Book Review: How to Think Like a Fish by Jeremy Wade

How to Think Like a Fish: And Other Lessons from a Lifetime in Angling

How to Think Like a Fish: And Other Lessons from a Lifetime in Angling by Jeremy Wade

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This book is everything I hoped it might be and more. Jeremy Wade’s voice, experience, and specialty are each one of the most unique you’re liable to find. In this superbly fishy little volume, Wade plumbs the depths (forgive me) of the peculiar obsession involved in perfecting one’s craft. There are spectacular fish stories and practical tips, but what’s best is the philosophical underpinning and gentle humor that make this book far more beautiful than a simple angler’s guide.



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Book Review: Passing for Human by Liana Finck

Passing for Human by Liana Finck

Passing for Human: A Graphic Memoir by Liana Finck

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Liana Finck’s distinctive style of drawing makes her graphic memoir feel as if it’s being told to you from the other end of the couch, while sharing a kettle of tea. The story is gently carried on the back of metaphors that allow her images to range free. It’s a beautiful memoir. Reading it feels like meeting someone for the first time, and knowing that they’re going to become important to you. Hard to describe. But you’ll know it when you see it.



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Book Review: The Poetry of Strangers by Brian Sonia-Wallace

The Poetry of Strangers by Brian Sonia-Wallace

The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America by Brian Sonia-Wallace

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Brian Sonia-Wallace’s meandering memoir stops off at unexpected destinations as he explores what it means to make a living as a busking poet in today’s America. Through the lens of his spontaneous poetry that is born of conversations with whomever approaches his typewriter and table, he contemplates all different kinds of desires, legacies, and wishes for the future that define the lives of the strangers that he begins to know. From the shiny temple to commercialism that is the Mall of America to a van that fortune tellers call home in the middle of the desert, these stories show a portrait of a nation and offer poetry as a possible prescription to mend the divisions of its people.



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Book Review: Good Talk by Mira Jacob

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Good Talk is a graphic memoir that delivers in new ways, centering around hard and crucial conversations about race and identity. The intimacy of the book makes the national (and even international) topics of discussion very immediate and alive–Mira Jacob has given us the gift of her own experience through remembered conversations that span generations of hurt and hope. An essential read for the current cultural moment and far beyond.



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Book Review: The Turquoise Ledge by Leslie Marmon Silko

The Turquoise Ledge: A Memoir

The Turquoise Ledge: A Memoir by Leslie Marmon Silko

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Leslie Marmon Silko is one of my literary heroes–her searing, gorgeous novel Ceremony is one of my favorite books of all time. So, I deeply enjoyed this chance to hang out with her in her desert memoir The Turquoise Ledge. The book itself can be repetitive and unremarkable, but it’s less of a book and more of a long sit-down at the kitchen table with your grandmother, as she tells you about the special rocks she saw on her walks and the animals she saw in her garden and what’s been going on with her dogs and parrots and the weather and a little bit of religion and mysticism rolled in because that’s important, you know! I don’t think Silko would mind me saying that I liked this book not because of the book itself, but because of her. (Also, her supernaturally aided feud with her neighbor, because don’t all grandmothers have one of those, too?)



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Book Review: M Train by Patti Smith

M Train

M Train by Patti Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Patti Smith’s M Train inhabits a space so intimate that it’s typically found only inside our own minds–a swirl of dreams, longing, pithy observances, profound confrontations, mad wishes, spontaneous convictions, and ruminations on the tasks and artifacts of life. A place where we make sense of a life’s worth of words consumed. A place where we imagine what we might make and in that imagining make something else. This book is a love story, a catalogue of art, an ode to lost objects, a process journal, a coffee-drinking manifesto, and yet also none of these things. Smith’s voice is that of a woman who transcends definition and is so sure of her own course that she fairly manifests it out of thin air. She comprehends her own power in a way that is staggering. This book is the same: it is impossible to describe, but it makes meaning in its own way, on its own time.



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Book Review: The Dragon Behind the Glass by Emily Voigt

The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story of Power, Obsession, and the World's Most Coveted Fish

The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story of Power, Obsession, and the World’s Most Coveted Fish by Emily Voigt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This absorbing oddity of nonfiction starts out as an inquiry into the absurd and even dangerous obsession with a single species and ends up broadening into an exploration of the human view toward categorizing and assigning value to all kinds of species. It is an odd and thrilling amalgam of real-life adventure with an eccentric cast of modern explorers and the retraced steps of some of biology’s defining pioneers of taxonomy. The lengths that Voight undertook to get her story are a testament to the dark power of the quest for near-unobtainable rarity. It is a strange, colorful, and oftentimes quietly sad portrait of the human need to “own” the world around us.

The truth is, the pleasure of finding new species is too great; it is morally dangerous; for it brings with it the temptation to look on the thing found as your own possession all but your own creation… as if all the angels in heaven had not been admiring it, long before you were born or thought of.

-Charles Kingsley, 1855



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Book Review: Occasional Magic – True Stories About Defying the Impossible, edited by Catherine Burns

The Moth Presents Occasional Magic: True Stories about Defying the Impossible

The Moth Presents Occasional Magic: True Stories about Defying the Impossible by Catherine Burns

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The Moth has a way of creating the ideal moment for stories to come out from quiet spaces. In this compilation, the anticipation of a waiting audience and the vulnerability of the speaker in the spotlight is put into the written form, and it’s really as magical as the title implies. The selections here are full of moments that defy disbelief and capture the true serendipity of wandering around the earth as a human. Each one is a once-in-a-lifetime snapshot, and I’m so grateful that the diverse voices assembled here agreed to part with them.



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Book Review: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

Freshwater

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I’ve never read anything like Freshwater, and I’m so grateful that I did. This semi-autobiographical novel presents a rotation of narrators who all share the same body: the Nigerian college student Ada and the multiplicity of ogbanje children who shift in and out of her consciousness. The way that the author’s spiritual beliefs help frame the characters’ experience is fascinating… a metaphysical look at an identity as multiple, that a Western understanding might otherwise call fragmented, is presented in a way where we understand the motivation, the cruelties, the protection, and the pain of all the spirits within the “marble room” of the mind in an entirely new way. It was a difficult book to read purely because of the unceasing emotional pain of the narrative. But the writing is boldly inventive and captures a unique human experience of self-finding through the dark. A sensational debut.



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Book Review: North Writers by John Henricksson, editor

North Writers I: A Strong Woods Collection

North Writers I: A Strong Woods Collection by John Henricksson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A lovely collection of short essay/memoir writings from a highly specific part of the American (and Canadian) landscape. A variety of voices and experiences are present here. Some of the pieces feel dated for the modern reader while others remain poignant and fresh. If you have love for the north woods, you’ll find something to enjoy at some point in this book. I would recommend reading it in small bites at a time. The volume is split between nature-focused writings and more human encounters–my preference was for the former.



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