Tag Archives: Di Brandt

Books Acquired Recently

Abramović, Marina. Walk Through Walls: A Memoir. New York: Crown Archetype, 2016.

Abramović is my favorite artist, and I pre-ordered this book as soon as I heard about it via her Facebook page. I love how she inserts her body into her work, insisting that art is always in some way autobiographical. I am excited to see how she handles the genre of written autobiography. Judging from the dust jacket blurb, the book is more properly spoken of as autobiography rather than as memoir, as its subtitle claims, but memoir is so marketable these days that it is understandable (though not necessarily justifiable) why the publisher would choose to mislabel it.

This and Smith’s book were purchased from amazon.com.

Atwood, Margaret. Hag-Seed: “The Tempest” Retold. London: Hogarth, 2016.

I recently received this book, which is signed by the author, as a gift. Hogarth has a series of retellings of Shakespeare’s plays by contemporary authors. This is a genre Atwood has worked in before, and I enjoy the writing of hers that I’ve read, so I am optimistic that the book will be an enjoyable one.

Johnson, E. Patrick, ed. No Tea, No Shade: New Writings in Black Queer Studies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016.

Johnson’s anthology Black Queer Studies is an essential book in both the queer and African American literary critical canons, and a book that has had a significant impact on me as a scholar. Therefore, when I first heard about No Tea, No Shade, a follow-up collection, I ordered an examination copy from the publisher immediately.

Smith, Zadie. Swing Time. New York: Penguin Press, 2016.

I have loved Smith’s fiction since I first read White Teeth in a graduate school course eleven years ago. She is one of a select group of authors whose books I buy immediately without question (Nicholson Baker, Di Brandt, Samuel R. Delany, Don DeLillo [though he might be off the list now because his last book was so poor], Jonathan Safran Foer, Jeff Gundy, Julia Spicher Kasdorf, and Miriam Toews), and thus I pre-ordered this book as soon as I heard about it.

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Books Acquired Recently

Lee, Catherine J.S., ed. A Splash of Water: Haiku Society of America Members’ Anthology 2015. New York: Haiku Society of America, 2015.

Each year the Haiku Society of America publishes an anthology of work by its members on a specific theme, and each member receives a copy. This year’s theme was water. I’ve read about half of it thus far, and despite the repetition of subject matter a number of the poems are compelling.

Zacharias, Robert, ed. After Identity: Mennonite Writing in North America. University Park: Penn State UP, 2015.

I was very excited to receive this book in the mail today because it is my contributor’s copy! My essay, “Queering Mennonite Literature,” appears on pages 143-58. The book is a collection of revised essays from a 2013 symposium at Penn State on identity issues in Mennonite literature. My essay is nestled between chapters by Di Brandt and Jeff Gundy, two poets and  critics whose work has played a major role in my life, and it is a dream come true to be published alongside them. Another of my favorite poets, Julia Spicher Kasdorf, also has an essay in the volume.

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Books Acquired Recently: Mennonite Literature Edition

As I mentioned in a recent entry, I attended Mennonite/s Writing VII at Fresno Pacific University two weeks ago. Aside from the books that I bought at the conference, I also came away with a number of recommendations of books, and these texts have been arriving in the mail all week. I was able to order nearly all of them from amazon.com’s network of independent booksellers, but in two instances I ran into the issue of books published by Canadian companies not being readily available in the U.S. Thus I had to order Dueck’s book directly from Turnstone Press and Bergen’s book from a Canadian bookseller that I found on abebooks.com.

Bechtel, Greg. Boundary Problems. Calgary: Freehand, 2014.

Bechtel writes science fiction and is thus one of the very few Mennonite writers writing speculative fiction. This subfield is growing more and more, however, which is an exciting development.

Bergen, David. Leaving Tomorrow. Toronto: Harper, 2014.

Bergen is my favorite Mennonite novelist, and in recent years he’s been incredibly prolific, but sadly most of these books have not been published in the U.S.

Birdsell, Sandra. Night Travellers. 1982. Toronto: General, 1984.

I read this novel in stories straight through last night. What a powerful, early feminist Mennonite text!

Dueck, Dora. What You Get at Home. Winnipeg: Turnstone, 2012.

I read Dueck’s novel This Hidden Thing several years ago and thought it was only so-so, but I heard that this short story collection includes a story with a queer protagonist, and since LGBT Mennonite literature is a major interest of mine I decided to buy it.

Also, it is important to acknowledge the essential role Turnstone Press has played in support of Mennonite literature since they began publishing Mennonite writers in the 1980s. Aside from Dueck and Klassen, they have also published such heavyweights as Di Brandt, Patrick Friesen, and Miriam Toews.

Klassen, Sarah. The Wittenbergs. Winnipeg: Turnstone, 2013.

I met Klassen at the conference and she gave me a copy of one of her poetry collections for free (which I enjoyed), so I wanted to return the favor by making sure to buy one of her novels as well.

Redekop, Corey. Husk. Toronto: ECW, 2012.

This novel also apparently involves a queer protagonist.

—. Shelf Monkey. Toronto: ECW, 2007.

When I heard about Husk, I went to Redekop’s website to learn more about him and his work, and the description of Shelf Monkey (“Thomas Friesen has three goals in life. Get a job. Make friends. Find a good book to curl up with. After landing a job at READ, the newest hypermegabookstore, he feels he may have accomplished all three. … If you’ve ever thrown a book against a wall in disgust; if you’ve ever loved a novel that no one else can stand; if you obsess over the proper use of punctuation; this may be the novel for you”) was irresistible, so I bought it as well.

Snyder, Carrie. Girl Runner. New York: Harper, 2015.

I read this novel last weekend and it is excellent.

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The Ten Most Influential Books List

I recently participated in the Facebook meme that asks for a list of the ten most influential books on a person’s life. Here is my list with some brief comments:

1. boneyard by Stephen Beachy—This book showed myself to me in an exact way that I had never encountered before in literature. Queer and Anabaptist: two great tastes that taste great together.

2. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer—My favorite book until I read boneyard. I’ve read it over half-a-dozen times and it always makes me cry. The last line is heartwrenching: “We would have been safe.”

3. questions i asked my mother by Di Brandt—Really all of Brandt’s poetry, but this collection is the one that I read first and that stays the most vivid in my mind. Brandt gave me a model for how to be transgressive when I really needed one.

4. Sleeping Preacher and 5. Eve’s Striptease by Julia Spicher Kasdorf—These two books feel inseparable for me. Kasdorf was the first poet whose work I read that made me realize that poetry could be relevant to my life.

6. Rhapsody With Dark Matter by Jeff Gundy—I had the same reaction to Gundy’s work as I did to Kasdorf’s. (Also, it drives me nuts that “with” in the title shouldn’t be capitalized here. What a dumb rule. I think it’s a significant enough word that it should be capitalized, which is why I have done so.)

7. The Tides of Lust by Samuel R. Delany—This isn’t my favorite Delany novel, but it’s the first one that I read (I also did a dissertation chapter on it), and it was good enough to get me interested in all of the others. Delany is the author whose work has been most influential on my current thinking.

8. Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places by Laud Humphries—I read this while doing research for a paper during my senior year of college, and it completely changed my view of the world because it told me about a practice (i.e., anonymous gay sex) that I had no idea existed. It taught me to begin looking at the margins, because that’s where the really interesting, revolutionary stuff happens. It also helped me to see physical space in a new way.

9. The Blue Mountains of China by Rudy Wiebe—In hindsight, this was my first encounter with postmodern fiction, which is now my favorite kind of fiction. When I first read it, its ethical vision was extremely formative for me.

10. My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok—This was the first text I read that explored the relationship between religion and art in a serious way. If I hadn’t read this book, the words of the poets mentioned above would have fallen on deaf ears.

Three observations on this list: 1. It is overwhelmingly Mennonite, showing that no matter how hard I try I just can’t get away, and 2. I encountered half of the texts while at Goshen College, which proves something about the importance of a good liberal arts education. 3. After a few days’ reflection, I still stand by the list’s accuracy. The only glaring omission is Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine (But what would it replace? My first thought is Potok’s novel, but reading My Name is Asher Lev made my appreciation of many of the rest of the books on this list possible), which I actually think about more than any other book because of its chapter on public restrooms. Every time I go into a public restroom that I haven’t been in before (i.e., the restroom at my job doesn’t count because of how frequently I use it), I check to see whether it has a paper towel dispenser (and if so, what kind) or a hand dryer. The science of hand dryers has advanced a lot since the novel was written, and so sometimes they are better than paper towels, but I still generally agree with the novel’s argument in favor of the paper towels. Both options need to be well-designed in order to fulfill their function of getting one’s hands dry in a sanitary manner, though. It almost is not fair to compare them as entire categories.

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Books Acquired Recently: More Canadian Mennonites Edition

D’anna, Lynnette. fool’s bells. Toronto: Insomniac, 1999.

D’anna is the pen name of Lynnette Dueck, a Canadian writer of Mennonite origin. A friend who knows that I am interested in the intersection between sexuality and literature recommended D’anna/Dueck’s work to me; apparently it is quite explicit, which is a rarity in Mennonite literature. I may end up writing about it as a result. I’ve ordered a bunch of her books from amazon.com’s network of booksellers, and this is the first one to arrive (i.e., get ready for several more Books Acquired Recently entries on her work in the near future!).

Jacobsen, Annie, with Jane Finlay-Young and Di Brandt. Watermelon Syrup. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier UP, 2007.

I acquired this novel because Brandt, one of my favorite poets, is listed as one of the authors, and I would love to read some fiction by her. As it turns out, she did not actually write any of the book. Jacobsen wrote it, but died before she could revise and publish it, so per her directions Finlay-Young revised it and had Brandt act as a consultant on the Mennonite issues in the book because Jacobsen had Mennonite ancestry and the novel includes several Mennonite characters. It looks interesting, but for different reasons than I first anticipated. I ordered it via amazon.com from Better World Books‘s United Kingdom branch; it was originally owned by a library in Chelsea.

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The New Site Photograph

I just updated the main photograph for the site (what Facebook would call the “cover photo”). It is a picture of one of my favorite shelves in the poetry section of my library. The photograph includes some of my favorite poets and one of my favorite books of poetry, William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, which is a beautifully reproduced combined volume of Blake’s engravings for Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience published by Oxford University Press.

Blake is followed on the shelf by Di Brandt, my second favorite poet after Frank O’Hara. I have all of her books (her first collection, questions i asked my mother, is still my favorite), as well as a selection of her poems edited by Tanis MacDonald. Gwendolyn Brooks is next. Her Selected Poems only goes through 1963, so I have several of her later collections as well, which I enjoy not only for their content but also aesthetically, as I am a collector of old Broadside Press volumes.

Sterling A. Brown’s Collected Poems, which I read for my Ph.D. exams and thus feel sentimental towards, follows. Ana Castillo’s My Father Was a Toltec and Selected Poems contains some enjoyable work, although I prefer her fiction.

Other highlights on the shelf are C.P. Cavafy’s Complete Poems, which I enjoy because of their unabashed homoeroticism, and Sandra Cisneros’s Loose Woman, which is one of the best single collections of poems that I’ve ever read. I read a lot of Lucille Clifton when I first began investigating poetry, and think of her fondly even though I haven’t returned to her work for some time.

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Ervin Beck on David Foster Wallace

There is a fascinating, impressively-researched article about David Foster Wallace’s relationship to religious faith by Ervin Beck in the latest issue of the Journal of the Center for Mennonite Writing. Wallace is one of my favorite writers, and Beck is a former professor of mine and one of the most important mentors that I’ve had, so I was very excited to read the article this afternoon. Despite its sectarian-sounding title (“David Foster Wallace Among the Mennonites;” Mennonites [including lapsed Mennos such as myself] love to talk about famous people’s connections with Mennonites, with Rembrandt being the most common example. Contemporary examples of celebrities who are either Mennonite or had/have strong Menno connections include Phyllis Diller, Newt Gingerich, Matt Groening, and the Canadian authors Rudy Wiebe, Di Brandt, and Patrick Friesen), the article is of interest for anyone who enjoys Wallace’s work or is interested in contemporary fiction. As is well known, Foster lived a tortured life, struggling with mental illness and constantly feeling that his work was never good enough despite its brilliance. Beck’s article does a beautiful job of sensitively addressing these issues and the role they played in Wallace’s interactions with his Mennonite acquaintances. This is no surprise, as Ervin is one of the sweetest, kindest persons I have ever had the privilege to meet.

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