A round-up of reviews of seven new-ish and noteworthy books.
Crybaby: Infertility, Illness, and other Things That Were Not the End of the World by Cheryl E. Klein (2022, Brown Paper Press)
Cheryl E. Klein is a "failed perfectionist and successful hypochondriac" who had a hard time accepting that the world would not end when she was unable to have a baby. She writes with humor about things that would leave most people a sobbing puddle. But her self-deprecating, raw honesty is the beauty of the book. If all we saw were her tears, the book would be too impossibly maudlin to struggle through. As a reader, I felt like I understood what she went through as she navigated a series of disasters that brought her to consider the adventure of open adoption.
Plums for Months: Memories of a Wonder-Filled, Neurodivergent Childhood by Zaji Cox (2023, Forest Avenue Press)
Zaji Cox's new memoir is a collection of impressionistic essays about her childhood, living in a 100-year-old house with her single mother and sister. It is intimate, beautiful, and moving.
The Promise of a Normal Life by Rebecca Kaiser Gibson (2023, Arcade Publishing)
This debut novel finds a young Jewish-American woman trying to find her way in 1960s America and Israel. It is a quiet story and the author’s skill as a poet are clear in the lyrical writing. The unnamed narrator describes her slow awakening through a series of vignettes that bounce around in time. From a mismatch of a marriage and other romantic relationship problems, through her struggles with an emotionally distant but domineering mother, the narrator finally comes into her own in the end.
A Story Interrupted by Connie Soper (2022, Airlie Press)
This is Soper's first book of poetry. It is a collection of poems about actual places and experiences, not abstract ideas. Soper writes about Oregon, where she lives, her travels in far flung places, and the feelings and memories these locations inspire.
These are exactly the kind of poems I am drawn to. I like something I can latch onto and relate to when I read poetry, I don't like to feel like the whole thing is going over my head. Soper’s poems hit me just right.
No God Like the Mother by Kesha Ajọsẹ-Fisher (2023, Forest Avenue Press)
The nine stories collected in No God Like the Mother follow the characters from Legos to Paris to the Pacific Northwest. Ajọsẹ-Fisher's emotionally rich stories deal with people in transition, facing hardships and joys. The theme of motherhood -- mothering and being mothered -- runs throughout and pulls the stories together into a beautiful and emotionally satisfying whole.
No God Like the Mother won the Ken Kesey Award For Best Fiction at the Oregon Book Awards.
Prisons Have a Long Memory: Life Inside Oregon's Oldest Prison, edited by Tracy D. Schlapp and Daniel J. Wilson (2022, Bridgeworks Oregon)
Prisons Have a Long Memory is a collection of essays, poems, and memoir written by prisoners at the Oregon State Penitentiary. Editors Schlapp and Wilson started and led a "storytelling" group inside the prison and then worked with an editorial board of adults in custody to compile this collection. The writings were prompted by questions from middle school and high school students affected by the incarceration of their family members. They reflect the difficult internal struggle to atone, find peace, and create community.
Blood and Iron: The Rise and Fall of the German Empire, 1871-1918 by Katja Hoyer, new from Pegasus Books.
Prior to 1871, Germany was not a unified nation but 39 separate states, including Prussia, Bavaria, and the Rhineland. In her new book, Blood and Iron, German-British historian Katja Hoyer tells the story of how a German Empire, united under Otto von Bismarck, rose to power only to face crippling defeat in the First World War. It is a thoroughly researched, lively written account of five decades that changed the course of modern history.