Readings: They

It was stupidly busy here last week, what with a giant book fair, on the day of which I worked 15 and a half hours, an experience I’m not eager to repeat again any time soon.

Aftermath of said fair is still felt and being dealt with, so today is my only day till Thanksgiving that can be used for art-related pursuits. My goal is to write a bunch of stuff and then go to the Book Riot Read Harder book group. I’ve already had an altercation with a rogue can lid this morning and am now learning to live life temporarily left-handed, which did not prevent me from polishing one of the stories that got rejected in one place, but will be submitted to another, specifically to this. If you are a trans writer writing spec fiction, take a look, the deadline is December 1st.

Incidentally, Sigur Rós is excellent writing music.

But let’s move on to recent readings, specifically They by Sue Ellen Thompson. It wasn’t really on my radar until someone mentioned that the poet’s child was trans, and that a lot of poems in this book were about the poet dealing with her child’s identity.

I did not go into this hoping to like it or not, but the definite verdict is that I could not like it and in fact rather hated it. To me, the entire collection sounded like a long list of complaints by my own mother who denied and fought against my coming out for months (and in a sense, still does, but more passively). I hated the ‘daughter’-ing in the first part of the book, appalled and appalling turns of phrase like ‘what she’d become’. If I were to play a drinking game with this book, I would be drunk halfway through if I took a sip every time the word ‘daughter’ came up. Daughter. Daughter. DAUGHTER. It is an innocent and touching word, but I know how it can grate. How it can hurt.

The writing seemed whiny and pouty and self-absorbed. It gets increasingly hysterical as the collection goes on, the final part simply a litany of wrongs and ills:

uncertain what to call her

when speaking to my friends

(still with her business, really?).

The only time Thompson calls her child by the correct pronoun seems to be in the title (at some point it is mentioned that they/them are the preferred pronouns).

And finally, the problem I have with They is that Thompson, while describing her own reactions, is really telling her child’s story, making the collection feel offended and offensive, dismissive and erasing. It’s all bewilderment and bitterness at the fact that her child did not turn out the way she wished. I just hope that perhaps writing this collection was therapeutic, and she will finally be able to let go and let be.


And stylistically? Most of it reads like one poem, with the same rhythm, same turns of phrase, same same same.

After this disappointing poetry read, I am attempting to tackle my now ridiculously large ARC pile and see if there are any good things in there. How it has grown is beyond me, since I barely had a chance to look at galleys at work this week. Oh, and I finished Molly Crabapple’s memoir (once again, when?), so maybe I will write about that.

Readings: poetry for insomnia

I have been reading a lot of poetry lately. In the middle of the night. It sounds quite… poetic, but the real deal is that I am currently having a particularly annoying type of insomnia that leaves me awake from approximately 2 am to approximately 4 am. It is sometimes work-induced (and at this time of the year, mostly work-induced), or sometimes it’s just a matter of brain not shutting down properly. Insomnia happens very rarely to me, which is why I have absolutely no idea how to deal with it. One way I’ve been dealing with it is giving up, turning on the light, and reading a random poetry book I had strategically placed on my bed, because reading poetry in a strange insomniac yet not quite awake state seems like a great plan at 2 am. Plus, I don’t have to remember where I stopped last time this happened.

tributariesThe last book of poetry I finished around 3 am on a night like that was Tributaries by Laura Da’. For this collection it perhaps matters more where you stopped last time, because Tributaries consists of interconnected sections, all having to do with Shawnee history and identity. I find that poetry, like no other genre, can tell me about experiences of people and groups to which I do not belong. Part of the reason I started reading poetry this year is because it gave me a glimpse into lives of others in a different and more striking way than prose or non-fiction.

My current bed poetry book is Amy Gerstler’s Scattered At Sea. It’s giving me the same intense and visceral feeling as Patricia Lockwood’s Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals. Next up is Manifestation Wolverine by Ray Young Bear, which should tie me over for a while since it’s far from slim.

Apex magazine love!

For me, magazines have always been something to pick up when bored, flip through, pick a story or two, and read them when waiting in line for a coffee. I don’t remember the last time I actually read a magazine cover-to-cover. Oh wait, now I do. Last week I sat down, picked up Apex magazine’s December 2013 issue and… just read it. Swallowed it, even. Inhaled. In fact, I’m pretty sure I burned something on the stove and possibly forgot to eat dinner. It was that good. Warning: gushing ahead.

There is actually quite a bit of choice these days in speculative short story offerings. Nobody can possibly keep up with everything that’s out both in print and online. Which means a mag has to really stand out. It has to have really good stories and possibly something else to offer.


All stories in that issue made me go ‘wow’ under my breath. I ended up nominating one of them for Hugo (Haruspicy and Other Amatory Divinations by Kat Howard), because it was exactly the kind of spec fiction I really like: weird and disturbing and uncanny.

To continue with my ‘short reviews” of short fiction:

What You’ve Been Missing by Maria Dahvana Headley was touching and bittersweet and beautiful. All That Fairy Tale Crap by Rachel Swirsky was funny and daring and irreverent. Before and After by Ken Liu was a great piece of flash fiction that I’m sure I actually consumed in one breath. Our Daughters by Sandra McDonald was one of those stories that alarm and unsettle you because you both can and cannot imagine them coming true.

The non-fiction piece was also well-chosen and particularly timely given the recent conversations in SFnal circles (Another World Awaits: Towards an Anti-Oppressive SFF by Daniel José Older). Hell, I even read the poem (Turning the Leaves by Amal El-Mohtar), and poetry is definitely not my bag. Spoilers: it was lovely.

Now that you know that this awesomeness exists, here’s how you can get more of it (I feel like I’m peddling drugs here, which in a sense I am, stories are in a sense drugs). Apex Magazine is running Operation: Fourth Story right now, and you can help them make the magazine even bigger and better. There are subscription links in the post and some more information.

And if you are not into short fiction, here’s a great post by Andrea (Little Red Reviewer) on why you should be reading more of it.

Agonizing reading decisions: book pr0n edition

I sometimes feel that book bloggers like posting reading updates and TBR pile pictures because it helps keep madness in check. Writing about what I’m reading allows my mind to see books as concrete units, rather than as an endless sea of pages that is my living room floor. So here’s what occupies my hours when I’m not sleeping or associating with other humans:

0311141232No, I did not find it abandoned on the bench on the National Mall. I brought it with me. It was 70 degrees outside, which means it was actually possible to sit outside with a book and a sandwich (not pictured). Bookgroup reading for this Thursday, classic, etc., etc. Great stuff.

0311141907Halfway through (see what I did there) Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King. People tell me it’s marketed as YA. I think in Abercrombie’s world that means everyone is still stabbing (or backstabbing, rather) each other with pointy ends, but without swearing quite as much.

0311141908New Jo Walton! New Daryl Gregory! Apologies to the third author, whose name on the cover is written in scattered points in tiny font and therefore not visible here. Her name is Claire North, and her book sounds good. The Shining Girls is mentioned on the back, as is Life After Life. Sign me up.

0311141908aI’ll be honest, I don’t really read poetry in English (though I read it in Russian, and it’s interesting to ponder reasons why it works for me in one language but not the other). But I dearly, dearly need to know what poems make the following people cry (from the table of contents): Stephen Fry, Patrick Stewart (!), Daniel Radcliffe, Andrew Solomon, J.J. Abrams, Colin Firth, and Tom Hiddleston (!!), among others.