As summer is quickly coming to a close, take some time to bask in the sun and soak in a good book. Here are some short, sweet, stellar reads for the rest of August, all works are recent releases from independent publishers.
The Pedestrians by Rachel Zucker
Wave Books, 2014
Rachel Zucker’s The Pedestrians is an inventive prose poetry release. Zucker explores motherhood, marriage, and her creative identity through this double collection. The first portion of the book, “Fables,” navigates and meditates on topographies of Zucker’s life in the third person. Zucker’s prose unflinchingly takes us from the mountains and the ocean to Paris and an apartment. Zucker is inviting as we navigate these places alongside her. Upon leaving the ocean, Zucker confesses “She wanted to say, “Thank you.” But to whom? To which part? The part of the ocean that was trying to push her away or the part that wanted to swallow her?” In the collection’s second section, “The Pedestrians,” Zucker returns to New York scathed and neurotic, filled with insomnia and the occasional unnerving dream. Zucker’s poetry is cinematic; her qualms with, and love for, New York City are carefully selected and condensed into small scenes. In the poem “[usage],” Zucker is unsettled by her place in the city, “the self stripped to the slender trembling…all bark no bud or blossom can break through.” Zucker’s anxieties are profound, carefully selected and condensed into something manageable and fascinating.
The Greatest Most Traveling Circus by Jonas
Sweet Candy Press, 2014
The Greatest Most Traveling Circus is an anthology of stories examining the sweetness and darkness of everyday life. Jonas’ writing is blunt and imaginative; these snapshot narratives have imaginary monsters like vampires, killer robots, and the devil appearing as a redhead con-man. These stories confront very real obstacles like overcoming depression, struggling with suicide, and coping with loss. We find that it is at times easier to accept the imaginary than it is to accept harsh reality, but friends in unexpected forms find us somehow to help us along. Each narrative can stand alone, with common themes woven throughout. The importance of timing, and feeling connected to others and their private loneliness is stressed but not forced. The title story is overwhelmingly endearing while other stories are eccentric and thought provoking. From an uncle masking his cynicism, to a cocaine-snorting elementary school teacher, to a Romani curse, Jonas reminds us that “sometimes it’s better to escape with someone there beside you, even if you’re each escaping to a different place.”
Pity the Animal by Chelsea Hodson
Future Tense Books, 2014
Chelsea Hodson’s essay Pity the Animal is a fascinating exploration of the concepts of interpersonal commodification and human submission. Perhaps it is fitting that Pity the Animal is manufactured by Scout Books, an affordable publishing platform that allows people to easily customize their work, since Hodson critiques identity in the capitalist environment. Hodson delves into her personal experiences modeling, viewing Marina Abramović’s The Artist is Present, and spending time on a Sugar Daddy dating site. Hodson’s writing is pointed, scathing, and suspenseful as she realizes, “I didn’t need to reduce myself to an object in order to be sold. I needed only to be animal.” Throughout, Hodson examines her own endurance in how many gazes she herself can withstand as a human animal. This critical yet intimate essay is not to be missed. Hodson demands, “circle me like the prey I’m dressed as, erase my penciled-in boundary, pay me for the privilege. If I wave a flag in your face long enough, I can forget my own.”
Girly by May-Lan Tan
Future Tense Books, 2014
Part of the same collaboration between Scout Books and Future Tense that released Chelsea Hodson’s Pity the Animal, May Lan Tan’s Girly is strange, full of tension, and much too brief. Girly is composed of two stories about Hong Kong schoolgirls with different destinies. One will go to America, while the other is left dreaming about the airplanes flying above her home. The first story, “Pacific,” follows an unnamed protagonist traveling through the U.S., wondering when the breathlessness and vertigo will fade. The protagonist tries “to exhale an emptiness the size of the Pacific” and Tan’s captive audience is left feeling her lack of resolution. In “Little Sister,” Tan’s other protagonist, also in transition and brimming with uncertainty, is wistful as she copes with monotony. She once dreamed of a Martian climbing out of her UFO noodles, speaking Mandarin but the dream never returns to her mind. Tan’s writing captures youthful wanderlust perfectly in this quick read. If you enjoy Girly, be sure to check out Tan’s longer debut collection, Things to Make and Break.
Miriam is a student, organizer, creative non-fiction writer and poet living in Portland, Oregon.