Book Reflections: 07/2020

Recently, I’ve reviewed several new books for Lone Star Literary Life and for this book review blog. And I keep looking guiltily at the other books I’ve gathered over the months and years before the pandemic hit. I want to be reading them, too. Yet, even when much of life is shut down and “house arrest” is beginning to feel “normal,” I still can’t find enough time to go back and read the books I stacked up in preparation for blizzards that never came, beach holidays that never happened, and those lazy, carefree afternoons that are just an urban myth. Meanwhile, enticing new books keep appearing in droves.

The Only Good Indians by the prolific Stephen Graham Jones is an offbeat and truly horrifying horror tale set on a Blackfeet Indian reservation. Suffice it to say, bad things can happen if you try to ignore, go against, or forget your culture and heritage. You can get the book here if you don’t mind shopping on Amazon.

Jessica Goudeau‘s compelling nonfiction work, After the Last Border, follows two immigrants on their difficult journey through America’s politically imperiled refugee resettlement program. The author convincingly makes the case that the program needs to be saved and rebooted under new and better national leadership. More information about the book is available here.

Poetry is almost always a hard sell in the book market. (For example, it has taken me more than 40 years to get my inventory down to the last ten copies — from a press run of 500 — of my first book of poetry, Waiting for Water. Most of them I’ve simply given away.) Anyway, I recently reviewed Variations of Labor: Stories and Poems by “writer and labor organizer” Alex Gallo-Brown, who has been called “the poet of the service economy” by other reviewers. It’s an entertaining and intriguing collection of short works, all related in some way to “the way work happens in our lives.” (My review is here.)

Meanwhile, stay safe, keep reading, continue holding writers and poets in your thoughts and prayers, and buy somebody’s new or old book soon, if you can. We’re all in this global tragicomedy together.

Si Dunn

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Wise words from ‘the poet of the service economy’

Variations of Labor
Stories & Poems
Alex Gallo-Brown
Chin Music Press

On Twitter, Seattle poet Alex Gallo-Brown (@AlextheGB) modestly calls himself simply a “writer and labor organizer.” But he’s more than that. He has been hailed as “the poet of the service economy” by Valerie Trueblood, a contributing editor to The American Poetry Review. And Washington State Poet Laureate Caudia Castro Luna has declared that “Alex Gallo-Brown’s first collection…reminds us of the myriad ways, beyond physical exertion, that work happens in our daily lives.”

Mike Elk, founder and senior labor reporter at PayDay Report, adds that he is “a big fan of Alex Gallo-Brown’s ‘Variations on Labor.’ It’s a mix of poetry, prose, and critical analysis. Really unique as far as labor books go.”

Indeed, it is a unique book, with stories, poems, critical analysis, and illustrations (by Seattle visual artist Devon Midori Hale) that seem startingly timed to speak to the loss, confusion, and desperation now felt by untold millions of people thrown out of work by the coronavirus pandemic.

Gallo-Brown also offers words that speak to the disruption and uncertainty felt by those laboring for free to take care of their children, meals, household cleaning, or aging or disable relatives. Even the efforts required to grow into adulthood or to mourn the loss of a loved one are among the many “variations” of labor in our world, he contends.

Some of the titles within the book are almost short poems in themselves, especially when contemplated against a backdrop of the Great Depression-level unemployment that’s still rising: “He Was a Worker”; “The Job at the Technology Company Cafe”; “Relief”; “The Union Organizer”; “In the Trader Joe’s Parking Lot.”

The opening stanza to one poem, “Before Charlottesville,” contains prescient words applicable to the unsettled way many of us might feel right now:

Days pass and the self
grows louder than before,
slumps, sinks, rises
again like a dog
irritated by an instinct
something has gone wrong.

Just three years ago, according to The Atlantic, “the services sector—a broad category of the economy that now includes financial services, media, transportation and technology—accounted for 67 percent of GDP in the United States.”

Today, only the consortiums of gods know exactly where America’s Gross Domestic Product currently stands. The service sector itself is in deep excrement, and much of its gains and positions likely have been flushed down the economic drain. The biggest question now likely is not “Will there be wage gains?” It’s “Will there be wages again–and when?”

Those who previously worked, or still work, in America’s and the world’s service sectors now need all of the voices they can gather on their side: economists, politicians, diplomats, social scientists, philanthropists–the list is long and grows distressingly longer with each job lost in the pandemic crisis.

To help add one more essential voice to the panel of experts lofting prayers and recommendations for recovery, I hereby second the nomination of Alex Gallo-Brown to be “Poet of the Service Economy.”

Si Dunn

Other Books to Consider

If you like humor with a heart and a message, check out The Big Finish by Brooke Fossey. I reviewed it here in April, 2020: https://www.lonestarliterary.com/content/lone-star-review-big-finish

The tones and the messages are much different in Sutherland Springs: God, Guns, and Hope in a Texas Town. This is an eye-opening, investigative look into the causes, effects, and aftermaths of one of America’s most devastating mass shootings. I reviewed Pulitizer Prize-nominee Joe Holley’s excellent book in a March, 2020, issue of Lone Star Literary Life.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, nonfiction author, poet, photojournalist, screenwriter, and book reviewer in Austin, Texas. His books include Dark SignalsJumpand Erwin’s LawSee also his credits in the Internet Movie Database.

Bendición: The complete (and excellent) poems of a Manhattan Puerto Rican poet – #poetry #bookreview

Bendicion Covers qx_5.5

Bendición

The Complete Poetry of Tato Laviera

Arte Público Presspaperback

Before his death in 2013 at age 54, Manhattan poet Tato Laviera achieved fame both for his excellent performance poetry and for his strong advocacy of Puerto Rico as an important part of American life and culture.

Laviera was born in Puerto Rico and had some of his early schooling there. But he spent much of his life living and working in New York City. He had several books published, including Enclave, winner of the American Book Award. And a number of his plays were produced in New York City and Chicago.

Bendición is an excellent tribute to Laviera’s writing skills and style. His poems often are in English, but sometimes in Spanish, and sometimes in delightful mixtures of English and Spanish.

Laviera believed that being positive has important powers, even as he stood up strongly and vocally for those in racial and economic minorities in America.

“If there is anyone conspicuously absent from Tato’s cosmology,” writes Nicholás Kanellos in his preface to Bendición, “it is those New Yorkers who reign in board rooms and penthouses, the ‘one-percenters’ who ignore or disdain the lives that command Tato’s and our attention and compassion. Tato focuses fifty stories below to his fellow street-level survivors, hailing from all parts of the world and struggling to eke out a living in cramped sweatshops, dank factories, steamy kitchens or in the cacophony and miasma of the streets.”

But Laviera also was “a poet of love” and a very good one, indeed, Kanellos emphasizes.

Along with being a “complete” collection of published works, Bendición contains a number of Tato Laviera’s previously unpublished poems.

If you like poetry and American poets, this book can be a real eye-opener. How did you previously miss Tato Laviera’s fine, clear voice that is edged with very some mixed roots: Puerto Rico and its American possessor, plus Africa and Europe?

Si Dunn

2014 Poet’s Market – Yes, you can get published and maybe even make (very little) money – #poetry #bookreview

2014 Poet’s Market

Edited by Robert Lee Brewer
(Writer’s Digest Books – paperback, Kindle)

C’mon, admit it. You hated poetry in high school, and you seldom read it now. Yet, you sometimes find yourself moved to write a poem–or at least attempt to. And you wonder if the ones you actually finish are good enough to get published.

The 27th annual edition of Poet’s Market shows how and where you can submit poems for possible publication (and, much rarer, possible payment for your work). The sites listed include The New Yorker (“which receives approximately 4,000 submissions per month”) and The New England Review (which receives 3,000 to 4,000 poetry submissions per year and accepts about 70 to 80).

Hundreds of other printed and online publications are covered, along with their submission procedures and the types of poetry they are seeking. For example, at the online publication Necrology Shorts: Tales of Macabre and Horror: “We expect deranged, warped, twisted, strange, sadistic, and things that question sanity and reality.”

The 505-page 2014 Writer’s Market contains interviews with poets, a quick and helpful overview of poetic forms, plus 15 fine, well-displayed poems to keep you inspired and/or jealous. And the book contains solid information on how to promote yourself as a poet and give effective poetry readings.

If you are serious about writing poetry–and even if you choose to self-publish your works–you will find a rich array of how-to’s, hints, cautionary tales, marketing tips and other worthwhile resources in the 2014 Poet’s Market.

Si Dunn

Eight recent books of fiction, nonfiction & poetry – #bookreview

Here are eight recent books to consider, whether you prefer fiction, nonfiction or poetry.  

Midnight Movie
By Tobe Hooper, with Alan Goldsher
(Three Rivers, paperback, list price $14.00 ; Kindle edition $0.99) 

Fans of Tobe Hooper’s horror movies, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, likely will relish this experimental first novel. It is written in a fake documentary style that also blends in some fictional blog postings, fake tweets, fake news articles and fake testimonies.

In the book’s bizarre plot, a movie that Tobe Hooper made as a teenager and lost is somehow rediscovered and shown in Austin, Texas. That event unleashes a killer virus on the world that only the filmmaker himself can stop — if he can just figure out how. (This book is not recommended for readers who faint easily at the sight of blood, zombies…and over-the-top literary excess.)

Rawhide Ranger, Ira Aten: Enforcing Law on the Texas Frontier
By Bob Alexander
(University of North Texas Press, list price $32.95)

After lawmen gunned down the notorious outlaw Sam Bass at Round Rock, Texas, a young man who lived nearby, Austin Ira Aten, decided to change his career aspirations, from cowboy to Texas Ranger.

Aten joined the Rangers in 1883, soon after he turned 20. He then became, over time, “a courageously competent lawman…favorably known statewide…a high-profile Ranger,” according to the author of this well-researched biography.

While performing his Ranger duties, Ira Aten also became “directly linked to several episodes of Texas’ colorful past that scholars and grassroots historians have penned thousands—maybe millions—of words about.” And Aten’s well-regarded law-enforcement career continued long after his Ranger years, Alexander’s excellent book shows. 

Ciento: 100 100-word Love Poems
By Lorna Dee Cervantes
(Wings Press, paperback, list price $16.00) 

This handsome, enjoyable volume from San Antonio, Texas-based Wings Press keeps its subtitle’s promise. A widely published poet has accepted a difficult challenge and penned a hundred 100-word poems focused on love.

The poems deal with love at direct levels. So you’ll find no easy hearts and flowers here. The images include “steamy matinees”, “sensuous leanings” and “exquisite private views,” to mention just a few. 

Battle Surface!: Lawson P. “Red” Ramage and the War Patrols of the USS Parche
By Stephen L. Moore
(Naval Institute Press, hardback, list price $34.95 ; Kindle edition, list price $34.95)

Stephen L. Moore has written several books on submarine warfare. Battle Surface! blends superb research with a writing style that rivals good fiction. Moore recounts the true story of a U.S. Navy commander who defiantly charged his submarine into the midst of a huge Japanese convoy and stayed on the surface, dodging enemy fire and sinking several ships with torpedoes.

One superior decried the action as “dangerous, foolhardy, and of too much risk.” Others higher up, however, thought differently, Moore notes. They awarded Cmdr. “Red” Ramage the Congressional Medal of Honor. 

Elmer Kelton: Essays and Memories
Edited by Judy Alter and James Ward Lee
(TCU Press, paperback, list price $19.95)

 “Walrus hunter.” That was one of the civilian jobs the U.S. Army recommended to Elmer Kelton when he was discharged as a “rifleman, infantry” following World War II. Kelton became a journalist, instead, and a prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction books before his death in 2009.

This engaging, warm collection of essays and remembrances celebrates Kelton’s life, his personality, his love for the American West and his “straightforward and clean” writing style. In the words of one of his friends, Felton Cochran: “I tell people Elmer Kelton didn’t write ‘westerns’—he wrote western literature.”

Rudder: From Leader to Legend
By Thomas M. Hatfield
(Texas A&M Press, hardback, list price $30.00 ; Kindle edition, list price $30.00)

Earl Rudder could have kept working in a small-town Texas drugstore after high school. He exhibited little ambition and had no money for college. But this excellent biography shows how a chance encounter soon led him to college athletics, coaching and the Army Reserve, and then to D-day heroics, Texas state politics and, finally, the presidency of Texas A&M University’s statewide system.

This excellent biography shows how Gen. Rudder guided A&M through major upheavals that included desegregation, admitting women, and making the Corps of Cadets voluntary.

Working the Land: The Stories of Ranch and Farm Women in the Modern American West
By Sandra K. Schackel
(University Press of Kansas, hardback, list price $24.95)

Women do not just “keep house” on a ranch or farm in the modern American West. This well-written book shows that they have long been doing virtually anything they can to help keep their rural lifestyles viable and afloat in tough economic times.

Sandra K. Schackel interviewed more than 40 women in New Mexico, Texas and other states and found them actively wrangling animals, running machinery, creating summer camps and bed-and-breakfasts on their land, and even holding jobs in town to help support their spreads and their families.

The Road to Roma
By Dave Kuhne
(Ink Brush, paperback, list price $15.95)

This book’s seven well-written short stories are mostly set in Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin, Texas, and they reflect the writer’s strong sense of place and character. The stories previously have been published in a variety of literary journals, and their focus is on the deeper, sometimes transformative moments that occur in ordinary people’s lives.

 Si Dunn‘s latest book is a novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, all available on Kindle.