Essential Reading: New Ways of Speaking
I’ve always appreciated the way poetry accomplishes much in little space; the poem above tells a family story in perhaps two breaths, capturing the intense emotions of a parent and child at odds without sacrificing either voice. Of course, poetry does not have a monopoly on poetic expression; other literary forms can capture the spirit of poetry on their own scale. This reading list is, in its modest way, celebrating National Poetry Month– not with poetry alone, but with titles that bring a uniquely penetrating voice to a difficult, unusual or even utterly mundane subject.
“Four World” Columnist Avery Fischer Udagawa writes, “The Language Inside by Holly Thompson takes a ‘new way’ in myriad ways: it is a novel in verse, a novel about a ‘hidden immigrant’ (Emma Karas, who grew up in Japan and feels lost in her ‘native’ US), a novel that spotlights Cambodian dance, and a novel that humanizes a conflux of disasters–genocide, earthquake/tsunami, breast cancer, locked-in syndrome–yet sticks its landing in a place of hope. Spend two hours with it and expect inspiration.”
Suzanne Kamata, Fiction Co-Editor, recommends a book with an unusual narrative voice and an unusual communication challenge at its core: “I just finished reading The White Bicycle by Beverley Brenna, which is told from the point of view of Taylor Jane Simon, a nineteen-year-old with Asperger’s Syndrome. Taylor travels to the South of France, where she works for the summer as a personal assistant to a boy with cerebral palsy who communicates via his Tango speech device (and who happens to be her mother’s boyfriend’s son). Her goal is to acquire valuable work experience to put on her resume so that she can get another job and won’t have to live with her meddling mother forever. This book was named a Michael L. Printz Honor Book, an award bestowed upon exceptional fiction for young adults, but as an adult reader, I loved it. In Taylor, Brenna has created a character who is both funny and exasperating. I cheered for her on every page.”
Fiction Co-Editor Kristina Riggle praises a book that speaks to an unspeakable subject in an admirable way: “I recently finished Faith, by Jennifer Haigh, in which Sheila McGann has to find a new way of speaking to her priest half-brother, Art, who was accused of molesting a young boy he’d befriended. Her gut reaction is to defend him, especially when it seems few people will; but doubt unsettles her, especially as her other brother, a father of boys, is so outraged and disgusted that he assumes the worst. Art’s own dark childhood secret and his refusal to defend himself further undermine her familial desire to believe in him. It’s a beautifully wrought book that treats a difficult subject unsparingly, yet with dignity.”
Blog Editor Alizabeth Rasmussen has found a new way of thinking about her own approach to story-telling in “Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, a charming memoir full of funny, strange, sweet, poignant little anecdotes from A to Z. Literally. The author’s ‘alphabetized existence’ has a chapter for each letter, further broken down under headings such as (from Chapter ‘C’): Coffee, Stopping For; Compliment; Cream Rinse; Croutons; Curly Hair; and Customary, Things That Are. It’s definitely an unusual approach to memoir writing, but what I loved is how relatable it was, how the author was able to share her day-to-day quirks right alongside childhood reminiscences and stories of marriage and motherhood. I particularly liked how it got me thinking of my own life in an encyclopedic way, paying more attention to my own unique quirks and considering ways I might tell my own stories as tiny vignettes.”