BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
These are books I've read in the last few months. I loved them, so I want you to love them too.
1. Nathaniel Kressen - Concrete Fever (Second Skin Books, 2013)
This book is set right after 9/11 in NYC and follows around a teenager whose father has died, and whose mother is emotionally checked out. It is heartbreaking, but also full of suspense--it paints a realistic portrait of the modern American family--complications and ugliness not spared. What really makes the book unique, however, are the illustrations rendered by Jessie T. Kressen. "Dahlia Cassandra," Kressen's second novel, is due out in June--and I'm definitely looking forward to reading it if it's anything like "Concrete Fever."
2. Abigail Welhouse - Too Many Humans of New York (Bottlecap Press, 2016)
Welhouse, whose first chapbook is "Bad Baby" (Dancing Girl Press), is back with her triumphant second. This chapbook is centered around the strange contradictory nature of New York City, paying homage with elongated lines capturing the bizarre modern landscape. From her poem "Milk and Roses":
On Friday I went to a flower shop on 86th St. called Unique Flowers.
You thought I meant Manhattan but I meant Brooklyn.
There is an 86th St. in Bensonhurst and there is also a pizza place there.
The pizza place is called Lenny’s and it was featured in Saturday Night Fever.
There are photos of John Travolta on the wall. The pizza is good.
Anyway, I got the flowers and I put them in my apartment.
They cost five dollars and afterward I thought, "That was a good use of five dollars."
3. Melissa Broder - So Sad Today (Grand Central Publishing, 2016)
Broder hardly needs an introduction. These essays are absolutely brilliant--and completely full of the type of emotional nuance and vulnerability that literature is supposed to have. She is honest and raw about her relationships, open marriage, and emotional landscape. From an excerpt of the essay “I Told You Not to Get the Knish: Thoughts on Open Marriage and Illness”:
There is something about a long-erm relationship that takes away the ability to see the other person. We stop seeing them as their own entity. We stop seeing them as a possibility, rather than a possession. Or we stop seeing the possibility of them not being there. The gap we have to cross to get to them is no longer there: the gap filled with doubt as to whether we are loved or whether he will text or whether he likes me. We stop fucking in that gap, or fucking from across that gap. We start fucking in some new shared space that we feel we own. Or maybe the shared space is still the gap but we fuck there for so long we stop seeing it.
4. Simon Jacobs - Saturn (Spork Press, 2014 first edition, 2016 revised edition)
For all David Bowie fans, this is the book for you. Jacobs wrote this before Bowie's death--a book written about David Bowie's mysterious personal life--where Jacob inhabits Bowie in a way that the man seems less mythic, and more of a man who constantly reinvents himself as a way to become immortal and more human at the same time. From "David Bowie Watches The Storm Through The Window Of His Sizable Manhattan Apartment":
Later, when the city is finally put to sea, David Bowie wonders if the swiftness of its sinking is due to the combined weight of so many icons buried in a single tract of land. Or, their opposites: from the bodies hanging in the sky, spiraling and pulling back. Once again, he is thinking about planets.
5. Jonathan Papernick - There Is No Other (Exile Editions, 2010)
This is a short story collection obsessed with the existence of God, gender dynamics, sex (and weird sex), and Jewish identity. The characters are developed in such a way where they feel real, and the short stories are merely glimpses into their lives--as opposed to an overly ambitious retelling of their "whole story." Listen to "Skin for Skin" here.
6. Hila Ratzabi - “The Apparatus of Visible Things” (Finishing Line Press, 2009)
Ratzabi's chapbook is full of wonderfully ethereal lines that remind me of Louise Gluck in the best way--full of the mundane, but portrayed in such a way where everything feels supernatural and otherworldly. She writes about real life--babies, strollers, pens. From "Seeing":
The eye sparkles where light arrives,
affixes itself to a point:
a boy, two years old,
in a stroller on the subway,
wondering gleam that chose
to land here, inhabit
7. Daniel Borzutzky - The Performance of Becoming Human (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2016)
Daniel Borzutzky makes writing about bureaucratic nation-states interesting. We, as the reader, observe communities utterly destroyed, and we are left to question why and how and why and how humans let this happen. In particular, the bay of Valparaiso merges into the western shore of Lake Michigan, which exemplifies the horrors that happen on American soil and international soil alike—and how they are connected—and drawing the lines between the personal and political poignantly. This is a collection not to miss. From "Memories of My Overdevelopment":
I take a break from my suicide note and drink coffee and smoke a cigarette and eat hard, tasteless bread with butter in my undershirt
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (forthcoming 2016, ELJ Publications) & Xenos (forthcoming 2017, Agape Editions). She received her MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, as well as the chief editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of her writing has appeared in Prelude, The Atlas Review, The Huffington Post, Columbia Journal, and elsewhere. She has lead workshops at Brooklyn Poets.