Content Tagged ‘reading’

What We’re Reading: Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month

At the close of this semester, students in the Lookout Books publishing practicum collaborated on a list of books that inspired them and their work throughout the term. To celebrate the final week of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage month, we’re in turn sharing their recommendations with you. Once you’ve immersed yourself in these beautiful titles, we hope you’ll also read up on ways to stop the rise in hate against Asian American Pacific Islander communities.

Content warning: Please be advised that several book notes below include references to depression and suicide.


Soft Science by Franny ChoiWhen I found Franny Choi’s sonnet series “Chatroulette” in BOAAT, I knew I had to read more of her work. In Soft Science (Alice James Books, 2019), her second poetry collection, there are cyborgs and androids, cephalopods and moon phases. These tender, violent poems explore how humans build community and identity, and search for love in the fluid and intersecting worlds of the natural and digital, the human and machine. Soft Science is essential reading for those interested in how human bodies and consciousness are affected by technology, and this collection is especially compelling now, amidst the backdrop of the pandemic and ongoing Zoom fatigue. Dianne Seuss calls Soft Science, “a crucial book for our time—perhaps the book for our time,” and I couldn’t agree more.

Lindsay Lake

Order Soft Science here.


Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun LiI was first drawn to Yiyun Li’s memoir Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life (Random House, 2017) because of its lyrical title but soon found myself copying quotes from its pages into my journal, struck by Li’s ability to capture inchoate feelings in beautiful, unsentimental prose. During a period of suicidal depression, Li contemplates what it means to live, using the letters and private writings of her favorite writers as guides. While this book doesn’t offer easy answers, I found a great sense of relief in reading the work of a writer who doesn’t pretend to know the way forward but continues anyway. Moving seamlessly among different writers and moments in her life, Li speaks to the reader like a close friend, creating a connection that is difficult to forget.

Luca Rhatigan

Order Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life here.


The Corpse Walker by Liao YiwuThe Corpse Walker (Anchor Books, 2009),written by Liao Yiwu and translated by Wen Huang, is similar to Studs Terkel’s Working in that it collects interviews Yiwu conducted over many years (and several prison sentences) with those at the bottom of Chinese society. The result is an exploration of the effects of historical and systematic upheaval on its most marginalized members. The book surveys how lives, traditions, cultures, and beliefs bend to fit the status quo, and what happens when they don’t. The Corpse Walker was an engaging read for me because it frames History (capital-H) from the perspective of people whose voices might not otherwise have been heard. It’s also a miracle that this book was published at all. As a pro-democracy poet, Yiwu’s movements were highly scrutinized—he was blacklisted and imprisoned after writing a poem in protest of the Tiananmen Square massacre—and had to smuggle the manuscript out of China piece by piece.

Vasili Moschouris

Order The Corpse Walker here.


Ghost Of by Diana Khoi NguyenGhost Of (Omnidawn, 2018) is a compelling, gut-punching collection of elegiac poetry. In this haunting book that explores a family in the aftermath of a brother’s suicide, the powerful form accrues through photographs—out of which the brother has cut himself before leaving them behind. Diana Khoi Nguyen’s voice is tender, raw, and vulnerable, guiding readers through a wave of emotions.

—Ryleigh Wann

Order Ghost Of here.


Chemistry by Weike WangIn Chemistry (Vintage, 2018), Weike Wang balances complexities of the human experience in such a lovely way, often contrasting science and proverbs. She uses images such as a dog barking at a fan to reveal emotion or internal conflict. “If she had cried, she has not done so in front of me,” Wang writes. “She has done so in the shower where it is hard to tell.” The unnamed narrator of Wang’s novel feels pressured to succeed by her family, about whom she has negative feelings. When she talks to her therapist about her mother collapsing after the death of her grandfather, though, the narrator says that she can’t fail her mother because she wants her mother to be happy. Illustrating complex relationships with loved ones, including these murky areas of human connection, is one of many areas in which Wang excels.

—Katherine O’Hara

Order Chemistry here.


Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung FrazierWhat first drew me to Jean Kyoung Frazier’s Pizza Girl (Doubleday, 2020) was its cover, which prominently features a vibrant, almost grotesque cartoon that seems stolen from a stoner’s fever dream. When I learned that the novel centers an eighteen-year-old, pregnant, queer, Korean-American slacker who’s bucking responsibility by delivering pizzas in Los Angeles, I found myself even more excited. Talk about intersectional heft. According to an interview with Electric Lit, Frazier wanted to interrogate the notion that “aimlessly fucking around is a specifically male thing.”

—Daniel Grear

Order Pizza Girl here.


The Vegetarian by Han KangI stumbled upon The Vegetarian (Hogarth Press, 2016) by Han Kang in my quest for something darkly feminine. I adore books that center female rebellion, which this novel, originally published in Korean and later translated into English by Deborah Smith, does vibrantly. After a violent and disturbing dream, Yeong-hye refuses to eat any animal products. Her husband is incredulous to find his once docile wife cleaning the refrigerator of all meat. As Yeong-hye’s dreams become more violent, she retreats further into herself, away from friends and family. She’s increasingly desperate for those around her to understand what she’s experiencing, while those around her try to contain what they interpret as madness. The Vegetarian is as much a book about the toxic model and expectations of a “perfect wife” as it is about mental health and the desolation that can surround it.

Cheyenne Faircloth

Order The Vegetarian here.

 

Thank you to Lookout staffer Cheyenne Faircloth for compiling this list.

Our Most Anticipated 2021 Picks from Indie Presses

This past year, it has been a balm for all of us at Lookout to continue working behind the scenes to bring you vital and timely upcoming releases. While we’ve been at it, we’ve also kept an eye on the work of our peers, who like us believe that small, independent publishers are an essential part of building platforms for new writers and pushing traditional boundaries in publishing.

We asked seven members of the Lookout team to select a book they’re most looking forward to in 2021, including the below highly anticipated titles from our friends at Copper Canyon, Graywolf, Hub City, and Milkweed to name a few.

Preorders are especially important for debut authors and indie books, so please contact your favorite local bookstore to reserve copies, or head to the Bookshop links below. Either way, you’ll help support independent publishing and bookselling!


Homes by Moheb Soliman book coverHOMES by Moheb Soliman is about a complicated relationship with place, belonging, and borders. In this poetry collection, out from Coffee House Press in June 2021, Soliman depicts his road trip along the coasts of the Great Lakes region as he grapples with his immigrant origins, complicated colonial histories of land occupation and ownership, and environmental degradation due to climate change. The ambitious range and depth of his inquiries, and the book’s postmodern poetic, ensure a rewarding read.

 

—Bianca Glinskas

 

Pre-order HOMES here.

 


Fake Accounts book coverI can’t wait to read Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler from Catapult! Described by the publisher as a novel that “challenges the way current conversations about the self and community, delusions and gaslighting, and fiction and reality play out in the internet age,” it seems like the perfect read at a moment like ours. Set at the time of Trump’s inauguration in 2017 and involving his conspiracy–theorist accomplices, it’s coming out via Catapult on February 2, 2021, right as Trump will exit office. In other words, the timing couldn’t be better to allow its political excavations to guide our reflections on the ways that Trump’s version of governance and national narrativizing hinged on his use of social media. It also might get us wondering what role the Internet will play in Biden’s America.

—Daniel Grear

Pre-order Fake Accounts here.

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House Guest with Arna Bontemps Hemenway: Living in a Tree of Smoke

In House Guest, we invite Ecotone and Lookout authors and cover artists, as well as editors from peer presses and magazines, to tell us what they’re working on or thinking about or reading, to discuss themes in their writing or unique publishing challenges, to answer the burning questions they always hoped a reader would ask.

The following essay is from Arna Bontemps Hemenway, on the immersive experience of reading Denis Johnson. Arna’s short story, “A Self-Made Man,” appears in Ecotone 15.

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One of the realest places I’ve ever lived (or traveled, or remember) is actually the territory of a certain novel, Denis Johnson’s National Book Award winning Tree of Smoke.

Tree of Smoke is a long book; at 720 pages, its length is possibly one of the reasons why it really feels as if you’re living in it as you read it.

That’s also one of the things I like about it: it takes time. You have to live a not insignificant stretch of your life with it. You have to consider it when your thoughts drift throughout a month’s worth of showers, of doing the dishes, driving to work, walking to lunch. And this reading experience mirrors the lives inhabited in the book itself, in that they are inescapable. This is a book as much about the oppression of never being able to escape yourself and your own life as it is about Vietnam, or anything else.

For those of you who’ve never read it, I’m going to lean on Geoff Dyer here (never a bad idea) to describe what it’s about, from his review of the novel in The Guardian:

“However extensively the novel’s story is summarised it is going to be sold short. It starts in 1963. “Tree of Smoke” is some kind of CIA project. Skip, an operative of uncertain status but intense dedication, is working for the Colonel (who also happens to be his uncle). Skip has an affair with Kathy, a Seventh-Day Adventist whose aid-worker husband has been kidnapped, possibly killed. Years pass. History–as they used to say of shit–happens. Kurtz-like, the Colonel’s methods become increasingly unsound. At the sharp end are the seriously messed-up Houston brothers (who previously saw service in Johnson’s first novel, Angels). Trung, a North Vietnamese–who once tried to assassinate the colonel–is being recruited as a double agent, but, at the same time, Trung’s assassination is being plotted by the same guy–a German–who killed a priest with a blow pipe in the Philippines, back in 1963. Twenty years later, in Arizona, the Houston brothers . . . Ah, forget it. There may be no smoke without fire but in this case you can’t see the wood for the tree of smoke, or something.”

That one of my favorite novels ever produced one of my favorite reviews ever is not so surprising. Tree of Smoke is not a book you can not have a reaction to. But the central weirdness in this novel is key to its brilliance. Because it is a novel that indulges itself shamelessly, I’m going to indulge a little in this post about it, and go back to Dyer, this time in his summation:

“Johnson is all over the place and he is an artist of strange diligence. It is as if his skewed relationship to the sentence – not really knowing what one is and yet knowing exactly what to do with it – operates, here, at the level of structure. Tree of Smoke is as excessive and messy as Moby Dick. Anything further removed from the tucked-up, hospital corners school of British fiction is hard to imagine. It’s a big, dirty, unmade bed of a book and, once you settle in you’re in no hurry to get out.”

A “big, dirty, unmade bed of a book” is possibly one of the most accurate statements I’ve ever read in a review. It’s also true that if that sounds like something that you would find intolerable—that is to say, if you are more comfortable with a somewhat orderly or clean vision of life and love and suffering—you’re probably not going to enjoy this book. That’s okay, though. One of the things I admire most about the writing in Tree of Smoke is how little Johnson seems to be thinking about whether someone will enjoy it. As has been noted elsewhere, Johnson does seem to pick up and examine the different forms of Vietnam War narrative we have lived with in the four decades or so since it ended. But I think the truly remarkable thing is that he then sets them back down, finding them wanting. Then he strikes out into the jungle of his own vision.

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What We’re Reading

We’re celebrating Thanksgiving week with another installment of What We’re Reading. As Anne Lamott writes, “Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of the things that you don’t get in life … wonderful, lyrical language, for instance. And quality of attention: we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention and this is a great gift.”

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Lookout intern Becky Eades is reading Space, in Chains by Laura Kasischke.

Space, in Chains vibrates with memories of Kasischke’s youth, coupled with wrenching poems about her father, to form a narrative of both celebration and grief. The surprising image in “Hospital parking lot, April,” for example, tells us everything we need to know: “These seagulls above the parking lot today, made of hurricane and / ether, they // have flown directly out of the brain wearing little blue-gray masks, / like strangers’ faces, full // of winged mania, like television in waiting rooms.”

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A Few Recommended Recommendations

Walking into a library or bookstore—or falling into the swirling vortex the kids call the “World Wide Web”—can be an overwhelming experience. Life is short, and there’s so much literature worth consuming. We all long for a weekend afternoon on the couch, our only companions a cup of coffee and a good book. But what book? You’ve got five sitting unread on your shelf, not to mention three stacked by the front door (library due date approaching), and a Readability queue full of the online essays and short stories you marked “read later.” If you own an eReader, you probably went crazy downloading all the public domain classics you never got around to in high school. Where to begin?

Allow me to simplify things for you by offering some recommendations from a few trusted sources. Herein you’ll discover brand new literature, the craziest stuff on Wikipedia, and everything in between. Mark down what’s of interest to you and disregard the rest. You’ll never run out of things to read, so you may as well just pick something and get started, no regrets.

1)  Roxane Gay’s Reading Roundup, Fall 2012: The Rumpus offers some great recommendations and reviews from the co-editor of PANK. She organizes her selections into categories such as “Coming of Age” and “Looking Ahead.”

2)  Treehouse: This new online literary magazine requires its contributors to submit Top Five recommendations lists which appear on the site the day after their own creative work is published. The links range in theme from Wikipedia articles to poetry collections to banned books. (The actual pieces posted in Treehouse are excellent, too.)

3)  One Way to Talk About Contemporary Fiction: my friend Chris maintains this Tumblr with a friend of his. Find regular links to new fiction and lit-related happenings, nearly all of which are available online.

4)  Radiolab: This isn’t a recommendation list per se, but the website for Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich’s fantastic science radio show is chock full of great listening and reading material. Subscribe to the podcast, check out the show archives, and find supplementary reading material for many episodes.

 When you’re on the hunt for new reading material, where do you look first? Whose opinion do you trust the most? Let us know in the comments!

Making A List: My Top 5 Post-Modern Detective Novels

by Lookout Intern, Joe Worthen

#5 – Noir by Robert Coover

Noir is essentially a compendium of detective tropes written in 2nd person, strung together to give the impression of narrative. You, Philip M Noir, spend most of the book drunk, searching for a widow in a maze of murder, jazz and cigarette smoke. As goons continually beat you in the head, victims change into suspects, corpses turn up living, and dead end clues pile up with the bullet casings.

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