Friday, January 29, 2010

Dearest Creature (Amy Gerstler)

It's been a while since the last poetry review here at the Daily Genoshan, and that one sucked, so I thought it was about time to try again. We need to read some good poetry around here, considering that, ya know, that's what I normally write anyway.


Dearest Creature is California poet Amy Gerstler's umpteen millionth book, but it's the first that I've read, so we're gonna pretend for now that those others don't exist. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect—the cover features a half-dozen plastic animal heads mounted to the walls of what looks like a doll's room—and I'm rarely satisfied when I read a poet's work for the first time, but I have to say Gerstler pleasantly surprised me. The book is broken into four parts, Refugee, Creaturely, Maidenly, and Elegy, and each has its own distinctive feel, which is nice. It's good when those kinds of things aren't entirely arbitrary. All of the sections also reach back to the title, though. Most are letters to or from someone, or conversations, or other forms of direct contact. This direct speaking quality brings the book together in ways that the contents of most of the poems never could. Compare the first few lines of "Moon Salutation," from the first section—

Even as I sleep in a ravine
on a mattress of dead grass,

bright jawbreaker,
I do salute you.

—to the opening of "Interview with a Dog," from the second section:

Q: Why on earth did you eat that ten-dollar bill? It can't have tasted nice.

A: Don't be gruff. Anything that falls on the floor is mine. Can I have a cookie now to change my mouth lining flavor? Can I? Can I?

The third section deals mostly with the feminine, as evidenced in poems like "At the Back of a Closet, Two Dresses Converse" and "On the Fatal Consequences of Going Home with the Wrong Man from the Chicago World's Fair, 1893," but each feel at home in the collection. Take for example these lines from "Mrs. Monster Pens Her Memoirs," which again uses the voice that, by this time in the book, the reader has either connected with completely or flatly disregarded (in which case, they probably aren't reading anymore anyway, so who cares?):

Here's a technical question.
Dare I write my fractured past
(squirrelly girlhood, ravenous
adolescence, late-emerging sober
matron graces) in first-person
singular when I'm fragmented
as an undone jigsaw puzzle?
Plural as a litter of kittens?

From here the poem goes on for several pages, detailing the life of this patchwork woman. Now, I don't usually like long poems. To be honest, I don't even really like medium poems. I'm very much a fan of short, concise poetry, but Gerstler keeps her content and word choice interesting enough to hold a reader's attention. I never found myself drifting off in the middle of a page, which says a lot about the quality of her writing.

The final section, Elegy, takes a turn for the slightly depressing, but manages to do so in the same humorous and direct tone that I'd come to enjoy from the first three sections. The poet never overloads us on sorrow, but instead finds smooth roads to slowly lead the reader to an underlying sadness. In "Elegy with Peonies" she opens by saying:

Peonies may indeed be the sluttiest
flowers. Sunk in their ruffles, high on
their own old-rose perfume, they're

all voluptuous appetite. Heavy-headed
billowy blooms in botanical drag,
they make showy hibiscus and

thick-pistilled lilies look like wallpaper
motifs from a more uptight era.

The poem continues on like this, discussing the tawdriness of peonies, for a while, but then abruptly changes to the news she's just received of a friend's suicide. As she thinks back on the man's life and the way he lived it, the reader begins to see a parallel between the departed and the peonies, until ultimately the poem ends with:

I hope the heaven you're in
is replete with heavy metal riffs, science quizzes,

bisexual angels, endless wildness of mind,
and fields of eternally peaking peonies.

It would have been very difficult to understand the peonies as they pertain to a summation of this man's life without first going into the fact that they "may indeed be the sluttiest / flowers." Gerstler handles the poem beautifully.


Dearest Creature
by Amy Gerstler

As I've mentioned before, I don't think it's right to rate poetry on any kind of numerical system. You either connect with it or you don't. Personally, I think Dearest Creature is a fantastic book that covers a lot of ground, but does so in a clear voice that brings the entire collection together. So far, in the last year, there have only been two poetry reviews, and the first one sucked. Hopefully you take my advice on this one and look for Amy Gerstler's work the next time you're searching for something new to read.

Keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, January 22, 2010

The House on Mango Street (Sandra Cisneros)

It is not cheating if I review books that I have to read for school. It is especially not cheating if a book I read for school ends up being pretty good. It is super definitely not cheating if the book is short and really easy to get through, thus facilitating a quick and concise review. Or if I say so.


The House on Mango Street is technically a novel, but in reality it's a collection of super short stories, all revolving around a young girl named Esperanza Cordero. Esperanza lives with her family in a poor neighborhood in 1970s Chicago, and spends most of her time going to the Catholic school down the street and playing with the girls who live on her block. Through her eyes, we see a picture of not only life in the lower class, but of childhood in general, and how kids can be innocent and mature at the same time. Esperanza tells stories about Rafaela, whose husband never lets her out of the house, and Sally, who is so beautiful that her father beats her for being such a burden and attracting boys. Esperanza sees the world not as something that must be blindly accepted, though, but as a thing that can be molded if one wants something badly enough. She imagines herself leaving her small house on Mango Street someday to go off to college and maybe be a writer. It doesn't matter how many kids in her neighborhood have already dropped out of school, or gotten pregnant, or both. Esperanza understands that she doesn't have to be forced into a life she doesn't want just because everyone around her says that's how it is. Despite all of this, The House on Mango Street is never a preachy book, and definitely doesn't judge at all. Esperanza is who she is, and wants what she wants, but the same is true for all of the other characters. Some of them succeed and some are never heard from again, but each story feels real.


The House on Mango Street
by Sandra Cisneros

This book doesn't have much to it—it's barely 100 pages—but that's actually one of its strengths. It doesn't overburden the reader. In and out, point made. I like that in a novel.

I like the vignettes, and I really like that most of them are only a page or two, but it is just another story about growing up in poverty. Esperanza is given a clear voice, which is always helpful, but I wouldn't call it groundbreaking writing.

The rating here gets a boost by the smoothness of the read, but it comes at the price of a lack of investment. There's no real plot, and at times only a vague notion that Esperanza wants to move away some day. It's well-written, and enjoyable, but it's something you could easily get through in an afternoon without much thought.


Not bad for a book I read for school, right? Hopefully we break out of these 7's soon and find some really great—or really terrible—books. Keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Juliet, Naked (Nick Hornby)

Trumpets, please ::bupt buppa bah:: The first new book review of 2010 is finally here! Nick Hornby is the guy who wrote High Fidelity, About a Boy, and Fever Pitch, but I never read any of those, so all I knew about his latest book, Juliet, Naked, going into the reading was that it was probably British. I was right.


I'll admit, I was slightly disappointed when I realized that Juliet, Naked was primarily about a musician and his bare-bones rerelease of his album Juliet (hence the Naked part), and not about some chick who was constantly taking off her clothes. The aforementioned musician is a guy by the name of Tucker Crowe, a singer/songwriter from the late 70s and early 80s who inexplicably went into hiding after a mysterious bathroom encounter in Minnesota in June of 1986. No one knows where disappeared to, and at the time of the story, it's still the source of intense (read: nerdy, intellectual, and mostly online) debate. At the beginning of the novel, none of this seems very important, though, except in that Annie and Duncan, a middle-aged couple from a coastal town in England, do nothing all day except listen to Tucker Crowe's music and write about it online. It's a boring existence. The two have been together for 15 years, but don't seem close to getting married or having kids any time soon, a fact that bothers Annie much more than Duncan. When a new Tucker Crowe album comes out for the first time in decades, and Annie and Duncan have extremely varied opinions on its merit, it starts a fight that dredges up all of the problems that the two have refused to admit to themselves, leaving their relationship in tatters. From there, completely absurd things happen for slightly ludicrous reasons.

It's strange, I know I said absurd things happen, they do, but nothing REALLY happens in this book. The things that do happen are flushed out well, and, again, are absurd, so it never lost my attention, though. I enjoyed it a lot, actually. The only problem I had is that Tucker Crowe is an American, as are some of the other characters, but Hornby has them talking like British people, using prepositions in funny British places. It's not a huge thing, but it does make all of the characters seem like they have the same exact voice. Hornby is funny, and I like his unique narrative voice, it's just a bummer that his characters don't have unique voices as well.

That being said, it's still a very good book. He raises questions on relationships and how people should treat themselves, whether or not they should settle and be safe or be alone instead. There's also ALOT of discussion on what art means, for the artist and the viewer/listener, which is interesting. Knowing that Hornby wrote the great John Cusack/Hugh Grant vehicles that he has, I was a little underwhelmed, but it's not a novel that's trying to save anybody's life or anything. It's a fun story about people who don't know what to do when they realize that they probably just wasted the last fifteen years on someone they don't love. And instead of being gripping and powerful, it's witty and sarcastic. They're British. I would never nominate this book for any prizes, but I would recommend it. Not every novel has to blow you away. Sometimes it's okay for a book to just quietly amuse you, or make you think about the choices you've made without forcing you to change your life. It's not heavy-handed, it's not preachy, it's a cute, quirky story. Go for it.


Juliet, Naked
by Nick Hornby

Nothing revelatory, but definitely enjoyable. I can completely understand why Nick Hornby has done well for himself, if all of his other novels are as solid as this. Points off for the lack of naked Juliets, though.

The lack of character distinction did bother me a little bit, but Hornby has his own voice that does come across very strongly, which helped a lot. He's a funny guy, in an awkward, Colin Firth kind of way.

If you like British humor, you'll like this book. If you like unromantic romantic comedies, you'll like this book. If you had a crush on John Cusack when you were in high school and always secretly wished that he would come to your house holding a boombox over his head, even though Nick Hornby didn't write that one, you'll still like this book. If you like realistic situations where nothing completely ridiculous happens... actually, then you probably won't like this book. But if you answered "yes" to those first three, go ahead and check out Juliet, Naked.


And we've officially kicked off 2010! Thanks for all your support in the new year! Keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Top 10 Books of 2009 and Review Recap!

On January 8, 2009, the Daily Genoshan put up its very first review. Exactly one year later, the Genoshan has 42 full book reviews under its belt, as well as 7 short story supplements, and 5 random updates. 54 posts in 52 weeks is not bad for the first year. (Of course, in 2010 we'll be shooting for the full 52 book reviews, but we can discuss that more a year from now.) I decided that a great way to celebrate the first anniversary of that first review, and also usher in the new year, would be to recap all the reviews of 2009, starting with the Top Ten.

The Daily Genoshan Top Ten isn't the best books that came out last year, but the best books that I read and reviewed. So yeah, it's a little subjective, and some of the books are a little old, but that's ok. After the Top Ten will be the recap—the review review—so all of you Genoshans out there can look at the books side-by-side and see if there are any that you missed by accident and might want to read. Enough out of me, though, let's get to the Top Ten!

The Daily Genoshan's Top Ten Books of 2009

10. Tie: John Dollar by Marianne Wiggins; and Candide by Voltaire—8.61

8. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters—8.89

7. 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez—8.9

6. Tie: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; and Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan—9

4. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith—9.22

3. The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—9.33

2. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—9.39

...and the #1 book of 2009...

1. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer—9.56

***Honorable mentions include Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard by Kiran Desai (8.59); The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide by Douglas Adams (8.44); Bone by Jeff Smith (8.28); The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (8.17); and White Oleander by Janet Fitch (8.04)***

It's interesting to note that, in the entire Top Ten, there are essentially only 6 authors (if you count both of Jane Austen's books as one author, I mean). It's also kinda interesting that the first and last reviews of the year—100 Years of Solitude and The Valley of Fear, respectively—both made the list. Hopefully 2010 will start and end with a bang as well!

Continuing with business, I thought it might also be fun to highlight the worst books of the year, though they were so painful to read that I can only bring myself to list to top (or bottom, actually) three.

The Daily Genoshan's Worst Three Books of 2009

3. The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs—4.89

2. Atonement by Ian McEwan—4.28

...and the absolute worst book of 2009...

1. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller—4.25

Those books sucked. It hurts to even think about them at this point.

Anyway, I know there are links to all of the posts over on the side bar, but they don't give you the ratings, so here for your convenience are links to all of the reviews of 2009, with their numerical ratings. The Top Ten and Bottom Three are listed here, too, in case you're super lazy and don't feel like scrolling back up.


100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez—8.9
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold—6.5
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan—9


Diary of a Wimpy Kid: A Novel in Cartoons by Jeff Kinney—7
He's Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo—6.2
The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling—7.9


The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs—4.89
Agents of Atlas by Jeff Parker—7.72
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers—7.57


Scud: The Disposable Assassin by Rob Schrab—7.72
Candide by Voltaire—8.61
Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller—4.25
The New Avengers by Brian Michael Bendis—7.67


The Hood: Blood From Stones by Brian K. Vaughan—7.19
Time and Materials by Robert Hass—Poetry not rated
Atonement by Ian McEwan—4.28


The Martian Tales Trilogy by Edgar Rice Burroughs—7.89
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen—7.5
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith—9.22


The Dead Guy Interviews by Michael A. Stusser—6.22
Bone by Jeff Smith—8.28
Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut—7 *2009's only guest post!*
X-Men: Mutant Massacre by Chris Claremont—6.17


White Oleander by Janet Fitch—8.04
The Next 100 Years by George Friedman—7.8
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley—7


Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters—8.89
The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown—7.11
The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels—6.5


John Dollar by Marianne Wiggins—8.61
The Zahir by Paulo Coelho—7.34
Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard by Kiran Desai—8.59
The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide by Douglas Adams—8.44
Peter & Max by Bill Willingham—7.57


Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer—9.56
Lost Girls by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie—Porn not rated
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee by Rebecca Miller—6.78
A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—9


The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—8.17
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—9.39
The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—9.33

And don't forget all the wonderful Sherlock Holmes short story reviews!


Phew, that was tough. I hope this guide to 2009 is helpful, Genoshans. Happy New Year, and, as always, keep reading!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Final Sherlock Holmes Short Story Review!

Well, not exactly. Instead of reviewing the last eight Sherlock Holmes short stories for you, I decided that I'd rather hear what you think. A few of these last eight were completely absurd ("The Adventure of the Creeping Man" was definitely out there), while some were ingenious (I'm looking at you, "The Problem of Thor Bridge"), but they were all distinctly Holmesian. At this point, if you've been reading all of the Holmes reviews, you're either going to rush out and get your hands on the stories yourself, or you're not really interested. For those who plan on reading them, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the last eight stories:

"The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire"
"The Adventure of the Three Garridebs"
"The Problem of Thor Bridge"
"The Adventure of the Creeping Man"
"The Adventure of the Lion's Mane"
"The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger"
"The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place"
"The Adventure of the Retired Colourman"

***Extra points for anyone who goes out and reads the two very short Sherlock Holmes parodies that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published, "The Field Bazaar" and "How Watson Learned the Trick."***

I had an incredible time with this project. The stories were amazing, and it led me to go see a film that I might not have gone to see on my own. The movie Sherlock Holmes was a ton of fun for me, and not just because I've immersed myself in Holmes' world these past couple months. Guy Ritchie, the director, took plenty of liberties with the characters of Holmes, Watson, Adler, and Blackwood, but still made an enjoyable film. I loved when little pieces of Holmesian trivia came out in the movie, but didn't mind when they changed things completely. I don't usually review films here at the Daily Genoshan, so I won't go into detail really, but this one is highly recommended.

I hope my Sherlock Holmes experiment was as much fun for you as it was for me. Maybe it will turn a few readers on to the great detective's exploits. They're easily found online, and there are cheap versions of the complete works available at Barnes & Noble, as well. Make sure to tune in this Friday for a special 2009 review recap, and again next Friday for the first new fiction review of 2010! Until then, keep reading, Genoshans!

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