BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Love surrealism and magic realism? Don't really read much in that genre? Well, either way, I've rounded up some of my favorites, both old and new:
1. Nadja - Andre Breton (Grove Press, 1994, translator: Richard Howard)
I mean, who doesn't want to read a surrealist romance novel? I've read this book more times than I can count. The novel, which was originally published in 1922 in France, tells the story of the narrator's obsession with a ghost or a woman (or both) named Nadja.
The book also contains forty-four photographs, which lend a personal yet absurd look into the world of the novel. It doesn't matter if Nadja is real or not, if Nadja is a thing, a state of mind, or a real being. Whatever Nadja is will possess you, for life.
2. The Truth is Told Better This Way - Liz Worth (BookThug Press, 2017)
Worth's book is full of poems that will punch you in the gut, and twist your organs until they bleed out. The poems are born right out of a witch's cauldron, so to speak, with heavy influence in the Tarot. The book reads like a Tarot reading - the need for truth and fulfillment, for the self - and the hard journey into finding it, if ever possible. "Cicada," a prose poem in the book, is one of my favorites, with lines like: "Run into the street and I'll know why you did it." A must-read.
3. Ordinary Magic - Alison Stone (NYQ Books, 2016)
Stone's book is an interesting read if you are an adept Tarot reader - if you have an interest in Tarot. Stone uses the story as the landscape for the book, interpreting the Major and Minor Arcana cards, creating a personal narrative alongside them.
A highlight is her poem, "Why, Because":
Why the body
so easily vanquished from inside?
Why the soul striving
to live somewhere more durable than this?
Why, always, the mind chopping wood?
4. Before Isadore - Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick (Sundress Publications, 2017)
This book is hard to read, but only because it's so raw and real and true to life. But it's also intoxicating, just as life sometimes is. Hardwick writes about death and loss, particularly when a child dies, whether as a pregnancy loss or otherwise. Anyone who has experienced loss (which is all of us) can relate to this.
What I love most is the detail to the body and how death inside and outside the body creates its own world of mourning. Hardwick often references Tarot and what we consider the supernatural world, so adeptly, it is seamless. She writes lines like "a newborn, ‘blue lipped/ in the last prayer" and "she sings to death/her recourse."
5. 49 Venezuelan Novels - Sebastian Castillo (Bottlecap Press, 2017)
Castillo's first book, a work of micro-fiction, is both bizarre and ordinary, and focuses on mundane moments in a way that deconstructs them. It creates a strange, almost eerie quality that I absolutely adore. The stories range from being in fish markets to family stories that will stay with you for a long, long time. It's magical as much as it is real.
The first story's first line reads, "I was born in a country far from here," which a perfect start to a book about being an outsider, about the strangeness of the world.
Here is one, called "Secret Color":
A thousand-year-long conspiracy that a certain color, long believed to be nonexistent, is hiding in some forgotten desert at the top or bottom of the world. An anthropologist is writing a paper on this for publication. In a different country, a boy is born without a name.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016) and the editor of A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). Joanna received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College, and is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, a managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine and CCM, as well as an instructor at Brooklyn Poets. Some of their writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Brooklyn Magazine, Prelude, Apogee, Spork, The Feminist Wire, BUST, and elsewhere.