I’m not one for war novels, but this little gem hooked me from the start. The writing is stellar and the characters speak and act with a naturalness that only comes from actual combat experience.
Kevin Powers, the author, is an Iraq War veteran. The story he has written about his experiences is heart-breaking. The narrator, 21 year old Private Bartle, had literary aspirations in school and received a lot of taunting from his friends, so he decided to prove his manhood by becoming a soldier. This mirrored the author’s life who enlisted at age seventeen. At basic training, he meets, the pimple-faced newbie, Murph, whose mother begs Bartle to promise to bring him back from Iraq unharmed.
Of course, no experienced soldier would ever make such a promise but something about the woman reminds the private of his own mother, so he readily agrees. Big mistake. They soon get sent to Al Tafir where a series of bloody battles, including civilian deaths, jade both men. Read more about The Yellow Birds
If you like haiku or are merely curious about the art, dive into this book. It traces the origin of the form in English from Ezra Pound’s “In a Station at the Metro” through the effusive Beats (Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and Allen Ginsburg) to contemporary masters of these powerful small poems. In the introduction, Billy Collins describes his love for these small gems and unlike many of the other artists included here, he writes in the familiar 5-7-5 syllabic pattern.
Here are a few of my favorite haiku included in the collection. But alas, there were so many good ones, it was hard to choose a small sample:
What would your life be like if every day you lived the same day over and over again? Perhaps a better question would be; what would it be like for those around you who continue to move ahead in time while you continue to live the same day over and over again? This is the problem faced by Lucy (Drew Barrymore), her family and her friends in their small town after an accident causes Lucy to forget everything that has happened to her since just before her accident. Her family and the town around her try to keep her from realizing that time has moved on. Read more about 50 First Dates
Over Christmas after a Griffy walk, gift-giving and catching a new flick, I picked up this this YA book about a Nebraska college freshman obsessed with writing fan fiction. Now if you don’t know what that is—I didn’t until a patron explained it to me a couple of years ago--it’s a new trend where people (mostly young) write new endings, beginnings, and middles, sequels and prequels for books they love in the style of the author.
"Fan Fiction is what literature might look like if it were reinvented from scratch after a nuclear apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies trapped in a sealed bunker," Lev Grossman said in Time magazine. Cath loves the Simon Snow series--magical fantasty--and the book includes many postings from the invented FanFixx.net where her tag-name is Magicath.
But when Cather enters college, life gets complicated. First of all, her twin Wren decides not to room with her. And Wren already abandoned fan fiction as too juvenile for a college student. Do you notice the wordplay in the twins’ names? Their parents had expected one child whom they planned to call Catherine. Read more about Fangirl
I’ve always loved collections of letters. Perhaps, it’s the draw of reading words meant for a specific person—a stranger that you will never meet. Some books of letters are huge and it’s like tackling a life in a thousand plus episodes. But these letters, written by an apprehensive English father beginning during the rock and roll, drug days of the late 60s and 70s, are a more manageable 187 pages.
All the letters were penned by the father, Roger, a former military man, and POW who later became a racing columnist for the Sunday Times. In them he offers tons of advice to his wild, drifter son, Charlie. Providing much of the humor in this book are Charlie’s comments that describe his reactions to his Dad’s words at the time.
The letters begin with a young Charlie as he flunks out of elite Eton. Soon he leaves with a record of very bad grades for a lowly “crammer” school. No “firsts” or “seconds” or even a degree for this young man. Soon Charlie embarks on a series of low-paying jobs in agriculture, oil, and real estate. Even when he lands a promising job, he can’t stick with it and bolts off for long vacations to Greece, Africa, and South America. For his Greek trip his dad advises, don’t talk politics. Don’t do drugs; you may land in a gaol. Watch the alcoholic drinks there, they are incredibly strong. Later, when Charlie sets off for vagabonding through South America, his dad asks, have you ever considered a life in the church? Read more about Dear Lupin
Who can resist a good dog book? OK so there are a few cat people out there (right here beside me in fact), and bird people, snake people, even for Heaven’s sake, skunk lovers and gerbil-groomers. But what makes this book special is that it’s a book of poems that gives tribute to the special dogs in renowned nature poet Mary Oliver’s life.
There’s Luke, the junkyard dog, Benjamin, the canine that is always dragging a chewed-through rope, Bear the small curly-haired who hates to stay overnight at boarding, Bazougey “that dark little dog/ who used to come down the road barking and shining,” Ricky, the talker, and Percy named after the famous poet Shelley. Oliver penned a tribute to this hound mischievously patterned after Christopher Smart’s “For I will Consider My Cat Jeoffrey.”
Luke was “born in a junkyard, / not even on a bundle of rags/ or the seat of an old wrecked car/ but the dust below.” This beautiful German Shepherd loved flowers: “her dark head// and her wet nose/ touching/ the face/ of everyone.” In the poem’s closing Oliver expresses one thing dogs show us about the world: “we long to be--/ that happy/ in the heaven of earth--/ that wild, that loving.”Read more about Dog Songs