On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Ocean Vuong
Genres: Poetry, LGBTQIA+
Pub date: Jun. 2019 (read July 2019 on Audible)
Narrator: Ocean Vuong

I was intrigued by this book, but it wasn’t super high up my TBR. However, I loved listening to the author’s voice in the audiobook sample, so I decided to read it. I’m so glad they got the author to narrate this one because I’m not sure anyone else could really have done it justice.

Initially I really liked it. The writing is poetic and it flowed really nicely. The author’s reading is emotional and I enjoyed listening to it, but I must admit, parts of the book were over my head and left me wondering how I should feel about it.

The book is crafted as a letter to the protagonist’s mother. It’s unclear to me whether this book is fiction or non-fiction, so I’d love some insight from other readers if you have it. It certainly read like non-fiction and I internalized it as such, but it could have been fiction.

Initially I liked that it was a letter from son to mother, Little Dog talks about the relationship he had with his mother and how it impacted him emotionally as he grew up. How their Vietnamese past influenced his childhood in America and shaped all of his relationships with his family members.

From there, Vuong moves on to the relationship Little Dog had with his friend Trevor and the struggle of being not only an immigrant, but a confused gay teenager. I found many parts of the story upsetting, but really appreciated their inclusion in the book and thought it brought a great depth to Vuong’s story. However, it did affect my reading of the book as a letter from son to mother. This format worked really well when confronting his childhood demons and the relationship with his family, but I thought the format had less meaning when it got into Little Dog’s exploration of coming to terms with his homosexuality. I don’t have the lived experience to really comment on its effectiveness, but personally I just found the ‘letter to mother’ format lost some of its potency in this part of the book. Just a comment on format, not content.

Mostly I’m left confused on how to rate the book though because parts of it were definitely over my head. I’ve been reading a lot more poetry lately (I used to never read it), but I definitely still struggle with the accessibility of poetry. I want to love it, but I think I just haven’t spent enough time reading poetry to really understand the nuance of it. I really enjoyed the writing, it was flowery, but not overwhelmingly so, but sometimes it’s just so overloaded with metaphors that I kind of missed out on the point. I really liked a lot of this book, but there were definitely some sections where I found myself tuning out.

Overall though, a very thoughtful book and debut for this young author, so well done! I would not be deterred from reading his stuff in the future.

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For Every One

Rating: ⭐⭐.5
Author: Jason Reynolds
Genres: Poetry
Pub date: Apr. 2018 (read Nov. 2018 as an Audiobook)

I got this as an audio CD from the library (BPL can I please say, NO ONE WANTS THIS, audio download straight to my phone PLEASE), and I spent about 20 minutes trying to figure out how to upload the disc on to my phone, before remembering that it was only going to be short anyways, so why not listen to it directly from the car (flashback to 2005, I know).

I knew this was going to be short, but it was like no more than 20 mins tops. I was so shocked when it ended. People are calling it motivational poetry, which is pretty accurate. It’s basically a letter Jason Reynolds wrote (to himself?) about dreams and being willing to take risks and not give up on those dreams, even if they don’t unfold the way you envision.

I wanted to like it and was pretty convinced that I would, but honestly it was just too short. I wanted more. I felt like Reynolds was just getting started and then it was over, so I was left feeling kind of meh. It is what it is though. His book, Long Way Down, has been on my TBR for a while and I am not deterred from reading it based on this short letter. 2.5 stars

Songs of a Sourdough

 

 

 

 

Rating: 
Author: Robert W. Service
Genres: Poetry
Pub date: 1907 (read June 2018)

There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless;
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land – oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back – and I will.
– The Spell of the Yukon

Loved this! I was inspired to pick up this anthology after reading The Great Alone. It’s a mix of poetry by Robert Service about the Yukon and Alaska. It’s so wonderfully written and captures so beautifully what life in the North was like at the turn of the century. Similar to when I was reading The Great Alone, I could just picture the beautiful and barren landscape the whole time I was reading this. Robert Service has such a love and appreciation of the untamed wilderness – how rewarding and unforgiving the land can be to those who choose to make their living there. We must respect the land and the wilderness, because we are ultimately at it’s mercy.

As someone who loves to hike and camp and spend time in the great outdoors, I loved how vivid this writing was. Here’s a few of my favourite passages:

“There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gipsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.”
– The Men That Don’t Fit In

“Dreaming alone of a people, dreaming alone of a day,
When men shall not rape my riches, and curse me and go away;
Making a bawd of my bounty, fouling the hand that gave –
Till I rise in my wrath and I sweep on their path and I stamp them into a grave.
Dreaming of men who will bless me, of women esteeming me good,
Of children born in my borders, or radiant motherhood;
Of cities leaping to stature, of fame like a flag unfurled,
As I pour the tide of my riches in the eager lap of the world.”
– The Law of the Yukon

The Poet X

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Genres: Poetry, Young Adult
Pub Date: Mar. 2018 (Read Apr. 2018)

“Burn it! Burn it.
This is where the poems are,” I say,
thumping a fist against my chest.
“Will you burn me? Will you burn me, too?”

Yes! I loved this!

Xiomara is the teenage daughter of Dominican Republican immigrants. Her mom is extremely religious and is adamant that Xiomara be confirmed in the catholic church. Xiomara has always been a little rough around the edges, getting in fights to protect her twin brother and against the lewd remarks men in her neighbourhood make about her body. She just wants to be a normal teenager and date boys like the other girls her age.

She feels repressed in her day to day life and turns to poetry to express herself, which she records in her private journal. She really enjoys writing her English assignments and when her English teacher, Ms. Galiano starts a slam poetry club, she is intrigued because it feels like the poetry is just bursting out of her. But the poetry club meets at the same time as her confirmation class, which Mami would never allow her to miss.

At the same time, Xiomara meets a boy, Aman. She just wants to spend time with him like any other teenager. But her mother is strictly opposed to dating and she is forced to hide her relationship with him. She questions everything in her life, from her mother’s strict rules to the religion that is being forced on her. It becomes increasingly difficult to hide what’s going on in her life and Xiomara becomes more and more at odds with her mother. Poetry becomes the only way she can expresses the conflict she feels building inside her.

I have read so many books lately about latinx teenagers and I have learned so much about latinx family culture (although most of the books were about Mexican culture). What has been hardest for me to understand is the relationship between these American-born daughters and their immigrant mothers. Every single book I’ve read has had the same conflict of strict latina mothers and their teenage daughters trying to break away from the confines of their mother’s perspective and rules. I grew up in a religious home as well, but I can’t imagine the frustration of mother and daughter not being able to relate to each other. My mom can have a pretty strong personality, but she was never anything but supportive and understanding of where I was coming from. I think the difference is that we both grew up in Canada and shared the same cultural perspective, whereas Xiomara and her mother grew up in very different circumstances and struggled to relate to one another.

I always talk about liking gritty books with gritty writing and this is another great example. I recently read I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and The Authentics at the same time and loved the first and disliked the second because one book was so gritty and authentic while the other seemed to have this protective layer of film over the story, lacking any real emotional depth. I had the same experience with this book as I read it at the same time as I read Love, Hate & Other Filters, which I felt had that same disconnect between the emotional potential of the story and the actual depth the author achieved. I am here for the emotions and Acevedo was not afraid to go there in this book. It’s what makes one book great and another book sadly mediocre.

The poetry in this book was fantastic. I don’t read a lot of poetry, but I really love books like this that are not a collection of poems, but a whole story told in poetry. I’ve already picked Brown Girl Dreaming as one of my reading challenge books for April, which I understand is written in a similar fashion, so I’m excited to pick that one up later this month! Definitely recommend this book!

Milk and Honey

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Rupi Kaur
Genres: Poetry
Pub Date: Nov. 2014 (Read Mar. 2018)

I read Rupi Kaur’s second book, The Sun and Her Flowers, last year and really liked it, so I decided to pick up her first book as well. These are both poetry anthologies with feminist themes that tell short stories of heartbreak and healing, explore love and sexuality, and promote self-love. The books are also illustrated with sketches, which makes for a nice reading experience.

This is a very fast read, I read the entire book in under an hour in one sitting. Milk and Honey is Kaur’s debut novel – I definitely liked it, but I think I liked her second book a little bit more than this one and it had stronger themes.

Milk and Honey is broken into 4 parts, the Hurting, the Loving, the Breaking, and the Healing. Kaur addresses a lot of themes in this short book, looking at love and sexuality and the the heartbreak that can accompany it. I thought it had a strong start with the chapter on the Hurting, which is a devastating look at abuse, and I really liked the last chapter, the Healing, which is cathartic and empowering.

I didn’t love the middle section, especially the Loving, which I personally found a little over the top. Kaur is very descriptive of her feelings on love and relationships in both her books and love for her seems to be an all-consuming feeling which I personally find a little intense. For me love is about the little moments. Those small, every day gestures in which your partner demonstrates their love for you and the closeness you build with that one person. Kaur is very intense in her love (and her break-ups) and I just couldn’t relate because I have always felt very grounded in who I am, whereas Kaur felt a little defined by her relationships. That said, I’ve been in the same relationship for the last 7 years, so I definitely can’t relate to that feeling of “new” love anymore, which is totally fine.

However, Kaur is also very much about self-empowerment and self-love, which I enjoyed. I thought these themes, and the feminist undertones, were stronger in The Sun and Her Flowers, which is probably why I enjoyed that anthology more. Milk and Honey is still a good, quick read though and there were several beautiful passages, here’s one of my favs:

i want to apologize to all the women
i have called pretty
before i’ve called them intelligent or brave
i am sorry i made it sound as though
something as simple as what you’re born with
is the most you have to be proud of when your
spirit has crushed mountains
from now on i will say things like
you are resilient or you are extraordinary
not because i don’t think you’re pretty
but because you are so much more than that