What We're Reading Now: New Poetry, Jazz Age Retellings, & a Handy Handbook

We’re reading a varied selection these days: two new books and one we’re reading for the third (or perhaps fourth?) time. Find out more about our TBR pile below!

Poetry

The Black Maria is the latest collection of poems from renowned poet Aracelis Girmay. We’ll let the author’s note beginning the collection speak for itself:

“It is estimated that over 20,000 people have died at sea making the journey from North Africa to Europe in the past two decades. On October 3, 2013, it is estimated that 300 people died at sea off the coast of Lampedusa. Those on board the boat that sank were nearly all Eritrean.

“This cycle of poems focuses on Eritrean history, as this is a history I am somewhat familiar with as someone of its diaspora. But, of course, the history of people searching for political asylum and opportunity (both) is much larger than Eritrean history alone.”

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The Black Maria

Aracelis Girmay

The poems within are piercing and beautiful, with lines like these, a few couplets from prayer & letter to the dead: “…your shoes lift up into // the old & broken boat, / while the small hands of water // wave, each one waving / its blue handkerchief, then // the gentle flutter of luck / & tears. We all know // what happens next. Do not go.”

Girmay’s poems span continents and oceans, even journeying to “the Afterworld Sea/Sea of Death” as the collection explores themes of loss, belief, desire with a deft and lyric hand.

From Liz: This is a collection that keeps knocking me down—I’m only a few poems into Girmay’s new book—because of the beauty of the language and the deeply concerning relevant of the immigration story at the heart of it. But isn’t that like so much in this day and age? The personal is political, and Girmay appears deftly aware of that truth as her poems examine her own story, Eritrean history & present, and the unifying force of loss.

Fiction

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler was published several years ago and has been making waves ever since! There’s even an Amazon original series based on the novel! The Fitzgeralds, and F. Scott’s classic The Great Gatsby, seem to be having a moment lately and, while we can see the appeal of the Jazz Age nostalgia, Zelda Fitzgerald is probably the most interesting, if until recently most-neglected, writer of the era. Fowler’s novel brings to light some of the distasteful (and, unfortunately, very true) aspects of the Fitzgeralds’ life, including her husband’s consistent plagiarizing of Zelda’s writings, even while he derided her for her written endeavors. Whole paragraphs and sections of dialogue in several of Scott’s works were taken from Zelda’s letters to him and her diaries over the years, and many stories written by Zelda Fitzgerald were sold under Scott’s name, or a joint byline.

The history of the Fitzgeralds is fascinating, but it’s Fowler’s narrative that sets this book apart. Z tells a fictive version of the Fitzgeralds’ story with Zelda’s thoughts, ambitions, and affections at the forefront. With such an inquisitive, likeable, self-aware character as Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, Z is a welcome addition to the wide Fitzgerald canon.

From Liz: My copy of Z is pretty dogeared and worn from tossing it into whatever bag I’m carrying—each time I pick up this story, I just don’t want to put it down until the last page, which often means I’m carrying it around looking for the next spar moment to read. A woman ahead of her time, Zelda Fitzgerald had an incredibly interesting, complicated, utterly atypical life. Reading Z, I can’t help but hope we keep talking about her and her legacy for a long, long time.

Nonfiction

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Impeachment: A Handbook, New Edition by Charles L. Black. Jr. and Philip Bobbitt is probably the densest short nonfiction we’ve read lately, but it comes highly recommended! This handbook was first published during the Nixon investigation, and the new edition (updated by Bobbitt) includes legal ideas and arguments that take into account contemporary impeachment proceedings, the Constitution, and the composition of today’s government. In spite of the complex legal matters the Handbook discusses, its language is plain and accessible to the lay person—you don’t need a J.D. to make sense of the Handbook, or find hope in the legal possibilities (solutions?) it offers.

From Liz: As someone who’s been pretty rage-filled since 2016, but also as someone with a relatively shallow understanding of the workings of government, I enjoyed Impeachment: A Handbook because it offered a clear explanation not only of what impeachment investigations entail, but also the circumstances around which these investigations can take place, based on plain readings of constitutional law. It’s more engaging than you’d expect of a legal handbook (perhaps due to a looming sense of relevance), and I can’t help but think that Black and Bobbitt’s book is one of the most important volumes published this year.

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What’s in your TBR pile? Let us know what you’re reading, wherever you connect with us on social!