LitKicks Reviews: January 2007

Okay, so I’m way way way behind on all the review copies various nice people have been sending me. Things are getting out of control here in LitKicks-land, and even though I remember writing a bunch of reviews just last month a new pile of novels, memoirs and chapbooks has arrived, and I’m doing my best. If you’ve sent me a good book and I don’t get to you this time, I will hopefully be posting another set of reviews very soon.

Anyway, since I am clearly drowning in review copies, here are just a few rules for anybody who is thinking of sending me something:

1) No audio CD’s please. I don’t review audio CD’s. This place is about books.

2) Please send only one of your books. Not two. Not fourteen. How should you decide which to send? Send the best one. Doesn’t take a genius.

3) I am happy to review either self-published, small press or large publisher titles. But it must be published. Please do not send me a stack of 8.5 x 11 paper, because I will not review it.

4) Please include the URL where readers can buy the book, so I can include it in the review. If you don’t have the book for sale online, that can only mean you’re not serious about trying to sell it, in which case I’d rather not review it.

5) No, I don’t read every word of every book I review here. I have a day job, you know. I read the ones I like best, and I take a long hard look at the rest.

With that said, let’s take it away with this month’s batch.

1. Street Love by Walter Dean Myers

Jersey City poet and young-adult author Walter Dean Myers has a smooth, colorful style, and Street Love presents an appealing verse-dialogue collage of urban characters dealing with hard issues. The characters have names like Junice and Sledge and Damien, and the poems have titles like Junice and Damien, Kevin and Damien, Junice in the Supermarket and Junice with Damien and Melissa on the Bus to Memphis. At its best, this is hip-hop poetry, stirring and direct:

I have to open my sister’s mouth
And fill it with thoughts as hard
As stones she can practice her lines
She needs to speek clearly
As she lies
“Melissa” I will say
“Miss Ruby will run the house
She’ll make fried chicken and okra
Hamburger and broccoli
And when her mental hat flies
Off down some weird and wondrous
Street she will not chase it
Will not ramble as she talks
Or twist fragments of the past
Into a hopeless stew of

It’s not always that good, and the street-chic imagery is occasionally overbaked — but then, it is being marketed as a young adult book. I think this ultimately romantic book of story poems could make a great Valentine’s day present for a grown-up too.

2. The Cat’s Got Nothing On Me: How I Lived More Than Nine Lives by Conrad Boilard (as told to Sam Costello).

Truly, the cat has nothing on this spirited old codger, who is remembered by a delightful self-published book (and a classy website). Conrad Boilard served in the Army Air Force during World War II, raised a loving family back home, and battled lymphoma and other diseases as an older man. He has a great attitude, and this book truly serves to contain the spirit of a likable man. What better reason is there for a book to exist?

3. A Day of Small Beginnings by Lisa Pearl Rosenbaum

A Day of Small Beginnings takes place in a Jewish shtetl in 1905, where the spirit of a recently dead elderly woman is suddenly called up from the grave to help a young teenager in a horrible situation. This novel is very much in the tradition of Isaac Bashevis Singer, and the gorgeous cover art evokes Marc Chagall, a la Fiddler on the Roof. I admire the craftwork, but I can’t get past the I. B. Singer/Sholom Aleichem connection. I’ve got at least two Singer books on my next-to-read pile, and how can I be convinced that a modern-day homage will provide me something the original won’t? If you’ve already been through the old masters, though, you will probably enjoy this book.

4. City Woman by Linda Lerner

Linda Lerner, who I’ve seen and heard at many New York/East Village poetry readings, writes intense neo-Beat poetry with a driving urban vibe. Here, she confronts a hobo in front of a White Castle:

Damn you! your silence is asking too much …
If I could make someone
rise up from his ashes
unmyth the phoenix
If I could do it & believe it is happening
I could give you the things that
hurt too much for words …

Linda Lerner is an expert poet, and this is one of her better books.

5. You Are A Little Bit Happier Than I am by Tao Lin

What more can I say about Tao Lin, who I’ve written about before? There is only one word to describe his style, and it’s French: faux-naif. He pulls it off very well, and sometimes he’s very funny:

I’d like to see a movie and kill someone
I need to check my email then kill myself
I know that good news will arrive only by email
I’d like to see a movie with you then go home and check my email
can we kill someone in a supermarket

That’s my kind of poetry.

6. Nam Au Go Go by John Akins

Okay, well, John Akins broke my second rule; he sent me two books. One is Nam Au Go Go, a raw prose account of his years as a Marine in Vietnam. The other is On The Way To Khe Sanh, which revisits the same territory in blank verse.

I like the way the two formats work together, the poems much more sardonic than the prose, which often takes off into tough-guy storytelling:

As I kneel filling the first canteen, a whoosh thuds into the bank just to my left. It’s a dude, enemy, 92 mm mortar round. The barrage erupts up the slope and the 82 mortar rounds and 152 artillery roundswalk along our position. I light up in terror. Do I stay put or run for my hole?

Between the verse and the prose, a disturbing undertone of anger and anomie animates the author’s true-life tale, which rings with poignant truth.

3 Responses

  1. Speak for
    Speak for yourself…

    grouch-boy … I do review audio CDs, so if they’re relevant to literature (as in spoken word poetry, author interviews or other audio that has something to do with literature, poetry or spoken word), you should send them addressed to me. But please don’t send your band’s demo tape of Led Zeppelin covers. That is where I draw the line. However if you would like to send candy or money, I will be happy to review that as well.

  2. On James Joyce’s birthdayIn
    On James Joyce’s birthday

    In your blurb on Joyce’s birthday you call him an ‘experimental novelist.’ That’s like saying Shoenberg was an experimental composer.

    Experiment implies you’re trying something new with no clear idea of the outcome. Joyce knew exactly what he was doing and what the outcome would be. And, no, I haven’t read the Wake all the way through. Just most of it. I have absolutely no clue what it means.

    Loved your reviews — especially the ‘old codger’ memoir — the excerpt on the website is charming and I’ll probably buy it.

  3. Well, thanks for the
    Well, thanks for the compliment on the review. About Mr. Joyce, I must insist on calling him an experimental novelist (though I respect your right to do otherwise). To me, an experimental novelist is a novelist who tries something other novelists haven’t tried before. I don’t see why you’re saying it’s not an experiment if the experimenter has a clear idea of the outcome. If Einstein performed an experiment intending to prove the theory of relativity, and he correctly predicted the outcome, doesn’t that remain an experiment?

    What you are describing — having no clear idea of the outcome — sounds to me more like “exploratory” than “experimental”.

    Oh and, by the way, our fine friend Jota wrote the Joyce article, not me …

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