Read a Poem…I Dare You

April is National Poetry month and the library’s reading challenge this month is to read a book of poetry. I have heard some people say how they are not looking forward to this challenge and that they probably won’t be reading a book of poetry. I understand this resistance because a lot of people (myself included) have bad memories of being required to read poets who weren’t accessible to them during high school or college. They were required to memorize the first twenty lines of Chaucer’s General Prologue or read Paradise Lost.

Nothing is necessarily wrong with Chaucer or Milton, but today I am highlighting contemporary poets who may not be familiar to everyone. My hope in writing this post is that someone who avoids poetry will consider trying to read a poem…or maybe even a book of them. I have a deep appreciation for poetry and it has come to me through writing it, but also through reading poets that I resonate with on a personal and intellectual level. A wide spectrum of poets influenced me, but two in particular were Anne Sexton and Sharon Olds. I remember just falling into their work, feeling like I had found someone who understood me.

Some of the poets listed below recently had their start on social media while others have been writing poetry in the more conventional sense for quite some time. Poetry can be intimidating when you start reading it, but just remember there is not one right way to interpret a poem. Your experiences and who you are will determine your interpretation. If you need some tips about how to get started reading a poem, check out this insightful document from the Great Books Foundation.

Sun and flowers

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

The long awaited second book of poetry by Rupi Kaur is comprised of five parts and includes her illustrations as well. The parts are called wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming. These poems chronicle heartbreak but also the strength and growth that occurs after the pain has been traversed.

sailing

Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins

Billy Collins is a renowned American poet who is a Guggenheim fellow and served as the United States Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003. His poems are about easily accessible subjects such as getting out of bed in the morning or quitting smoking. Sometimes they are funny and sometimes they take on a more serious, reflective tone. He uncovers complex topics through remarkably mundane things and observations.

wrote

I Wrote This for You by Pleasefindthis (Iain S. Thomas)

Pleasefindthis is the pseudonym that Iain S. Thomas uses as a poet. He began sharing his poetry and photographs on his blog before they were published as books. I Wrote This for You is a collection of his work that spans from 2007 to 2017. The first page of his book reads:

“I wrote this for you and only you.

The universe is desperately trying to move you into the only spot that truly belongs to you, in the whole entire thing, a space that only you can stand in. I believe it is up to you to decide every single day whether you are moving towards or away from that spot. I am trying to draw a map.”

His work will pull you in and let you know you are less alone in the world.

Alone

How to be Alone by Tanya Davis

Maybe you want to be alone, but just need a few instructions. If you are extremely hesitant about reading poetry, then this may be the book for you. How to Be Alone is comprised of one illustrated poem written by Tanya Davis and illustrated by Andrea Dorfman. Davis is a poet, musician and performer and if you enjoy reading this poem, check out her video on YouTube. Davis reminds me of how poetry can be presented in so many different ways–it doesn’t just have to be a verse on a page.

mars

Life on Mars: Poems by Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith is the current United States Poet Laureate and Life on Mars won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. The poems in this collection are longer and will require you to spend more time reading and pondering them than some of the other poetry mentioned in this post. Some of the poems are infused with themes from science fiction and they truly take on a vastness that might be compared to traveling through space.

wildly

Wildly Into the Dark: Typewriter Poems and the Rattlings of a Curious Mind by Tyler Knott Gregson

Gregson’s most recent book is comprised of both his poetry and photography. Many of the poems in this book are photographs of his poems that have been typed on a typewriter and this definitely influenced the way I read these poems. Gregson captured the tone of his work well in the introduction to his collection:

“Perhaps for me, art, and the creation of it, has been reduced over the years to the pursuit of accurately and honestly reflecting both sides of that reality: the shine of noon and the pitch of midnight.”

princess

The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace

If you are a fan of Rupi Kaur’s work, then Amanda Lovelace will pique your interest as well. As a child, she loved reading fairy tales, so the title of this collection makes sense. The first three parts of the book are autobiographical and are called the princess, the damsel and the queen. The fourth part is called “you” and it addresses the reader in the hope that they will write their own ending. Lovelace explores themes of love and loss and ultimately resilience.

Tackling Mixology

Summer is fast approaching, and the social calendar is already filling up. One of the things my husband and I enjoy most is hosting groups of friends at our place for dinners and parties. When we host get-togethers, I always gravitate towards the kitchen, while Dan plays mixologist. There’s something about mixing cocktails that has always spooked me by seeming a bit too precise. In order to get over this fear, I decided to hunt down some accessible books on how to make the perfect drink for the perfect party. Here’s my short list:

Cover image of DIY CocktailsDIY Cocktails: a Simple Guide to Creating your Own Signature Drink by Marcia Simmons and Jonas Halpren. This is one recipe book where it’s in your best interest to start at the beginning and read on through. I tend to pick up cookbooks and dive right into the middle, skipping all the intro materials, but the beginning of this book is extremely helpful in explaining the nature of cocktail recipes, the tools and measurements used, and how you can improvise. From there, the authors provide you with recipes for many classic and obscure drinks, as well as creative ways to personalize them to make them your own. This appeals to me because I tend to ‘riff’ on the dishes I like according to what I happen to have in the kitchen at the time; this book allows you to do the same with your liquor cabinet.

Cover image for The Punch BowlThe Punch Bowl: 75 Recipes Spanning Four Centuries of Wanton Revelry by Dan Searing. I was first attracted to this title because punch seems to work well when entertaining large groups of people. Upon closer inspection, I found that this book was actually 2 parts alcohol, 1 part history: a perfect ratio for a historian hostess. Early sections of this book are devoted to the history of punch, how old recipes are modernized, and information about antique punch-serving equipment. Liberally sprinkled through the book are lovely photos of punch bowls, service sets, goblets, and well-garnished drinks. The recipes themselves are a mix of very accessible drinks with common ingredients and impossible beverages with ingredient lists that seem unlikely to be filled unless you live in a major city or have a lot of time on your hands. I guess that’s understandable when you take into account the fact that the author includes beverages that were en vogue hundreds of years ago. Thankfully the former outweighs the latter and makes this book a worthwhile read.

Cover image for Cocktails for a CrowdCocktails for a Crowd by Kara Newman. This is essentially the light version of The Punch Bowl. Most of the cocktails listed in this book are designed to be served in pitchers or bowls to make life easier for hosts. Absent are the random obscure ingredients, unless they are simple items that you could make at home to enhance your recipe. In the front part of the book there is ample information about preparing garnishes, as well as infused bitters and syrups. This seems like an excellent pick for beginner mixologists who aren’t in the mood for a history lesson.

Cover image for Beer CocktailsBeer Cocktails by Howard and Ashley Stelzer. For those of you who haven’t been introduced to the world of beer cocktails, this a game-changer for casual get-togethers. The recipes in this book are a far cry from the beermosas and makeshift micheladas my friends and I would whip together using car camping ingredients on groggy Sunday mornings. Beer Cocktails is helpfully arranged by style of beer, so that you can start your experimenting with beers that already appeal to you.

Happy mixing – enjoy responsibly!

Crafty Double-take Titles

Cover image of I Felt AwesomeFuture me is an amazingly crafty and talented person. I owe this predicted success to the hours I’ve spent hoarding craft ideas on Pinterest. Unfortunately the current me is pathetically unskilled and can only dream of making the upcycled t-shirt tank tops, tiny felted owls, and clever Chicago map quilts my heart desires. Nevertheless, this momentary setback doesn’t stop me from trolling the craft section when I’m on my lunch break. During my most recent foray to the 746’s I found my attention grabbed again and again by book titles. More specifically, I kept doing double-takes at book titles written by authors who clearly shared my slightly off sense of humor. My conclusion? Crafters are a funny, sometimes naughty, group of people.

Here are my top ten favorite crafty book titles found at the EPL:

10. Wild with a Glue Gun by Kitty Harmon and Christine Stickler. My idea of getting wild with a glue gun involves frustration, cursing, burnt fingers, tears of rage, and a half-finished pompom snowman; thankfully the ladies who wrote this book are far more creative and coordinated than I am. Once I’ve acquired some welder’s gloves I’d love to try out their scallop shells party lights idea, or the tin art that’s featured.

Cover image of Men in Knits9. Men in Knits by Tara Jon Manning. If this was a tumblr, I’d subscribe to it. This title gives handy tips to more experienced knitters (or shoppers) about what kinds of patterns are most suitable to different male body types. Patterns featured in this book are best suited for experienced knitters, but the eye candy is nice for the rest of us.

8. Socktopus by Alice Yu. Though I love the name, this is written for experienced knitters. There are loads of really elegant knit patterns, but Socktopus is short on pictures of how to do the actual stitches. Some day.

Cover image of Stitch and Bitch7. Stitch ‘n Bitch by Debbie Stoller. Aside from the catchy title (or perhaps because of it), this series is pretty popular with people looking to learn how to knit and crochet (I purchased their crocheting title, The Happy Hooker, when it was featured in BUST Magazine). Featured within these pages are trendy styles, easy to follow diagrams, and amusing banter.

6. Sensual Crochet by Amy Swenson. This may be more of an unintentionally-funny title than deliberate, because there’s not much that seems sensual about crocheting, or the contents of this book. What it does have to offer are sophisticated, current styles that crocheters can try out. These elaborate patterns are best suited for more experienced hookers.

5. I Felt Awesome: Tips & Tricks for 35+ Needle-Poked Projects by Moxie. This book is useful for beginners and more experienced crafters alike. Early sections explain the equipment needed, and provide loads of great close-up color photos to illustrate step-by-step directions. For the experienced felter, there are many fun, offbeat project ideas, such as scarves that look like racetracks (complete with felted cars) and martini olive necklaces.

Cover image for Joy of Sox4. Sweaters from Camp from Meg Swansen’s Knitting Campers. Aside from the hiking name, this book is more or less window shopping for me until I develop some skills. For advanced knitters, there are many detailed patterns to explore.

3. Too Hot to Handle? Potholders and How To Make Them by Doris L. Hoover. Enter the fast-paced world of potholders, mitts, and other skin-savers with this helpful how-to title. Readers will learn a bit about the history of potholders, as well as where the potholder industry is headed. Later sections of the book are dedicated to a variety of unique pattern ideas, as well as tips on how to upcycle old clothing to make new potholders.

2.The Joy of Sox by Kinda Kopp. This saucy number is ideal for inexperienced knitters who may be interested in adding some pep to their sox life. Early chapters are dedicated to explaining terminology, demonstrating techniques with clear drawings, and helping knitters navigate patterns.

Cover image for Still Stripping1. Still Stripping After 25 Years by Eleanor Burns. This title coaxed an embarrassingly loud snort-laugh from me in the stacks. From the homey cover shot of the author saucily tossing a fabric strip over her shoulder, to action shots of her working her sewing machine in the company of her labs – I feel like I want to get to know Ms. Burns. Thankfully I can in a way because she has a YouTube channel that hosts a large collection of her ‘how to’ videos.

I hope this list has given you the motivation to bust out the pinking shears or home-spun yarn, or at least given you a chuckle or two.

Not Just a Pretty Face

The Magicians coverLike a literary magpie, I am drawn to pretty, shiny, exciting things. I often enter the library without a clue about what I want to read. I wander and browse until something jumps out at me – a cool spine design, a flashy cover, a witty title. It doesn’t take much.

I judge books by their covers.

Sometimes this approach backfires, but more often than not, I find that I like the book if I like the way the author has chosen to decorate it. It could be dumb luck, or perhaps the author and I agree on some deep, mystical, aesthetic level. Either way, I’ve been happy with my track record, and I’d like to share some of my favorite ‘window shopping’ finds:

Dreams and Shadows coverDreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill. This book will appeal to anyone who is into folklore, mythical creatures, and generally wizardy stuff. Cargill’s style of writing was right up my alley – a little bit edgy, but sprinkled with humor and an occasional academic interlude to fill in more information about some of the supernatural beings that are involved in his story. I feel this book was left open-ended enough that it could be turned into the first of a series, or it could remain as a good stand-alone work. Those who liked American Gods may be into this.

Utopian Man coverUtopian Man by Lisa Lang. This was a really lovely read from start to finish. I enjoyed getting lost in the world that Edward William Cole, our Utopian Man, was trying to create with his glorious Arcade. Setting the story in 19th-Century Melbourne made the book all the more fascinating, as it’s a time and place that is very unknown and exotic to me. I think the author brings this feeling of newness and excitement across very well to the reader. This is a light read full of beautiful imagery, a little bit of conflict, and a lot of imagination.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. I’ve already raved about this book in another post, so I’ll get to the important part. This book jacket GLOWS IN THE DARK! Aside from it being a great book, what more do you need to know?

Deathless coverDeathless by Catherynne Valente. 2/3 Russian fairy tale, 1/3 history of Russia from the death of the Tsar through the Siege of Leningrad. It took me a couple of chapters to warm up to this book, mainly because I didn’t know what it was I was getting into: fantasy, a dream sequence, a paranoid delusion, or allegory. Once I figured out how I related to the book, I was drawn in. Deathless reads primarily like a folktale, punctuated with passages full of beauty, mystery, hardship, poetry, mythology, joy, and melancholy. While the library doesn’t own Deathless, I was able to get it through Interlibrary Loan. EPL does have many of Valente’s other titles on shelf.

Age of Wonder coverThe Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes. I picked this one up shortly after I finished grad school. I found a note I’d written about it on GoodReads while I was reading the book that made me chuckle: “Interesting subject matter, but perhaps a bit more dense than my poor brain wants to deal with so soon after graduating. Recovery is a long, hard road. I’m sticking it out though, for the greater good.” I am happy to report that it was worth it, and that I learned a lot about science in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As grueling as I made it sound, the book was quite a pleasure to read.

Super Sad True Love Story coverSuper Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. SSTLS is kind of an odd book for me. Generally when I love a book, I love it from the beginning. With this story, my feelings sometimes bordered on hate, and for the most part, hovered in the area of disinterest. Then a funny thing happened: I finished the story and let it marinate in my brain for a while. Soon enough, ideas from SSTLS started popping up in conversations with friends and they would immediately jump in saying that they’d read the same book and completely agreed. Similar to the movie Idiocracy, SSTLS delivers a darkly humorous appraisal of the future of mankind that occasionally seems prophetic when watching the news.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Kind of like Harry Potter, but for grown folks. I went on to read the sequel, The Magician King, and enjoyed it just as much. I would recommend Grossman for anyone who likes a little humor and sarcasm to go along with their fantasy reads.

Travels in Siberia coverTravels in Siberia by Ian Frazier. Before I knew that Ian Frazier was awesome, I stumbled upon his cover for Travels in Siberia. I thought it was lovely and that combined with my odd fascination with all things Russian was enough to get me to put it on hold. I was not disappointed. I think those who enjoy the kind of travel writing one gets from Paul Theroux or Bill Bryson would really connect with this author.

Lisa