In my early twenties, I ached to be a writer, but the stories I wrote were never as good as I wanted them to be. Even worse, sometimes a story idea that had initially seemed promising would fizzle out midway through. I thought that surely this didn’t happen to “real” writers, who, in the grip of the Muse, produced fully-realized stories from the get-go. And then I read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, in which she insists that nearly all good writing starts with a “shitty first draft,” that writing is an inherently messy process, that the bulk of it is, in fact, re-writing.
So. No witty introduction this time, as that seems a little tone-deaf right now. We will be very honest here: we’ve gotten a lot of news of book release dates being rearranged as of late, for understandable reasons. These are, to the best of our knowledge, all books due out this month that we’re excited to read. It’s possible that some of these will be out at a later date instead. Our recommendation still holds, regardless of the month. Support your local bookstores now; support your local bookstores later.
I’d thought I was done. It had taken me five years to write my first book, a densely researched work of immersion and memoir set in the context of yoga in the 19th and 20th centuries. I’d conducted dozens of hours of interviews and cited over a hundred texts and unpublished letters. It sold as a completed manuscript and took another year to get through edits, production, and blurbs. Who knew there was still more to overcome. And who knew that what I learned from the experience would, many years later, help me confront a traumatic and unspoken fact from my family’s past.
The guiding principle of Six Ridiculous Questions is that life is filled with ridiculousness. And questions. That only by giving in to these truths may we hope to slip the surly bonds of reality and attain the higher consciousness we all crave. (Eh, not really, but it sounded good there for a minute.) It’s just. Who knows? The ridiculousness and question bits, I guess. Why six? Assonance, baby, assonance.
A caveat: Foreign Bodies is Kimiko Hahn’s tenth collection of poetry, but it’s the first and only one that I’ve read. By my own standards as a critic, this lack of familiarity with a writer’s work usually disqualifies me as a reviewer of one of their books. The only exception I make for this is when I read a book that is so fantastic and exhilarating and rich that I’m compelled to write less of a review and more of a celebration, a fan’s note, a paean to a particular book’s achievements. This is one of those cases.
At what point does fiction become horror fiction? Is there some immutable border, some checklist of elements to be tallied, that propels a particular story or novel out of the realm of the disconcerting and into that of the outright horrific? Certain notable collections, including Jac Jemc’s False Bingo and Amelia Gray’s Gutshot find a balance between deft narrative construction and something both ineffable and unspeakable. That’s the space in which Natanya Ann Pulley’s new collection With Teeth occupies as well: meticulously written, while all the while abounding with glimpses of the bizarre and brutal.
To be a part of the literary community over the last few weeks has involved seeing months’ worth of events rescheduled, canceled, or shifted online. In some cases, this has been due to precautions taken to prevent coronavirus infection; in others, it’s due to writers canceling book tours. The Loft’s Wordplay Festival is shifting from an in-person event to one that will take place in a host of online spaces, for instance. As writers, publishers, and event planners look out at this shifting landscape, a host of questions come to mind. If events aren’t feasible right now, are there alternatives? Are live-streamed readings and discussions the new normal when it comes to literary events? Is there a way to capture that same sense of community that the best literary events held in a physical space can accomplish?
Dear friends of my mother live in francophone Europe, where the currents of post-war diaspora deposited them. They have one child, and he died in his 20s. He was a non-blood cousin, distantly perfect—in musical ability, marks, temperament. Through Notes from an Apocalypse, I thought about catastrophe and bereavement and him. I thought about tragedy and scale, about the circumstances of my U.S. citizenship and my parents as Vietnamese youth in the 1970s, and about how cruelly cases I’ve read for law school teem with injury and death, the phrase “could not recover for loss of companionship.” I remembered my cousin having been mourned and gone before I was even a teenager, and I was going to write something neatly connected, revoltingly so, to having watched personal apocalypse in one’s family, in periphery. I remembered my feet dangling during the announcement. Abject smallness. Upon resurrecting the whole memory for inspection, though, I found that I’d been in college, the summer after my first year. 17, the body in that memory gradually became—I’d had a first drink, many; a first kiss. I remember now a hotel bedspread in central California, dry-heaving at the revelation that my parents hadn’t told me when he died, for fear of burdening me.