Poems, Prose, Makeup, & More | What We’re Reading & Watching

We’re more than halfway through National Poetry Month, so I asked the “What We’re Reading & Watching” contributors to share their poetry faves and finds. Some did. The more prosaic members in our group stuck with what they know and like best, be it movies, fantasy books, YA adventures, graphic novels, or creativity-sparking tomes. Poetry exists all around us though, if you just know where to look—it could be spliced between scenes in a movie, flowing off the page of a graphic novel, hanging on the lip of a cliff-hanger ending, or brewing in the back of a choreographer’s brain. It’s even in the New York City subway!

Liz French, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews
Last week I went to see movies new and old. One of my viewings even involved poetry, though rather peripherally. Wes Anderson’s new stop-action animated film, Isle of Dogs, is set on a fictitious island of toxic waste and junk in Japan, where an entire city’s canine population has been exiled by a dog-hating mayor. His nephew and ward, a brave young boy, flies a rickety craft to the island to rescue his beloved dog. Some of the movie’s dialog is in untranslated Japanese. There are some interstitial haikus between scenes and chapters, but they seemed like doggerel to me (get it?)

I had to drag the boyfriend to the theater—he was sure the movie was for kids and not for serious grown-ups like himself—but almost immediately he was engrossed. I was too, especially when matching the voices to the dogs’ faces. The Edward Norton dog looked like Edward Norton; the Scarlett Johansson dog looked like Scarlett; the Jeff Goldblum dog, ditto…my favorite crazy credit was “Mute Poodle: Anjelica Huston.” I’ll probably have to rewatch the film just to spot that poodle. Isle of Dogs was so much fun, I wanted to prolong my time in Andersonland. So I found my copy of Matt Zoller Seitz’s The Wes Anderson Collection: Grand Budapest Hotel (Abrams), with illustrations by Max Dalton. This book is a true confection, with photos, sketches, interviews, and a candy-pink cover. It made me want to revisit Grand Budapest Hotel (the movie) again as well.

The old movie I saw in an actual theater (New York City’s Film Forum) was 1941’s The Sea Wolf, directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Edward G. Robinson, Ida Lupino, John Garfield, and Alexander Knox. It’s based on a Jack London story and is a real old-timey “boy movie,” so much so that the line for the men’s after the show was twice as long as for the women’s. It had surprising depth for its time period and a roster of amazing character actors, but the most impressive thing to me was the durability of Lupino’s hair and makeup. Her character plunges into stormy seas, survives a shipwreck and days in a lifeboat without water, and nearly dies several times, but her eyelashes and lipstick never suffer so much as a smudge or a crumple. Now that’s entertainment! 

Tyler Hixson, WWR/W emeritus
I just read Jen Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker (First Second) and A.J. Steiger’s When My Heart Joins the Thousand (HarperTeen) in rapid succession. What a great week of reading! The Prince and the Dressmaker is a graphic novel that takes place in 1900-ish Paris and follows Prince Sebastian of Belgium, who is there on a summer holiday. His parents keep trying to set him up with various princesses as he grows closer to coming of age, but he is much too busy trying to hide a huge secret from everyone: Sebastian leads a double life as Lady Crystallia, one of the most popular models in Paris. He is aided by his ahead-of-her-time seamstress Frances, with dreams of her own. However, when you’re someone’s secret weapon, it’s hard to pursue your own dreams. Tension arises!

Wang’s masterly modern fairy tale is uplifting and heartening, and the art is incredible. Frances’s dresses practically flow off the page. As someone who doesn’t regularly appreciate graphic novels, I was blown away by this one.

When My Heart Joins the Thousand is the story of Alvie, who is months away from legal emancipation. She has spent years in hospitals and psychologists’ offices being told that she needs to “fit in” and “be normal” after she is tentatively diagnosed with Asperger’s as a child. But if she can make it to her 18th birthday and prove to a judge that she can be a functioning member of society, she’ll be free. Alvie finds people complicated and annoying and would simply like to do her job at the zoo and live her own life. Things get more complicated when she meets Stanley, a boy with osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease) whose mother just died from cancer. Alvie is drawn to Stanley, as his situation is similar to hers and he genuinely seems to want to be a part of her life. However, Alvie is constantly reminded of what happened to the last person she got close to, creating a cyclone of doubt and confusion in her head.

This powerful story addresses autism, depression, and other mental illnesses in a heavy but beautiful way. I can’t speak to the accuracy of the portrayal of autism and osteogenesis imperfecta, but the struggles both Alvie and Stanley deal felt very real, and I was completely transported by their story.

Currently I’m working through Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids (Blumhouse: Doubleday), which is loosely based on the Scooby-Doo gang, but as really messed-up adults, which causes me to ride waves of nostalgia as I cram onto the A train every day. At times, Cantero’s prose choices are strange—he sometimes switches into a screenplay format, which I’m still not used to—but it’s an engaging read so far.

Lisa Peet, Associate Editor, LJ
Tara Westover’s Educated (Random) is one of the most striking books I’ve read lately. Westover grew up in a fundamentalist, survivalist, very dysfunctional, and often violent Mormon family. The author didn’t set foot in a classroom until she was 17, barely qualifying as homeschooled—she had LDS scripture and some ancient textbooks lying around the house but mostly worked in her dad’s incredibly hazardous junkyard from age ten on—then went on to earn a PhD from Cambridge. This fascinating memoir of reinvention shows not only her transformation from unschooled to academically adept but how she forcibly reoriented her own internal world map.

The first part of the book is more of a dysfunctional-family page-turner than I’d expected after reading reviews, with a barrage of violence and mental illness and a jaw-dropping amount of physical injury. But it all serves a purpose and paints a solid picture of the emotional and psychological boundaries she had to work so hard to redraw. Westover tells her story well, and it’s all the more dramatic for not being a novel. She manages to pull no punches and at the same time not edge over into pathos. As someone who has re-created herself in comparatively smaller ways, I found Westover’s story deeply affecting and wonder if she’ll write more popular work or settle into the academic life that seems to suit her so well.

As for poetry, I tend to dip in and out, but here’s one of my very all-time favorites, “The Mystery of Meteors” by Eleanor Lerman (who, like me, is also from the Bronx!). I don’t always hold relatability up as a big criterion for liking something, but this one speaks to my heart of hearts on lots of levels.

Meredith Schwartz, Executive Editor, LJ
I just finished Vic James’s Gilded Cage (Del Rey: Ballantine), which took me a long time to get into, but eventually the threads come together and the pace picks up toward the cliff-hanger ending. I’ve just ordered the sequel, Tarnished City.

Henrietta Verma, WWR/W emerita
On a bit of a creativity kick, I’m reading The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life (S. & S.) by choreographer Twyla Tharp with Mark Reiter. As much a memoir of Tharp’s creative process as an instruction manual for how to kick-start one’s own imagination, it is very enjoyable. Next up are more academic explorations: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention and possibly after that Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper Perennial).

 

Wilda Williams, Fiction Editor, LJ Reviews
At a reading last month organized by my friend, poet/teacher Scott Hightower, I picked up a slim volume, Swift Hour (Mercer Univ.) by Georgia-based Megan Sexton. I am not much of a poetry reader, but I was moved by her elegant, incisive, and plainspoken poems that explore a wide range of subjects, from the grieving mothers of Argentina’s Disappeared (“The Meaning of Bones”) and a homeless couple (“Orpheus and Eurydice at the Greyhound Station”) to tender ruminations on marriage and motherhood. This is the perfect collection for snatching a quiet, meditative hour away from a busy life. Here’s a brief example:

 

     Parenthood

Our love has
made her
pearl of our flesh,
the gift of imperfection
polished now in her,
luminous, perfect
evidence.

 

 

 

 

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Liz French About Liz French

Library Journal Senior Editor Liz French edits nonfiction and women's fiction reviews at LJ and also compiles the "What We're Reading" and "Classic Returns" columns for LJ online. She's inordinately interested in what you're reading as well. Email: efrench@mediasourceinc.com, Twitter: @lizefrench

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