Saturday, February 14, 2015

Too Woo or Not to Woo - Love in Literature: Part the Third

On Valentine's Day, back in 2012, I had some fun with the whole hallmark holiday gush-fest and recommended some left-of-center love stories to you guys. Then in 2014, I invited some of our review contributors to join in on the mushy-gushy lovefest. 

And so it seems we are baaaaaack, like a bad poltergeist remake, and bringing forth the books we think are most fitting for this, the rosiest, silkiest, smoothiest of all canned holidays. Talking up love in literature, TNBBC style:

Melanie Page's Literary Love Picks:

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore
This is a novel about dude love that knows no bounds. Sure, one of them is Jesus and the other is his best friend Biff, but when you get into the meat of the novel, you realize that there is no way that Biff could ever abandon his BFF. After Biff is reincarnated to write more stories for the Bible, you can just sense his unease, sense that something is missing. It’s not the girl he loves; it’s his buddy.

If Beale Street Could Talk, by James Baldwin
One of the best lovemaking scenes I’ve ever read was in this novel. Despite the agony of knowing Fonny is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Baldwin’s words make me want to be young Tish, a woman who knows Fonny’s love and carries his warmth around like fur-lined coat. Another beautiful aspect of the novel is that the relationship begins in friendship; Fonny and Tish have known each other since childhood and have personally committed to always protecting one another.

Bridget Jones’s Diary (the trilogy), by Helen Fielding
If I’m being honest with myself, when I want to read about someone who makes fairly stupid decisions at every turn and yet has great encounters with sexy British men, I’ll turn to BJ. I think everyone, male or female, wants someone to say, “I like you very much. Just as you are.” I also like to watch the mess that BJ is: her obsessive calorie/alcoholic units/cigarette counting, weighing herself, trying to avoid certain people (workaholics, alcoholics, people with girlfriends or wives, etc.) so she doesn’t get dragged under with them. She makes me feel cooler.

My Life in France, by Julia Child
While this book is largely about Child learning to cook in France and her three-way partnership that resulted in one of the most popular cookbooks ever, you’ll also discover that Child had a beautiful love story. Julia and husband Paul never had children, so their lives focus entirely on their ambitions and one another. They were funny, too; every Valentine’s Day the couple would send out very sexy cards to all their friends!

Currency, by Zoe Zolbrod
Robin is a tourist in Thailand, and Piv is her guide and lover. When these two get involved in trafficking animal products internationally, you know things aren’t going to end well. In the meantime, though, their trust in one another is a beautiful thing to watch develop, which made me want to trust in anything and everything just to feel that sense of falling into safe arms.

The Dangerous Husband, by Jane Shapiro
I have to confess, this book confuses my students every time I teach it. I mean, how could a fictitious couple with seem so perfect for one another (and they’re getting older—tick tock, folks!) have problems? Like, is Dennis trying to kill his wife, or is he just the clumsiest man ever? And, in her fear and doubt, is the wife trying to preemptively kill Dennis? And they’re such a great match!

What the Body Requires: A Symphonic Novel, by Debra DiBlasi
A woman heads to Europe to kill her husband for taking a lover, but his doppelganger surprises her instead. This new man she did not expect is enamored with the American woman on the war path for revenge; she brings light to his lightless life. Some moments involve hi stakes situations and a bit of mystery, though I’d never call What the Body Requires a genre novel. This book is highly sexual, but never cliched. DiBlasi just kills it.

Lindsey Lewis Smithson's Literary Love Picks:

In no particular order, read these with someone you love. Some are sexy, a little racy, while others are quiet and meditative. All of them will get you thinking a little more about that person you’ve given your heart to.

“Folie à Deux Ménage à Trois” from Harlot by Jill Alexander Essbaum
The book is called Harlot and there is a woman hugging a penis on the cover. Nothing could say Valentine’s Day more. This particular poem is full of great rhymes, word play, a killer use of form, plus, as the speaker says “we teeter on the precipice of this suggestions, the three of us.”

Davis’ “to love” reads like both a breathless declaration of love and a well thought out letter trying to convince another of love. The poem mixes progressive tense verbs and mashed together meanings with meticulous line breaks that leave many things open to interpretation. No matter how you read it though, the speaker is clearly in love.

“Recipe for a Long, Happy Marriage” from Charlotte Bronte, You Ruined My Life by Barbara Louise Ungar
There is a lot of tongue in cheek humor in “Charlotte Bronte, You Ruined My Life,” which Ungar uses to make her message of love, unrealistic expectations and loss so palatable. Instead of an over effusion of romance “Recipe for a Long, Happy Marriage” literally boils the whole thing down to a few simple steps, and the only ingredient is “Find the right person.” 

“Rise” from Interior with Sudden Joy by Brenda Shaughnessy
Like Barbara Louise Ungar’s “Recipe for a Long, Happy Marriage” Shaughnessy mixes food and love in “Rise.” Instead of a simple formula this poem is laced with double or triple meanings and dark sexy word choices. Depending on your mood you either leave this poem a little turned on, or considering death. 

“Love at First Sight” from Miracle Fair: Selected Poems by Wisława Szymborska
“Love at First Sight” is a beautiful, thoughtful, made-for-TV romance of a poem. Szymborska mediates on the loveliness of chance in life and how the most unsuspecting moments may be the ones that change your life; “Every beginning, after all,/is nothing but a sequel,/and the book of events/is always open in the middle.”

“Letter to a Lover” from Come on All You Ghosts by Matthew Zapruder
“Letter to a Lover,” which appears in Matthew Zapruder’s third collection, Come on All Your Ghosts, illustrates love in every life instead of grand sweeping moments. The speaker opens by saying “Today I am going to pick you up at the beige airport” and then proceeds to list the day-to-day things he is excited to share with the girl. Most love happens around the mundane things, like airport pick ups, but there is something heartwarming in the careful way Zapruder makes these moments shine.

“Ignatz in August” from Ignatz by Monica Youn
Monica Youn’s “Ignatz in August,” which is one of a series of poems inspired by the character Ignatz Mouse from the Krazy Kat cartoons, doesn’t sound like something that would initially spark romance or ove, but this short poem is surprising.  Consisting of only six lines, this visceral piece begs to be read between people in love, opening with  “you arch/up off me.”

“Torch Song for Ophelia” from Torch Song Tango Choir by Julie Sophia Paegle
For the reader in search of a smooth talking man, or who for the woman is just got dumped, “Torch Song for Ophelia” is a Valentine’s Day anthem.  “Forget/about Hamlet./He required too much: air,/ Purgatory, his harpy/whore,/ revenge,/stories” Paegle writes, and then her speaker sweeps Ophelia off of her feet with profusions of love, sex and appreciation.

“places of happiness” from Forever Will End on Thursday by Nic Sebastian
Despite some tension between the two speakers in “places of happiness,” by Nic Sebsastian, this poem shows two people who really do care about each other.  They travel together, ask about the other’s work, and in the end “on the road to Chittagong/you covered me with your jacket and held/my hand.” This simple gesture, among the unique locations and vivid details, is what makes this poem, and most of the book, special.

“The Knowing” from Strike Sparks: Selected Poems, 1980-2002 by Sharon Olds
That post coitus snuggle moment, when you (hopefully) amaze at the person you are with is touchingly described in Sharon Olds “The Knowing.” This speaker is in love, in lust, and in like with the person she has just slept with and gladly shares this with the reader in heartfelt detail. At the end of the poem Olds expresses the sentiment I hope we can all share on Valentine’s day:  “I am so lucky that I can know him.”

Lori's Literary Love Picks:

Love is everywhere, in everyone. Sometimes that love is so strong and intense that it's borderline breaking-the-law obsessive. Other times it's muffled and hidden for fear of having our feelings hurt. In these selections, you'll find some of the funniest, sickest, and more deranged looks at love:

Romance for Delinquents by Michael Wayne Hampton
Love is for suckers. Or at least it sometimes feels that way, don't it? We've all fallen for the new, naive love that births a billion butterflies in our chest. But what about when it becomes an angry and unreciprocated love, the kind that forces those fluttery little creatures down, one by one, into your stomach, where they churn and dissolve in your acidic emotions? Or how about the curious, borderline obsessive love that clouds our senses and causes us to act in strange and sometimes dangerous ways. Watch out that it doesn't turn into a jealous love, one that, as we begin to rage and howl, darkens those clouds and blinds our vision.In Michael Wayne Hampton's Romance for Delinquents, we are judge, jury, and witness to love in all of its extremes

Elegantly Naked in my Sexy Mental Illness by Heather Fowler
The stories in Elegantly Naked in My Sexy Mental Illness, Heather Fowler's fourth collection, hold a scalpel to the brain of each of its protagonists, in an attempt to differentiate true mental illness from what is natural and normal. When does a simple crush become an obsessive desire? At what point do we decide that these paranoid thoughts in our head are no longer innocent, no longer healthy? After you read her stories, your guard will be up. Your eyes will turn their suspicious gaze left and right, left and right, all day long. You'll automatically diagnose everyone around you, and begin to keep your distance. But I promise it won't last long. Because the unease will wear off. The routine will suck you back in. The familiarity with these people, the trust, it will all return. And in a few week's time, it'll be as if you never looked at them any differently. And that's ok. Because it's the norm. And because sometimes, we find mental illness a little thrilling, a little sexy.

The Bones of Us by J Bradley
J Bradley's poetry is stark and sharp and gutting. It's not for the recently heartbroken. It's a suicide partner; a deflating raft in an ocean of sharks. It won't help you heal your wounds. Oh no. It will seek out the wounds you were certain had healed and it will tear them wide open again. It will pour lemon juice and salt into them and smile a sadistic smile. It will draw fine, faint lines across your skin with its nails and teeth and lick its lips as the blood beads on the surface. A powerful, poignant reminder of how fleeting and fragile our love is, The Bones of Us is a breath taken, and held, for fear that if we let it out, it'll blow away all we came to care about. 

Please Don't Leave Me Scarlett Johansson by Thomas Patrick Levy

Stalker alert! This chapbook is the perfect Valentine read for those suffering a broken heart or those who are in the midst of a crazy-ass obsess-fest. It takes the idea of celebrity fandom and throws it on its back, taping its mouth shut and sniffing its neck in the backseat of a kidnap-van. 

Panic Attack, USA by Nate Slawson
This is everything that poetry should be and never was until now. Honest and naked. Sensitive to the point of sappy but with a surprisingly hard core edge. Nate Slawson's words punch you in the gut with their beauty. They make you wish your boyfriend/husband/partner pined for you in such painfully raw and inspiring ways. This book touched me in places I shouldn't have enjoyed but did. I love it's naughty, raunchy little heart. If Panic Attack, USA were a person, I would kidnap it and hold it hostage in my closet and make it whisper its dirty little poems to me every night.

Rod KcKuen - his entire collection
I was incredibly saddened when I heard about Rod's passing this year. I have loved his poetry ever since I first discovered him, back in college. His poems are so beautiful, full of love, and loss, and so tired, and so awake. They are heartbreaking and breath taking. And you should become acquainted with them. 

1 comment:

  1. My Life in France is one of my favorites! Wine, food, and a real life love story; great suggestion.