Meagan Reads Poetry: My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter by Aja Monet

I saw Aja Monet read at a poetry panel at the Miami Book Fair a couple of years back, and immediately knew I needed to pick up her book. It took me a while to do that because every time I went to look for it in a store, it was out of stock. That should tell you something right away. I finally found it at a store in Boston though, so I could finally read it!

My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter is a collection of poetry dedicated to the strength and vulnerability of women of color who straddle multiple worlds at once. The voice of so many of the poems feels soft, but strong, like a quiet passion. It’s feminine and reverent, like a prayer to a goddess.

Monet creates subtle, but powerful lines that evoke a primal emotion, like these:

"i cannot tell the difference
between her wailing and mine
my mother does not know
we are sisters"

In poems like “ree ree ree,” Monet uses solid images to convey a simultaneous sense of womanhood and the weight that comes with that identity, as well as freedom from identity afforded by childhood:

"how black and brown girls
gather and peel
comparing stretch marks
and playground scars."

Poems like “the young” give a raw and visceral feeling with images that pound on you as hard as the piece’s rhythm itself. This combination of detailed imagery with disciplined rhythms works to make a piece of art that hits hard.

The poems with short staccato lines create spitfire lyricism, while those with longer lines create a rich and lush cadence that conveys a sense of reverence. Monet is also adept at the use of space around words and on the page to convey sound instead of silence. The visual structure of the poems makes it feel like the blank space between words is louder than the words themselves.

Monet’s specific choice to use no capitalization and very little punctuation also plays into this sense of prayer within poetry. The collection reads as a series of pleas from the men, women, and children from the speaker’s world of simultaneous joy and sorrow.

While the first section focuses more on the power of femininity, the second part of the collection contains a cry for justice. Once again, Monet’s use of space and structure create a visual plea on the page that conveys a sense of urgency that evokes the pain behind the pleas.

The third part of the collection hones in on intimate relationships that have shaped the speaker. In the piece “selah,” Monet states:

"i love my body
when it is with your body"

This language shows a total vulnerability and insecurity that many people have, and yet in that vulnerability there is strength. It’s a personal sentiment, but one that is universal, and that’s what makes Monet’s work so brilliant.

The collection ends with a salient call to “always, be.” It’s a statement that ties the whole book together and reaffirms the very title of the collection, because the speaker knows that merely to exist is to resist, an act that those in the margins are all too familiar with.

I highly recommend this poetry collection to those who want to dive into work that lifts the voices of those who were once made voiceless. It contains so much emotion and power that long after reading, it lingers with you.

Has anyone else read My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter? What are your thoughts on the collection? Any particular poems that stood out to you? Let me know in the comments!

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4 Bookish Podcasts for Your Reading Life

Aside from being an avid reader, I also love listening to podcasts. Naturally, I gravitate toward a lot of bookish pods. I started in podcasts with Welcome to Nightvale and Lore, but soon expanded from audio dramas to topical shows. My foray into the bookish podcast world started with Book Riot, and it’s only gotten better ever since. Here are my favorite reading and book podcasts (in no particular order), and what value they add to my reading life.

Book Riot

I started by reading the articles, and then delved into the audio side of the media brand. I can’t recall anymore how I stumbled upon them. It was probably through Tumblr, but regardless, this podcast about books, publishing, and the world of reading just hit all the right notes.

It incorporates everything I love about that world, from discussion of news from the publishing and book retail world to analyses of the most recent branding weirdness that Barnes & Noble does. Hosts Jeff and Rebecca cover a wide range of reading topics that can appeal to any type of book lover. Whether you’re a professional in the business side of the industry, an aspiring writer, or an avid consumer of stories, this show has something to tickle your funny bone.

Get Booked

While Book Riot is the main brand of the media group, its many other shows offer readers of all kinds just what they’re looking for. Get Booked is my other favorite podcast from BR because it appeals to my particular addiction of adding to my ridiculously large to-be-read (TBR) pile.

The hosts, Amanda and Jenn, create a fun and energetic banter while answering reader requests for book recommendations. The way this show works is listeners send in their questions for books to read, whether it’s for gifts for someone else or book club or just to find out what they should read next. Get Booked offers listeners a more interactive experience. I actually sent a request and got it answered during the very next episode, which felt so nice to hear, because it made it all that much more real.

The other part I love about this podcast is that there are often questions and backstories from listeners that may be similar to something you’ve been looking for, so once they get recommendations, you do too. Recently, they started incorporating listener feedback, in which listeners can send in their own recommendations to previous questions asked on the last episode. It makes it all feel like a community.

Overdue

Hosts Andrew and Craig make for a hilarious duo in discussing backlist “books that you’ve been meaning to read.” Each week one host reads a book and tells the other about its plot, characters, and his thoughts on the story. What I like so much about this podcast is that it sounds like my best friend and I talking about our latest reads. It’s smart, but not academic and dry, perfect for the average reader who wants to discuss themes and symbolism, but still wants to make jokes and puns to lighten the tension on those tough reads.

The most fun part are the episodes in which Andrew and Craig embark on a choose your own adventure book. The hosts will do about seven different paths, depending on how each one ends, all while getting through fits of giggles and making character voices that just absolutely make a long work commute worth the time in traffic.

Eclectic Readers

I can’t very well talk about bookish podcasts without mentioning the Eclectic Readers. Disclaimer: my cousin is on this podcast, so there may be a bit of a bias.

With this podcast, hosts Jeannette, Tara, Susan, and Meredith rotate between episodes, sometimes with all four discussing that month’s read or just a select few. They call themselves the Eclectic Readers because their tastes vary in range, reading across the board, from Pachinko to The Last Black Unicorn. They started as an in-real-life book club/virtual book club until these four hosts eventually developed a podcast for their group.

My favorite part of this podcast (aside from my cousin) is hearing their pre-show discussion of their latest non-book club reads. It feels like sitting down with friends and catching up on mutual bookish interests. Plus, there always seems to be some kind of reading or book event happening that one of them is attending, so it’s always fun to hear about those.

Listening to books and reading podcasts has only enhanced my life as a reader, whether it’s by increasing the TBR, knowing there are others like me who care about reading as much as I do, or getting the insider scoop on the publishing industry. What bookish podcasts do you recommend? Why do you like them? Let me know in the comments.

What to Do About the DNF Guilt

What is it about not finishing a book that gives us so much guilt? Find out in my latest blog post!

I’ve spoken before about that awful feeling with the DNF pile in your reading list. You can check out that post here. Quick definition for those that aren’t familiar, DNF stands for “did not finish.”

I know, it’s hard to imagine not finishing a book when you really consider yourself a reader. When you identify so strongly with the label reader that it’s just a core part of who you are as a person, the sick feeling of not finishing a book feels like a betrayal somehow.

I was listening to my cousin’s podcast recently (Eclectic Readers – check them out!) and they discussed that guilty feeling with the DNF pile. That got me thinking about the association of guilt with leaving a book unread.

The word itself means a sense of remorse for some wrongdoing, like breaking a law or committing a moral offense. Lord knows there’s nothing illegal about leaving a book unfinished. There’s nothing even immoral about it. Seriously, it’s a totally neutral action, of which there are no consequences. So, why do we feel the DNF guilt?

As I began to really think about it, I’ve come to believe the feeling stems from a sense of “cutting your losses.” Sure, it’s not the same as running a business and spending millions of dollars on a project that turned out to be a lost cause. It’s probably at most a $25 + tax loss on a brand new hard cover from Barnes & Noble.

It’s still a loss though. It’s a loss of money spent to purchase the damn thing. It’s a loss of shelf space that could have gone to more worthy contenders. It’s a loss of time and energy, as you’ve already spent both on starting and getting through some portion of the book, so you might as well finish, right?

The guilt we feel from not finishing a book comes from a sense of loss, and in my experience, people sure hate to lose. For me personally, that monetary loss cuts deep. Sure, one book is at most $25, but what if I bought 10 books that I didn’t end up finishing? That’s $250! Maybe that still doesn’t sound like a lot to some people, but for those who prefer to save money wherever they can, that’s a dent in the wallet that makes them wince.

This also reveals another deeper problem: the need to stop buying so many books. It’s so easy to get caught up and swept in by the love at first sight feeling when you see that gorgeous cover on the shelf and just want to take it home. Looks can be deceiving. Even words can lead you astray. That back cover description of fascinating worlds and characters just sucks you right in and entices you with, more often than not, sweet nothings.

That’s why this year, I’m resolved to exercise restraint to reduce the DNF guilt and the feeling of having wasted money and minimize time spent on books I don’t enjoy to avoid that feeling of money, time, and energy lost. That means less trips to Barnes & Noble to browse the aisles. I often go to the cafe to write, and when I’m done with that, I think to myself, “Let me just take a quick peak.” I have to physically force myself out the door, because I know a quick peak will devolve into “just a book or two.”

I’m also going to use my library more to find books I want to read. Granted, that’s a bit harder, because many of the books I want to read are independently or self-published, which means they don’t get picked up by most libraries. My library especially can be a bit lackluster with its selections. Unless it’s The Girl on the Train or Gone Girl or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or whatever iteration of Girl we’re on these days, the chances of finding the book I want from my local library are slim.

I will make every effort to find the books I want to read through the libary first. When that fails, I’ll look into second-hand options to try to find them for much cheaper than retail prices. Heck, I’m even making the effort to borrow books from friends more often. Buying brand new from a big-name chain bookstore is my last resort this year.

Also, I already started making the executive decision to just nix some titles off my TBR altogether. If I can’t find it for a reasonable price anywhere, I take the Marie Kondo approach. If it doesn’t spark joy, I let it go and click delete on my Goodreads “Want to Read” list.

What are your thoughts on the DNF guilt? How do you avoid the guilt altogether? Let me know in the comments!

How to Save Yourself from Reading and Writing Slumps During Times of Crisis

A couple of weeks ago my grandmother was in a car accident. This left her badly injured and in need of constant care for a week. Since I’m currently unemployed, the responsibility fell to me, which I don’t mind. I mean, I’m home. What else am I doing?

A couple of weeks ago my grandmother was in a car accident. This left her badly injured and in need of constant care for a week. Since I’m currently unemployed, the responsibility fell to me, which I don’t mind. I mean, I’m home. What else am I doing?

What also happened along with the responsibility was a huge impact on my writing productivity. I know, not as important, but the thing is, I started the year so strong and was excited to only keep going up from there. Taking care of my grandma though for 8 hours was like a full-time job that left me so burned out I could barely think enough to get much writing done.

This had me worried, because once I start working again, will my writing go on the backburner again? I know the last couple of years were rough because of a full-time job coupled with school, but I thought once school was over, and with just a full-time job I’d have more time to write.

Now, it’s not a matter of time, but of energy. I do need to keep in mind that working in an office is not the same as caregiving for an elderly person (especially one as stubborn as my grandma). The emotional labor is really what wiped me out most. Even so, I didn’t want to end my streak of writing at least a little every day, even if it was just 100 words.

I started scheduling small writing tasks for myself through exercises. I also checked myself whenever I felt overwhelmed with the low numbers from day to day. I had to remember that I was performing a task that takes a great deal of mental and emotional energy, not just physical.

So, instead of thinking of my writing in terms of falling numbers, I focused on what I had accomplished. Little by little, I started setting goals for myself again and that made me feel much more productive than fretting over how much I hadn’t written.

I also challenged myself to keep up my writing numbers over the weekends, when my parents were home from work to help with taking care of my grandma. I spent three hours at the library this past Saturday and accomplished a great deal of writing that I had not done during the week. Thinking of it as spreading my numbers for the week to have the majority done over the weekend also helped assuage the guilt.

The interesting thing about my circumstances for the past couple of weeks is how much reading time I’ve had. Spending so much time keeping my grandma company when I wasn’t helping her with daily tasks left me the time to dig into more reading.

However, that reading was definitely limited to lighter, “fluffier,” reads. I could only concentrate on novels or comic books that didn’t require my full attention. Like I said, that emotional and mental labor of caregiving is exhausting, and I only had to do it for two weeks. I commend the people who do that for a living. Shoutout to all the moms out there. It’s a tough job.

I didn’t get too down on myself for not reading more mentally challenging pieces, because I knew I was still reading.

The important thing to keep in mind when it comes to reading and writing when life throws you curveballs and your routine changes, is to make attainable goals that coincide with the time and energy allotted.

More important than that, go easy on yourself. Remember that there’s more to life than books and writing, and those things will always be waiting for you when you can get back to them.

The Problem With My Problematic Fave

I read a few Michael Connelly mystery books and other similar novels throughout college. I’m currently working through another hard-boiled mystery, Privileged Lives, the first in the Vincent Cardozo novels by Edward Stewart. I love the gritty, dirty mood and feel these novels provide. I like rough around the edges detectives who are kind of jerks, especially to bad guys, but deep down they’re really passionate about their job of protecting people and finding justice, even if they are a bit jaded after decades on the job. I love skeevy settings and shady characters. I love the down in the dirt crimes and seeing the worst of humanity. It’s a weird wheelhouse, but I know I’m not alone.

What I don’t love about most of these books though, is that they also come with a healthy helping of sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and racism. There’s something about the hard-boiled detective that makes writers turn to tropes of womanizing, prejudice, and “just being honest.” I get it. These novels are made for a hypermasculine audience. That’s their appeal.

And yet, the more I read them, the less and less I can stomach dialogue that blatantly uses slurs and stereotypes to convey the image of hardened police officers who are just macho men. That’s just what these detectives do. They rough up criminals, drink straight Scotch, and spend too much introspection time on pondering the length of a broad’s legs and the attractive shape of her waist to hip ratio.

I guess what I’m getting at here is recommendations from fellow readers. For those like me who love the gritty, hard-boiled mystery but without the bigotry, I’d like to invite you all to tell me what some of your favorites are. I’m still all for the gruff detective who won’t let go of the case that haunts his nightmares, and in the end gets the girl. I just want less of that man’s man mentality that leads to toxic masculinity. I’d really like a female detective lead that has those same qualities that a male character is allowed to have, and still be loved by the reader.

You could say I’m looking for Jessica Jones read-alikes. I think that’s what really appealed to me about that character and show. She was a flawed and terrible protagonist who acted like she didn’t care about anyone, but she still did the P.I. job because the truth was she did care. It’s probably the only time I’ve seen a female anti-hero that fans love and want more of her story.

Though I’m a big fan of the character and the show, I don’t just want to read J. Jones comic books. I want other novels and mysteries in that vein that give me the seedy side of humanity without the outright prejudice. I know that sounds contradictory, but it’s clearly possible if the creators of Jessica Jones could make it happen.

So if anyone out there has suggestions to help me get my fix of the hard-boiled detective mystery without bigotry, I’d greatly appreciate it. Let me know your recommendations in the comments!

Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima

This is the sequel to The Demon King from the Seven Realms series. Possible spoilers ahead, so if you plan on reading these books, proceed with caution.

from Goodreads

In the continuation of this series, Raisa makes it to Oden’s Ford with her childhood friend and complicated love interest Amon Byrne, after having fled the Fells to avoid an arranged marriage to the wizard Micah Bayar, which would have set off a civil war among the clans and the Vale people. Meanwhile, Han Alister and his childhood best friend Dancer make it to Oden’s Ford after fleeing Marisa Pines after the death of Han’s mom and sister.

Though the two stories diverged at the end of the first book and remained as separate lines throughout most of this one, they eventually meet up again. This time though, Raisa, unable to be with Amon, falls for Han after agreeing to tutor him in the ways of the nobility. In their separate lives, Raisa continues to play the part of a noble lady named Rebecca Morley, while Han juggles various extracurricular training sessions in wizardry from the dean of the magic school and a mysterious tutor who only meets with him in a different dimension.

Needless to say, there is a whole mess of complex stories and characters going on in this book. And yet, the reader never loses track of who’s who and what events have occurred or how they relate. It’s actually really impressive how deftly Chima maps out the people, places, and events in a way that’s rich and layered, and yet never confusing. These books feel like Game of Thrones, but written by Tamora Pierce.

I think what helped the most with this though, is that Chima used the first chapter in the book to essentially act as the recap, like TV shows that use “Previously on…” Personally, I think series like these, especially in the fantasy realm, could use more of that structure. After all, they’re written in such an episodic way it just makes sense to give the reader a refresher on what came before (especially readers like me who read books with so much time in between). Maybe we can just create a website for that kind of thing.

The other element I really appreciate about these books, especially The Exiled Queen, is how the plot points mix with the every day issues, and that those issues act as parallels to our own real-world problems. For example, the dynamic between Cat Tyburn and Dancer shows how even those who come from marginalized communities (Cat is a Southern Isle native from the streets, but raised in the Vale) can still display prejudice and bigotry toward other marginalized communities (Dancer is clanborn).

I’d say one of the bigger flaws of the series is the rampant heteronormativity. There’s only one instance of LGBTQ+ representation, but it isn’t fleshed out and comes off as an afterthought. Two of Raisa’s cadet friends, Talia and Pearlie, are girlfriends. It’s mentioned that “women who prefer other women” are known as moonspinners. While I really like that new terminology for lesbians, this particular story point is brought up momentarily and immediately set aside. Presumably it’s because they aren’t main characters, but in the end, I felt like I could have gotten the same ending story without their inclusion, and that doesn’t make for true diversity and inclusion.

Overall, I really liked this sequel and I’m definitely looking forward to reading the continuation of this story. It’s complex enough to be intriguing, but not so much so as to overwhelm. Has anyone else read these books? What are your thoughts on the series? Let me know in the comments!