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Books I've Been Reading: Dispatch #3

As an indie bookstore owner, I read a lot of books -- which you probably would've have guessed! I love talking about books I've read, past and present, and thought it would be nice to make a little online spot here for faraway friends or those who can't visit the shop in person. In irregular dispatches, I'll collect all the story-feathers and tale-winds I've gathered out in the meadow of pages. I hope you find your next favorite story here!

Winter has settled its heavy cloak over our shoulders and there's no better time for curling up with a new story. I always find myself fighting the urge to re-read during the winter months; there's something comforting about a story I half-remember beneath the pale grey skies. I've also been turning to poetry and folklore a lot lately, in part as a coping mechanism for ... you know, everything. There's a steadiness in the rhythm of good poetry and a sureness in the beat of folklore that's been recited a thousand times before. 

The October Palace by Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield is without a doubt one of my favorite poets ever. "Three Times My Life Has Opened" was in my handfasting vows! The October Palace is a special collection that finds radiance in the ordinary. Her poetry manages to straddle the line between meditative and searing, slowly pulling sharp insights out of everyday things most of us wouldn't even notice. If you're a fan of Mary Oliver or Maggie Smith, definitely give The October Palace a try! $14.99 in paperback.

The Mabinogion translated by Gwyn Jones & Thomas Jones

My family's heritage is pretty strongly Welsh and Polish -- so likely Celtic on both sides, as the Celts made it pretty far across Europe! -- and there is something about Welsh folklore that makes my blood sing, for whatever reason. The Mabinogion is a classic piece of Welsh folklore featuring eleven tales. This medieval masterpiece has it all: Arthurian romance, Celtic mythology and Welsh history. I personally have a copy of the Jones & Jones translation that has some sentimental value to me, but I stock (and recommend) the Davies translation over it. I think it's easier to read format-wise (Jones & Jones doesn't have paragraph breaks for dialogue) and it maintains a bit more weird, medieval flair. $13.95 in paperback.

Privilege by Bharat Krishnan
I know we had our reading event with Krishnan all the way back in November, but life is Hard(TM) and I just finished his political-thriller, Privilege. In this dystopian, speculative fiction, white privilege is literally a drug people can take to improve nearly every aspect of their lives. Of course, the government has only approved the drug to be taken by white folks, and Krishnan's work features a cast of mostly Indian & Indian-Americans who aren't legally allowed to access the benefits of white privilege. The imagination and world-building in this novel are top notch, and I really appreciated the way Krishnan fearlessly addresses sexism and toxic masculinity. Though I think the ensemble cast mostly works, I do feel like there's just a lot happening in this novel that sometimes takes away from how solid Krishnan's worldbuilding is, and I do wish the dialogue was stronger. A lot of the secondary characters sort of melded together because they all sounded similar when they spoke, which made them they feel less like actual people and more like plot devices. All in all, this is a really exciting novel from a new talent, and I definitely encourage you to read it! $22.95 in paperback.

Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand

Okay, so fair warning, I can't get this book for the shop, which greatly depresses me. Elizabeth Hand's fiction is some of my absolute favorite work out there -- it's a mythological fever dream full of ancient symbols and twisting plots and dangerous characters. But, I just finished this one -- which I finally found a copy of after years of looking around for it! -- so I feel obligated to inform you all. Mortal Love is a goddamn dreamboat for anyone weirdly obsessed with Arthurian romances and Celtic mythology. Bonus points if you love beautiful writing and complex characters. This book is a fever dream in the best way possible. Just read it if you can find it! I snagged my copy for about $5 at ThriftBooks.

On deck:
Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu (due 2/1/22)
Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel (due 4/26/22)
& an beta read of our friend Bharat Krishnan's new work! 

I've also decided to include at the end of this little dispatch some things I didn't like so much -- not to be negative, but to be transparent with you folks about books you might be interested in yourself! I always love when people enjoy things I don't, so don't let this stop you -- let it inform you.

These Bones by Kayla Chenault -- promising small press release about the racism endured by a cast of Black characters in the 1920s and 1930s. I can't even say I didn't like this -- the prose was as heavy and lyrical as water, and I think I just absolutely drowned in it. If you're a fan of complex prose and a narrative comprised of disconnected vignettes, and also just smarter than me as a reader honestly, you'll love this. I think Chenault is incredibly talented and I'm so glad I read this book.

Flower Crowns and Fearsome Things by Amanda Lovelace -- I'm always excited when one of the Instagram poets crowd releases a book because it's accessible and people aren't as frightened off by it. It gives people, particularly young women, I've found, a chance to really connect with poetry in a different way than the material that's taught in school. This collection, however, is drivel, I'm sorry to say. We can have an argument forever about what defines poetry, but slapping three barely-interesting sentences together over a picture of a flower is just never going to qualify in my book. There's a thousand wildly more talented poets out there who I'd love to see get signed by a mid-size publisher over Lovelace.