Book Acquired Recently: Joanne Epp’s Crossings

Epp, Joanne. Crossings. Winnipeg: St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, 2012.

I recently read Epp’s new poetry collection Eigenheim and loved it, and in looking at her website I discovered that she has also published a chapbook, Crossings, which I bought immediately. The book itself is lovely, with a hand-printed cover and hand-stitched binding. It is numbered as copy 64 of 100. I also like that it was published by a church because I think that reading poetry is one of the best ways to get to the sacred. I am sad that Mennonite churches have not realized this yet, and thus that Epp had to publish with an Anglican church instead.

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André Swartley’s Leon Martin and the Fantasy Girl

André Swartley’s 2012 novel Leon Martin and the Fantasy Girl won a 2013 Dante Rossetti award for Young Adult (YA) Fiction, and with good reason. It is an engaging story about some important issues not only within the Mennonite community, but within American society at large (throughout this piece I treat the novel explicitly as Mennonite fiction because Swartley is a Mennonite and the book has Mennonite characters, and there is a dearth of annoying “this is who Mennonites are and what they believe” explanations that one finds in some Mennonite fiction [the tiny bit of this that we get is that Mennonites are pacifists, but this explanation is very basic; there is no theological discussion of why Mennonites are pacifists, or that some early Anabaptists weren’t pacifists, and so on], so it seems that Mennonite readers are the book’s intended audience). The book straddles that nebulous line between “Young Adult” fiction and what I suppose one could call grown-up fiction; it’s like John Green for the MYF set (which I mean as a compliment: John Green is fantastic). I am not a fan of the concept of the YA genre (i.e., the books themselves are not the problem, but how they are categorized is) in general because I don’t think it takes teenage readers seriously enough and because oftentimes it seems like it’s only defined by the age of its characters, but whether Swartley intends the book to be YA or not, it’s worth reading by both teens and adults (and perhaps especially adults with teenagers) alike.

Leon Martin and the Fantasy Girl is the story of the title character and his classmate from a fictional Mennonite high school in Iowa (perhaps modeled off of Iowa Mennonite School in Kalona), Autumn Springer, as they begin a summer of voluntary service in Germany. Hijinks ensue, there are some compelling action movie-type action scenes as well as some compelling emotional scenes, and the growth that the two main characters go through feels earned and plausible.

Although they do not begin the book as friends, Leon and Autumn develop an immediate kinship with each other as “outcasts” (29). NOTE: THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH CONTAINS SOME MILD SPOILERS. Leon is one because he is a stereotypical nerd (which I don’t mean negatively, as I am also one), and Autumn is one because she is the star of a pornographic website that has made her a millionaire (however, N.B., she is not the “fantasy girl” of the title, though in some ways the title fits her character as well). This fact is what makes Leon Martin and the Fantasy Girl a refreshing and important addition to the corpus of Mennonite fiction, and especially U.S. Mennonite fiction, which is in general less racy than that from north of the border. Leon’s struggle to confront his own sexism is a journey that many more Mennonites, both men and women, need to take (and the book does a good job describing the double-standard paradox of men [including Mennonite men] simultaneously consuming pornography while condemning the models in it as “sluts” [e.g., 95]), and Autumn’s refusal to feel sorry for her actions and continued lack of shame about her body is an essential corrective to traditional Mennonite/societal attitudes toward the physical in general and the erotic in particular. The novel’s discussion of disability is another element that has received too little attention in Mennonite literature. END OF SPOILER ALERT.

The novel contains a few deficiencies, mostly of a factual nature. People from Lancaster, Pennsylvania do not say “yous [sic]” like some people do in other parts of the state (33). The idea of one of the American characters, Hat, being allowed to teach soccer to German children old enough to be playing on “varsity” and “junior varsity” teams is highly implausible (36). It is likewise implausible that Leon, who has suffered from extreme chronic arthritis for two years, would not have tried acupuncture before it is introduced to him in the book. We are given the explanation that his mother felt it was too “unorthodox” for him to try (156), but this explanation comes too late in the narrative and does not seem to fit with her willingness to let him play video games constantly (in other words, she is your basic mainstream, reasonably worldly Mennonite, and while there is certainly some distrust of nontraditional medicine in this group I do not think it would be enough to justify how heartless she comes off as being for denying Leon acupuncture after either he or a doctor first suggests it). Finally, the novel’s ending is much, much too neat (this is often the case in Young Adult fiction, but still), which is frustrating because one of the book’s strengths is its tackling of issues with no easy answers, but then the easy answers occur anyway.

However, despite these few issues Leon Martin and the Fantasy Girl is well worth reading. The characters and the issues they deal with are compelling enough that the fact there is a sequel coming out this October is a welcome one.

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Books Acquired Recently

It has been a good summer for book collecting, as the number of volumes on my “to read” shelf now is much larger than it was at the beginning of the summer. My latest batch comes mostly from a recent visit to the Strand, but I also received Lankevich’s and Lepore’s books as gifts from a friend, and bought Shawl and Campbell’s collection on because Samuel R. Delany is one of my research interests.

Charyn, Jerome. Bitter Bronx: Thirteen Stories. New York: Liveright, 2015.

I have not encountered Charyn’s work before, but as a native of the Bronx I am always on the lookout for good fiction about it, and Bitter Bronx‘s blurb (well-written blurbs are so important, and so rare) makes it sound like the stories are well-rooted in their place, which is a literary theme I have been studying recently.

Clowes, Daniel. Ghost World. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 1998.

I have been wanting to read this graphic novel since I saw the film version, and have considered buying it on a number of occasions, but other books always took precedence. However, there was a stack of them at the Strand on one of the second floor tables at a discounted price ($13.49 as opposed to the $14.99 cover price), and I decided it was time.

cummings, e.e. Erotic Poems. Ed. George James Firmage. New York: Liveright, 2010.

I enjoy cummings’s work, in large part because of its frankness about the body, thus when I came across this slim volume it was too tempting to resist. It also includes some of cummings’s erotic drawings.

Lankevich, George J. New York City: A Short History. New York: New York UP, 2002.

Despite being a native of New York City and somewhat of a history buff I know relatively little about the city’s history. I am about two-thirds through the book and it is quite good thus far. It was first published in 1998 and then an expanded version was published in 2002 after 9/11. However, the pre-9/11 chapters were not revised, and there are several instances where other significant events in the city’s history happened on September 11 (laws being signed, and so on), and it is fascinating to read these passages that make no comment on how significant that date would later become. It is also interesting to wonder about the timing of these seemingly coincidental occurrences. It reminds me of the occult concept of ley lines. Are there such a thing as ley dates?

Lepore, Jill. The Secret History of Wonder Woman. New York: Vintage, 2015.

I enjoy Lepore’s writing for the New Yorker, and Wonder Woman is my favorite superhero, so I was quite excited to receive this book.

Palahniuk, Chuck. Beautiful You. 2014. New York: Anchor, 2015.

When Palahniuk is on, his fiction is brilliant, and when he is off, it is gimmicky and mediocre, so I’m always a little nervous to acquire one of his books, but the blurb on this one was intriguing enough (it is about sex toys) to convince me to buy it.

Shawl, Nisi, and Bill Campbell, eds. Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany. Greenbelt: Rosarium, 2015.

This festschrift for Delany includes both essays and fiction, which is an appropriate mixture considering the diversity of his own oeuvre.

Warner, Sylvia Townsend. Summer Will Show. 1936. New York: New York Review, 2009.

I have been wanting to read this novel since reading about it in a feminist literature course back in 2004, and have often searched for it in used bookstores to no avail. I happily discovered this NYRB edition on one of the fiction tables at the back of the Strand (I actually gasped aloud when I saw it). This is what I love about the Strand: while I always find excellent books that I wasn’t looking for, I always also seem to find a book that I am looking for in a way that feels like it was put right there for me to find it.


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Books Acquired Recently: Poetry Edition

Epp, Joanne. Eigenheim. Winnipeg: Turnstone, 2015.

I’ll be reviewing this collection of poetry for Mennonite Quarterly Review, and just received the review copy in the mail. I’ve never read any of Epp’s work before, thus I am excited to get acquainted with the work of another Mennonite writer.

Mirell, Gregory Scott, ed. Utica Poets Society Compendium, Volume 1. Utica: VBLP, 2013.

—, ed. Utica Poets Society Compendium, Volume 2. Utica: VBLP, 2014.

My favorite coffeehouse in Utica, the Tramontane Cafe, recently held a fundraiser that I participated in, and these two volumes of poetry by regular readers from their weekly poetry open mics are one of the gifts they gave contributors.

Van Den Heuvel, Cor, and Nanae Tamura, eds. Baseball Haiku: American and Japanese Haiku and Senryu on Baseball. New York: Norton, 2007.

I was visiting the Oneonta, New York Public Library earlier this week and picked this anthology (hardcover, in like-new condition) up for only $1.00 from their book sale. Baseball and poetry are two great tastes that taste great together, and I also enjoy haiku (the one exception to my strong dislike of poetic forms), so the book was an exciting discovery. It is a perfect companion for reading during between-inning commercials.

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Books Acquired Recently: Road Trip Edition

I just got back from a two-week road trip through Pennsylvania and New York to visit some family and friends, and did some book shopping along the way, all at independent bookstores. Here is what I acquired:

Ashbery, John. Breezeway. New York: Ecco, 2015.

I have always enjoyed Ashbery’s work, and his newest book has gotten good reviews, and I’ve been craving some poetry lately, so I thought I would pick it up. I bought it, Gessen and Squibb’s anthology, and Koch’s book at my favorite place in the world, the Strand.

Gessen, Keith, and Stephen Squibb, eds. City by City: Dispatches from the American Metropolis. New York: Farrar, 2015.

One of the things I love about going to the Strand is finding amazing books that I otherwise wouldn’t have discovered, and this book looks like it will be another instance of that tradition. It is a collection of essays about the current status of various American cities (some large, like Los Angeles, and some relatively small, like Syracuse) and how they have coped with the aftermath of the 2008 economic crash. I am fascinated by both halves of this topic, thus the decision to buy the book was an instant one.

Holmes, Safiya Henderson. Madness and a Bit of Hope. New York: Harlem River, 1990.

I haven’t heard of Holmes before, but her book caught my eye because of the name of the publisher. It has a blurb by June Jordan, who has been an important poet for me, and even though it is signed (“To: Nancy Thank you so much for being here snow & all Safiya ’92”) I was able to buy it for only $5.00 from the Rose & the Laurel Bookshop in Oneonta, New York.

Koch, Kenneth. On the Edge: Collected Long Poems. New York: Knopf, 2007.

I really enjoy Koch’s work and think that his longer poems are some of the best in the American tradition. I’ve been wanting to buy this book for a while: I first discovered it at the Strand several years ago, but didn’t buy it, and have regretted it ever since. Happily, on this visit they had a copy in pristine condition, much better than the original one that I had considered buying.

Lee, Harper. Go Set a Watchman. New York: Harper, 2015.

Like everyone else interested in American literature, I am in a tizzy about Lee’s new novel, in which Atticus Finch is apparently not nearly as sympathetic as he is in To Kill a Mockingbird. I am horrified that Go Set a Watchman might destroy the experience of To Kill a Mockingbird for me, but of course have to read it anyway. I bought my copy at The Green Toad Bookstore in Oneonta, New York.

Sexton, Anne. Selected Poems of Anne Sexton. Ed. Diane Wood Middlebrook and Diana Hume George. 1988. Boston: Houghton, 2000.

I’ve enjoyed Sexton’s poems that I have encountered in anthologies and in the one collection of hers that I’ve read, Transformations. As noted above I’ve been in a poetry-reading mood lately, so when I found a copy of this book in excellent condition for a good price ($9.50) at Winding Way Books in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I decided to buy it.

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Books Acquired Recently

Burroughs, William S. Queer. 1985. New York: Penguin, 1987.

I haven’t read much Burroughs before, but have been meaning to read this novel for quite some time.

Kureishi, Hanif. Outskirts and Other Plays: The King and Me, Borderline, Birds of Passage. London: Faber, 1992.

I love Kureishi’s fiction, but have never read any of his dramatic works. Coming across this omnibus edition seemed like a good occasion to begin doing so.

These two books were bought from The Word bookstore in Montreal on my recent trip there. It is a wonderful little place with books stacked in orderly fashion from floor to ceiling. The prices are very reasonable; both books were each only $6.95 Canadian, and both are in excellent condition.

Rubin, Richard E. Foundations of Library and Information Science. 3rd ed. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2010.

I have been thinking a lot about libraries and their role in our increasingly book-phobic society lately, and realized that I don’t know that much about the discipline of library science itself, including issues of how libraries choose what to collect and what to neglect. I decided to purchase this textbook to help remedy my lack of knowledge.

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My Trip to the Women’s World Cup Semifinal

Me all kitted out in my supporters gear before the match.

Me all kitted out in my supporters gear before the match. I took all of the photographs in this post with my iPhone.

On Tuesday I attended the Women’s World Cup semifinal between the U.S. and Germany held at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. It was an amazing experience! The match was a good one, especially since the U.S. won 2-0.

The U.S. warming up before the match. Twenty years from now in footage from the tournament Nike's ridiculous neon-and-black uniforms are going to look super-dated.

The U.S. warming up before the match. Twenty years from now in footage from the tournament Nike’s ridiculous neon-and-black uniforms are going to look super-dated.

The two teams walking out onto the pitch before the match. The crowd was so loud that it drowned out the beginning of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The two teams walking out onto the pitch before the match. Note the number of fans also taking pictures with their phones. The crowd was so loud that it drowned out the beginning of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

There were over 51,000 people in attendance, and the large majority were rooting for the U.S. I have attended numerous sporting events (mostly baseball, but also football, hockey, and basketball, and a men’s World Cup qualifier which you can read about here), but never have I felt that the crowd affected the outcome of a game as much as it did in this match. It was a de facto home game for the U.S. both in terms of geographical setting and crowd support, and this helped the U.S. get off to an energetic start. However, the crowd made the most difference when Celia Sasic missed a penalty kick for Germany early in the second half. When the referee called the penalty, an anguished hush went over the crowd, but as Sasic prepared to take it the crowd began getting louder, cheering U.S. keeper Hope Solo on, and the fact that 50,000 people were all thinking “miss it, miss it” at the same time certainly helped to make it so. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s what happened. The crowd willed her to miss it, and she did. The cheer after the ball went wide was the loudest sound I have ever heard! It was nearly matched by the cheer when the U.S. was awarded a penalty soon afterward, and then surpassed after Carli Lloyd converted it. The cheer after the U.S. scored their second goal to seal the win was not nearly as loud or long (in part because there was a sense of peace after Lloyd’s goal that the U.S.’s defense would take care of the rest, so while the second goal was nice, the 1-0 lead had not felt especially precarious), and the cheer for Abby Wambach when she came on as a substitute nearly surpassed it, which illustrates how important Wambach still is for the fans even though her role on the team has lessened.

The U.S. players saluting the fans after the match.

The U.S. players saluting the fans after the match.

Aside from enjoying the match as a fan, I also had fun people-watching. The venue is terrible for soccer because of the shape of the stadium, the metal seats that must date from the stadium’s construction for the 1976 Summer Olympics are the most uncomfortable stadium seats I’ve ever sat in (they spring closed whenever their occupant stands up, so every time people got up for a better view of a U.S. scoring chance there would be loud clangs from the seats all around), and the restrooms are woefully inadequate (the men’s room near my section ran out of paper towels before the match even started; the only positive thing I can say about Olympic Stadium is that the french fries they serve there are excellent). But feeling the energy in the crowd and looking at all the different combinations of U.S. gear worn by the fans made these deficiencies inconsequential.

The sea of red, white, and blue-clad fans before the match.

The sea of red, white, and blue-clad fans before the match.

There were a few German fans scattered throughout the crowd. I'm not sure if the woman at the top left of the photograph is yelling at them or something else.

There were a few German fans scattered throughout the crowd. I’m not sure if the woman at the top left of the photograph is yelling at them or something else.

There was a random guy wearing a Russian hockey sweater, which was interesting considering that Russia did not even make the tournament. It is difficult to see, but he had pins from a variety of teams and events spangled across his chest.

There was a random guy wearing a Russian hockey sweater, which was interesting considering that Russia did not even make the tournament. It is difficult to see, but he had pins from a variety of teams and events spangled across his chest.

I have wanted to attend a World Cup match since my early teens, and having this dream come true in Montreal was everything I hoped it would be.

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