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What We’re Reading

Lauren Perez (Tin House Marketing Intern): I’ve been meaning to pick up my friend Diana Arterian’s new chapbook for weeks now (so here’s that reviewer-caveat—I know the author) and finally stumbled down to Powell’s to do it. I haven’t been reading that much poetry of late, shamefully, woefully: which made Diana’s recent chapbook Death Centos especially wonderful break from my novel kick. The cento as a form works as a poetic collage, using the words of others and reordering them to make a new poem. Arterian mixes the last words of death row inmates with historical figures to create a poem cycle that manages to be both chilling and moving, both familiar and strange. It reminded me how great poetry can be.

Curtis Moore (Tin House Books, Editorial Intern): During a recent Powell’s trip, I perused a copy of Stories in the Worst Way after reading a recommendation on Kevin Sampsell’s blog. I got half a sentence in and realized I must have this book and every other Gary Lutz has written, is in the process of writing, or will write in the future. These characters are often wallowing in banality, but through his virtuosic command of paragraph, sentence, word, and punctuation, Lutz disassembles their living mediocrity so he can then construct halting, mesmerizing poetic prose. I read and feel unmoored from the daily, lost in language, and thrilled by each new turn Lutz makes my reading mind take in his labyrinth of syntax.

Brandi Henderson (Tin House Publicity Intern): I met Jennifer Boyden near the snack table at an artsy open house and knew instantly she was a poet in some bigger way than poem-writing makes someone. Over the course of the couple months we lived in the same coastal town, she regularly delighted me by, say, making her husband a suit jacket out of moss or telling her daughter she couldn’t join her in the cold ocean because her feet were made of sugar. Jennifer’s second book of poetry, The Declarable Future, has rested on my nightstand for some time waiting for its turn. In diving into it, I am transported into a world of quirky parables, of darkly comedic worry for the world we live in, and of imagery reminiscent of an environmentally-conscious Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Throughout the collection, we follow “The Lost Man” who provides a touch of narrative structure to the collection. My favorite poem in the collection, “They Have a Point,” muses about how tickled the gods must have been by the idea of filling the insides of the body with more of the same: “It amuses them / that what is inside the body / is more body. The same body, but different.”

Victoria Savanh (Tin House Magazine, Editorial Intern): I’ve been having a hard time putting down Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?, caught up in the free-flowing narration and quirky meditations on that one simple question. Women, art, sex, twenties, authenticity—I find myself more often than not nodding along thinking “yes, I know that.” Part fiction, part memoir, the novel follows Sheila as she struggles to write a play about women. While the novel sometimes wanders into tedious territory, Heti can quickly bring me back with a single passage, moments of lucidity dropped unexpectedly. Filled with characters named after and based on Heti’s real-life artist friends in Toronto, dialogue bounces between banal and critical, with plenty of sex, drugs, and self-delusion scattered throughout.

Jamie Carr (Tin House Books, Editorial Intern): “5/5/64. The right hand = the hand that is aggressive, the hand that masturbates. Therefore, to prefer the left hand!…To romanticize it, to sentimentalize it!” And so begins Susan Sontag’s As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980. Compiled by her daughter, this volume tracks Sontag’s wanderings, artistic influences, struggle to find a sense of self outside of her romantic relationships, anger about the American war in Vietnam, etc. While it’s thrilling to access the most intimate details of Sontag’s life, it’s even more thrilling to discover her road map is as messy and disjointed as the next person’s. She constantly compiles lists of movies to watch and books to read, quotes from visual artists and other writers (sometimes pulling from her conversations with friends), outlines for possible essay topics, and bare-bone sketches of novels. In these journal entries, she’s not always the impossibly coherent essayist we know her to be. But it’s also clear that she’s writing like hell to get there. She isn’t afraid to leave ideas half-formed or contradict herself in another entry. She also isn’t ashamed to acknowledge the cannon of artists and writers that inspire her, think critically about their work, seek out new influences, and ask more questions. The pleasure in reading this book, for me, is in seeing Sontag, the student. The entries remind me that writing is a process. Also, to take more notes.

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