It’s Election Day, so please remember to vote! And today, we have four more books, each with their focus brought by two stellar writers and people: Amanda Harris and Karen Stefano. I hope you enjoy!
TWO FOR TUESDAY: Amanda Harris
The Glass Crib—Amanda Auchter
Amanda Auchter’s chapbook found me in an unexpected place—one full of ache and aimlessness and a desk full of rejection letters. Everyone on Amazon had raved and raved about this little volume of poems, so I figured, if anything was going to give me my spark back, it would be this woman.
Now, I did not know anything about this other Amanda, beside than the fact that we share the same first name and we both have curly hair. One poem, in particular, undid everything I thought and understood about poetry, and I believe it was called “The Ecstacy of Saint Theresa.”
I could give you a thousand reasons that this poem is worth being anthologized in every poetry anthology ever, but nothing could do justice to its deep musicality and raw power. You have to read her writing to believe it:
“There is no pain but the bodily. Nothing less / than the long spear / the golden iron / dagger. “
The more I read her work, particularly this poem, the more her precision amazes me. Breaking the line on “dagger” may seem like a small detail, but it makes the image that much sharper, that much more likely to pierce the skull of the reader.
If you’re a writer who wants to learn how to make your writing emotionally connect with people, this book is like a crash course in an MFA program. It’s that revelatory.
Paperback: 88 pages, Zone 3 Press (September 15, 2011)
The Afflicted Girls—Nicole Cooley
The first time I saw Nicole Cooley was in my freshman year of college. She didn’t look like anything particularly unique—just another flighty Creative Writing professor who tried to see too much of the world at once.
Perhaps those wandering eyes, however, are the reason Nicole Cooley has produced such consistently breathtaking poetry. The Afflicted Girls, which centers on the Salem witch trials, provides hauntingly poignant takes on gender, sexuality and the fear of what’s different in a way I didn’t think poetry was capable of doing. What makes it even better is that she does it in simple language:
“Marriage is the punishment (God) invented / for the wicked in this village. . . / My lungs are burning / Bury my words in the dirt. “
In one stanza, we get a gripping conflict and we get all the layers underneath it: sexual conflict, ‘othering’, transgression.
Nicole Cooley’s writing organically balances craft and rawness, deep philosophy and visceral emotion. There is nothing like it being published right now.
Paperback: 50 pages, Hardcover: 64 pages; Louisiana State University Press, First Edition (April 1, 2004)
Amanda’s Bio: Amanda Harris is a writer and gym rat living in Flushing, NY. When she’s not working on her own stuff, she’s either posting on Fictionaut or editing her own magazine, The Miscreant.
TWO FOR TUESDAY: Karen Stefano
You Were Born For Greatness: Spiritual Guidance From The Angelic Realm by Jacob Glass
If life is absolutely perfect and you feel amped and deliriously happy every single moment of your days, then you probably don’t need to read the book I’m about to describe. But if you’ve ever experienced a loss that has left you staggering, or perhaps been gutted like a fish by someone you had expected to love forever, or if you’ve ever just felt a teensy weensy bit of ennui, I suggest that you read Jacob Glass’s latest book, You Were Born for Greatness: Spiritual Guidance From the Angelic Realm.
Glass is a spiritual teacher and author lecturing and writing on spirituality and New Thought metaphysics. His messages are potent with truth and compassion, his words dedicated to guiding readers to a more peaceful life. And, he is really fucking funny as he calls you on your shit. You Were Born For Greatness offers daily spiritual guidance with lessons prompted by The Course In Miracles, a well known self-study curriculum about spiritual transformation. The Course In Miracles is a fantastic text, but it can feel heavy at times, demanding a bit more work than a person in “the dark place” might be willing to do, and that’s why this book fills a void. I call it The Course In Miracles Lite. Each lesson quotes an excerpt from The Course In Miracles and then Glass gives his own take on what that quote means in daily life. Here’s an excerpt from Lesson 14:
“One of your main problems is that you often line up with your perceived limitations rather than lining up with your Greater Self…
Every limiting story you tell about the past, present or future activates that same limiting vibration within you and keeps you in that old energy pattern. Every time you whine, criticize, bemoan, grumble, murmur and complain you are blocking and denying your own good by affirming limitation…
You must practice sowing seeds in your life through your WORDS. You need not speak the most positive amazing life-affirming words anyone has ever said. You need only speak words that encourage, soothe and uplift even slightly and this will start activating the higher vibrations within you…”
If you want more peace and joy and good in your life, this book is for you.
Paperback: 192 pages; Createspace Publishing: (first edition, April 27, 2014)
Middle Men by Jim Gavin
I bought this collection on a recent trip to Vermont and devoured every last morsel of it on the flight home to San Diego. And then I couldn’t help myself: I sat down and read it again.
Each of Gavin’s stories is dryly funny, depicting men with dreams squarely at odds with the realities of their lives. There are toilet salesmen, not-quite-good-enough basketball players, and epic fuck ups. There are liquor stores, cars that need coaxing before they’ll start, and many satisfying trips to Del Taco. Many well drawn scenes are simultaneously heart wrenching and hilarious. Every single scene is delivered with wit and intelligence.
Here’s an excerpt from the title story, “Middle Men”:
“As a boy, Matt Costello often wondered what his dad did when he left the house in the morning. The old man was in sales, he knew that, and from the brochures and catalogues stacked in the garage, he knew it had something to do with toilets…Years later, while half-assing his way through college and trying to decide what to do with his life, he finally asked his dad how he got into the plumbing industry. The old man, with his usual modesty and good humor, explained that when he returned from Vietnam in 1969, his only goal in life was to work someplace with air-conditioning.”
And Gavin has a gift for dialogue. In “Bermuda,” the narrator purposely gets lost, his goal being to arrive late to the club and miss the band with the guitarist he fears his girlfriend will be attracted to:
“You just went in a circle.”
“I’m a little lost.”
“What’s wrong with you tonight?”
“It might be nice if you told me I looked nice.”
I never thought she cared about that kind of thing. I loved that about her.
“You look nice.”
“Fuck you,” she said quietly, in a resigned voice.
My advice: read this book.
Paperback: 256 pages; Simon and Schuster, reprint edition (February 11, 2014)
Karen Bio: Karen Stefano is a Fiction Editor for Connotation Press. Her own work has appeared in The South Carolina Review, Tampa Review, The Santa Fe Literary Review, Metazen, Lost In Thought, Epiphany, and numerous other journals. Her story, “Seeing” was nominated for the XXXVIII Pushcart Prize. Her debut collection of stories, The Secret Games of Words will be released in January, 2015. To learn more about Karen, visit www.stefanokaren.com.
I’ve been reading two stellar books simultaneously. I often do this, especially when they are different genres, like poetry and memoir, or fiction and biography. Here are my two picks:
I also want to extend my deepest sorrow and support to the Simonds’ family. Our neighbors across the street from our farm in Macedon lost their elder son, Cliff, recently. Sail on, my friend. Thanks for some fantastic childhood memories.