Monday, August 8, 2016

What I've Read: Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs by Dave Holmes

Do you remember the '90s? That's when MTV VJ Dave Holmes came into the spotlight as part of MTV's "Want to Be a VJ" Contest. Paired against the enigmatically charismatic Jesse Camp, Dave Holmes lost - but still worked at MTV in the years afterward. This is but one part of Holmes' fascinating pop culture journey.

This memoir goes into the years prior to his MTV career, and delves much deeper than the twenty-one songs mentioned in the tagline. It's a heartfelt, conversational and frequently laugh-out-loud funny chronicle of Holmes' time as a pop-culture obsessed outcast struggling to express, retain, and reconcile his identity as he came of age.

Holmes' overview of pop culture from the past 30-odd years is enjoyable to read. The memoir is at its most successful and engaging when it delves deeply into its subject; Holmes' description of the highs and lows of coming of age as a gay man in a pre-Marriage Equality, pre-Ellen, time is worth reading in its own right.

I received this e-book through Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review, and I'm very glad I did. It's a fun, easy, engaging read that will find fans among readers of pop culture memoirs like those of Chuck Klosterman and Rob Sheffield.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

What I've Read: Trébuchet by Danniel Schoonebeek

Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

The poems of Trébuchet are perfect for the nebulous social chaos of 2016. Stark, skillful, and unsentimental, these poems steel their focus on a world at the precipice of collapse. The tone and thematic tensions are established early; in the introduction Schoonebeek warns, “These poems were written to put you on a government watch list”. In the rest of the poem (as well as the poems that follow) the narrative is underscored by a playful, anxious kind of interpellation, best illustrated when Schoonebeek writes, “If these poems don’t throw themselves through your windows please burn them.”

The poems frequently veer into the territory of nihilism and paranoia, but manage to do so without cheapening or compromising the social critique at the heart of the collection. Trébuchet is deftly experimental in its styling and structure, and each individual poem carries its weight into the thrilling culmination found in “Dark-Eyed Junco Was Her Name”.

A startling, striking, and demanding book that rewards you with poems both finely-tuned and unforgettable.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Year in Shakespeare: August 2016

I can't believe I haven't mentioned my life goal of reading the entirety of Shakespeare's canon on this blog. That's A Thing. A major thing, to me, in my life. I'd posted previously about my recalcitrant attitude post-high school vis-a-vis all things The Bard. I was, like I sometimes am, empirically wrong.

My university's 2000-level Shakespeare class renewed my passion for Shakespeare's work and all things Shakespearean adaptation, riff, and remix (well, somewhat. I have a lot of opinions and my mileage varies). Regardless, the class was a fantastic dip into the majority of Shakespeare's work; the year-long class covered a large swath of the tragedies, comedies, and history plays (with a soupçon of poetry).

I'm not really a completist in other areas of my life. I like what I like, am juggling two careers and three mental illnesses (which is to say that keeping my shit relatively together is another full-time job). But with so much of it under my belt, I figured, why not try to complete it?

I've read all of the tragedies except for Timon of Athens and all of the history plays save for Henry VIII and King John. That left me with a metric fuck-ton (not a real unit of measurement) of the comedies to read in 2016.

So far, I've read: The Comedy of Errors, Measure for Measure, All's Well That Ends Well, and The Merry Wives of Windsor, all thanks to the Folger Digital Texts archive.

                                     These covers are pretty but digitization is convenient!

Of these, Measure for Measure was my definite favorite; my preference for Shakespearean tragedy made the "problem play" automatically pique my interest, and I was rewarded with an execution plot, moral and existential questioning, and gallows humor.

Conversely, The Merry Wives of Windsor was one of the silliest things I've ever read, in any genre (this includes longform articles about juggalo culture). Reportedly written because the Queen wanted a "Falstaff love story", this play delivers that, and more. Spoilers, but, Falstaff gets his comeuppance when he's tricked into thinking other characters are fairies. 

I don't really have much to say about The Comedy of Errors and All's Well That Ends Well. They were perfectly serviceable Shakespearean comedies and probably more fun in performance than on the page - reading Shakespeare is always a delight, but sometimes it does take seeing it performed for it to become magical.

Hopefully, I'll get a chance to read more comedies, explore the apocrypha, and see a performance by local troupe Shakespeare By The Sea. Until then, rest you merry!

What I've Read: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

There is incredible value in reading widely, isn't there? I pre-planned a certain amount of disbursement among genres this year; of my 100 books, 25 were to be horror, 25 to be nonfiction, 25 to be YA, and 25 to be miscellaneous. The "miscellaneous" category, so far, consists of everything from poetry to graphic novels. It also has a new addition: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.

Sci-fi thriller isn't a genre I typically seek out, but something about this book intrigued me from the moment I read about it. This book is filled with deft, beautifully written language that expresses the complex problems at the heart of individual identity and human existence. The question of identity that is inherent to the story - what makes you who you are? - is complicated by the paradoxes implicit to quantum mechanics.The plot vacillates gracefully between the trappings of the sci-fi and thriller genres while adding unique and fresh elements of horror and romance. Emotionally resonant, complex, and filled with existential questions, Dark Matter will leave you wondering 'who am I and what does that mean' long after you've finished it.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.