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Flung Throne

Cody-Rose Clevidence. Ahsahta, $18 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-934103-79-1

“I ache, I arc, I archaic, I arch, I eon, Ion, &on,” writes Clevidence (Beast Feast) in their sophomore effort, a dense but rich exploration of the continuum between person and nature. Like Clevidence’s debut, this work both subverts and takes pleasure in the conventions of English, searching for what, if anything, constitutes a particular being separate from others. But where earlier poems trafficked in the language of critical theory and computing as well as the natural world, this outing is interested in metals, monarchies, and mythologies—the book’s reference to Chronos eating a stone, thinking it was his son Zeus, is particularly instructive in the ways kinships might be surprisingly malleable. When the work’s formal strangeness balances with equally dense meanings, Clevidence creates exquisite experiences; one passage asks readers to “let x stand for civilization, as in xylophone and xenon; let y be distance: yet, yes, yellow; let lust be time and crumble cities, let a mirror mimic sensation, there are eyes.” This is a long work, and at times its organization can feel arbitrary, as if one might have begun reading anywhere. But that, perhaps, is part of the point in a book obsessed with how form “is restless within itself,” with the way a shore can be “made of new rocks.” (May)

Reviewed on 08/10/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Feast Gently

G.C. Waldrep. Tupelo, $17.95 trade paper (94p) ISBN 978-1-946482-11-2

With roots in daily life, these long-lined meditations from poet and historian Waldrep (Testament) reach from the sensory to the sublime and back. Waldrep’s poems trouble the edge of knowing, and many take place at night or in shadow: “In darkness I move around my house/ as a blind man might, touching/ the walls, the furniture, small objects,/ my own body.” The collection moves much like this speaker, exploring daily spaces rendered uncanny, if not enigmatic, and aware that even the most familiar things are ontologically distinct from the speaker’s experience. Waldrep, who allows that “Sometimes touch is better/ than illumination,” revels in the space of partial knowledge. He writes poems of interiority, inviting the reader to the slow but expansive terrain of cognition. But, here, interiority is a way of reaching out to find what of the world can be grasped by the senses and arranged by careful thought. And the world reaches back: “What does the snow learn?/ The shape of the flesh, the shape of the heat of the flesh/ and its offal./ The sun is a distant body.” Waldrep’s poetry details a kind of brushing against the self, the way mystery threads through observation. (May)

Reviewed on 08/10/2018 | Details & Permalink

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No Place to Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs

Lezlie Lowe. Coach House (Consortium, U.S. dist.; PGC, Canadian dist.), $16.95 trade paper (220p) ISBN 978-1-55245-370-4

Journalist Lowe’s debut is a frank, political, and wide-ranging exploration of the shortcomings of public bathrooms. After noting that open-air defecation is a daily reality for 892 million people globally, she focuses on issues in England, the U.S., and Canada. Starting with the point that human beings cannot avoid having to deal with their own waste, she interviews excretion researchers, toilet activists, and civic planners in order to delve into the history of public toilets, their decreasing accessibility in many cities, and potential ways to reverse that trend. Along the way, she embeds fascinating facts, describing huge “fatbergs” of effluvium in London sewers, the “Great Stink” of 1858, shy bladder syndrome, and euphemisms relating to menstruation. Asserting that North Americans are “culturally constipated... when it comes to our conception of the bathroom,” Lowe addresses the numerous ways public bathrooms get things wrong, especially for people who menstruate, are homeless, or have medical conditions. The public has gotten used to a status quo of less and less accessibility, but Lowe argues that innovations, including public pay toilets and public toilets with paid attendants, are both possible and necessary for civic well-being. This is a concise but thorough effort at open conversation about a topic usually discussed in whispers. Agent: Carolyn Forde, Westwood Creative Artists. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/10/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Using the GAPS Diet: 175 Recipes for Gaining Control of Your Gut Flora

Signe Gad. Robert Rose (Firefly, dist.), $24.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-7788-0594-6

This practical debut cookbook is not the work of a nutritional expert but rather of a mother who spent four years researching and implementing a diet to help her young daughter overcome persistent abdominal pain. Gad explains that her daughter recovered after following a diet a doctor recommended for gut and psychology syndrome (GAPS), a term coined to describe a plethora of chronic intestinal ailments stemming from changes in human microbiota. This book brings together the health information and recipes Gad says she wished she had when her daughter was ill. Part I provides basic background information on how the gut works in the presence of beneficial, opportunistic, and harmful microbes. It outlines the GAPS diet, which aims to rebuild and replenish gut flora by introducing fermented foods, bone broth, and probiotics with each meal and by eliminating sugary and processed foods. Part 2 advises readers on groceries and equipment with which to stock their kitchens. Part 3 provides 175 varied recipes that adhere to the GAPS diet, including fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir as well as sugar- and starch-free desserts that make following the diet easier. This book will be a useful tool for readers who want to test the health benefits of the GAPS diet. (July)

Reviewed on 08/10/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Diary of a Bookseller

Shaun Bythell. Melville House, $25.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-61219-724-1

With wit and humility, Bythell, owner of a used bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland, chronicles a year—2014, specifically—in the life of a bookseller. In addition to describing the routine of managing his books-and-mortar store, he examines the plusses of virtual selling through Amazon (a much wider audience) as well as the minuses (negative reviews from customers with unrealistic expectations). A typical entry annotating his days might read: “Online orders: 6... Books found: 5... Till total: £95.50... 6 customers.” He shares amusing stories, such as how his staff creatively categorize books (such as placing a book called Alien Sex: The Body and Desire in Cinema in the shop’s theology section), as well as bookstore lore (George Orwell once worked in a bookshop, and immediately knew he didn’t want to be a bookseller). Tales of cheap customers abound, such as a couple in their 60s wearing “Lycra cycling gear” who walked out and “left a trail of resentment in their wake” when he wouldn’t give them a 25% discount. But there are also anecdotes of the quirky folk who adore books, such as a roving band of musicians who perform in bookstores, singing about books they’ve read. Bythell’s narrative is lively and intelligent, but readers may be disappointed that his book dispells any notions about the romance of owning a bookstore. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/10/2018 | Details & Permalink

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This Is Day One: A Practical Guide to Leadership That Matters

Drew Dudley. Hachette, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-0-316-52307-3

The TEDx talk “Everyday Leadership” fails to make the leap to a book in this disappointing debut from Dudley, founder of Day One Leadership. Billed as a “leadership starter kit,” the book stresses that readers need to unlearn the lesson that leaders must be like Jeff Bezos or Steve Jobs. Taking a note from his handbook of substance abuse recovery, Dudley urges readers to recommit themselves to their careers daily and to draw up “a list of behaviors that will generate positive moments of impact, courage, empowerment, growth and self-respect.” His chatty direction on identifying key values is entertaining enough, but can be boiled down to a single sentence: make one’s commitment to leadership a daily habit. Coupled with the disproportionate amount of space given to his own journey, this approach results in a book that feels most like an exercise in brand extension. In the most off-putting passage, he represents a sophomoric joke from his college days as “the greatest moment of leadership in my life.” By the end of this book, readers will be left wondering whether good judgment and leadership necessarily go hand in hand. Agent: James Levine, Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/10/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art

Susan Napier. Yale Univ., $30 (344p) ISBN 978-0-300-22685-0

Napier (Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle), a professor of rhetoric and Japanese studies at Tufts University, takes a laudably well-informed look at the life and works of Japanese animation luminary Hayao Miyazaki, director of such films as Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro and cofounder of Studio Ghibli. She is economical but thorough with biographical details, delving into her subject’s childhood during WWII, during which his family owned a factory making fan belts for Zero fighter planes, and after the war, when his mother had a long battle with tuberculosis. Napier recounts Miyazaki’s long apprenticeship at Toei Animation and on smaller television projects before his breakthrough with his first feature, The Castle of Cagliostro. Once Miyazaki’s feature directorial career begins, Napier alternates enlightening film analyses with further biographical information, exploring the director’s political beliefs via his writing for an in-house Studio Ghibli journal on topics like environmental waste and nuclear contamination. However, his wife and children, whom Miyazaki is famously circumspect in speaking about publicly, receive only scant mention. In his work, she finds of particular note a penchant for strong, independent, young female characters and a consistent attention to ecological themes. Napier’s biography-cum-study is self-evidently the labor of both a consummate scholar and an avid fan. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/10/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Essayism: On Form, Feeling, and Nonfiction

Brian Dillon. New York Review Books, $15.95 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-68137-282-2

“Imagine a type of writing so hard to define its very name should be something like: an effort, an attempt, a trial,” Dillon (The Great Explosion) aptly observes at the outset of this self-reflexive collection of essays about essay-writing. Dillon considers the form as a kind of literary fragment, as a vehicle for aphorisms, and as a channel for emotion, especially melancholy. He introduces readers to many of his writing heroes, among them Cyril Connolly, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Theodor Adorno, and is adept at explaining Hardwick’s exquisite comma placement and William Gass’s “shameless” penchant for alliteration. His appreciation of the essay form is tied to his own depression as a teen while his mother died of scleroderma, which led him to seek “some assurance that the world could not only be recast in words but had been made of language in the first place.” In the essay, he writes, the world is remade over and over and “the greatest art is nothing but a delicately broached negation.” His book is both an argument for and an example of the essay as the most complex and human literary form. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/10/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms

Hannah Fry. Norton, $25.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-393-63499-0

Fry, a University College London math professor, invites readers to examine how algorithms affect their lives. She guides her audience through understanding what algorithms are—“simply a series of logical instructions that show how to accomplish a task”—and thoughtfully commends on how they are used, such as in the fields of medicine, criminal justice, art, and transportation, to help people make more consistent decisions and to improve public safety. Fry maintains that the most important consideration isn’t the technical sophistication and complexity of an algorithm, but the reliability and trustworthiness of the people in charge of it. She cautions that “data and algorithms don’t just have the power to predict our shopping habits” but also to “rob someone of their freedom.” To this end, she describes instances in which the use of algorithms has gone awry, such as when an FBI expert’s confidence in facial recognition technology led to a man being held in a maximum security cell for a crime he didn’t commit. These case studies are coupled with difficult questions about how algorithms should be used: for instance, is society willing to give up individualized justice for consistency in sentencing? Throughout, Fry counsels the use of algorithms to complement and enhance human performance, not replace it. This is an intriguing take on a timely topic. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/10/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays)

Rebecca Solnit. Haymarket, $15.95 trade paper (166p) ISBN 978-1-60846-329-9

In this thought-provoking series of political essays, Solnit (The Mother of All Questions) attempts to diagnose the present maladies of American culture. These afflictions include a preference for outrage instead of dialogue, police brutality and the mass incarceration of African-American men, and gentrification and economic inequality. The most trenchantly addressed problem is that of American isolationism, a slippery slope, as Solnit explains: “If you begin by denying social and ecological systems, then you end by denying the reality of facts, which are... part of a network of systematic relationships among language, physical reality, and the record.” Solnit argues throughout that truthful language is vital, and that “one of the crises of the moment is linguistic,” thanks in large part to misleading speech by President Trump. He is described as suffering from a malady himself, one contracted when one is constantly surrounded by sycophants and deprived of normal human interaction and “the most rudimentary training in dealing with setbacks.” (Solnit does not offer these as excuses, merely explanations.) The collection ends with essays outlining the most successful practices of journalists and activists fighting against injustice, inequality, and ignorance. These in particular indicate what makes Solnit such a powerful cultural critic: as always, she opts for measured assessment and pragmatism over hype and hysteria. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/10/2018 | Details & Permalink

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