Horn

Plans for Sentences by Renee Gladman

* 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?)

** While there are select titles that I would have liked to include here from the publisher I work for, I have decided to not include any Atmosphere Press books in this particular end-of-the-year roundup.

International Translation Day!

Hello friends, and a very happy International Translation Day to you!

 

On this day (but really every day), we pause and celebrate what it means to be able to read a book or other text in translation or watch a film/show with subtitles or listen to a speaker with the assistance of an interpreter; how narrow our perspectives and understanding of the world would be without the gift of translators to somehow both expand and condense our world at once. I fear that translators don’t get nearly the amount of credit they deserve; yet their dedicated magicking brings brilliance originating from languages spoken near and far right there, into our homes, our book stacks, our ears, our brains. It is a gift. It is a gift!!

 

I believe translated texts and films are the closest thing we have to transportation portals, hurling us across time and space to discover linguistic, social, and cultural patterns from around the globe. The more I think about the wonder of this, the more awe I feel towards the act of translation itself.

 

So, thank you to all of the translators out there! Your work and passion and dedication to your craft, and the breadth of global human thought and innovation that you have made available to us, has made a great deal of difference in our lives and our world!
—–
Resources:
Sign up for a free weekly newsletter, “We Are All Translators”, brought to you by author and translator Jenny Bhatt
-Check out the latest translation news on World Literature Today and Words Without Borders

 

Where to Find Published Books of Translations (a few of my favorite presses) :

Wisdom from Writers: A Conversation with Erin Stalcup

This is really just an elaborate love letter. Which I guess is my definition of ars poetica. And naming it autobiographical … I mean, it isn’t. But it’s the most vulnerable thing I’ve ever written, and I guess I want that label to reveal that.

I recently spoke with author Erin Stalcup about her newest novel, KEEN, performance, revolutions, gender, Tool, and more.You can read the full interview here at Heavy Feather Review.

I hope I’m not appropriating stories that aren’t mine. I am trying to imagine what it would be like to be someone other than myself. I’m always channeling the wisdom of my teacher and friend Robin Black who says no one can imagine her own life experiences that they haven’t had, but it’s worth it to try. I’m willing to be told I got it wrong.

Find out more about Erin Stalcup on erinstalcup.xyz. Erin’s book Keen (February 2022) is available from Gold Wake Press.