Carrie joined EHBC not long after uncoiling from her MFA in Writing program at Pacific University. When she’s not at the store, she’s most likely hunkering over a poem she’s trying to birth into the world, bouncing between her three school-aged boys, or wandering an off-beat trail without a cellphone. A suffering idealist, Carrie hopes to read most of the books in the world, with a special bias toward writers of color, poets, feminists, and mystics.
Emily Dickinson once wrote, "If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry." That's exactly how I feel about Victoria Chang's work in this slim volume. Each poem is an impossible beautiful grief. Giving homage to W.S Merwin and drawing on Japanese syllabic forms, Chang skillfully shapes the shadows of trees and departed mothers into new language. ~Carrie
In this brilliant treatise on grief and love, Schulz uses fascinating pockets of research to help us think about loss, weaving in personal narrative on the death of her beloved father. Just as we begin to settle into the complexity of grief, the second part of the book emerges with Schulz's enchanting story of love as she illustrates the satisfying art and accident of discovery. Such a beautiful book! ~Carrie
Lucille Clifton is a poet I return to, perhaps more than any other. I regard this posthumous collection as an undeserved gift to our canon of American poetry. These poems demonstrate the power of well-chosen words over acrobatic or exotic ones. With the simplest of tools, Clifton carves out the most precise of griefs. She offers her own vulnerabilities and fears to become a beacon; she becomes the mother who grabs our faces and turns us to what we need to see, to what we feared would kill us but will not. Aracelis Girmay, a powerful poet in her own right, wrote the foreword and assembled this collection. ~Carrie
After leaving their urban job behind and becoming a tea-serving monk in a small hamlet, Sibling Dex finds they’re still longing for more in life. Dex embarks on a pilgrimage beyond the bounds of human habitation and encounters the wild-built robot Mosscap. In the wilderness, the unlikely pair converse about what they know of the world, from animals to hospitality to the purpose of life. In this warm and philosophical approach to sci-fi, Becky Chambers gives us a view of the future brimming with hope. ~Carrie
On the eve of the American Civil War, Elizabeth Packard’s husband commits her to an Illinois insane asylum for her independence of thought regarding women's equality. Separated from her six beloved children and determined to prove her sanity and secure her own release, Elizabeth begins to observe the mental institution with scrutiny as she works to write her way out of confinement. This book gives a scathing account of an early activist for women’s rights; it's a story that shocked, enraged, and inspired me. Although I felt the author skimmed much too easily over the boiling system of injustices surrounding Black Americans during these very years, Kate Moore has nonetheless told an important story that thoroughly absorbed my attention. ~ Carrie
What a strange and alluring novel, set in 1878 Germany. Although it is centered on a mother's deep grief after three of her children are swept away by a wave in the Nordsee, the story also acts as a tribute to the desires and tenuous bonds of women trying to uphold one another: the bereaved mother, Lotte; a young girl, Tilli, who will birth a child under the care of nuns at the Home for Pregnant Girls; and Sabine, a seamstress at the traveling Zirkus. Hegi moved me with her maternal imagery, religious iconography and her depiction of relationships formed in times of desperate need.
Clint Smith structures this book as a series of tours, drawing the reader into historical sites such as Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, the Whitney Plantation, Angola Prison and Blandford Cemetery--each place holding a story of America's history of slavery. What struck me most about this collection of tours is the care Smith takes in interviewing guides and fellow visitors. The result is not a mere travel brochure or another historical plaque. What Smith's book illuminates is how ordinary people interact with the history of slavery--some with defensiveness, some with grief, curiosity, surprise. The scholarship and nuance of this book are outstanding. ~ Carrie
In the company of other #MeToo stories, Melissa Febos’ Girlhood stands as an artistic, insightful set of essays that investigates how girls are socialized. Febos remembers coming under the gazes of society during adolescence, and she explores the expectations to become a figure for the desires of others. As readers, we’re asked to consider the burdens layered upon the body in the form of sexuality, performance, obligation, and subjugation. While she is open about her own journey, at times traveling through difficult material, Febos never abandons the reader to wallow in place. She circles around, again and again, offers a way to reclaim the self, and rewrites the narrative to heal and honor women’s bodies and voices. ~Carrie
This book is a celebration. Abdurraqib writes as if he’s dancing his own line on Soul Train. He writes artfully, and clearly revels in the sheer freedom of his artistry and skill. He turns a critical eye on white America for trying to pimp out the genius of Black performers such as Aretha Franklin, Don Shirley, Mike Tyson, Whitney Houston, and others. Abdurraqib joins in the dance, focuses on the movements of his Black partners in art, dances through both anguish and delight, and ultimately “shows out” the power and autonomous glory of Black performance. Stay for the ending! ~ Carrie
After her parents move back to Korea during her teenage years, Eun Ji stays in California with her brother, never opening the letters her mother sends. This memoir explores Koh’s complicated longing for her mother, her Korean identity and family history, and the mode of language as the often tenuous and futile way we try to connect with those we love most. Koh, first a poet, is subtle and skillful as a memoirist. She lets readers see her intimate world by including a few photocopies of her mother’s letters. This book touches pain with a compassionate hand, transforming it into love. ~ Carrie
This novel slowly won my heart. I stayed with it because its premise captivated my attention: within a refugee camp in Sudan, Saba adjusts to camp life with her brother and mother after escaping the Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict. Although I was especially intrigued by “the need for confinement within a confined camp, for exile within exile,” I was also touched by how tenderly Saba cares for her brother (who cannot speak), navigates her own desires to become a doctor, and finally walks inevitably into womanhood. ~ Carrie
Victoria Chang's collection of poems is an intimate, original elegy from a daughter to her mother. In mourning, she lays to rest the many other things that died alongside her mother: a sense of home, the dress her mother wore, the blame she has carried as a daughter. Even the poet, a mother herself, watches her own selfhood die. I read Obit during a marathon of reading poetry books, and this one is a stand-out. I was particularly struck by Chang's emotional integrity, the cohesiveness of this collection, and how her precision of language and form cuts to the heart. ~ Carrie
“You cannot drink poetry,” Diaz writes. In this second collection of her poems, she celebrates and longs for the physical body of a lover as well as the body of the earth—its water in particular. These are ecological, culturally rich, incredibly human poems, binding us to our planet with raw and intricate lyricism.
Winner of the 2020 National Book Award in literature for young people, Callender’s beautiful novel handles grief, identity, and friendship with astounding warmth and tenderness.They set the story in the Louisiana bayou, populated with complex, believable characters. I love that the book does not shy away from topics of racism, homophobia, and death, in a way that will nurture and give courage to middle grade readers. Ages 8-12. ~ Carrie
At the trial of God, we will ask: why did you allow all this? / And the answer will be an echo: why did you allow all this? In an occupied territory during political unrest, villagers witness the killing of a young boy by soldiers. In the aftermath, every townsperson suddenly goes deaf. Through this parable in poems, Kaminsky asks us to consider collective silence and activism in the face of political violence. Urgent and tender, this book is a testament to why we need to keep making poetry. ~ Carrie
May the memory of bell hooks (1952-2021) always be preserved. Her work was a tour de force, and this excellent volume is a good a place to start. She was the author who taught me about feminism as an act of revolutionary love, and as a critical mindset for human thriving. This book disrupts patriarchal notions of love, and instead explores love's facets—including commitment, affection, recognition, respect, trust, and communication. In All About Love, bell hooks is especially fierce, tender, accessible, and vulnerable. Expect to be changed. ~Carrie
Lyrically written as a memoir-letter from Coates to his son, this book reflects on the author’s experience as a Black man in America. He considers the significance of being in his body—the griefs, dangers, and deep hope born from struggle. Intimate, sobering, and charged with historical significance, Coates’s book is an important voice in today's conversations about anti-racism. This is a book to read and then hand to the adults and teenagers in your life. ~ Carrie
If you've spent time in indie bookstores during the past few years, you have likely seenBraiding Sweetgrass root itself firmly onto the bestseller table for months on end. Kimmerer accurately describes her book as “an intertwining of science, spirit, and story.” I felt as if I was curled by a fire every time I read another chapter, listening to the bounty of Kimmerer's ecological wisdom, in a space with no fleeting urgency, only an earnest invitation to join her in gestures of knowledge, reciprocity, and gratitude toward our shared planet. My copy is thoroughly marked up. I hope Braiding Sweetgrass will echo across the earth for ages to come. ~ Carrie