Let’s Talk Books – “J: A Novel” by Howard Jacobson

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My free copy of “J” alongside my free highlighter from renting textbooks in college.

Date Published: October 14, 2014
Category: Dystopian, Fiction, World Literature
Rating: 3.5/5

This is my first review of 2016 and that should not be interpreted as a positive thing. I really wanted to like this book a lot more and it’s unfortunate that the drawbacks outweighed the potential. In previous posts I think I explained what my ideal genres are and when selecting my next book, “J” was definitely out of my comfort zone. As far as dystopian novels, I have not gone beyond 1984 and Brave New World. Despite being forced to read those in high school, I have the highest regard for them nonetheless. After attempting to dive back in with The Hunger Games and running away directly into the films, I decided to give Jacobson a clean slate. In an effort to not make this a completely negative view, I would like to start with what I feel are the positives.

I am not one to mark/highlight anything in any of my books but this novel has so many great one-liners that I couldn’t help it. I say one-liners because there were times when I found myself highlighting just a fragment of a sentence or a completely paragraph. It’s difficult to ignore the power of the characters’ dialogue with lines such as “Depression can do that. It can make you indifferent to your surroundings, uninterested in yourself let alone other people.” (Jacobson, 144) My whole review could literally just continue with everything I highlighted as intriguing, witty, or heart-wrenching but I digress.

At the heart of this story is the relationship between Ailinn and Kevern. Initially, I could not fathom what had brought these two together or kept them together for that matter. It was not until after their trip out of town, did I really get a sense of development in their relationship. With secrets swirling on both ends, their bleak view on life/the world seemed to be the glue holding them together.

Despite the vague nature of the “situation” the characters are in, I thought there was a strong sense of place. Especially when comparing Port/Luxor/Necropolis/etc., it was clear where each social class resided. There was a very gray nature to each area that was felt throughout the text.

If I listed all of my quotes, the “positive” section would be significantly longer but what I’ve said so far is all I have as justification for the 3.5 rating. As for the “cons” if you will, I will begin with there are too many shifts in point of view. I read many novels that toss between characters in a relationship in order to get a complete picture of their dynamic but this tactic fails when it flips beyond 2 individuals. I spent a good amount of time re-reading chapters because I had no idea who was talking. Is it Ailinn, Kevern, Ferdie, Gutkind, Kroplik, Everett, Rebecca, or Esme? Kroplik’s cat could have been speaking for an entire book and I probably wouldn’t have known the difference. It was a pinball machine approach to point of view which I could not keep track of.

Speaking of retention, the specific language was too dense for my taste. I am all for somber over-analytical spirals but when it takes half a chapter of lost letters to establish one factoid for a character’s backstory, that’s where you lose me. I felt like I was trudging through rambles for the majority of my reading which is why it took my so long to finish. I was also turned off by the fact that every conflict in the novel was treated with the same amount of detail as WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED. Hinting clearly at the violent nature of things but only remaining at the surface. Sprinkle in a few thousand Moby Dick references and that was what pushed me over the edge. I am not a huge fan of Moby Dick. That’s phrasing it lightly, I hated having to read it in high school and again in college. There is a vast amount of people who enjoy the imagery and I completely respect that, but I am not one of those people. The mere mention of Ahab set me boiling and the fact that it was such a prominent component of Ailinn drove me insane. It’s not that the references were misplaced, it just does not do anything constructive for me.

With all of this leisurely stroll type of writing, it was incredibly surprising and disappointing how rushed the end was. After building up practically every crevice of Kevern and Ailinn, it jumps to last page. It seemed like right when I was “into” everything that was happening, someone forcefully removed the plug and everything went dark.

Would I recommend reading this book? It really depends on what your preferences are. Death is around every corner in more ways than one and if you don’t mind taking the scenic route, I say give it a go. I cannot guarantee that you will find the trip worth it but remember that there are “…some questions you couldn’t begin to mold from the black chaos of ignorance, for fear of what definition would bring.” (Jacobson, 196)

 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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Let’s Talk Books – “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams

My copy of The Glass Menagerie & a dated paper bookmark.
My copy of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams & a cute bookmark.

Date Published: 1945
Category: Classics, Dramas & Plays
Rating: 4/5

I had no idea what to expect with this play even though it is so commonly brought up. One weekend I happened to be at a $1 book sale and decided to make this purchase to essentially see what all the hype was about. 70 years later and still being brought up in conversation must be a relatively good sign. I’ve only read a few plays for pleasure because I find it so difficult to invest myself in the characters. Even though there were only 4 characters, each of them brought the piece to life in different ways.

Jim seemed genuine but transformed into an overly confident person that I would not associate with. If you have read the play, you understand where I’m coming from. I wish I had connected the Jim lines sooner but I related to his life situation. As a 23 year old as well, this line struck a chord “Being disappointed is one thing and being discouraged is something else” (Williams, 96). There are many things we imagine happening at certain points in our lives, deadlines if you will, but it could be that they just haven’t happened yet. He had this tainted optimistic quality that could not be ignored despite his physical actions in the story.

Tom had to deal with abandonment issues and a job he hated much like the majority of society today. It was an interesting contrast to have short dialogue from Tom yet long narration from his point of view. He was definitely caught between two identities (poet vs. warehouse worker) and it’s clear that he was struggling.

Amanda was a typical Southern Belle living vicariously through her children under the guise of wanting what’s best for them. Even though she wasn’t my favorite, I appreciate this line “…the future becomes the present, the present the past, and the past turns into everlasting regret if you don’t plan for it!” (Williams, 63). I am definitely an advocate of extensive planning and although it came from a place of exasperation in the play, it definitely resonated with me.

Despite Laura having no self-confidence, crippling anxiety, and trust issues, she was still my favorite character. I identified with her high school crush obsession and especially not wanting to answer the door. There are times when I don’t even want to order my own food in a restaurant because I’m so shy so it was refreshing to see someone with those same traits.

However, I am a “happy ending” type of person which is why I could not give this play a perfect score. Even though it was a memory play, it was very much rooted in reality which is something that I tend to gravitate away from in my reading. Although 50% of me didn’t want Laura to end up alone, it was still an enjoyable read with fitting diction that I didn’t think I would enjoy. It lived up to the hype this time.

Litquake/Lit Crawl: Blood, Sweat, & Literature

Date: October 17, 2015
Venue: Latin American Club, Dog Eared Books, Mission Cultural Center For Latino Arts
*Warning: A little late, a lot longer, & more photos to cover various events*

A literary experience for the ages.
A literary experience for the ages.

Lately I have been posting my adventures during Litquake 2015 and we have arrived at the conclusion. Lit Crawl takes place on the last day of Litquake and it consists of 3 ½ hours full of over 80 events in the Mission District in SF. In order to obtain some kind of order, the map of events is divided into three phases. I will be talking about the shows I attended and my overall experience of my first Lit Crawl.

It was recommended to take BART to the festivities since parking in SF on a normal day is a less than pleasurable experience. David and I got on the train late (rushing after watching The Martian which is amazing but that’s a different story) and headed to the first event not knowing what to expect.

On our way to the festivities!
On our way to the festivities!

Phase 1 – Wellness Not Intoxication: Reimagining Cannabis w/ Steve DeAngelo

I should start by saying that I picked this event for my boyfriend since my knowledge of cannabis is about .5% on a grand scale so I will be discussing the overall experience. After showing our IDs to the bouncer, we walked into the Latin American Club around 15 minutes late. Steve DeAngelo was seated on stage with the interviewer the entire time and since it was a rather small venue, we could hear everything perfectly even though we were standing next to another couple in the back. It was fairly dim as you can tell from the candles and while I was taking notes on his opinions of legalization, my eyes were drawn to the ceiling.

Creepy decor at The Latin American Club in SF.
Creepy decor at The Latin American Club in SF.

There were these piñatas hanging from the ceiling which I thought we so interesting. Looking back now they are more disturbing than anything but it was a surprising décor for what was otherwise a plain looking place.

Romantic note taking by candlelight.
Romantic note taking by candlelight.

As the evening went on we eventually found a seat at a booth where I could relax and admire how enthralled my boyfriend was. Amongst talks of the medical benefits of cannabis, the interviewer then fielded some questions from the audience. There was a very “open” feeling in the atmosphere which was refreshing and encouraging to the remainder of the night. My boyfriend asked a question which was surprising given that we are both generally the silent type and it was a live example of how the night seemed to have a power all its own. Steve DeAngelo was at the event to talk about his book The Cannabis Manifesto which I would comment on if I had read it and/or if I had any idea where to start. Although I personally would not have attended this event on my own, it was a great experience learning about who he was and what his mission is.

Window view from Venue #1.
Window view from Venue #1.

Once the allotted time was up, we headed out of the club with our maps in order to find the next event for phase 2. The night was settling in and the air was crisp enough to be welcomed opposed to a windy night. We were walking through the impending darkness in order to find Valencia Street and it was an experience. This was the first time we were actually walking through SF in somewhere other than Union Square or Daly City and there was so much to take in. While walking we passed a bookstore with a free book bin positioned outside. There are few things I love more than free books so I immediately stopped to have a look through. Unfortunately, the bin seemed to be outside for quite some time and there was only one book left. I glanced at the title and swooped the book into my hands feeling victorious. Later in the night I found out that it is a book set for middle-schoolers but that did not matter. It had horses on the cover and it was free, sign me up.

A very hipster photo of a very cool book.
A very hipster photo of a very cool book.

We witnessed numerous crowds with Lit Crawl maps in hand walking against us, around us, across the street, next to us, all trying to decide where they should head for Phase 2. It was such an amazing experience beholding so many people passionate about receiving even a tidbit of literary wonder in one night. I get this feeling whenever I go to a concert and you see people to your side with matching band shirts, lip syncing the songs with you. This is the first time I got this feeling with literature and it is something I will never forget.

Is this what it's like to be a goldfish?
Is this what it’s like to be a goldfish?

Although I feel silly including surrounding photos, they are necessary in order to get a view of the total experience. Since we were rushing coming out to the city, David and I stopped at an ATM to get cash out. The ATM was inside a locked glass cage which made the spectacle of the night even more apparent. This is my view looking out onto the city while my boyfriend pressed buttons to access his account. I have never felt that safe/secure at an ATM which seems odd because it was in the middle of the street and it was transparent. Thanks Chase anyway.

Phase 2, Part 1 – SFPL Bookmobile

SFPL Bookmobile outside of The Elbo Room.
SFPL Bookmobile outside of The Elbo Room.

Finally we arrived at the San Francisco Public Library Bookmobile. An RV had been transformed into a miniature library on wheels and I was ready to spend the whole hour looking at books to buy. Before we even reached the first step inside, there was another free book bin. This bin was bigger and contained more books so I instantly squatted down to sift through the treasures. I ended up coming up with 3 books and what made the collection even better was that one book had that clear plastic around it. That plastic that hardcover books have in a library that drive you crazy when you bend the book yet they are a signal that something significant is beyond the cover. After I attempted to calm my excitement, we walked into the RV and were sandwiched between media on both sides.

David browsing the latest in Audio books.
David browsing the latest in Audio books.

On one side, there were children’s books on CD as well as popular DVDs. Someone was at the front counter aka the driver’s seat and I overheard the impromptu cashier saying that the customer could check out as many books as they wanted. At that moment it dawned on me that the reason why there were posters of library cards everywhere was because these books were to check out. I would have been more disappointed if I hadn’t already had those free books in my head so we decided to browse around a little bit longer.

Festive banners galore inside a converted RV.
Festive banners galore inside a converted RV.

The other side contained fiction and non-fiction books along with an amazing La Biblioteca banner. If you say that you have never seen a TV show/movie where the line “Donde esta la biblioteca?” is uttered when the Spanish language comes up, I will know that you are a liar and cannot be trusted.

This is my excited face.
This is my excited face.

Before we decided where to go next, I wanted to take a picture beside the RV. Behind my Lit Crawl map are my treasures and with just a sweatshirt on, you can see that the weather was favorable even as time pressed on. Since we had only spent maybe 10 minutes at the bookmobile, this left time to find another event before Phase 3.

Phase 2, Part 2 – KRUPSKAYA at Dog Eared Books

After skimming through the Litquake guide, we actually ended up venturing backwards. Remember the place where I got my lovely horse book? David decided that we should return to that bookstore after reading the event description full of “experimental pose and fiction.” Once we entered the bookstore, we were smacked in the face with a heat wave. Bodies were scattered from those standing listening to the readers to patrons leafing through books on the shelves. With no seats in sight, we decided on a ledge near the new arrivals as the best view of the podium.

Steven commanding the podium.
Steven commanding the podium.

David and I walked in while Steven Farmer was reading. Without any introductions, there was not much I could gather from his pieces. The only thing that stuck out was his rhyme with “wawa” and “live mas” which I definitely cannot piece together myself. I wish I had the context for that poem.

Kevin taking a turn and turning me into a ball of confusion.
Kevin taking a turn and turning me into a ball of confusion.

It turned out that the gentleman who was standing in front of me was actually the next reader. One of the first things Kevin Killian did was read a somewhat biographical timeline. He was reciting life milestones and I was stopped in my tracks when he muttered “…married Dodie Bellamy.” Why is this so shocking? Dodie Bellamy was my professor. I took two classes with her including my final Creative Writing class where I wrote my major project. She had talked about her husband before and here I stumbled into one of his readings by pure accident. His poems had a lot to do with AIDS since they were period pieces and he flipped his hair a lot when reading which was rather distracting. I could definitely see his connection to Dodie with all of the mention of genitals and the body. I should mention that Dodie was my professor for a class called “Writing on the Body” which included more than a fair share of genital stories. I would have been terribly put off by his poems if I hadn’t been exposed to his wife which is why I was able to sift out the glorious line “…the men that died so we could live” in between his work.

Laura Moriarty and a clear view that I did not move at all.
Laura Moriarty and a clear view that I did not move at all.

Laura Moriarty followed and to me she seemed the most experienced. Her voice and presence screamed poet depth and lines like “Is she one of many or a singular masterpiece?” solidified that feeling. She mentioned that she did work with SPD which was interesting since I had interned with them for around a month years ago. Even though her poem was strong, I was already sweating at that point. People had begun exiting the store and that was my next thought. It was incredibly hot in there and with closed doors, there is no way I would have made it through another poem. Aside from the heat issue, I very much enjoyed this venue. I liked how the podium was fixed between all of the books and with customers in between, there was a “business goes on” feeling that I could definitely understand. This was the first time I had been in this bookstore and I look forward to returning in order to explore.

I tried to take a picture of the sign before quickly leaving the bookstore.
I tried to take a picture of the sign before quickly leaving the bookstore.

It was a breath of fresh air, literally, once we were back on the sidewalk. Despite attending two different events, we still had 20 minutes before Phase 3. Luckily we were passing a plethora of liquor stores and journeyed inside one to get drinks. I settled for water while David reached for a fancy glass bottle of organic raw apple juice. I am all for trying new things and/or healthier options but I tried to tell him that something seemed off about the bottle. I wish I had taken a photo of it. I sipped my water while he did not get past two gulps of the juice. There was a sour taste in his mouth that penetrated into his breath and all I can say is that we sure were grateful to have my plain old water.

Phase 3 – It’s Complicated: Multiracial Writers Make Meaning of Their Interconnected Identities

I'm a fan of chalkboard signs.
I’m a fan of chalkboard signs.

Successfully washing out that sour taste, we made our way back to Mission Street for the final event of the evening.

A unique cultural experience indeed.
A unique cultural experience indeed.

A few months prior, David and I were in the city before a Giants game and passed the MCCLA and I said that I wanted to go in there one day. When I came across events listed for Litquake, I was immediately drawn because of the venue. Out of curiosity of the place itself and what they had to offer.

Directional signs are my second favorite.
Directional signs are my second favorite.

This sign reassured us that we were indeed in the right place. All of the phases were only an hour long yet it had felt like so much more throughout the night. After picking up our audience surveys, we turned the corner into a theater type area. There was a stage set before us and black folding chairs for everyone to sit in. I had never been so relieved to see open seats given our experience throughout the week.

Shining bright under 98 degree lights.
Shining bright under 98 degree lights.

There were open spots in the middle so we decided on those. Unfortunately they were directly beneath a spotlight so right after this picture we moved two spaces to the left. There were a few people scattered here and there but right before the show was set to begin, the place had filled up.

Audrey before I used common sense and zoomed in.
Audrey before I used common sense and zoomed in.

Lights were dimmed once introductions were given and the crowd was informed that all of the women reading were a part of a writing group called Mixed Writes. The first reader was Audrey Esquivel who is a Oakland, CA writer with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. I really enjoyed hearing that because not many people major in that genre and that was the genre I wrote one of my best pieces in. She read excerpts from her memoir Chutney & Chitlins which brought up common threads of being biracial like the what are you debate, cultural cues, and integration in today’s society. One of the first things that touched me was when she talked about segregation on buses in the past and she questioned where she would sit. I have had this very same thought in every history class I have ever taken. I used to joke around with my friends and say “Yeah, but where would I sit?” and chuckle off my discomfort. It was such an awakening to have another woman bring up that very same thought and it let me know that I wasn’t the only one who wondered where I would have been positioned in the past. The second thing that I found powerful was her final line, “What will it take for all of us to be joined on the sidewalk?” when discussing that integration is a process still taking place.

Maria clapping for Audrey's performance.
Maria clapping for Audrey’s performance.

Roars of applause erupted once Audrey finished reading. As the first reader she was amazing and definitely set the tone for the night. Next was Maria T. Allocco who was as funny as she was intelligent in her deliberate delivery. She had such strong pronunciation when she spoke that it made lines like “No memory meant a good party” stick in your head. I enjoyed how she read pieces she wrote in different genres because I always feel “wrong” when I venture into other genres. When I tell people my emphasis was in poetry, they treat my fiction pieces like they are a part of amateur hour. It was comforting to see someone who was not afraid to risks in otherwise restricted areas. Her most entertaining piece was “My Son’s Gf” which was told through the perspective of a White mother then an Asian mother. There was poignant lines of humor such as “…chopsticks you have to split yourself” and “Everything’s white like we’re dying” that provided laughs throughout the room yet pointed to the extremes of the race spectrum at the same time. It was a kind of satirical approach which left you pondering after you finished laughing.

I mastered zoom but not clarity for Jackie.
I mastered zoom but not clarity for Jackie.

The final reader of the night was Jackie Graves who is the co-chair of the English department at Laney College which is incredibly close to where I live. Her sister had a stroke when she was 37 years old so the parts of her memoir in-progress were on this subject matter. I immediately identify with anything family related considering how close I am with my family. There were blatant feelings from the hospital experience like “Maureen is in a coma with brain damage but not brain-dead” (Graves) combined with glimpses of her identity with lines like “No one else calls me Jacquelyn.” I have that same relationship with my own father and there is something so significant in addressing someone by their full first name. I am definitely looking forward to reading Jackie’s memoir because the last line, I seem to have an attachment to last lines, is still ringing in my ear “On the third day you will wake up. On the third day you will rise.” Even if you do not subscribe to the religious imagery of it all, that is a beautiful place to stop reading. Waking up and rising when talking about a coma patient leaves nothing but hope in the air.

An accurate depiction of the night.
An accurate depiction of the night.

Throughout the night, the audience was encouraged to sign the clipboard up front to get more information on the readers. Previously I mentioned that all of these women were part of a writing group called Mixed Writes and the importance of joining a writing group was stressed. It was said that you can’t do it alone which is something I struggle with as a writer. I constantly feel like I have to get better through my own thought process which is virtually impossible if I’m not in the company of like minds. I hope that makes sense because it made me realize I need to join a writing group if I want to get nearly as amazing as these women were.

Powerful.
Powerful.

I wanted to discuss each reader before I came out and said that Maria was my favorite of the night because of these business cards. She created these cards that addressed the “What Are You?” question and we picked up a pack on the way out of the venue. As a multiracial woman, this is a question I have had to deal with my entire life and I still come into contact with as an adult. There is such a want/need to define someone as an introduction to getting to know someone and these cards are such a great way to address it. I am Awesome and if we grow together to the point where we are discussing our identities, the defining process will have turned into something else entirely.

If I had seen this photo before getting home, she could've been our new friend.
If I had seen this photo before getting home, she would’ve been our new friend.

Another pit-stop at a taqueria and then we headed home from what I can only describe as a life-changing experience. In just under 4 hours I was introduced to so many different works and got a glance at some inspiring minds. Lit Crawl is so much more than just alcohol and poetry which is what I assumed it was. If you don’t experience it yourself and strictly rely on other opinions, you will miss out on something truly extraordinary. Filled with literature and hope, David and I headed home. Keep an eye out for Lit Crawl next year and maybe our paths will cross. Discover the beauty around you even if it means smiling in the background of a couple’s train selfie.

Let’s Talk Books – “Food: A Love Story” by Jim Gaffigan

Date Published: September 22, 2015
Category: Nonfiction, Anecdotes, Comedian
Rating: 3.5/5

Here is my free copy of Jim Gaffigan's second novel next to my notepad w/ HK pen.
Here is my free copy of Jim Gaffigan’s second novel next to my notepad w/ HK pen.

If you compare this review to other things I have read and/or written about, it is a safe reaction to think that I have fallen off the deep end. Nonfiction biography type books are generally not given a second look whenever I browse in a bookstore. With that being said, how can it be that I am reviewing said genre of book? In full disclosure, I have a soft spot for Mr. Jim Gaffigan which made my personal opinion incredibly biased but I have attempted to be somewhat object here.

Jim Gaffigan is a comedian who I discovered around the age of 14. I even remember renting his Beyond the Pale special from Blockbuster because that was still a thing and apparently my parents let me watch anything. He is known for making jokes about/involving food which left me to believe that this book would not be anything special. I was pleasantly surprised even before I got past the first chapter. There were short witty sentences, unexpected family photos between chapters, and a lot of health information in a book generally about eating copious amounts of food. At times it felt like a restaurant guide giving me tips with all of the “food-lands” geography which was great.

It also made you re-think what you eat or why you feel the need to eat certain things with factors such as speed with fast food and slathering vegetables in ranch. Jim definitely hit the nail on the head when he said “Fast and easy is the American way.” (pg.19) He was speaking in reference to the gogurts his children drink and the tubes reminded me of something I encountered not too long ago. My boyfriend had brought me to this diner he had been talking about strictly for dessert. Now I’ve been to a few diners and never thought wow, they have some amazing desserts but we went anyway. The waitress came over and he ordered a chocolate cream pie shake which is exactly what it sounds like. At this diner they blend pies with ice cream in a shake that you can drink in under 10 minutes. Now I’m not going to say I didn’t eat it but it was an interesting connection brought to my mind with the image of drinking yogurt.

Although there were many “a-ha!” moments like this throughout the book, I found that you have to like Jim’s comedic voice in order to enjoy this book. If not, the little scenarios on food marketing get tedious and annoying. Basically if you don’t find his TV specials funny, you won’t enjoy this book which is why I gave it this rating. His comedic voice is very distinct in his food adventures and there were many times when I caught myself laughing out loud because I like this comedic style. I enjoy sarcastic takes on healthy food and a matter-of-fact way of looking at things like ice cream “I’ll toss the lid even before I start eating the pint, because I’m not a quitter.” (Gaffigan, 276)

The only downside when reading this book was that since I am so familiar with Jim’s comedy specials, I found that a lot of those jokes were repeated here sometimes verbatim. While I was still reading, I showed my boyfriend the Beyond the Pale special which contains the hot pocket, cake, delivery guy, and fish bit that are reiterated in the book. This is only a negative aspect because I am somewhat obsessed with him but it was something that had to be noted. Overall, I found the book to be very enjoyable. Jim takes food and not only makes it a universal pastime but he does it in a way that makes your cheeks hurt from laughing. I’m glad that Blogging for Books presented me with the opportunity to read this book because I picked up some tips on where to eat and know that I am not alone in my love of all things pizza. In an effort to encourage you to give this book a chance, I shall leave you with one of Jim’s parting lines “I hope your coffee is strong, your cheese is sharp, and your guacamole is chunky.” (335)

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Litquake: 2015 Poetry World Series

Venue: Make-Out Room
Date: October 13, 2015

Welcoming sign to the 2015 Poetry World Series.
Welcoming sign to the 2015 Poetry World Series.

My previous post had a clever twist to the title but this event honestly didn’t need one. Can you honestly tell me that seeing a World Series in something other than baseball doesn’t instantly make you excited? It worked in addition for me considering I happen to actually love the MLB World Series. Last night marked my second Litquake event in 2 days. I believe the point is to generally attend as much as you can but the timing of it all was pure accident for me.

The previous night I had attended Chemical Wedding in a sort of last minute fashion while I had bought tickets for the Poetry World Series (PWS) weeks before. This resulted in the latter taking place at the exact same venue I was at on Monday night. You would think that the event would have played out in the same manner but this was not the case at all. I had a different experience in the same venue because the shows were extremely different.

Our deer overlords looking down upon us.
Our deer overlords looking down upon us.

After getting checked off the guest-list, my boyfriend and I entered the bar fairly confident that we would immediately be seated considering we had arrived 45 minutes before the show was set to begin. We were wrong. All of the booths were filled and for whatever reason, two tables were blocked off with boxes. This left us leaning together by the bathrooms and my arm incredibly close to a woman sitting on a stool to my right. It was pretty clear that this was going to be our “seat” for the night so I started looking around again in an effort to see what I had missed the night before. All of the seats were taken by the bar and I managed to get a clear picture of the overhanging deer heads this time. There were also mini disco balls surrounding the magical one I had praised.

Crowds kept pouring in of people who had tickets, those who just wanted a drink and audibly made it clear they “didn’t even care about poetry”, and older women wandering through the neighborhood who somehow ended up in a bar. From these short descriptions alone you could tell that seating was at max capacity in addition to actually seeing that everything was filled. Yet somehow a pair of women were complaining to a Litquake volunteer about the seating situation even going as far as to say “what are we supposed to do, sit on the floor?” As if the volunteer was magically going to poof chairs out of thin air like a blue genie. All she was doing was asking if they wanted a free festival guide and ended up getting accused of being ill-prepared.

Mr. Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket in the flesh.
Mr. Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket in the flesh.

As expected, the show did not begin until 30 minutes after the set start time but luckily my Chemical Romance Wedding had prepared me for the delay. There was a scoresheet set up next to emcee Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket). I include the parenthesis because I did not know his actual identity until much later in my life. If someone had asked 14 year old me if I read any Daniel Handler I would respond, “Huh?” I had seen that he was going to host for the night and every time he walked past me I gasped a little which is both flattering and incredibly embarrassing. I wanted to ask if he still cared about the Baudelaire children but he probably would have just threw a drink in my direction.

Our players taking center stage.
Our players taking center stage & judges getting ready.

Anyhow, there were 6 poets split up into two teams. Complete with red or blue shirts/caps, each poet was introduced to the crowd. Each team member had their books of poetry with them and were going to battle each other on topics provided by the crowd. Daniel Handler would pick a topic out of the hat, they had 1 minute to choose their poem, and then they took turns reading to the crowd. Originally thinking that the winner of the round would be based on applause (too much time spent watching You Got Served), 3 judges were seated above the competitors to make the scoring decisions. I will be discussing each round because the topics varied greatly and there are so many great lines that need to be reiterated on behalf of these amazing writers.

Ada vs. Chad to start off the night.
Ada vs. Chad to start off the night.

Round 1: Ada Limón vs. Chad Sweeney
After thanking the full house for coming out, the first two competitors spoke on the topic giving birth. Chad went first reading “Little Wet Monster” which was based on waiting for the birth of his own child. I enjoyed the blatant personal connection and also loved the cadence of his voice. It was strong and he carried out certain letters to an almost hose-like sound. I hope that makes sense. Ada read from “The Conditional” and she won the round for me with her very first line, “Say tomorrow doesn’t come.” She came out of the gate like this was the actual World Series and I loved it. The existential feeling it gave off definitely set the tone for the night.

Brynn vs. Douglas to get the ball rolling.
Brynn vs. Douglas to get the ball rolling.

Round 2: Brynn Saito vs. F. Douglas Brown
The following two were given the topic of regret as roars of laughter emanated in the crowd after the emcee uttered “All books are about regret.” One of Brynn’s lines that stuck out to me was “…we wandered through the gate of radiant days” because I rarely see the word radiant being used in a non-corny sense nowadays. It implied something happy/good yet emphasized that it was still closed off. Douglas read a completely different piece that centered on a father’s sacrifice and he won the round with “…meals had to be put together with the clank of Goodwill pans.” That line alone screamed sacrifice.

Alex vs. Christina as my last photo before I was completely blown away.
Alex vs. Christina as my last photo before I was completely blown away.

Round 3: Alex Dimitrov vs. Christina Hutchins
Introductory battles concluded with Alex and Christina taking on the topic of Music! The exclamation point was made evident to the crowd. I thought this was an interesting one considering poetry has a music to itself as a form and there was a desire to place something on top of that. Both of these poets had a genuine sadness that was portrayed through their equally beautiful lines. Christina with her last line “I fasten the past with a loose clasp” and Alex with “…playing with my hair, playing sad ridiculous love song.” Alex had a certain appeal with “I’m lonely and I love it” but I couldn’t get past Christina’s line. The “s” sounds and the image of life like a bracelet or a jewelry box was too vivid to ignore.

I’d like to point out that my opinions on the “winner” in each bout had no actual effect on the judging. After each pair read, the judges took turns with their commentary and voting on who they thought won the topic. The panel was incredibly insightful and I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of delight each time they pointed out a line that I too had wrote down. I don’t think the 3 of them unanimously picked one winner the whole night. They incorporated a lot of jokes which created a fun atmosphere and even set a drinking game in motion where whenever one of them said “this was a tough round”, you would take a drink. One thing that a judge said which stuck with me was judging on the “velocity of a poem.” I’m going to analyze that phrase more in order to figure out how I am exactly going to apply it to my own writing.

Apparently there are usually “breaks” at poetry readings but all of the shows I’ve been to, including this one, decided to forego breaks so we moved onto the next round. Each round was composed of 3 readings which meant that there were a total of 9 readings. Talk about a glorious poetry filled evening, I didn’t even mind standing because of how amazing everyone was. How amazing? This brings me to my next round of breakdowns.

Round 4: Ada vs. Brynn
Two women who definitely took different approaches to the topic of making-out. Brynn had a more subtle approach with “…her, the tree of life.” Having one person be compared to a tree of life gives them significance and I honestly would never have imagined that line up. Although I found her take more relatable, Ada’s poem about having sex for the first time stoned packed more heat. “O my new obsession, his lips” has a sense of urgency and intimacy that made the room come alive. You really only needed to be infatuated with someone to feel that tingle drawn up by this line.

Round 5: Chad vs. Christina
Battle of the two C’s on the topic of work. Christina really has a gift for diction and how words sound because “…cascaded the castle” was very reminiscent of the line I mentioned previously. I am definitely a sucker for a hard “c” in a poem because there is something so harsh about them. Even though I enjoyed her other line “I knew so little of effort” (which should probably be the title of one of my novels), Chad’s opening line was so brilliant that he won it immediately. Opening a poem with “In Heaven, the unemployment office gives out free Bourbon” combines the right amount of hilarity with a touch of reality. However, I secretly hope there is no unemployment office at all.

Round 6: Alex vs. Douglas
This was the most intense round in my opinion which seemed very unlikely when the topic was presented as farms. I had no idea what they were going to come out with because I have not seen a lot of pieces dedicated to farmland unless you are looking up a particular subgenre. Even though Alex said that he felt he was talking too much about sex, it was the emotional parts that stuck out to me. One of my favorites was “…after everyone I know has died a little and come back” because as a 23 year old post-grad, I can definitely relate to dying a little inside. Douglas presented us with “How to tell your dad you kissed a man” and this poem was literally so great that my boyfriend and I discussed it in the car on our way home that night. He captured the senses with “sage mixed with lavender”, catered to the theme with “He knows crazy shit happens on a farm”, and he blew me away by ending with “Tell him anything you want then tell him you did it again.” Isolated these lines are wonderful yet it was the reading itself that completed the picture. The way he sped up as the descriptions of the kiss increased created the suffocating feeling. That feeling whenever your parents came home and there was a boy hidden in your room even though you weren’t supposed to have anyone over when they weren’t away. In high school my best friend and I referred to it as the “caught-up feeling.” When you know you’re doing something in secret and you love every minute of it. Douglas was able to transport me back to that feeling by reading about a man kissing a man and if that isn’t deserving of winning the round, you need to get your ears checked.

Round 7: Chad vs. Douglas
I know that it is going to seem very biased that I picked Douglas as the winner of this round as well but bear with me, I have an explanation. The topic was ghosts and with this, I am definitely attached to pieces connected to someone passing away opposed to a physical depiction of ghostly proportions. This is why I could not fully connect with Chad’s “Zombie Ballad.” Later in the evening, my boyfriend said that the zombie poem was his favorite of the night. He pointed out specific parts about the zombies trying to mate while I was completely unaware that was even mentioned. It is important to note that I am not a fan of anything scary/horror related. Scary movies, ghosts, zombies, no thanks. With that being said, I still admired Chad’s vivid descriptions like “ivy over swing sets” and “…blue and beautiful.” I would never think to associate the undead with something beautiful but it made their scary faces come to life nonetheless. Douglas spoke again on a father but this time of a father’s ghost. Having experienced the death of loved ones, this one definitely struck a chord. “My father’s laughter still bellows over everything” is as heartbreaking as it is breathtaking. Laughter brings joy yet it can also bring sadness when the person is no longer around. The personal choice of the word bellows is something that I appreciated as well. “Today the grass grows in his throat” was my second favorite line because aside from the alliteration, it conveyed so many different images. My boyfriend seen is as a nervous feeling when something is left unsaid whereas I seen it as grass growing on and over the grave. Whatever the intended image was, it was powerful and deserved the win. Mr. F. Douglas Brown, you are just amazing.

Round 8: Ada vs. Alex

The battle of the A’s. I’m starting to think this whole common letter thing was a set-up. They were faced with the peculiarly phrased “that awkward moment when…” as a topic. Alex decided to read a more serious piece which showed off his versatility and skill. My favorite line was “I’ve put a period to end each thought that won’t end” because there are many times when I wish ending a thought was that simple. If only adding a period would bring a final end to things. Ada had such strong comparisons with dogs/cars and herself/dogs. How could this possibly work? With lines such as “…bearing their grills like teeth” and that climactic ending of “…lifted my skirt to piss like the hard bitch I was.” Even though it is fairly common, I am always caught off-guard with curse words but this worked so tremendously well. It was meant in reference to a female dog and the fact that Ada knows how to end a piece. I am all for a woman who knows when she has to pee in a poem and an actual poet who is aware of the right things to say. All the points to Ada.

Round 9: Brynn vs. Christina
It all came down to the topic of rhyme. For poetry most people expect some sing-songy Dr. Seuss tales but that is not how the night ended. If you read my previous post on David Levithan, you know that I am a huge fan of dictionary pieces. Christina read a piece about opening the dictionary and left us with the eerie realization that words are forced together when a book is closed. Letter intimacy if you will. The best line was “…watermark and watchtower wait in the dark” because the spacing of a dictionary page is immediately conjured and the dark could be physical darkness or the light fading out whenever a book is closed. I use the term Meta ironically but in this case it fit with the actual definition (I did not intend to make a pun here but now I can’t help but marvel at it). Despite using one of my favorite forms, Brynn won the round with her poem “River Through.” She said it was about the recent loss of someone very close to her and you could definitely feel that. It was seen in lines like “…ghost waters rain over unblossomed orchards” and my favorite “…we cry without crying and she comes.” Anyone who has experienced loss can attest to crying without crying. That sadness seems to always be lurking and when the tears actually do fall, it makes everything real.

I wish I had taken a photo of the final scoreboard but after all of the judges’ commentary, the red team (Ada, Douglas, and Christina) came out victorious by 1 point. Thank you messages were immediately given to the crowd as people began to disperse. If you liked the sound of any of the poets I mentioned, their work is available for purchase and you should definitely invest in them. I bought Ada’s newest book that night and have no regrets.

As for my rating, I gave this event a 9.5/10. If you have made it to this portion of the post, you see how deeply I was impacted by each performance. Every poet was fantastic in a different way and it was amazing to see them all come together on stage. You may wonder since I watched the whole show and raved on for so long why I did not give the evening a perfect 10. The last .5 was left off because I had expected a more rapid fire type of show. There were many awkward pauses between “sets” and times where pieces seemed to drag on. If I had known what a PWS is like, I probably would have left this rap battle type expectation at home but it walked in with me. I am definitely looking forward to next year and hope to make it a tradition. It was a fierce battle but in the end, everyone was a winner. The poets are the world champions!

Litquake: Chemical Weddings & Electric Performances

Venue: The Make-Out Room
Date: October 12, 2015

LITQUAKE 2015

As someone from the Bay Area who graduated with a BA in Creative Writing, it really is a shame that 2015 is the first time I’ve attended any event during Litquake. I remember every year at least two of my professors would ask the class if anyone was going to Litquake and as a commuter I thought, “Hmm going alone to events at night in areas I do not know well, thanks but I’ll pass.” Sure it is a pretty list of lame excuses, but that’s where I was. This year I decided to make the effort because as surprising as this may be, working and trying to make time for these events is in no way easier than school. Luckily this time around my boyfriend David decided to scope out the literary scene with me which saved me from being alone.

For those of you like me before I started at SFSU, Litquake is a 9 day literary festival in San Francisco, CA. Since I am an intern, it was a logical choice to have my first event be presented by Quiet Lightning. As a part of Litquake, Quiet Lightning hosted Chemical Wedding which is a series of shows that combine music and literature. It was a particularly special event because it was Quiet Lightning’s 85th show and 6th year at Litquake. Four authors and 2 musicians were set to perform at The Make-Out Room in the Mission District.

Outside of The Make-Out Room., SF, CA
Outside of The Make-Out Room., SF, CA

After devouring delicious tacos at El Farolito, David and I walked a few blocks to find the venue. I have never been to The Make-Out Room before and if it wasn’t for this event I probably never would have which would be a shame. Upon entering, we received a Litquake Festival Guide as well as issue #2 of Vitriol Magazine (a Quiet Lightning publication). Free books? Yes please. The start time was set for 7pm so we had arrived at that time only to find that every seat was already occupied. Couples, people fresh out of work with loosened ties, and very young looking 21 year olds filled the small booths that lined the walls. It was relatively dark inside the venue which seemed fitting for a bar or the stereotypical atmosphere of a poetry reading (think Corey & Topanga at the poetry reading and/or An Extremely Goofy Movie).

The main & only stage inside the venue. Blurry thanks to my S4 camera.
The main & only stage inside the venue. Blurry thanks to my S4 camera.

We ended up lounging against a beam between the bathrooms in an effort to look as casual as possible. There was a clear view of the stage which was surrounded by decorations falling from the ceiling giving off a very Drops of Jupiter feel. Star balloons, ribbon, and what can only be described as glittering tinsel colored strings all caught your eyes in the most amazing way. It created the sense that something marvelous would be uttered on this stage because of the surrounding pizazz.

A poorly lit bathroom selfie.
A poorly lit bathroom selfie.

I tried to take a picture in the bathroom as a typical 20 something does yet all it captured is how dark it really was inside.

Shimmering 70's Disco Ball.
Shimmering 70’s Disco Ball.

I’d have to say that my favorite piece of décor aside from the deer heads by the bar was this disco ball. It caught the light in all the right places and in complete honestly I don’t think I’ve ever seen a disco ball in real life aside from the miniature ones next to rainbow strobe lights at middle school dances.

Free books are the best books.
Free books are the best books.

The disco ball was definitely magical because minutes after taking this photo a gentleman decided to give up his seats to us for whatever reason, thanks Disco Ball. We cuddled into the tight booth complete with a candle on the table which unfortunately was the only one in the whole joint that wasn’t lit up. As soon as we were comfortable, the introductions began and the Litquake donation bucket was passed around. If you decide to attend any of these events, put at least something in the bucket. A 9-day festival gets by on donations and if that isn’t amazing to you, you need to realize how much work that actually is. I commend this festival on so many levels but I digress.

View from our table of Maggie Tokuda-Hall.
View from our table of Maggie Tokuda-Hall.

The first reader of the night was Maggie Tokuda-Hall. I had read through the lineup before the event but didn’t recognize Maggie until she stepped on stage. A few months ago I went to an event for sparkle + blink magazine where Maggie read as well and she was amazing. This time around, it was even more incredible. Ben and Miri’s story of alien abduction was a great start to the show and my favorite line was easily at the end. It was along the lines of “…marvelous like every Tuesday when you’re in love.” There is something irreplaceable about hearing those lines out-loud that gives the written word so much power.

Mimi Lok read next and I was so captivated by her immense detail that I completely forgot to take a photo of her. She read from a piece she’s working on called “Sumi” which takes place in Hong Kong. Even if she hadn’t said the setting beforehand, the descriptive sentences painted the picture all on its own. Hot airless evenings combined with talk of Cantonese Operas definitely set the stage for what I can only imagine is an emotional piece. I did my best to pick out my favorite lines from the performances and Mimi’s was “…odd to sit in a dark room with strangers for 2 hours.” This was in reference to the character’s discussing the cinema yet it was relevant to my current situation. There we were sitting in a bar on a Monday night with strangers nodding at the literary brilliance of it all.

Maya Dorn aka Babar @ the Bar.
Maya Dorn aka Babar @ the Bar.

The final act we seen was songwriter Maya Dorn. Although I wish we could have stayed for the remaining acts, she was definitely a great place for David and me to end the night. Equipped with her acoustic guitar Maya sang beautifully about a range of topics from room for my womb to a friend sending her boyfriend with a one way ticket to Mars. Her “high-low” voice is what held my attention because it takes incredible skill to manage an instrument, meaningful lyrics, and show off vocal range. It also sounds pretty in simple terms. Her lyrics were really thought provoking with an example being: “Help yourself/Love yourself/Be kind to yourself” and “…every breath’s a brand new start.” She made what would otherwise be corny lyrics come to life with her guitar and impactful voice. Throw in a keyboard guitar and a sing-a-long about Babar the elephant and that was where we ended the evening.

David & I headed back home.
David & I headed back home.

We made our way onto the BART train home with the chorus “elephant in the room” humming in our heads and smiles on our faces. So how would I rate the whole experience? I would give it an 8/10. For starters it would not be fair for me to give a 10/10 rating because we didn’t stay for the whole show. Even though I enjoyed the LED lights and the relaxed atmosphere, there was a certain missing link since I do not drink. It always perplexes people whenever I go to bars given that I never order alcohol which was definitely part of the complete experience at The Make-Out Room in my opinion. Finally, I could not fully enjoy myself because it was a Monday night which left work for the next morning. I’m aware that every event can’t take place on a weekend, it’s just what I prefer. Overall, this was the perfect introduction to Litquake for me. I am looking forward to what the rest of the week has in store and Quiet Lightning did a splendid job as always. With that being said, may I have the rings so we can get this whole shindig started?

Let’s Talk Books – “The Lover’s Dictionary” a novel by David Levithan

A photo of my copy of "The Lover's Dictionary" by David Levithan beside my Ipod.
A photo of my copy of “The Lover’s Dictionary” by David Levithan beside my Ipod.

Date Published: January 17, 2012 / 2011
Category: Fiction, Couples Fiction
Rating: 5/5

This is the first book I have ever read by David Levithan and this will be my first book review put out in the world. It is the story of a couple who has been dating for two years and their relationship is told through dictionary entries. With varying length, it is defined as a quick-read although the pure emotion makes the novel incredibly deep.

The depth is what made the book so amazing from start to finish. I have read “dictionary” pieces before but this is the first time that it was novel length and each entry is powerful. You don’t need the characters to be defined with names because of how well their relationship is developed. The perils of online dating, passion, and insecurity from a male’s point of view was so inspiring because it gave “her” a sense of control while also developing the narrator. Some of my favorite excerpts were: corrode, flux, hiatus, and punctuate.

I loved that although we are getting a glimpse of their lives together, there is still so much up to interpretation or experience. His shyness is relatable if you have ever been afraid to act on your attraction as well as the risks involved when in love. If I were to point out a flaw in this novel, it would be that there is a necessity to either love the dictionary format and/or have been somewhat involved with another person. Many of the excerpts are relatable (fights, dinner dates, etc.) on a grand scale but I felt a stronger connection because I have actually been through those things. Yes a lot of reading is up to interpretation/imagination for things you have never experienced, I’m just attempted to view from the other side if you will.

I’m so intrigued by how intentional each fragment was and would love to weave together a story like this. Well, a better story in this format considering I posted something like this many months ago. Although the central theme is love, there are so many other emotions at play to create a beautiful well-written story. “The Lover’s Dictionary” deserves a perfect rating because it had me invested in the couple’s dynamic and left me questioning aspects of my own relationship. An impactful novel should allow you to reflect on your own life and Levithan accomplishes this beautifully.
Thank you for reading my first review!