I'm a proud bibliophile and read almost anything I can get my hands on, and am always looking for new book recommendations. When not reading I'm writing poetry or working on a new art project.

The Hatred of Poetry

The Hatred of Poetry - Ben Lerner

Within the past decade, even the last several years, the genre of poetry has undergone vast changes, both in terms of style and subject matter, but also in regard to its reception. Recent successes of poets like Rupi Kaur and Claudia Rankine have proved that there is a growing interest in the genre, and some, like Lerner, have come to question whether this marks a potential turning point in the way the public views poetry and poets.

In a single essay-like ‘chapter,’ Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry introduces the reader to what he sees as the main dilemma:

Many more people agree they hate poetry than can agree what poetry is. (p. 6)

Lerner’s argument begins with the basics, describing the all too familiar belief — or, in the case of Plato, fear — that a poet possesses a power that is inaccessible to the rest of the public, an ability to reach out and not only touch an invisible ‘Other’ but also to give it some kind of physical form. Still others, as he describes in the example of his childhood teacher Mr. X, believe that poetry is accessible to all, as it is rooted in humanity’s own poetic nature. There is nothing surprisingly new in these statements, yet there is a significant impact upon reading these sentiments on paper — It produced within me a sense of reassurance, to know I wasn’t the only one who was puzzled by these very same observations.

It is upon bringing up the concept of the “published poet” and the desire for recognition that Lerner begins to transition into the more analytical section of his discussion, presenting examples of a “very bad” poem, as well as discussing some better poets who have been praised throughout history, namely Keats and Dickinson. Once Whitman enters the picture, Lerner’s discussion takes a more pointed direction as he gives a more concrete framework for the sentiments expressed in the beginning: the concept of the poet as all-knowing, and the pressure the poet feels given the belief that he is capable of speaking for “everyone.” Public scrutiny and misconceptions are as central to the book as the train of thought Lerner carries through it, the most memorable being the “practical” side of the poet that the current economically-minded society enjoy bringing up frequently:

This is related to how poets and non-poets both tend to attack poets for entering the academy, for becoming teachers: On the one hand, it’s too mercenary, too close to a real job [. …] On the other hand, it repeats the scandal of leisure — the academy isn’t the “real world,” you don’t work “real” hours, it’s impossible to measure whether you’re transmitting skills, and so on. (p. 53)

As a ‘poet’ myself — a label I use very hesitantly, not only because of how recent it is, but also due to the argument about one’s success — Lerner’s argument was relevant and important on a much more personal level. Many of his observations, as I mentioned, are common occurrences today, but there is something reassuring in seeing them printed before your eyes, to know you’re not the only one who picked up on them and who was possibly bothered by it. He did a slightly weaker job in discussing the specific poems, like Whitman’s or Dickinson’s, at times making the book seem like it has slipped off and gotten lost in its own thought process and jargon, developing a sharper academic tone that relates back to why people may have such a dislike for academic poets in the first place. The ending also came across as something out of the blue, not as successful in wrapping up the argument as it could’ve been.

All of the above aspects can be overlooked more readily compared to the loophole which Lerner left behind, an aspect of the conversation he could’ve considered but didn’t, either consciously choosing to leave it alone or maybe simply forgetting about it. What I’m talking about is sometimes called the phenomenon of the ‘Tumblr poet,’ poets like Meggie Royer and Trista Mateer, both of whom amassed quite a fanbase online. Younger poets in general, ones like Warsan Shire and Jeanann Verlee, were overlooked in his entire argument, despite the way in which they fit into his loose ends here and there about contemporary poets who choose to write from their individual lenses, something they often get criticized for. Given the relative short length of the book, it’s understandable that there is much left unspoken. At that same time, leaving out such a significant part of poetry points to the very same narrow view which Lerner, on several occasions, pokes fun at.

The Hatred of Poetry should be viewed as a starting point for those interested in reading more about poetry, about its critics and also some of its historical struggles as a genre. The book certainly makes a good attempt at being accessible, and the occasional mini-tangents are forgivable to the curious reader or easy to overlook for the casual one. It is a book that reads easily, with a few jokes here and there that may — or may not — elicit the desired reaction. Its strength, however, lies in its honesty, in its ability to capture and present the whispers of society in precise words:

Our contempt for any particular poem must be perfect, be total, because only a ruthless reading that allows us to measure the gap between the actual and the virtual will enable us to experience, if not a genuine poem — no such thing — a place for the genuine, whatever that might mean. (p. 9).

Why Preservation Matters

Why Preservation Matters (Why X Matters Series) - Max Page

Both accessible and relevant to today's society, Page touches not only upon what one initially thinks of when hearing of preservation, namely the aesthetic value of buildings, but he goes much further to discuss the problematic economic points that have become more relevant in the 21st century than they have ever been. The most fascinating were the last two chapters, 6 and 7, the 6th touching upon how one should approach the preservation of problematic places, the sites of atrocities and horror that some countries don't want to acknowledge. The 7th, meanwhile, returns to aesthetics by discussing how one can come to terms or at least begin to consider what it is about buildings that makes one seem more worthy of preservation than another. Informative but not overbearing, Page's voice is easy to follow and compelling, making this a book that is perfect both for the casual and curious reader, as well as serving as a starting point for an art history student or budding preservationist.

The Odyssey

The Odyssey - Homer, Richmond Lattimore

Considering how fast my professor skimmed over this book I really felt like I was figuring out "The Odyssey" on my own. Some parts were very striking and familiar, for though I never read the entire work from beginning to end there were individual moments, like the encounters with Circe and the Cyclops, which I knew from reading Greek myths as a child. At other times, Homer's digressions got a little lengthy and hard to follow. It isn't hard to see why Homer is considered to be a fundamental writer of the trope, but it wasn't something I personally was blown away by it.


Sequence - A. F. Moritz

Once again I’m reminded how incredibly lucky I am to have taken a class with Professor Moritz, for his poetry is truly amazing. “Sequence” was by far the best of his collections I’ve read so far as it is precisely the style of poetry I love most. The book is divided into several sections, some of which have a rather plot-like progression to them while others are united by a sense of urgency and emotion. What all these poems have in common is their ability to build an atmosphere that swallows the reader and effortlessly snatches up one’s attention. I imagine the best way to appreciate “Sequence” would be to sit outside on a warm summer night, with someone you care deeply for right next to you as you both take turns reading these poems out loud, for that is where they belong — to be mingling with the air and wind, released back to the very nature and desert which they speak of, while at the same time touching upon and capturing that complex, dream quality to our own human existence that is easily overlooked or taken for granted. This collection makes the world both slow down and speed up as you read it, taking you on a dangerous journey while simultaneously wrapping you in a warm blanket and taking you by the hand, quietly promising to bring you back enlightened.

The Poetry of Rilke

The Poetry of Rilke - Rainer Maria Rilke

If after finishing “Letter to a Young Poet” I was sure I knew what Rilke was talking about and thought him to be a wise man, then after reading his poems I found myself a bit on the fence. His style was, at times, quite heavy and quite enamoured with its own wording and ideas, going off on mini tangents and personal conversations that were difficult to follow. There were some poems however that were absolutely beautiful, from start to finish. Whether they were one of the shorter ones or a not, some of Rilke’s poems were moving and enchanting. I found myself not a big fan of his more “traditional” works, poems that has a lot of Biblical/religious themes, or which followed the third-person general/sweeping kind of tone. His work takes some warming up to as well as several reads in order for the full scope of his talent to be appreciated. There is certainly something enjoyable in his poems, even if it was hard to read more than a few at a time before getting antsy.

Zero K

Zero K - Don DeLillo

My experience with reading DeLillo’s work is very limited, beginning only during my first semester of university when my professor said we’ll be reading “Cosmopolis”. I found it to be a quirky and rather strange book, and while I had qualms with it, there was still a significant sense of enjoyment after finishing it.


The same cannot be said for “Zero K”, which was pushing my patience from about page 70, and made it fully run out half way through the book, at chapter 10 (page 137). If “Cosmopolis” manages to still make a point with its strange, and at times dull and redundant, writing, then “Zero K” sucks all the life out of a topic that should’ve been emotional.


The story’s protagonist Jeffrey Lockhart remains dull and forgettable even up to the halfway point of the novel, being defined only by his endless uncertainties and muddled, pseudo-philosophical thoughts. His father Ross is defined as a poor father and a rather poor human without that necessarily being stated, running a program that freezes people in the hopes of defrosting them in the future. The nuances of the project aren’t fully worked out either, the reader being told bits and pieces of it. Artis remains a mostly undefined character up to the halfway point of the book, only being the center of attention because she is dying and the conversation of how the process works is thus grounded with her as the specific example.


The writing is quite muddled and slow, making it difficult to immerse into the story. Jeffrey makes for an unreliable and problematic narrator, with his constant side thoughts and overlapping ideas. The only thing about him that was mildly entertaining was his insistence to name strangers, which reminded me of someone close to me in real life. There were also a couple of quirky moments with some simple but nonetheless clever thoughts that made me hope, temporarily, that perhaps things would change and the story would pick up, lines like:


“What’s the point of living if we don’t die at the end of it?” (p. 40)


Sadly, that was far from the case, and “Zero K” managed to suck all the life out of a topic that was supposed to feel human and emotional, something that the reader should be invested in and care about considering all discussions about whether such a process of freezing and defrosting in the future could be possible. If anything, DeLillo made me hope even more strongly that science will never achieve such a thing, for humans are quite the selfish and terrible creatures that would only wreak more havoc, given the possibility of an “eternal” life. Adding nothing new to the subject matter or genre, the best way to describe the book is to use one of the lines from it as an analogy:


The room was small and featureless. It was generic to the point of being a thing with walls. (p. 20)

Ghostly Echoes

Ghostly Echoes: A Jackaby Novel - William Ritter

Reading “Ghostly Echoes” could be captured best, I think, using the metaphor of the teenager. The book is at the part in the series where the initial giddiness and adrenaline of the first book has worn off, and the tougher questions and plot nuances begin coming to light. Unlike it’s immediate predecessor, “Ghostly Echoes” is much tidier with its loose ends — the holes in the plot are no longer as daunting as Jackaby begins giving readers some answers, particularly when it comes to Jenny and how she is connected with the entire case that has begun with the seemingly unrelated first adventure that Abigail and Jackaby embark upon in the beginning of the series.


The book has clearly shown signs of growth, the most notable of which was the character of Lydia Lee. When it comes to playing a part in the plot itself, Lydia had quite an important task which, nonetheless, fell under the traditional archetype of the character who appears with a solution just in the nick of time. Yet that would be saying nothing of her true value, which was to open up the discussion of gender identity and inclusivity. It wasn’t completely necessary to include in the book — most would avoid the topic entirely, as it is something that historians are only beginning to learn about, discovering how such topics were addressed in the past. But Ritter didn’t shy away from it, and it made me so incredibly happy to see this part of Jackaby, the moral side that shows aspects of compassion mixed in. It was similar to how Sherlock would show occasional glimmers of humanity throughout the series, though here, it somehow felt even more powerful, perhaps because of the way in which the moment when Jackaby says doctors cannot tell us who we are spoke on both the real and the mythical levels.


When it comes to the humour aspect of the book, elements of that are present as well. The scene with Chiron and Abigail made me laugh at a couple points because of that, though overall I do think the overall level of entertainment in that regard has remained stable for the third book in a row. I do wish there was more of Charlie however, and I think his relations with Abigail were a bit stilted. It only makes me hope for a more well-paced final fourth installment, as opposed to a rushed ending in which everything that wasn’t included in this one finding its way into the final book. Jackaby, as mentioned, has become more human and balanced as well, revealing more details of his past as well as showing an admirable bond with Jenny in his willingness and persistence to find out what had happened to her. And Jenny herself proved a remarkable character who was surprisingly incredibly easy to relate to. Many a wallflower will find the scene with her, Jackaby, and the brick rather powerful as an indirect source of motivation.


Just like a teenager, “Ghostly Echoes” has its ups and downs. It’s by no means perfect, nor was in able to create the same kind of amazement in me that I felt when I read “Jackaby”. However, I am now beginning to suspect that that is simply a matter of novelty, as the beginning of the series was a quirky wonder that I hadn’t come across before. Now that I am more familiar with the cast of characters, it is much easier to be analytical and balanced in terms of criticism, though the characters have remained the driving force of the books. It is best to look at “Ghostly Echoes”, then, as a much stronger extension of “Beastly Bones”, in the sense that it fulfills the same function as a “filler” component to the series, being much more driven by the questions and answers that will ultimately propel the plot to its grand finale, one which I look forward to with much enthusiasm and hope, having found myself quite attached to this lovable cast of characters that continue to give me some hope for the future of the YA genre.  

The Book of Heaven

The Book of Heaven - Patricia Storace

There are books that show up unexpectedly in your life, books you never asked for, and, more significantly, you didn’t know you needed in your life. Typically, these books catch your eye one lazy summer afternoon when you enter a bookstore, not really looking for something but in the mood to be surprised by something unusual. 


That is how I came across The Book of Heaven; I found a copy in perfect condition in a used bookstore in the very heart of downtown Toronto when I wandered in with a friend. It was the cover that drew me in, a multifaceted crystal with fragments of the sky at daytime and nighttime, as well as the mystical-sounding title. Reading the summary, I couldn’t help but think of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, the effect of which I still feel even after a couple months have passed since reading it. Despite the internal debate I felt about buying the book right away or taking it out from the library first, partially due to the rather mixed reviews I found online, there was something that compelled me to take this book, an inner voice that said I’d regret it if I didn’t. It turns out it was a very wise little voice, because now I cannot imagine what it would be like if this book hadn’t entered my life.


There is a certain poetic style of storytelling that I have long felt has been lost in modern literature, namely the ability to tell an enticing story without rushing. The kind of story that is similar to eating a slice of overly sweet cake—the taste is astounding, but your stomach frequently reminds you to take it a bite at a time in order to avoid spoiling the effect. That is exactly the kind of effect that Storace elicited, bringing about a whimsical and powerful feminist novel that addresses the issues women faced over the course of history, retelling stories from the Bible in which the women are the heroines; the source of enlightenment and power that men have tried to silence and snuff out for centuries. In fact, it is the kind of book that we need more than ever in our society, serving as a reminder that many of the events described in the four parts of the novel–the books of Souraya, Savour, Rain, and Sheba—are in fact still occurring to this day. 


The Book of Heaven opens with a young woman, who the reader later learns is Eve, running through the starry night sky amidst the constellations. She eventually ends up in another heaven, an alternative starry sky with four completely new constellations, each named after the aforementioned women. Each of the women tell Eve their story, the story that is associated with their constellation, and bestows a gift upon her, a gift she takes with her as she descends down to earth and forgets that Heaven is more than simply constellations. 


The stories told by the four women might trigger some readers, as they overtly address the sexist ways women are treated as inferior beings, and the sexual, physical, and emotional abuse they sustained in the hands of patriarchal society. Yet Storace’s writing is much more than simply stating wrongdoings: it is one that offers answers in the form of hope; a call for persistence, patience, strength, and, most importantly, love. She masterfully reinvents the story of Abraham’s wife Sarah, or slips in a retelling of Noah’s ark that is starkly different from the widespread version. In the final pages, when Queen Sheba is visiting baby Jesus, Storace states how historical depictions have mistaken Sheba for her son Balthazar, crediting him instead for gracing Heaven’s child with a gift. And though this is a work of fiction, in her examples and retellings there is a beaming ray of truth; since women have been erased and undermined throughout history for so long, it wouldn’t be a shock if her versions actually were the truth.


Every time I sat down to read The Book of Heaven, I forgot both where I was and what year I was living in; the writing was simply timeless. It was also much more successful in reminding me of the continued struggles women face than the more extreme feminist campaigns that often create more controversy than solutions. I was reminded of just how amazing it feels to be a woman, and how grateful I feel for the body and skills I have, for women are indeed a mystical creation to be celebrated. There are surely many more things that can be said about The Book of Heaven, which has now found its way onto my list of all-time favorites—indeed, there were so many memorable passages I underlined in it that they filled up almost four pages of my notebook! But it is one of the lines on the final page of the book, part of the Proverbs of Sheba that followed her story, that not only summarizes the journey on which the book took me, but that is probably the reason why this hidden gem deserves so much more attention than it has received:


Thousands of years before we read and wrote; thousands more before we love. 

Gourmet Rhapsody

Gourmet Rhapsody - Muriel Barbery

After reading Barbery’s sensational “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”, I absolutely had to get my hands on a copy of “Gourmet Rhapsody”. Yet for the longest time, and much to my despair, the only copies I could find were in large bookstores and at a big price. Earlier this week while out with a friend I ended up wandering into a used bookstore and was delighted to find a brand-new copy of the book at a decent price, instantly snatching it and running for the checkout as if I’ve just broken the law. I feel like I was meant to find this book, and if I thought Barbery’s other novel was brilliant then I simply have no words to convey how much I loved “Gourmet Rhapsody”.


“Gourmet Rhapsody” is another great example of the differences between European and American literature. Specifically, the latter still tends to focus on the minute, using them to approach bigger topics in ways that American does not, instead choosing the cut path of plot and constant straight-forward action. Barbery’s style instead allows the reader to think, to absorb all of the words she has laid out and connect them back to each other. The novel is not so much about a dying food critic as it is about using that situation to present a case of a dying man who is a rich bourgeois snob with a rather impeccable taste, a case study around which revolves an entire microcosm of people who either blatantly hate him or have a hate-but-still-love kind of relationship to him.


The alternating style of the chapters makes every chapter enjoyable for a different reason. In the chapters which focus specifically on Pierre Arthens, the reader is immersed into a tiny fragment of Arthens’ life via a specific food, in a few cases replaced by a beverage – whiskey – or a condiment – mayonnaise. The details are carefully selected to present Arthens’ character without giving the flat-out description of him. Rather, the reader can pick up all of the adjectives from the way he talks about sorbet or is cruel in talking about certain people from his past. In the second style of chapter, the reader is instead confronted with the viewpoint of people, as well as a statue (from how I interpreted it) and a cat, who talk about Arthens’, what they think of him and their relation to him. Needless to say most of them despise him, and for good reason. Some of the speakers one can guess based on the hints given about them in their chapter – a beggar, Arthens’ wife Anna, his children, etc. – while some are foggier. While some will criticize the fact that the characters weren’t developed, I’d say there was absolutely no need for them to be – that is, in the American novel’s understanding of character development, where the entire backstory and description is given. The people are characterized through their thoughts far more than they would be by their backstories, by the reader knowing that they went from stage A to B to C in their life. That would serve of no use in the novel, and Barbery doesn’t bother with such triviality. Instead, she focuses on the harmonious shift from one character to another, always relating them back to Pierre Arthens, who remains the center of the universe in the novel.


There is such a delectable, sensual intimacy in the writing that it’s impossible to justly describe in words. Reading it made me feel like I was eating something from my childhood that I loved yet hadn’t had for ages. It was a sense of comfort that one experiences only upon finding a book, and an author, who truly understands. Arthens is a terrible man, there is no doubt of that. But the book is about so much more than that. I’d perhaps parallel it to Proust’s madeleine, which is brought up in the novel at one point. Yet where the madeleine focuses only on the moment of realization that occurs in one split second, “Gourmet Rhapsody” instead is conscious of the beauty in details the entire time, the madeleine moment appearing at the very end in a slightly different kind of burst of realization. It’s a book that some will no doubt call snobby and pretentious, and this is fine and to be expected in fact, for it is written for a rather specific audience. It reminded me of why I love European literature that much more, both classical and contemporary, and gave me comfort in knowing that though I constantly feel like I don’t fit in with the North American mindset due to my European upbringing, there are still little gems throughout literature and other aspects of culture that reassure me that my way of thinking and my aesthetic are shared by someone else out there.


Pond - Claire-Louise Bennett


And quite frankly I would be disgusted to the point of taking immediate vengeance if I was brought to a purportedly magical place one afternoon in late September and thereupon belted down to the pond, all by myself most likely, only to discover the word pond scrawled on a poxy piece of damp plywood right there beside it. (“The Big Day,” p. 36).

The above passage perfectly captures the character of Claire-Louise Bennett’s Pond: on one hand possessing a whimsical quality of breathing a sense of wonder into simple, everyday details, and on the other a snappy, biting thing that has opened its mouth and is now unable to stop. It’s a book that exerts a practical sort of magic, careful to create just the right kind of dazzling effect without delving too far into the realm of the ridiculous.

It’s difficult to say whether this book is a novel or a collection of short stories — either way, it doesn’t particularly matter. The book works as perfectly as a collection of diary-like entries of the unnamed protagonist as it does as an unusual narrative arc that both begins and ends out of nowhere — the thing I appreciated most about this book. Where some authors spend much of their time weighing both themselves and readers down with backstory and minute details about the character they feel will give them dimension, Bennett instead chooses to use surroundings and thoughts as the details that help the reader form an opinion of the character. Take, for instance, a passage from the second ‘chapter’ in the book:

Pears don’t mix well. Pears should always be small and organized nose to tail in a bowl of their very own and perhaps very occasionally introduced to a stem of the freshest red currants, which ought not to be hoisted like a mantle across the freckled belly of the topmost pear, but strewn a little further down so that some of the scarlet berries loll and bask between the slowly shifting gaps. (“Morning, Noon & Night,” p. 4).

The entire book is littered with passages such as this, the writer getting lost in her own stream of consciousness while successfully pulling the reader along for the ride. For it takes great skill to make something like breakfast seem like an entirely new and breathtaking activity, and Bennett does this with almost anything she touches with her words: ponds, ballpoint pens, and stoves, to name just a few. She never failed to say so much while seemingly saying so little; and the readers I think will appreciate this book most are writers themselves, along with readers who perhaps have come to the point where they feel like the same-ol’ words no longer have the same control over them.

As is true with any book, there were favorite moments, as well as some that were not quite as moving. What made Pond different, however, was the fact that even the not quite as quirky or enjoyable sections of the story still stood out through their prose and moved the progress along. There was never the kind of start-stop reading that one might encounter with typical character- or plot-driven novels, and this is because Pond is neither. It is a book that is comfortably moving along at its own pace, leaving behind simple yet elegantly packaged thoughts as a trail for the reader to follow. A personal favorite of mine was a thought I always had but could never quite articulate, and it was much to my delight that I found Bennett worded it so pointedly:

English, strictly speaking, is not my first language by the way. I haven’t yet discovered what my first language is so for the time being I use English words in order to say things.(“The Big Day,” p. 41).

There are countless times when the book repeats itself or rephrases the same idea in a barely altered way. But that is actually what I loved so much about it, what won me over and made me certain that this is a book I will be rereading for years to come. Pond is like the awkward teenager at a party who knows where she stands with everyone else and uses that to her advantage, charming with her earnestness and wit. It’s certainly a book one can sit down and get through in one sitting, but I found it worked best to savor it slowly, like having coffee at a new shop, where now that you’ve remembered its name and location you can simply come back to it again and again as many times as you’d like.

Loneliness is the Machine that Drives the World

Loneliness is the Machine That Drives the World - Grant Tarbard



How does it feel when you extinguish a life
and hold their last echo in your paws?

(“Assemblage,” p. 5)

Our society has been called many things, blamed for the high level of consumerism and growing individualism that borders on narcissism. In his poetry collection, Loneliness Is the Machine That Drives the World, Grant Tarbard proposes to look at society as being the victim of something that initially seems contradictory, given the vast technological networks surrounding us today: the sense of isolation and creeping loneliness. The title of the collection captures perfectly the way in which the definition of loneliness has been redefined, no longer a natural reaction as much as it is a label that one is expected to explain and justify.

Deterioration, chaos, and panic are central to this collection of poems that present a landscape dotted with familiar features. The opening poem, “Coffee Futures,” sets the tone by demonstrating how something as simple as brewing and drinking coffee can serve as a gateway into the emotional realm by inviting a touch of the surreal into it. An assemblage made of dead rats, an “analysis” of the New York skyline, and a snapshot of a honeysuckle are just some of the places these poems take their reader, while others strive to reach further, extending to the stars, the past and the future. It’s impressive how vast a territory is covered in these poems, always making sure they stay grounded in familiar aspects of one’s everyday life.

The strong point of this collection is the dazzling imagery, some of which heightens the tension from previous lines, with others coming across as individual, isolated fragments. One of my favorite lines from the collection came from a poem that was a series of individual, disjointed fragments:


rob spiders of their life;
the commandments don’t apply to those who scuttle

(“I’ll Be No-One Again,” p. 15).

Another memorable image from a poem about a thunderstorm instead served as an introductory point upon which the rest of the poem rested, giving it a whimsical quality:


One learns the brush strokes of lightning are
months in a funnel chamber, trying to catch
a beautiful song.

(“Once the Thunder Has Passed,” p. 25).

These images exemplify the fleeting moments of beauty in the very chaos and mess that surrounds us on a daily basis, exemplified by the fluctuations, the ups and downs in the flow of the poems throughout the collection. Just when you think there is a moment to take a breather and enjoy a nonetheless melancholy scene of a merry-go-round, for instance, the collection picks up once again; shaking things up, for lack of a better term.

Yet, there is something missing in these poems, something that I initially struggled with singling out. Perhaps this is merely personal preference, but I found that, while the words and images of the poems were captivating, they didn’t entirely manage to go beyond being just beautiful fragments and thoughts. The poems chart the disorder and chaos, and even to make me feel like I was standing all alone in the middle of this verbal vortex, but there was rarely a chance to go beyond it or to fully understand how to transcend these words. There was no clear, strong narrative voice that would bring the reader in, something that I tend to prefer in poetry collections—something that makes me feel like I’m being spoken to, rather than spoken around, as was the case in this collection.

Loneliness Is the Machine That Drives the World does a great job in getting its idea and sentiment, as well as the complexities of the title, across in its poems, perhaps doing that too well. The poems certainly leave an impression in the process of reading, but it was difficult to go back and look at only the titles of the poems, trying to remember what individual poems made me think or feel. They do, ultimately, leave you feeling rather lonely and, in my case, made me want to reach for another book that I could settle cozily into. For those who are looking to be swept away in the thrill and wonder of the moment, this collection will be perfect. Others, looking for a slightly less chaotic journey and an omniscient speaker, may have more difficulty with this collection, although the intricacies of the imagery are sure to please both types of readers.

Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere

Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere - André Aciman

Great books, like great cities, always let us find things we think are only in us and couldn’t possibly belong elsewhere but that turn out to be broadcast everywhere we look, Great artists are those who give us what we think was already ours. (p. 34)


Sometimes, it’s nice to sit down and read a book that feels like you’re being talked to. I don’t mean the kind that makes you feel like you’re indirectly having a conversation with the author on the topic he’s writing about, rather more like an engaging lecture that you simply want to sit and listen to. This is very much what “Alibi” is like. It isn’t a collection that’s interested, I would say, in making the reader feel welcome or engaged with what its talking about – quite the opposite. Instead, it’s rather like listening to a prof who’s lecturing on a topic they’re very passionate about, a topic you might be interested in yourself or simply wouldn’t mind finding out more about, and so you sit there are enjoy the storytelling moment of the event, occasionally picking up bits that resonate with you or that strike you as something that relates to your own experiences.


Aciman has a clear understanding of the direction in which his essays are going, and an excellent grasp of the language he uses to get him there. Unsurprisingly, some essays were more interesting than others – the opening “Lavender” was particularly strong, same with the epilogue “Parallax”, although the latter got a bit wordy in a couple places that were similar to moments when someone gets so engaged and lost in their own discussion that they forget they have an audience who might have trouble following along. I personally also preferred the more historical essays, or bits of essays, in this collection, simply because that is what I like reading frequently – I love the close proximity between the author’s personal experience and historical, textbook-like facts next to each other in one narrative. That is what I hoped to get when I picked up this book, and that is certainly what I received. There wasn’t a single essay that I disliked, merely some that I found simply good without any other thoughts or reactions attached to them.


If you don’t like feeling like you’re potentially being talked-down to or lectured at, then perhaps this isn’t the right book for you. Aciman presents his thoughts and experiences quite clearly, and doesn’t make any open and direct invitation for the reader to say “I can relate to that” – such a reaction will come naturally to either a curious reader or a lucky one, depending on which side of the fence you fall on. The collection is certainly interesting well-written, and there’s no mistaking that the author is knowledgeable and well-spoken. The decision to read or dismiss this book, in the end, is just a matter of personal taste.

Viper Wine

Viper Wine - Hermione Eyre

Historical fiction is perhaps the only genre that I feel iffy about reading – I tend to either enjoy it very much, which is quite rare, or it’s a total disappointment. With “Viper Wine” however I came to accept its numerous shortcomings while at the same time enjoying it immensely, especially because of how far it strayed from the dusk cover blurb. The blurb hypes the book up a bit too much. Magic isn’t really as dominant as it’s made out to be, and the mingling of the 21st century with the 17th is one of the biggest issues with this novel. Yet it has a character of its own. Well-researched and eloquently written it commands the reader’s attention, much like the focal character of Venetia Digby.


There are historical figures which us “common folk” are not informed about, unless they happen to fall under a person’s particular field of study or personal interest. I had absolutely no idea who Sir Kenelm Digby or his wife, Venetia Stanley, were, and it was pleasant to find that historical literature doesn’t just focus on the well-known and slightly over-written figures of Marie Antoinette or Leonardo da Vinci. Despite the fact that this was, ultimately, fiction, the clear evidence of thoughtful research and quotations enhanced the writing quite a bit, particularly one of the chapters near the end which took snippets from a transcript of Sir Digby’s lecture. The prose made it easy to get lost in the world Eyre constructed, albeit it did take some time to develop a kind of flow every time I picked up the book to resume reading.


Venetia’s character was complex and constantly shifted my opinion of her across an imaginary scale, from my strong dislike and even slight hatred for her, to a kind of pitying understanding, to occasional laughter because I could relate to some of her thoughts or reactions. “Viper Wine” is much more than merely a book about a noblewoman’s vanity and desire to preserve her youthful appearance in any way possible. The attentive and thoughtful reader will consider the implications this narrative has, particularly when the (rather poorly done) snippets of the 21st century are considered in the way they violently bleed into the 17th. This is a book about the pressure women face to this day, and the fact that cosmetics and beauty procedures have both gotten safer and more accessible but also more elaborate, dangerous, and pricey. While 30-33, around Venetia’s age in the novel, is no longer the kind of “old maid” marker for women that causes them to fret about growing old and unattractive, this age now fluctuates depending on circumstance and various factors such as social-economic standing. It’s a noel that is also a warning in disguise, skillfully concealed and waiting to be picked up on.


My main irritation with the book was, as mentioned, the way in which it attempted to incorporate an intermingling of centuries, people, and ideas. It was messy, to put it plainly. The scene where Kenelm drops a book and, when he picks it up, discovers that he cannot read it because it’s written in Java, or the presence of historical figures such as Andy Warhol and Mary Shelley which made little sense and served little purpose in the story beyond simply furthering the idea of time constantly bending and interchanging. The influx of scientific terms, procedures, and inventions, such as the frequent mention of the telephone, were easier to forgive because I picked up on what the author was going for about halfway through the book, though I feel it was blunt and sloppy and should’ve been given extra attention and another round of editing for it to be integrated into the novel more seamlessly. Another mild irritation was the subplot of Mary Tree, who goes searching for Kenelm Digby’s aid in order for him to perform the Cure of Sympathy. Yet her subplot receives only a few chapters and is given the most attention near the end, a part of the book where things got rather jumbled and excessive, as if Eyre didn’t know how to finish off the novel, or perhaps didn’t want to, and felt compelled to add at least another 50 pages that were neither here nor there.


“Viper Wine” may not live up to the hype and suspense of its synopsis, but it manages to put forth something much more intriguing and original, and in that sense I was pleasantly surprised. The choppy snippets of modern-day life and the recent past that were included throughout, as well as the 50-70 final pages of the book, came across more as an inattentive fault of the editor who could have easily solved both problems. Putting both of them aside however is easy, as the character of Venetia Stanley is complex and fascinating, worthy of admiration and scorn. She serves as a mother of sorts for the modern woman, and while it was comforting to know that insecurities have plagued women centuries ago it was also terrifying to be reminded just how far the issue has escalated in current society.

The Hidden Twin

The Hidden Twin - Adi Rule

It’s difficult to say much about a book that wasn’t entirely memorable. I started “The Hidden Twin” with the hope of something interesting that would take advantage of the potentially complex discussion on identity and equality it set up with its very premise. The lack of clear and organized exposition, inconsistent world building, a forgettable cast of characters and an overall rather predictable narrative path made it difficult to extract something worthwhile from the book. It was easy to skim chunks of the novel without missing too much, especially when the story of the redwings and the city itself remained mostly unclear. Even the romantic direction of the plot didn’t fully go in the direction it stereotypically set itself up for, instead hesitating then dropping it and later trying to pick it up once again. The fact that it was a fast read was more due to the fact that it was difficult to read the entire book word for word, and the hope for answers and some sort of character development and world building were the only things that kept me reading until the end. Sadly, none of these things happened, and “the Hidden Twin” felt more like a heap of undeveloped good ideas that remained in their infancy.

Traveler: Poems

Traveler: Poems - Devin Johnston

“Traveler” is a perfect example of a poetry collection that strives to be more scientific and geographical in tone, incorporating terminology and ideas that are more “factual” to get at the abstract and subconscious. Yet it doesn’t do tis very successfully – I’d instead recommend Anand’s “A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes”, which demonstrates not only the advantage of a scientific background, but also the ability to get at the subconscious better. Johnston’s poems were much more descriptive and scenic, in some cases unable to go beyond the initial beauty of the format and the words themselves. Others, like “Appetites” or “Crumbs”, both of which were made up of three short sections, clearly tried to reach out and touch upon something bigger, but were only partially successful. There was something soothing about these poems, but not necessarily moving. Perhaps it is the stark contrast between what I’ve read before and this collection, or maybe I wasn’t in the right mindset to read and appreciate them fully. True to the title, the poems in “Traveler” take you on a journey, but it’ll take some time after coming home in order to fully adjust and process what exactly just happened.

Broken Monsters

Broken Monsters - Lauren Beukes

Whoever wrote the jacket cover blurb for this book sure knew how to attract readers to it. A gruesome murder of a boy that is found with the upper body sewn onto a deer in a “genre-bending novel of suspense” gave me high hopes, especially factoring in aspects like the exploration of the human condition and how “broken” one is. Sadly, and even somewhat predictably, “Broken Monsters” didn’t live up to the big words in the synopsis. It wasn’t particularly suspenseful, nor was it a very good exploration of human character the way it made itself sound. It’s difficult to classify what this book IS exactly, though even with its shortcomings, there was something interesting about it that I nonetheless managed to enjoy, regardless of how sad it was at the same time due to the heap of lost potential this ended up being.


This isn’t a murder mystery – the reader knows who the killer is from the get-go, even follows along with his actions from the very beginning, as he has his own section in the narrative. I know they always say that a killer can be anyone and one shouldn’t look for obvious indicators of violence in someone, therefore it isn’t so much that which I struggled with understanding about him as much as it was trying to grasp the maniacal idea which he pursued from about a quarter into the book until the very end. It was how suddenly it appeared, as well as how abstract it was, that stumped me. As an artist and writer I understand that sudden gust of inspiration, that muse-like whisper that can strike at any moment. Yet the thought was more ideological and had some philosophical roots to it. Despite its twisted nature there was something almost valid about it, except the novel was a perfect example of the extreme negative manifestation of that idea. I wish it was explored more, rather than simply making the man a crazy psycho killer who felt that this dream was alive and speaking through him as a separate entity. This topic was skimmed entirely when, in my opinion, it should’ve made up a significant portion of the book, with a closer connection to the rest of the characters.


In terms of commenting on characters and narrative structure/pacing, saying that it felt rushed and all over the place sums it up quite nicely. There wasn’t much time to connect with some of the characters, while others that the reader is meant to sympathize with elicit a negative and annoying reaction instead, particularly Layla and Cas’ friendship. If there is one thing I hate about authors who write about young adult characters, it’s the stereotypical belief that teenagers interact the way those two girls did. Contrary to popular belief, not all girls call each other “bitch”, “slut”, “cow”, or some other derogatory term. It isn’t a term of endearment. Detective Versado somehow felt incomplete by the end, TK left a confusing feeling, and Jonno quite frankly reminded me of why I hate journalism so much and why I think humans will end up ultimately blowing themselves up in smithereens and relishing it at the same time. All of these shortcomings were due to the lack of a “grounding point”, something that would tie them all back together and help the story revolve and build around that one point. It’s why I felt so sad upon finishing it, as there was so much potential if the point I made above had been considered by the author.


It isn’t a terrible novel, though it isn’t particularly suspenseful. The ending leaves you with the safe, stereotypical “is this real or a dream?” sort of ending. And sometimes, as the movie “Inception” proved, this kind of ending is satisfactory as it reaffirms the established doubt between reality and dreams. With “Broken Monsters” this kind of ending showed the author’s hesitation, and the only thing it emphasized was the shortcomings of plot and character. I enjoyed the implications and beginnings this book provided, but felt it was mostly a lost opportunity that could’ve truly been a memorable and moving novel if the dream sequences and the vicious dream itself had been wholly incorporated from the very beginning.

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