What LC Read: Vol. 15

Monday, February 18, 2019

*R E C O M M E N D E D*
American Overdose: The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts | Chris McGreal
Note: Such a monumental feat of essential journalism. Short of (God forbid) losing someone to addiction -- which I did -- I think this is our best bet at humanizing an epidemic that was for too long criminalized, racialized, and stigmatized beyond belief. Some numbers to chew on: three-quarters of heroin users were driven to it via prescription opioids. The official count of overdose deaths caused by opioids between 1999 and 2016, which is likely an underestimation, is 350,000. By 2018, deaths from drug overdoses have risen to over 200 people a day. The United States consumes more than 80% of the world's opioid painkillers yet accounts for less than 5% of its population. This book made me so, so, so sad. I would consider it necessary reading going into the new year. 

Synopsis: The opioid epidemic has been described as "one of the greatest mistakes of modern medicine." But calling it a mistake is a generous rewriting of the history of greed, corruption, and indifference that pushed the US into consuming more than 80 percent of the world's opioid painkillers.
Journeying through lives and communities wrecked by the epidemic, Chris McGreal reveals not only how Big Pharma hooked Americans on powerfully addictive drugs, but the corrupting of medicine and public institutions that let the opioid makers get away with it. The starting point for McGreal's deeply reported investigation is the miners promised that opioid painkillers would restore their wrecked bodies, but who became targets of "drug dealers in white coats." A few heroic physicians warned of impending disaster. But American Overdose exposes the powerful forces they were up against, including the pharmaceutical industry's coopting of the Food and Drug Administration and Congress in the drive to push painkillers--resulting in the resurgence of heroin cartels in the American heartland. McGreal tells the story, in terms both broad and intimate, of people hit by a catastrophe they never saw coming. Years in the making, its ruinous consequences will stretch years into the future.

Brooklyn Antediluvian: Poems | Patrick Rosal
Note: Such good rhythm in this one. Favorites from this were "Uptown Ode That Ends On an Ode to the Machete" (if you haven't been broken by the ocean / if your own weeping doesn't split you down), "Lone Star Kundiman (For the Guy Who Seized My Arm After I Accidentally Cut the Line for the Toilet in Austin" (Truth is, I couldn't stop to consider how we both live / in a country mostly afraid of the difference between / strength and power), and the eponymous "Brooklyn Antediluvian" (Let's just say they baptize natural disasters / as if we could call them closer or coax them back... I'm the one / who believes we have ancient names / like dawnlight flashing into the dreams / of murderers and sunken into the hillsides / of countries whose shanties and projects / are named for moguls and saints, though / children down here, just as they do / everywhere: Manila, New Orleans, / Brooklyn. There's not a name that fits.) In case you're wondering, the word antediluvian refers to something antiquated. This book does not feel that way. Really fresh, urgent writing.

Synopsis: Rosal finds trouble he isn’t asking for in his unforgettable new poems, whether in New York City, Austin, Texas, or the colonized Philippines of his ancestors. But trouble is everywhere, and Rosal, acclaimed author of My American Kundiman, responds in kind, pulling no punches in his most visceral, physical collection to date. “My hand’s quick trip from my hip to your chin, across / your face, is not the first free lesson I’ve given,” Rosal writes, and it’s true—this new book is full of lessons, hard-earned, from a poet who nonetheless finds beauty in the face of violence.

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Calling a Wolf a Wolf: Poems | Kaveh Akbar
Note: Unbelievably good. Favorites were "What Use Is Knowing Anything If No One is Around" (I love my body more / than other bodies. When I sleep next to a man, he becomes / an extension of my own brilliance. Or rather, he becomes / an echo of my own anticlimax"), "Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Inpatient)" (envy is the only deadly sin that's no fun / for the sinner / this makes sadness seem more like a tradition / loyalty to / a parent's past), and "Heritage" (it's a myth / that love lives in the heart / it lives in the throat we push it out / when we speak / when we gasp we take a little for ourselves). This book makes me want to write another.

Synopsis: “In Calling a Wolf a Wolf, Kaveh Akbar exquisitely and tenaciously braids astonishment and atonement into a singular lyric voice. The desolation of alcoholism widens into hard-won insight: ‘the body is a mosque borrowed from Heaven.’ Doubt and fear spiral into grace and beauty. Akbar’s mind, like his language, is perpetually in motion. His imagery—wounded and resplendent—is masterful and his syntax ensnares and releases music that’s both delicate and muscular. Kaveh Akbar has crafted one of the best debuts in recent memory. In his hands, awe and redemption hinge into unforgettable and gorgeous poems.” —Eduardo C. Corral

The Nanny Diaries | Emma McLaughlin
Note: One day, I'll stop feeling like I have to justify picking up frothy reads, but today is not that day. I was feeling super burned out and overwhelmed by my past few selections, so I grabbed The Nanny Diaries as a quick palate cleanser. It's so good, in that voyeuristic, decadent way. My guilty pleasure is WASP-y books and ugh, what a great snack.

Synopsis: Wanted: One young woman to take care of four-year-old boy. Must be cheerful, enthusiastic and selfless--bordering on masochistic. Must relish sixteen-hour shifts with a deliberately nap-deprived preschooler. Must love getting thrown up on, literally and figuratively, by everyone in his family. Must enjoy the delicious anticipation of ridiculously erratic pay. Mostly, must love being treated like fungus found growing out of employers Hermès bag. Those who take it personally need not apply. Who wouldn't want this job? Struggling to graduate from NYU and afford her microscopic studio apartment, Nanny takes a position caring for the only son of the wealthy X family. She rapidly learns the insane amount of juggling involved to ensure that a Park Avenue wife who doesn't work, cook, clean, or raise her own child has a smooth day. When the X's' marriage begins to disintegrate, Nanny ends up involved way beyond the bounds of human decency or good taste. Her tenure with the X family becomes a nearly impossible mission to maintain the mental health of their four-year-old, her own integrity and, most importantly, her sense of humor. Over nine tense months, Mrs. X and Nanny perform the age-old dance of decorum and power as they test the limits of modern-day servitude. Written by two former nannies, The Nanny Diaries deftly punctures the glamour of Manhattan's upper class.

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America is Not the Heart | Elaine Castillo
Synopsis: How many lives can one person lead in a single lifetime? When Hero de Vera arrives in America, disowned by her parents in the Philippines, she's already on her third. Her uncle, Pol, who has offered her a fresh start and a place to stay in the Bay Area, knows not to ask about her past. And his younger wife, Paz, has learned enough about the might and secrecy of the De Vera family to keep her head down. Only their daughter Roni asks Hero why her hands seem to constantly ache.
Illuminating the violent political history of the Philippines in the 1980s and 1990s and the insular immigrant communities that spring up in the suburban United States with an uncanny ear for the unspoken intimacies and pain that get buried by the duties of everyday life and family ritual, Castillo delivers a powerful, increasingly relevant novel about the promise of the American dream and the unshakable power of the past. In a voice as immediate and startling as those of Junot Diaz and NoViolet Bulawayo, America Is Not the Heart is a sprawling, soulful telenovela of a debut novel. With exuberance, muscularity, and tenderness, here is a family saga; an origin story; a romance; a narrative of two nations and the people who leave home to grasp at another, sometimes turning back.

Prelude to Bruise | Saeed Jones
"Bloated with want, I'm the man who waits
for the moon to drown before I let the lake
grab my ankles & take me into its muddy mouth.
They say a city is at the bottom of all that water.
Oh, marauder. Make me a drink. I'm on my way."

How to Dance as the Roof Caves In: Poems | Nick Lantz
Synopsis: How to Dance as the Roof Caves In examines America as it faces a recession of collective mood and collective wealth. In a central sequence, the "housing bubble" reaches its bursting point when, with hilarious and biting outcomes, real estate developers hire a married couple and other down-and-out "extras" to stage a fake community to lure prospective investors. In these marvelous poems, Nick Lantz describes the changing American landscape with great imagination and sharp wit.

Bestiary: Poems | Donika Kelly
Synopsis: Across this remarkable first book are encounters with animals, legendary beasts, and mythological monsters--half human and half something else. Donika Kelly's Bestiary is a catalogue of creatures--from the whale and ostrich to the pegasus and chimera to the centaur and griffin. Among them too are poems of love, self-discovery, and travel, from "Out West" to "Back East." Lurking in the middle of this powerful and multifaceted collection is a wrenching sequence that wonders just who or what is the real monster inside this life of survival and reflection. Selected and with an introduction by the National Book Award winner Nikky Finney, Bestiary questions what makes us human, what makes us whole.

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Silencer: Poems | Marcus Wicker
Synopsis: A suburban park, church, a good job, a cocktail party for the literati: to many, these sound like safe places, but for a young black man these insular spaces don’t keep out the news—and the actual threat—of gun violence and police brutality, or the biases that keeps body, property, and hope in the crosshairs. Continuing conversations begun by Citizen and Between the World and Me, Silencer sings out the dangers of unspoken taboos present on quiet Midwestern cul-de-sacs and in stifling professional settings, the dangers in closing the window on “a rainbow coalition of cops doing calisthenics around/a six-foot, three-hundred-fifty-pound man, choked back into the earth for what/looked a lot, to me, like sport.”
Here, the language and cadences of hip-hop and academia meet prayer—these poems are crucibles, from which emerge profound allegories and subtle elegies, sharp humor and incisive critiques.

Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals: Poems | Patricia Lockwood
Synopsis: Colloquial and incantatory, the poems in Patricia Lockwood’s second collection address the most urgent questions of our time, like: what if a deer did porn? Is America going down on Canada? What happens when Niagara Falls gets drunk at a wedding? Is it legal to marry a stuffed owl exhibit? What would Walt Whitman’s tit-pics look like? Why isn’t anyone named Gary anymore? Did the Hatfield and McCoy babies ever fall in love? The steep tilt of Lockwood’s lines sends the reader snowballing downhill, accumulating pieces of the scenery with every turn. The poems’ subject is the natural world, but their images would never occur in nature. This book is serious and funny at the same time, like a big grave with a clown lying in it.

Mad Honey Symposium | Sally Wen Mao
Synopsis: Mad Honey Symposium buzzes with lush sound and sharp imagery, creating a vivid natural world that's constantly in flux. From Venus flytraps to mad honey eaters, badgers to empowered outsiders, Sally Wen Mao's poems inhabit the precarious space between the vulnerable and the ferocious—how thin that line is, how breakable—with wonder and verve.

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The Man with the Compound Eyes | Wu Ming-yi
Note: OMG, delicious translated Taiwanese eco-dystopia. So good.
Synopsis: On the island of Wayo Wayo, every second son must leave on the day he turns fifteen as a sacrifice to the Sea God. Atile'i is one such boy, but as the strongest swimmer and best sailor, he is determined to defy destiny and become the first to survive.
Alice Shih, who has lost her husband and son in a climbing accident, is quietly preparing to commit suicide in her house by the sea. But her plan is interrupted when a vast trash vortex comes crashing onto the shore of Taiwan, bringing Atile'i with it.
In the aftermath of the catastrophe, Atile'i and Alice retrace her late husband's footsteps into the mountains, hoping to solve the mystery of her son's disappearance. On their journey, memories will be challenged, an unusual bond formed, and a dark secret uncovered that will force Alice to question everything she thought she knew.

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