weekend reading

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Kirsten Bakis’ The Thief, is a beautifully written short story that transcends the bleak reality it represents. It lends a mesmerizing hope to an otherwise hopeless condition. Set in 1910 New York City, Sally, a maid for the wealthy Whittinger family, is fixated on a particular vase the family owns.She knows possession of the vase will bring her freedom—freedom from the hardship poverty demands, from the tight grasp of sexually charged and unremitting men. She convinces her magician lover, Manfred, to hypnotize her so that she may gain the necessary confidence to steal her prize. The writing is crisp and moving- the words move quickly, as do perceptions, and the depth of emotion is palpable. Here’s a line: “A few days earlier, in the library of the Whittinger house, I had discovered a pamphlet on a low shelf called How to Maintain Self-Control While Under Hypnosis. I put it into my pocket and took it up to my room. The trick, it said, was to concentrate one’s will, one’s sense of self, into some object or scene that was easily visualized, and hold it firmly in mind. This technique was supposed to be practiced while falling asleep before being attempted during hypnosis. I didn’t have to make a special effort to practice. The vase was my object of power. Two weeks earlier, Mr. Whittinger had come up behind me as I dusted near it and said quietly, ‘Be careful, new girl. That’s worth twenty years of your salary.’ His hand brushed the back of my skirt. Since then, as I lay on the narrow bed in my tiny room on the fourth floor of the Whittinger house, I’d thought about it every night.” [Tinhouse]

In The Rap Year Book, Shea Serrano breaks down the “most important” rap song for every year from 1979 to 2014. It is a comprehensive history of rap music in the U.S., detailing rap’s prevailing influence on American culture. The songs are “discussed, debated, and deconstructed” in order to provide a complete and unbiased account, instead of merely one man’s opinion. Here’s an excerpt of Tupac’s California Love. [Pitch]

And here’s  a full list of songs chosen for the book. I must mention that none of the songs are by female artists. Not one.  The lack of female representation is perhaps more indicative of how the creative work of women is considered less “important” in popular culture, and specifically rap, than it is of Serrano’s own opinion. Shea Serrano does a terrific job with this book. I do find it worth noting, however, that the only female on the list is Nikki Minaj because she was featured on Kanye West’s Monster. Let me make this clear—Macklemore made the list, Missy Elliott did not. [Here and Now]

Have you ever critically considered the great poem, Humpty Dumpty? J. G. McClure has. In The Cosmology of Humpty Dumpty, he breaks down the poem and divines unexpected import from its fractured remains. The poem stands no chance against his critical eye. He claims, “..the King, for all his power, sends horses to fix the broken Dumpty. With no opposable thumbs or medical training, what could the horses possibly do except further damage him, trampling his broken body into ever-smaller shards? Power seems to be exercised for power’s sake; the deployment of the horses becomes mere theater, the performance of benevolence with no possibility of actual salvation.” [The Pinch]

Dissonance, by Cheryl Smart, is an incredible essay about the natural world and human reaction to it. Here’s a line: “She migrates closer to the sidewalk and sits atop the bricks edging a well-groomed flower bed.  It’s 3am when she notices a canine shape moving in a lazy lope toward her.  The neighbor’s golden retriever, Merlin, must have slipped through his fence again, but closer, she recognizes the familiar form.  She stays quiet and still, the way her father taught her.  The fox trots by, just a few feet away, when it catches her scent.  It seems rude not to greet an old friend.” [The Collagist]

80 Books No Woman Should Read, by Rebecca Solnit, is exactly the   critique of gendered “required reading” lists I’ve been waiting for.  It’s a reaction to Esquire Magazine’s list of “The 80 Best Books Every Man Should Read,” and though certainly a criticism of Esquire‘s insistence to promote and instill unhealthy and damaging notions of gender/masculinity, it is also an alternative “required reading” list, or rather a “required to avoid reading” list. She says, “Scanning the list, which is full of all the manliest books ever, lots of war books, only one book by an out gay man, I was reminded that though it’s hard to be a woman it’s harder in many ways to be a man, that gender that’s supposed to be incessantly defended and demonstrated through acts of manliness. I looked at that list and all unbidden the thought arose, no wonder there are so many mass murders.” [LitHub]

Get Behind Me Satan, a poem by Mica Evans. [Cleaver]

And another poem, How I Came to Rule the World, by Justin Boening. [Kenyon Review]

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