13 Poems to Celebrate Ladyfriends on Galentine’s Day


Just popping in to re-share an old favorite, Dear Readers. Hope you’re reading something you love these days.

Friends, there’s a holiday that we should be celebrating with mimosas, flowers, and massive quantities of waffles with whipped cream.

I’m talking, of course, about Galentine’s Day.

What’s Galentine’s Day, you say?


It’s only the best day of the year, according to notable Pawnee citizen Leslie Knope.

Galentine’s Day is February 13, and it’s the day when “friends leave their husbands and their boyfriends* at home and just kick it breakfast style. Ladies celebrating ladies. It’s like Lilith Fair, minus the angst. Plus, frittatas!” [*For the record here, in my opinion, and I’m sure in Leslie’s as well,  Galentine’s Day is a celebration for all ladyfolk, including trans and queer friends!]

Anyway, Leslie Knope competes only with C.J. Cregg for the title of “Carolyn’s Favorite Fictional Female Government Official,” and let me tell you, those ladies would throw the best planned and wittiest Galentine’s brunch this fine nation has ever seen.

I like to think that brunch would feature readings hand-selected for participants by Leslie Knope; as dedicated Parks and Rec fans know, she once matched poetry with Scotch in a way that moved even the stolid Ron Swanson.

So, in honor of Leslie Knope and Anne Perkins, and in celebration of Galentine’s Day, here are 13 poems on friendship by female poets. Some are elegiac, some are sad, some are funny, some are opaque, some are straightforward—but all are by talented ladies, and I hope you like them.

Happy Galentine's Day!Patricia Spears Jones, “What Beauty Does”

Regan Huff, “Occurrence on Washburn Avenue” 

Elizabeth Woody, “Girlfriends” 

Katherine Philips, “Friendship’s Mystery, To my Dearest Lucasia”

Tess Gallagher, “Love Poem to Be Read to an Illiterate Friend”

Bernadette Mayer,“On Gifts for Grace”

Rebecca Lindenberg, “Letter to a Friend, Unsent”

Jessica Greenbaum, “I Had Just Hung up from Talking to You”

Margaret Kaufman, “Photo, Brownie Troop, St. Louis, 1949” 

Colette Labouff Atkinson, “Perhaps this verse would please you better—Sue—(2)”

Carolyn Kizer, “October 1973”

Lucilla Perillo, “The Garbo Cloth”

Eloise Klein Healy, “The Beach at Sunset”

What will you be reading to celebrate Galentine’s Day?

A Few Recommendations to End 2017

Dear Readers, I hope 2017 has ended on a high note for you, and that you have much to look forward to in 2018.

I’m popping in (I know I’ve been largely absent from this site, and I have no idea, really, if that will change in the new year) to share some lists. I read 150 books, this year—the most since I started keeping track—and I wish I had the time to tell you about them all.

You can find my baker’s dozen favorite fiction releases of 2017 here, on Bookish Beck’s blog. A few expected reads, I think, but maybe some that are new to you?

And here’s some of the poetry I read in 2017 (new releases are to the left of Anne Carson’s Float): 

Ten 2017 poetry releases I recommend:

Don’t Call Us Dead, Danez Smith
Calling a Wolf a Wolf, Kaveh Akbar
Good Bones, Maggie Smith
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, Morgan Parker
Whereas, Layli Long Soldier
Sycamore, Kathy Fagan
Afterland, Mai Der Vang
Lena, Cassie Pruyn
All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned, Erica Wright
Lessons on Expulsion, Erika L. Sánchez

And ten backlist titles I read this year that stood out:

Float, Anne Carson
Blue, George Elliott Clarke
Look, Solmaz Sharif
Miracle Fruit, Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Count the Waves, Sandra Beasley
Duende, Tracy K. Smith
Human Chain, Seamus Heaney
Loop of Jade, Sarah Howe
Bright Dead Things, Ada Limón
Thrall, Natasha Trethewey

One thing that’s kept me away from this site, besides reading: my own writing, which I’m chipping away at. If you’re interested, you can find links to some published work at carolynoliver.net.

Happy New Year, Dear Readers! Here’s hoping 2018 brings beloved new books and old favorites your way.


Recommended Reading: The Mountain, by Paul Yoon

I have read and loved Paul Yoon’s previous books, the short novel The Snow Hunters and Once the Shore, a collection of short stories. The Mountain*, a collection of six exquisite stories, is a gorgeous addition to his body of work.

Each of these six stories is a gem, remarkable since they are all, superficially, quite different. Settings range from upstate New York to the eastern reaches of Russia, from England to China, from the 1920s to slightly beyond the present day. The main characters are men and women, propelled by trauma and circumstance to seek connection with others and answers about their pasts.

In “A Willow and the Moon,” a man, after working at a London hospital during the Blitz, returns to the sanitarium in upstate New York where his mother tended to World War One veterans and succumbed to morphine addiction. Karine, one of the two protagonists of “Still a Fire,” is also a morphine addict, displaced after the Second World War. In France, she nurses Mikel, another displaced person, after a terrible accident; Mikel’s tale of piecing together work and living in a shanty makes up the first part of the story.

Antje is a German expat working in Spain, afraid that her marriage to her a quiet hotel manager is disintegrating. On a whim, she accompanies a hotel guest on a trip to Galicia, in a story of the same name. Further east, Misha and Kostya, the grandchildren of Korean laborers imprisoned by the Japanese, reunite in their native Russia, and find that years apart have changed them both (“Vladivostok Station”).

In “The Mountain,” Faye is persuaded to leave South Korea and return to China, where she begins work at a sweatshop as her past breaks into her body. And in “Milner Field,” a man recalls a story his father told him about his childhood while he waits for the arrival of his daughter at an English country house.

These are bare-bones descriptions of the stories’ premises. Each story is perfectly paced, with details that shine in Mr. Yoon’s clean, measured prose. In these pages we meet the lost and the lonely, trace the gaps left by the missing (often mothers), feel the weight of suffering but not despair. For a short book to contain so much humanity is remarkable. Highly recommended.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration, which did not affect the content of my review.

Recommended Reading: Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng

As I read Little Fires Everywhere*, Celeste Ng’s excellent second novel (after the wonderful, heartbreaking Everything I Never Told You), I kept wondering if this is what it feels like for a New Yorker to read a novel set in New York.

Little Fires Everywhere is set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. Ms. Ng graduated from Shaker High, and I did too, a few years later; I delighted in all the Shaker- and Cleveland-specific detail in the book (The tiny trash scooters! The murals in the high school! The egress! The Lusty Wrench! Yours Truly!). It was almost surreal to know a novel’s setting so well.

In the novel and in actuality Shaker Heights is racially diverse, and a sizable contingent of the population is liberal and affluent. But its late-90s talk of “colorblindness” masked (masks) an undercurrent of discomfort when it comes to taking on issues of race and class—discomfort at which Ms. Ng takes careful aim. And goodness, does she ever hit her mark.

The Richardson family is the kind of family people tend to associate with the city: Mr. Richardson is an attorney. His wife, Elena (“Mrs. Richardson” for most of the novel, a subtle nod to her need to mark status), her journalistic ambitions thwarted by motherhood and sexism, is a reporter for the Sun Press, a local paper. They have a big house, nice cars, and four children who attend the excellent public high school (no joke, there’s a planetarium).

Lexie and Trip are popular kids, set to be successful in the same way their parents are; Izzy, the youngest, has a contrarian streak and clashes most often with her mother. But it’s Moody, the quiet sophomore, who brings Mia and Pearl Warren into their lives.

After more than a decade roaming the country, taking odd jobs to finance her art and buying furniture and clothes at thrift stores, photographer Mia decides to settle in Shaker with her daughter Pearl. They rent the second floor of a duplex owned by the Richardsons, and when Moody rides his bike over to have a look at the new tenants, he and Pearl become friends.

Over time, the two families intertwine in subtle ways, but the precarious social balance they’ve struck is upset when Cleveland is gripped by the case of little Mirabelle McCullough/ May Ling Chow. The baby was left at a fire station by her mother, Bebe, and taken in by the McCulloughs, a Shaker couple desperate for a child. When Bebe Chow appeals for help to get her baby back, the resulting furor puts Mia and Elena, already separated by class and lifestyle, on opposite sides of the bitter debate, with disastrous consequences.

The conflict gives us a window into how structural inequality can separate a mother from a child, how white people who consider themselves liberal find their sensibilities shocked (and fight back) when one of their own is threatened, how comfort constrains compassion.

What would she have done if she’d been in that situation? Mrs. Richardson would ask herself this question over and over [ . . .] Each time, faced wth this impossible choice, she came to the same conclusion: I would never have let myself get into that situation, she told herself. I would have made better choices along the way.

The strengths of Little Fires Everywhere are numerous, from its seemingly effortless prose to its command of more than half a dozen nuanced character arcs. Ms. Ng captures the insecurities of teenagers and adults with humor and sympathy; her characters make poor decisions, certainly, but we always understand why.

I loved this book about motherhood, privilege, art, and impossible choices. Highly recommended.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration, which did not affect the content of my review.

Last Month’s Reading: August 2017

Dear Readers, I hope your August was lovely.

We traveled: to Edinburgh (just for a few days; our first trip out of the country as a family), where I was delighted to find the Scottish Poetry Library, and later in the month spent a quick weekend at Niagara Falls (our son adored the Maid of the Mist, as did we), with a chance to visit a dear friend on the Canadian side.

Our garden is winding down, school is starting, and the blankets are on the beds at night. Wishing you all a happy fall (or spring, Australian readers), and happy reading.

I know many of you have probably already donated to the relief efforts in Texas. If you’re looking for more ways to help, Book Riot put together a list of book/library/publishing-related ways to do so. Texans, we’re thinking of you.

Last Month’s Reading: August 2017

Goodbye, Vitamin*, by Rachel Khong: A quietly beautiful novel about one year in the life of a woman who comes home to help care for her father, who suffers from dementia. Empathetic and funny without shying away from the terrible frailty the disease exposes in both patient and caregiver. Recommended.

The Art of Time in Fiction, by Joan Silber: My favorite entry (so far) in Graywolf’s “Art Of” series for writers. I’ll be coming back to this book.

Day, by A.L. Kennedy: I bought this novel in the Edinburgh airport and read it cover to cover on the flight home. Day is about Alfred Day, a young man from an unhappy home who volunteers to serve as a tail gunner in a Lancaster bomber during World War II. The book begins in 1949 as Day is working as an extra in a war movie that triggers memories of his experiences.  It’s absolutely stellar.

The Bonniest Companie, by Kathleen Jamie: One of my finds at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh. This is a collection about Scotland; Ms. Jamie wrote one poem a week in 2014, and those poems became this book. I love her engagement with the natural world (from “High Water”: “When the tide returns / from its other life / bearing its adulterer’s gifts”). Recommended.

Lessons on Expulsion*, by Erika L. Sánchez: Full review of this bold collection here.

The Mountain*, by Paul Yoon: Six gorgeous stories from a master of the form. Longer review coming soon.

The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin: The brilliant finale to Ms. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy (the first two installments of which I inhaled at the very end of 2016). Highly, highly recommended.

The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett: A little gem of a book; the uncommon reader is the queen, who discovers late in life a passion for reading. Spend an afternoon with this charming novella while you wait for the second season of The Crown.

The Rules Do Not Apply, by Ariel Levy: If you’ve read “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” Ms. Levy’s gut-wrenching New Yorker essay, you know how gifted a writer she is. This memoir builds toward the events of that essay in candid, clear prose. Unfortunately, the last few chapters fizzle, holding back in ways the rest of the book (which deals with infidelity, alcohol addiction, and infertility, among other difficult subjects) does not.

The Windfall, by Diksha Basu: In New Delhi, Mr. and Mrs. Jha decide to relocate from their small apartment complex to an upscale neighborhood after Mr. Jha sells his business for a significant sum . They know the move will be difficult, but they can’t foresee its effects—hilarious and otherwise—on their neighbors, new and old, and their son, struggling at an American business school. Ms. Basu skewers the rich with a smile, and I was delighted by her nuanced characterizations of long-time friends Mrs. Jha and Mrs. Ray; it was good to see middle-aged women given such close attention.

*I received copies of these books from their publishers for review consideration.

Recommended Reading: Lessons on Expulsion, by Erika L. Sánchez

I admired Erika L. Sánchez’s debut collection, Lessons on Expulsion*, for its unflinching determination to illuminate hidden worlds, to explore difficult emotions—bewilderment, sorrow, lust, rage.

In Lessons on Expulsion you’ll find a lifetime’s worth of poems: poems about what it’s like to be a girl or woman of color objectified by men (“Hija de la Chingada,” “A Woman Runs on the First Day of Spring”), poems about difficult ends to love affairs, about missing someone in a city that’s not your own, poems about immigrants and the terrors and hardships they face, poems about the murdered and missing in Mexico (“Las Pulgas” is absolutely chilling; “Forty-three” aches: “In this land / of child-brides and teenage assassins, / a bus fill of students dissolves / into the mountain mist.”).

I especially appreciated “Crossing,” a poem that begins with the speaker’s parents crossing the border in the “the trunk of a Cadillac” belonging to men “who study my mother’s wet-startled body” and moves through the family settling in Chicago (“The roaches makes nests in our toys”), the parents working “in factory heat,” vowing that their children won’t. As a teenager the speaker rebels, self-harms, eventually travels to Spain (“I cross the Atlantic / like no one in my family ever has”), visiting the Prado while her father “is rising before the sun / to assemble air filters.” It’s a beautiful, moving poem.

Some other lines I loved in this collection:

“The glittering women swing / their hips like eternal bells” (from “La Cueva”)

“Amá, I leave because / I feel like an unfinished / poem, because I’m always trying / to bridge the difference.” (from “Amá”)

“The body as eruption. / The body as contraband.” (from “Juárez”)

“Even the killers / cross themselves // in the vespers’ milky hush.” (from “Capital”)

Lessons on Expulsion is a startling and bold book that doesn’t shy away from the painful, generous impulse to deliver to readers a vision of the messy, beautiful, hard world as it is.

[YA Readers: Be on the lookout for Erika Sánchez’s novel I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter in October.]

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration, which did not affect the content of my review.

Last Month’s Reading: July 2017

August: Osage County, by Tracy Letts: I read this play about a hyper-dysfunctional, secret-keeping-and-spilling Oklahoma family with a semi-permanent cringing expression. It’s black comedy and melodrama with huge spikes of outrageous behavior; though I haven’t seen the film version, I can imagine Meryl Streep eating her role (as Violet, the vicious matriarch) for breakfast. However, I found the role of Johnna, the only Native American character, problematic, though perhaps that’s a misreading on my part (see Kimberly Guerrero’s piece on the play here).

Prairie Fever, by Mary Biddinger: Last month, I lucked into finding this collection at Loganberry Books (and if you’re in Cleveland, I highly recommend the bookstore for felicitous finds). Ms. Biddinger’s sharp focus on Midwest settings almost de-familiarizes them, making the ordinary new (I loved these lines from “Dirndl in a Tree”: “Yard flecked with trillium / like private school collars / spread open on green / and ochre.”) Some favorites from this collection: “Coyote,” “Velvet Season,” “The Flyers” (in which a tow truck’s “tail lights / are cherries pickled in gin and salt”), and “Red Sea.” Packed with gritty characters, hot days, bars and basements, and unexpected animals, it’s a dangerous-feeling collection. Recommended.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay: A haunting memoir about trauma, its aftermath, and what it means to live in a body that contemporary American society has deemed unacceptable. Ms. Gay writes about her body—the kind of body that in person is usually read too quickly, without nuance, or even ignored—with directness and powerful vulnerability. This book is a gift.

How to Be a Tudor, by Ruth Goodman: Ruth Goodman is not only a social historian, but also a re-enactor who spends long stretches learning first-hand what it was like to live in another era (she was a consultant on Wolf Hall—so cool). That practical and professional experience is abundantly evident in How to Be a Tudor, in which she uses the structure of the Tudor day to show how people—commoners and aristocrats—lived five hundred years ago. It’s a treasure trove of detailed information (I often wished for diagrams) about everything from food (how to grow it and how to eat it) to ribbon-making to tooth-brushing (she prefers soot, of the available options). If you, like me, are a Tudor-era history/lit nerd, don’t miss this one.

Miracle Fruit, by Aimee Nezhukumatathil: Last year I read and mightily enjoyed the short book Lace & Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens, a correspondence in poems between Aimee Nezhukumatathil and Ross Gay.  Miracle Fruit, Ms. Nezhukumatathil’s 2003 collection, is simply glorious, a feast of language and exquisitely described scents and tastes. Some of my favorites: “In the Potatoes,” “Wrap” (the speaker’s grandmother wraps her sari, “coughs it up over her shoulder”), “The Woman Who Turned Down a Date with a Cherry Farmer,” “Speak,” and “My Name.” Highly recommended.

Anything Is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout: I loved last year’s My Name is Lucy Barton, and this set of interlinked stories is a companion piece to that novel, focusing on some of the characters Lucy and her mother recall. In these quiet, often grim, slow-building stories, Ms. Strout treats desperate, lonely, and overlooked characters with compassion and respect.

June Fourth Elegies, by Liu Xiaobo, translated by Jeffrey Yang: Chinese dissident, human rights activists, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo died earlier this month, still under guard by the Chinese government, which announced his illness only after it was essentially incurable.  His wife, artist and writer Liu Xia, is still under house arrest. June Fourth Elegies collects his yearly poems written as offerings for the victims of the Tiananmen Square protests, as well as a handful of poems written for his wife. His introduction is searing in its condemnation of the Chinese state. I found these elegies moving in their appearance as a group, witness of their author’s unstinting sorrow for the dead and decades-long struggle for justice.

The Night Ocean, by Paul La Farge: Horror isn’t my thing and I’ve never been particularly interested in H. P. Lovecraft, but Paul La Farge’s novel about a modern couple attempting to suss out some of the truth about the writer’s life and afterlife drew me in after the cover first hooked me; I found the book hard to put down. It’s about yarn -spinning and the stories we tell ourselves, unreliable narrators and texts, the slipperiness of perspective and multiplicity. To say more would, I think, ruin its many surprises.

James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl (not pictured): I’m pretty sure my mother read this to us when we were kids; it was delightful to be the one reading it aloud this time. Peals of laughter, over and over.

All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned, by Erica Wright: As you might guess from the title, in this collection you’re in the hands of a gifted storyteller (Ms. Wright is also the author of two crime novels, including The Granite Moth). Many of these poems are eerie (“Spontaneous Human Combustion” or “Abandoned Doll Factory,” for example), darkly funny, suggestive of lurking longer stories. Some of my favorite poems in this collection were “American Highways in Billboard Country” (“What if the exit we choose / isn’t the one we wanted?”), “Our Wilderness Period,” “Select. Start.” (It’s hard to love men who played video games / as boys. It’s hard when you can’t picture them / skinning their knees on gravel [. . . ]”), “American Ghosts,” and “Trespassing.”  Highly recommended.

Recommended Reading: Lena, by Cassie Pruyn

Lena, Cassie Pruyn’s debut collection, is a tender and fierce evocation of love and painful loss.

Lena was the poet’s first love; after their relationship ended, Lena was diagnosed with cancer and later died. In these poems, Ms. Pruyn offers readers both an unabashedly sensual portrait of first love and an elegy for Lena. The book is non-linear, threading together the poet’s complicated, overlapping emotions regarding Lena: affection, desire, frustration that their relationship couldn’t be lived openly, relief when it ended, grief in the face of her illness and death.

I admired this collection’s craftsmanship (particularly Ms. Pruyn’s facility with rhymes and stanza breaks), but even more so its wrenching honesty, from the innocent eroticism of “Lena’s Summer House in Rockport” (“and Lena      all skin / among scattered pillows”) to the yearning in “The House on Tator Hill” (“I didn’t belong in that house, or in any of its portraits / but we tried to make a home of its four-poster bed”), the guilt in “Dive,” and the incredulity in “Self-Interrogation.” In this poem, “Where is her body?” is repeated, a haunting refrain, in the poem’s first section, which imagines the body after death, and in the second, in which the speaker recalls the beloved’s body in life.

“Lena, No One Knew,” “Elegy for a Room,” and “Twenty Minutes at the Clam Shack,” and “In the Vineyard” (“she slants against the wind in her peacoat”) are some other favorites from this beautiful book, which I’m happy to recommend.

Last Month’s Reading: June 2017

June was a busy month for our family,  with meetings, farewells, travels, and celebrations, and thus a light month for reading. I did manage to squeeze in these books:

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson (not pictured; library e-book): I actually did read this one in a hurry, finishing it just a half an hour before it was automatically returned (no overdue finds for e-books, I guess). In these short essays, many revised from previous publication, Neil deGrasse Tyson covers a wide range of topics in astronomy and astrophysics (think dark energy or the Big Bang) for the layperson. It’s a cosmological amuse-bouche, if you will.

House of Names, by Colm Tóibín (not pictured; returned to library): House of Names is an unsettling take on the miseries of the mythological House of Atreus, presenting the perspectives of Clytemnestra, Orestes, and Electra to suggest how everything went terribly wrong. Mythology gives readers a wide sweep, archetype and theme; Mr. Tóibín offers grim detail, whispers in the dark. Read this—the first line is “I have been acquainted with the smell of death.”—and you’ll never again look at your copy of Edith Hamilton without a shudder.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, by Scaachi Koul:  I remember reading, in Buzzfeed a couple years ago, “Hunting Season,” Ms. Koul’s essay about the dynamics of men watching women while they drink. It was so smart, so spot-on, so scary. You’ll find it in this collection of essays that’s undergirded by Ms. Koul’s experience as a woman of color in Canada (her parents moved to Canada from India before she was born). Despite its bleak title and serious themes, this collection is often hilarious—her boyfriend is called Hamhock—since Ms. Koul uses humiliating-yet-funny experiences (a dressing room incident in which a skirt refuses to budge, for example, or feeling absolutely terrified about flying) from her own life to illuminate larger questions about identity and culture. A winner.

Letters to a Young Writer, by Colum McCann: Bite-size pieces of advice to beginning writers, with a focus on empathy and perseverance. Excellent epigraphs. Chances are you’ve heard versions of this advice if you’ve read around in the genre, but still, this is a warm and welcoming read.

Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give*, by Ada Calhoun: I don’t think I’ve ever read a non-fiction book about marriage before, but such is the power of a purple cover and Ms. Calhoun’s funny introduction. These toasts are essays on the pleasures and problems of staying married (when she asks her mother for advice on the subject, her mother replies, “You don’t get divorced.”). While not everything in the book spoke to me—there’s quite a bit about infidelity, and I would have liked more LGBTQ-inclusive examples and language—I laughed often and appreciated its realistic attitude, neither “the institution of marriage is doomed” nor “marriage is the happily ever after.”
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.

Duende, by Tracy K. Smith: I cheered out loud when I saw that Tracy K. Smith had been named the new poet laureate, and to celebrate I bought this 2007 collection. It’s beautiful and technically accomplished, of course, and I was so impressed by the way Ms. Smith brings histories of violence to life and into the realm of the particular body. She’s an absolutely phenomenal poet.

Human Chain, by Seamus Heaney: The last of the Irish writers I read this month (an unintentional grouping). There’s nothing quite like reading Seamus Heaney to deflate one’s pride; in Human Chain I found a poem about a pen (“The Conway Stewart”) that’s better than anything I’ve ever written or will ever write. And in “The Door Was Open and the House Was Dark” I found the poem I would have read at my dear grandpa‘s memorial service. A beautiful, moving collection.

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, by Lynn Nottage: I loved this play by Ms. Nottage, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In 1930s Los Angeles, Vera Stark is an aspiring actress who works as a maid for a difficult screen star (with whom she shares a secret common history). This comedy-drama is witty, fast-paced, and incisive as it considers racism in Hollywood and how modern critics and theorists analyze it. Brilliant, and highly recommended. (P. S. If you’ve read this, can we talk about the Imitation of Life and All About Eve references?)

Last Week’s Reading: May 28 -June 3

Birdie, by Tracey Lindberg: As usual, I am late to the CanLit party, but let me be the umpteenth person to tell you that Birdie is very, very good. Birdie, a Cree woman, has traveled to British Columbia from her home (that’s simplifying things, I admit) in Alberta, working in a bakery and hoping, maybe, to meet Pat John, an actor from The Beachcombers (had to look that one up). Birdie goes into a dream state in which she processes her memories of abuse; soon, her Aunt Val and cousin Skinny Freda arrive to watch over her. The novel is unabashedly non-linear, and Ms. Lindberg weaves Cree language and stories through the narrative, making this one of the more unusual, affecting reading experiences I’ve had lately. For a better review from a Canadian perspective, check out Laura’s post. Highly recommended.

Sycamore, by Kathy Fagan: I admire Kathy Fagan’s poetry so much, and Sycamore is no exception. In it, Ms. Fagan considers the sycamore tree as a physical object and as a metaphor (for growth, for change, among other things) in poems about the end of a long marriage. Sycamore is the kind of book that I’ll return to again and again, though its complexities and delights make it difficult to express how much I enjoyed it in this brief overview. For a better sense of the collection, please have a look at The Cloudy House Q & A with Kathy Fagan.

Mr. Rochester, by Sarah Shoemaker: Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea will always be the Jane Eyre-inspired novel against which all others are measured, though  Mr. Rochester is a fine addition to the category. If it didn’t, to my ear, quite capture the voice of the elusive and angry Rochester, it nonetheless is a noble effort, and Ms. Shoemaker plausibly fills in the gaps of his history. Subtly, the author shows us that Rochester is not so self-aware as Jane; nor is he particularly invested in righting the many wrongs he encounters in his travels. Recommended for Brontë fans looking for more of the gloomy Mr. R.

Lena, by Cassie Pruyn: This is a beautiful debut collection about the sweet-bitter nature of first love–longer review to come (sooner rather than later, I hope).