One Word

The reading challenger for October is an intriguing one: read a book with a one-word title. There are so many choices. You could go classic (1984, Emma, Nostromo), popular (Outlander, Allegiant, Twilight), by color (Blue, Green, Grey) or throw caution to the wind and just plug in a word in the catalog and see what comes up. For my selection, I went with a book that has been generating some positive reviews lately: Florida by Lauren Groff. Luckily, I was not disappointed by my choice. Read on to find out why.

While the short stories in this collection aren’t connected plot wise, there is one place at the center of all of them: a fevered, humid, beautiful and dangerous imagining of the Sunshine State. Even in the few stories that aren’t actually set there, Florida is always in the mix, lurking in the background. In addition to setting, many of the characters in these stories are dealing with an unfocused anger produced by living in a world they see as being on the verge of collapse and not being able to do a thing about it.

But it is Groff’s ability to set a scene and her use of language that really steals the show. Take this quote from the story ‘Ghosts and Empties’:

The neighborhood goes dark as I walk, and a second neighborhood unrolls atop the daytime one. We have few streetlights, and those I pass under make my shadow frolic; it lags behind me, gallops to my feet, gambols on ahead. The only other illumination is from the windows in the houses I pass and the moon that orders me to look up, look up! Feral cats dart underfoot, bird-of-paradise flowers poke out of the shadows, smells are exhaled into the air: oak dust, slime mold, camphor.

Just as intriguing are the stories she tells. All are gems but here are four that you definitely shouldn’t miss:

‘Dogs go Wolf’ is the tale of two young girls apparently forgotten in a cabin on a small Florida island. Their efforts to survive are harrowing, but the real danger arrives when the adults come back.

‘Eyewall’ depicts a woman who stubbornly decides to ride out a hurricane alone. The conditions outside do not inspire fear in her but rather trigger thoughts of her past life that begin to blend with the present.

‘Above and Below’ chronicles a young woman who decides to quit college and survive free from any attachments. Without realizing it, she begins to fall farther and farther down the socio-economic ladder until deprivation feels normal.

‘At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners’ follows a young boy from his youth to middle age with a particular emphasis on the troubled relationship he has with his tyrannical herpetologist father. His attempts to distance himself just draw him further in.

While there are many single worded titles to choose from to fulfill the reading challenge for this month, why not give Florida a chance. If you do, you will be introduced to an intriguing cast of characters and a memorable setting. All without having to shell out for airfare or applying copious amounts of mosquito repellent.

I’m Sorry, Dave. I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That.

Part of the Reading Challenge for August is to read a Science Fiction book. While I do watch a lot of Science Fiction TV and movies, I’ve never been a big reader of the genre. But there is one type of character found in Science Fiction that always draws me into actually picking up a book and reading it: An Artificial Intelligence.

I’m not talking the sexy android type of AI, though that can be fun as well. I prefer the disembodied voice emanating from a series of computer banks that is self-aware and trying to figure out the nature of its existence. Of course, ever since HAL refused to open the pod bay doors, AIs in science fiction tend to produce a sense of unease and, often, a body count.

So, to help you choose a title for the Reading Challenge, let me introduce you to a few Artificial Intelligences from my recent reading. To aid in your selection, I’ve listed them from least to most dangerous. While I’m pretty forgiving when it comes AI ‘errors’ in regards to human casualties, I can see how it might be a bit off-putting for some.

Ship from Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Threat Level: Minimal to None

Ship, the name this AI prefers, has a lot on its plate. In addition to being an Artificial Intelligence, Ship is also a starship on its way to Tau Ceti, 12 light years from earth. It is responsible for caring for the multiple human generations that inhabit its artificial biomes and trying to ensure their safe arrival. As you might guess, humans being humans, many problems arise. Ship actually narrates large sections of Aurora so you get to learn its thought processes as it deals with human characters over their life span and different generations. It is a great device for examining human motivations and one of the most sympathetic portraits of an AI that I have come across.

IAN ‘Integrated Adaptive Network’ from Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Threat Level: Unknown

In this intriguing mix of Science Fiction and locked room mystery, IAN, the artificial intelligence running the starship Dormire, is just one of seven suspects that might have committed murder. While most of the crew is in cryo-sleep, six caretakers are assigned to work with IAN during the multi-year journey. In the world of Six Wakes cloning is the norm and upon your death, human consciousness can simply be transferred to another clone using a ‘mindmap.’ Usually a clone will remember how the previous body died, but in this case all six crew members wake up in a new clone body with no memory of their demise. There is ample evidence, via their blood-stained former bodies, that they were murdered. Suspiciously, IAN’s memory has also been erased and the ship is off course. Let the sleuthing begin!

Murderbot from the Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells

Threat Level: High (but less than you might think from an AI named Murderbot)

Murderbot, the name it uses for itself but never shares, is a semi-organic sentient android known as a SecUnit. SecUnits are created and controlled by big corporations to do their bidding. This usually entails long hours of guarding corporate assets, with a little lethal force thrown in. Murderbot has hacked its Governor Module, however, and is now completely independent from its corporate overlords. So what does it do with this newfound freedom? Go on a murderous rampage perhaps or take over the world? No, Murderbot just wants to watch as many video serials as possible, especially its favorite space soap opera, Sanctuary Moon. Sadly, events force Murderbot to not only interact with humans, who it doesn’t understand and wants to avoid at all costs, but also engage with a world far different from its beloved fictional programs.

The Chimp from The Freeze Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

Threat Level: High, especially if your actions fall out of mission parameters

The construction starship Eriophora is on a whopping 66 million year mission. The mission brief is to create interstellar wormhole gates so that humanity, if it still exists after all this time, can explore the universe. Overseeing the project is an Artificial Intelligence dubbed ‘the Chimp’ by crew member Sunday Ahzmundin. The Chimp requires human assistance, however, since it was designed to be efficient but not smart enough to question the mission or its own purpose. The Eriophora’s human crew is in stasis for millions of years at a time and only awaked for brief periods to assist the AI. As you might guess, many members of the crew do not consider this an ideal existence. The question is: how do you incite a rebellion in such a fragmented time frame against an AI slavishly adhering to mission parameters?

AIDAN ‘Artificial Intelligence Defense Analytics Network’ from the Illuminae Files series by Amie Kaufman

Threat Level: Extreme. Seriously, just run.

At one point AIDAN was just a simple AI charged with protecting a fleet of military spacecraft. But then it got damaged and went a little crazy. Well, crazy by human standards. Adhering a little too closely to the classic Vulcan principle ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,’ ADIAN’s logic ends up getting a lot of people killed. And I mean, a lot. This trilogy is told through ‘found transcripts’ so AIDAN does get to explain his reasoning, it just might seem a little faulty. Especially if you think human life is actually precious or something. This is a young adult series, so there is also a lot of young love, snarkiness and moral outrage at a corrupt universe. Whether this helps you cut AIDAN some slack when it comes to the high body count is up to you.

A Poetry Double Dare

In case you missed it, last week Serena challenged us all to read poetry and I was more than eager to pick up the gauntlet. In fact, I had already started building quite a stack of poetry books because I was aware that April is National Poetry Month. I’ve gone on record as stating I hate poetry and in the years since then I have changed my tune, reading any remotely interesting book of poems that crosses my path. Here are a few that are currently on my nightstand. Since poetry is so subjective, I’ve included an excerpt from one poem for each book to give you a sense of what’s waiting for you inside each book.

Peluda by Melissa Lozada-Oliva

in our family we believe everything is inherited.
if hair is from our father then fear must be from our mother,
who is not hairy, actually, not that brown, either,
but her accent still coats her skin & sticks like wax.
-excerpt from I Shave My Sister’s Back Before Prom

Known for being an incredible performance poet, Melissa Lozada-Oliva has written a book and I am here for it! Peluda, or hairy/hairy beast, explores Latina identity, body image, and hair removal among other things. I find the words flow the best when I imagine Melissa saying them. The rhythm is infectious but instead of simply moving on, I find myself going back over the same poem multiple times and savoring it. It’s that kind of book.

Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing

But you can be your own gin
and your own best sip too.
You can make with him a nation and still be sovereign,
your own gold coin and your own honest trade.
You can touch his hand
and still be your own snapping fingers
when the snare has gone quiet.
-excerpt from appletree [on black womanhood, from and to Erykah Badu]

Last year I read an essay Dr. Ewing wrote. I can’t recall now which essay or publication, but I can definitively say her words sparked something inside me. That same spark is present throughout Electric Arches her book of poetry, prose, and art. Themes center around Black girlhood and womanhood with dashes of Afro-futurism sprinkled throughout. Dr. Ewing has been called the Zora Neale Hurston of her generation. Pick up Electric Arches and see why.

Sea of Strangers by Lang Leav

Men don’t compare us
with other women.
They compare us
to an ideal.
-An Impossible Ideal

Lang Leav has previously published several books, but this is my first foray into her work. While 215 pages seems a bit lengthy for a book of poetry, I am here to reassure you that the poetry and prose are minimalistic: relatively short but nevertheless accessible to the reader. Themes here include self-discovery, loss, and falling in love. I’d recommend Sea of Strangers to fans of Amanda Lovelace and Rupi Kaur.

All three of these poets are active and awesome on social media. They are also poets of color and women (metaphorically) cutting themselves open to lyrically share their stories–good and bad–with us, the readers.

I once hated poetry because I thought it was all awkwardly positioned lines with the sole intent to confuse me in the name of a rhyming scheme. With poetry trending towards relatability and understanding the reader’s soul, I now embrace poetry and hope you will too–I double dare you!

If you read one of these or any book of poetry you can enter to win a prize in our monthly reading challenge. But I’m hoping you’re so taken with these poems you’ll be happy with the everlasting prize of discovering a poet that speaks to you.

Welcome to the poetry party. Serena and I are happy to have you here with us!

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.