May 21 in books
This page saw no updates in May, but that doesn’t mean nothing happened!
On May 3rd I sat my American politics exam, and on May 4th I started a new job! It’s a full time position as a librarian, working both at the library in town and at a youth club at the House of Literature. The job is filled to the brim with creativity, with challenges, with colleagues and with care. I’ve had a month of getting settled and finding my feet with it now, and I honestly feel so lucky to call this my job: working alongside great colleagues to create a safe and fun environment for kids and young people, centered around literature, creativity and giving them space to express themselves by the words they write and the things they create. I’m looking forward to all the things I’m yet to learn and all the challenges still to master, but the first impression I’ve had of this job is marvellous. Can’t wait to see what happens next!
In May, I got through:
The Dictionary of Lost Words – Pip Williams
“In 1901, the word ‘Bondmaid’ was discovered missing from the Oxford English Dictionary. This is the story of the girl who stole it. Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the ‘Scriptorium’, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word ‘bondmaid’ flutters to the floor.”
This book is a beauty, looking at the meaning we assign to words and the dangers of assuming some words more important than others simply because they are written down more. The book lets you witness Esme’s life through the words she seeks out like a detective on a mission – words deemed unworthy because they’re spoken by women with brightly coloured shawls in the market place and not by dusty scholars with brown leather shoes. Cathy, a very good friend from England, read and loved this book, and was kind enough to send her beautiful copy my way, and so one day this popped down in my mail box as a complete surprise! Would definitely reccomend this to anyone interested in words, their sound and their power.
How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia – Mohsin Hamid
“The astonishing and riveting tale of a man’s journey from impoverished rural boy to corporate tycoon, it steals its shape from the business self-help books devoured by ambitious youths all over “rising Asia.” It follows its nameless hero to the sprawling metropolis where he begins to amass an empire built on that most fluid, and increasingly scarce, of goods: water. Yet his heart remains set on something else, on the pretty girl whose star rises along with his, their paths crossing and recrossing, a lifelong affair sparked and snuffed and sparked again by the forces that careen their fates along.
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is a striking slice of contemporary life at a time of crushing upheaval. Romantic without being sentimental, political without being didactic, and spiritual without being religious, it brings an unflinching gaze to the violence and hopes it depicts. And it creates two unforgettable characters who find moments of transcendent intimacy in the midst of shattering change.”
Finished this book in two days and absolutely loved it. The second person pov doesn’t feel forced at all, the language is so vibrant and alive and the story, though quiet at times, is such a beautiful and graceful study of characters, of life and what hope and success might come to mean at different points in life and for different people from different walks of life. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have picked this book up on my own, but I got it sent through the Life’s Library book club, and am so glad I was given that gentle push to read it!
Please Come Off-Book – Kevin Kantor
“Please Come Off-Book queers the theatrical canon we all grew up with. Kantor critiques the treatment of queer figures and imagines a braver and bolder future that allows queer voices the agency over their own stories.
Drawing upon elements of the Aristotelian dramatic structure and the Hero’s Journey, Please Come Off-Book is both a love letter to and a scathing critique of American culture and the lenses we choose to see ourselves through.”
I’ve been following Kevin Kantor’s poetry online since about 2015, and along with Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye, Kantor’s spoken word performances was one of the things that really made me fall in love with poetry. It was strange reading their words “cold” on a page, not actually hearing the musicality of Kantor’s voice, but this collection is a beautiful one – chilling and heartbreaking and musical to boot. Really liked this one.
The Magician’s Land – Lev Grossman
“Quentin Coldwater has lost everything. He has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams that he once ruled. Everything he had fought so hard for, not to mention his closest friends, is sealed away in a land Quentin may never again visit. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him. Meanwhile, the magical barriers that keep Fillory safe are failing, and barbarians from the north have invaded. Eliot and Janet, the rulers of Fillory, embark on a final quest to save their beloved world, only to discover a situation far more complex—and far more dire—than anyone had envisioned.
Along with Plum, a brilliant young magician with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demimonde of gray magic and desperate characters. His new life takes him back to old haunts, like Antarctica and the Neitherlands, and old friends he thought were lost forever. He uncovers buried secrets and hidden evils and ultimately the key to a sorcerous masterwork, a spell that could create a magical utopia. But all roads lead back to Fillory, where Quentin must face his fears and put things right or die trying.“
This book surprised me a lot! As earlier mentioned, I really like the SyFy show based on Grossman’s Magicians books, but I didn’t really like the first and second book in the series. There was something about how the characters were written, the pessimistic negativity and self-centeredness that surrounded them. I am all for a flawed and unlikeable hero, but sometimes it all just gets a bit much. However, the third book takes place a bit after the first two, and I liked this a lot better! It honestly felt like the characters had grown up a bit, and following them on their journey was a lot more fun and interesting this time around.
The Future – Neil Hilborn
“Neil Hilborn’s highly anticipated second collection of poems, The Future, invites readers to find comfort in hard nights and better days. Filled with nostalgia, love, heartbreak, and the author’s signature wry examinations of mental health, this book helps explain what lives inside us, what we struggle to define. Written on the road over two years of touring, The Future is rugged, genuine, and relatable. Grabbing attention like gravity, Hilborn reminds readers that no matter how far away we get, we eventually all drift back together. These poems are fireworks for the numb. In the author’s own words, The Future is a blue sky and a full tank of gas, and in it, we are alive.”
The blurb says it all – hopeful comfort and hard-hitting sarcasm side by side. I took my time tasting every single poem in this collection, and both individually and as a whole, they were their own little constellations. Really enjoyed it.
I’ll Fly Away – Rudy Francisco
“In his stunningly intimate, highly anticipated follow up to Helium, Rudy Fransisco has created a collection of poems that savor the day-to-day. Treating it as worship, turning it into an opportunity to plant new seeds of growth. Language so often fails us, but Fransico has found his way around this as he creates his own words for the things our language cannot give name to. “Felenter (Noun) Definition: Someone who finds joy in things that people believe to be mundane.” I’ll Fly Away Uses fascinating metaphors to convey common emotional states. These poems are an act of remembrance, and an act of believing that you dear reader, are a celebration waiting for the lights to come up.”
I love poetry that focuses on the beauty of day-to-day life, and this collection definitely did just that. Once again, the blurb says it all. Creating new words where the English language just won’t do is such a poetic solution to a poetic, emotive problem, and such a testament to the notion that language is a living, breathing being, constantly changing and growing to fit the needs of the communities were it’s spoken. The definitions he’s written down for all the new words are also beautifully phrased, and this is definitely worth a read.
Gosh, this became a ramble and a half! If you made it to the end I thank you and salute you. I hope June treats you well, and that you get clear skies above your head and green grass under your feet.