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From New York City to Israel, combat zones to loading bays, pristine resort hotels to nicotine drenched rehab centers: Joshua Cohen’s latest novel, Moving Kings, examines the intricate and often frustrating approaches taken in those attempts to best perceive one’s sense of self. Though Yoav and Uri fought in the IDF for three years, their ties to Israel are waning. After moving to New York, the two begin to reestablish their lives free of outsider influence. They go to parties, drink too much, hit on girls, and occasionally find themselves pretending to be from somewhere other than their home. But the longer they try to escape their perceived or completely fabricated ties to a specific religion, race, nation, or family, the further they float away from one another. Cohen’s locomotive language, coupled with a spectacular eye for emotive detailing, results in a novel whose breadth and depth spans far beyond the initial page count. The settings, characters, and events of this novel bite like no other. It’s in the end that Cohen informs us that no single person, or place, or experience, is free from the world that surrounds it—our home is everywhere and nowhere.
I fell in love with Weike Wang’s unnamed protagonist long before I ever fully understood the character’s motives. There’s just something about her which makes it impossible not to adore her. Sometimes when she’s upset, she smashes beakers. She always measures her paychecks in pizzas, not dollars. She thinks her dog is a cat even though she knows he’s clearly a dog and he knows he’s clearly a dog but for some reason he still continues to act like a cat. She likes to watch “Mad Max” late at night because all the machine guns make her feel tough. She drinks a little too much. She tells the students she tutors they’re improving even when they’re not. But best of all, in order to better comprehend her recent break-up, strife-ridden relationship with her parents, and abandonment of her PhD in chemistry, this young woman turns to comic lyricism combined with a resounding capacity to analogize science upon the everyday. Whether it’s her depression, ambivalence, or genuine confusion, the protagonist of Weike Wang’s Chemistry tackles those convoluted, problematic systems of human interaction with austere wit and genuine honesty.
In the contemporary era of smart phones, mass media, rampant political grotesqueries, preconceived judgements based off of appearances, and the split of Brad and Angelina, what does one have to sing praise of, or for? In the case of Olds, there is still a great deal of singing left to be sung. One’s thoughts, body, friends, lovers, and best of all, sense of self, are still worthy of versified adoration. With an intense subjectivity, Olds writes in a style that is anything but demure. Free in both form and wit, this collection is filled with wry, awkward, and unique observations. Odes to the various essences of femininity and heteronormative feminine relationships offer an astounding view of what it means to be a female in relation to one’s age. As if that were not enough, you will be laughing every page.
Elkin’s history of the subversive and exclamatory manners by which women walk throughout urban spaces is as exhilarating as it is necessary. From Jean Rhys to Martha Gellhorn, this book surgically deconstructs the sexist conceptualizations of flanuerie and replaces them with something more informed, subtle. I found myself rereading passages over and over again—there is a musicality to these arguments which makes them unshakable. A blurring of memoir, literary theory, and gender studies, “Flanuese” is an honest, and insightful read for anyone who wishes to fully comprehend the artistry of strolling about town.
Don’t let the title trick you: though Batuman’s debut masquerades as a Bildungsroman story following a peculiar, completely aware, yet somehow disconcerted protagonist, the central pillar of this funny novel is the confusion that results as one enters into a linguistic community. Selin, a bright freshman at Harvard University hopes that her education will result in a more apt ability to discern meaning from a world filled with cliché dorm room posters, familiar romantic narratives, and those annoying acknowledgements offered as responses to writing which is painfully autobiographical. With tragic insight and exceptional pace, Batuman’s narrative of a young woman coming to terms with the reality of the words which surround her is an enchanting read.
Chang’s exquisite history examines the process by which the vernacular—an authentic art form—inevitably becomes the massified—various commodities mimicking cultural expression. This book covers every facet of hip-hop culture: scratching, breaking, tagging, rapping, MCing, DJing, and the rise of record labels, are explored with insightful care and critique. Chang’s holistic perspective and grassroots approach results in an artist’s and listener’s history of a truly American phenomenon. The analysis provided throughout these pages is beyond provocative—this book makes you rethink your conceptualization of both hip-hop and popular music/culture.
Whenever I find myself struggling to fully unpack a poem—which, if we are being honest, is often a daily experience—I reach for this collection of lectures. Ruefle writes in a colloquial, yet somehow theoretical, language. These lectures are wise, silly, and at various times, frightening. They will remain fixed within the brain long after their final words are consumed. Though one often wishes for resolution—especially when attempting to comprehend a poem and or poetry—Ruefle’s lectures deliver a pleasant opposite. Even when the poet is attempting to expose those various issues central to the existence and workings of poetry, Ruefle simultaneously respects the necessity for certain questions to remain unanswered. A must-read for any and all lovers of poetry.
With sincere adoration and an exhaustive critical scope, Buell investigates those American works which have become integral components in our nation’s striving to better understand itself. The book’s excavation goes beyond a terminology of the "Greats" or "Greatness." Instead, Buell witnesses both the novel and its posturing within American culture as the result of a particular writer’s imaginative capacity to encapsulate. Morrison, Fitzgerald, Lee, Stowe, and Pynchon are just some of the few writers taken up for consideration. In committing to such a difficult and problematic task, Buell reimagines the skeletal framework of American literature. As a result thereof, the definition of artistry is drastically changed to be far more inclusive and one might even suggest, moral. If you have ever wondered why "Beloved" or "Moby-Dick" is supposedly one of the greatest American novels, spend some time with Buell—he will enlighten and excite in manners often overlooked.
Like most avid readers of poetry, there resides a special place in my heart for Sylvia Plath. Which is quite funny since there remains a great deal about Plath: her upbringing, marriage, friendships, opinions regarding her work, and suicide which we still don’t completely comprehend. Instead of constructing a definitive portrait, Malcolm unpacks Plath’s confusing, contradictory mythologies with grace and analytical patience. This book is subtle, informed, relaxed, and unrelenting in all that it observes. In the end, Malcolm does not argue that there is one or many versions of the beloved poetess. Quite the contrary: there are many, many, different versions of us, the readers, who ensure, sometimes to the point of demise, that our mythology, our idea of Plath, is the real version which used to be alive—as if a poet ever truly dies.
Though admitting such may be an act of blasphemy, I had yet to read any Keith Taylor poetry until this collection (gasp!). Alas, I now find myself angry at past Bennet. Throughout these poems Keith exposes the reader to a bevy of images, noises, and best of all, revelations. There are startling little surprises within every poem. Whether it be the timbering of antique trees or observations felt while peeing outside on a cold night, Keith’s speakers go to those places most often hide from. It is with sincere honesty and an unabashed desire to exhibit the difficult that this collection grips any who read it.