The first day of the semester at the University of New Mexico is today, but the staff at Blue Mesa Review isn’t quite ready to let go of the summer. Check out our recommendations to read over your lunch break, between classes, alt-tabbed in the background of your computer at work, or just when you have a little downtime at the end of the day.
Ari McGuirk, Fiction Editor
I’m a short story writer. Always have been, always will be.
It might not make much sense, then, that I haven’t read a single novel or short story collection this summer. Instead, I’ve immersed myself wholly into the world of nonfiction.
Like many fledging fiction writers, my short stories were inspired by people I’ve known, places I’ve lived or visited, or events I’ve witnessed. Fiction became a hiding place—a space from which I could tell my story without genuinely claiming it as mine. This past spring, a workshop infected me with the nonfiction bug, and I’ve been hooked since.
But because I’d dedicated my energy to fiction for so long, nonfiction seemed intimidating—a genre that demands accountability, that prohibits sloppy or incomplete rendering of real people, their flaws and their triumphs. I’d posit that fiction warrants the same, but the difference is that nonfiction forces the writer to simultaneously be character and narrator: no more hiding.
So, this summer, I’ve tried to read writers that are each doing something different with the genre. Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist, Tobias Wolff’s In Pharaoh’s Army and This Boy’s Life, every piece in Best American Essays 2017 curated by Leslie Jamison, Elizabeth Kadetsky’s First There is a Mountain and others. These are only a handful of books and essays that continue to show me what this genre can do, and I recommend each of them with enthusiasm.
Tori Cárdenas, Poetry Editor
This summer, I caught up on all of The New Yorker issues that I didn’t have time to read during the spring semester. Much to my disappointment, I found that most of their poets are the same poets who have always been published: white, predominantly heterosexual and cisgender, male authors. I didn’t see many voices like mine. Did they not have value?
To process some of my indignation, I returned to James Baldwin’s collection, Notes of a Native Son. Baldwin’s honest examination of his own emotions surrounding persistent and brutal racial violence helped me to acknowledge and trust the part of myself that is…well, pissed off. His work’s relevance today almost makes it worse—very little has actually changed for the better. We are still suffering.
In many minority/marginalized communities, we are encouraged not to express our frustration with the injustices surrounding us. We are discouraged from taking pride in our identities or finding value in our experiences. Sometimes, the cage of silence is for our own safety. But a place for the flame of outrage and change exists—it is here. It is now.
I also saw Sorry to Bother You, which is a whole other level of “Is this seriously the world we are living in right now?”
Go see that, too.
Ryan W. Murphy, Nonfiction Editor
This summer I’ve been focusing on reading poetry. I highly recommend Allison Parrish’ amazing collection Articulations. The poetry in this volume was composed by an algorithm Parrish designed, pulling language from every work of poetry published through Project Gutenberg and assembling it through a process that is beyond my ability to describe well.
Terrance Hayes’ American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin was an absolute punch across the jaw. I read the book in a single sitting in a coffee shop, promising myself every so often, “Just one more section,” and then inevitably found myself at the end of the book. I do not remember the last time that a collection of poetry laid me low the way Hayes’ book did.
Finally, I’ve been working my way through Mark Z. Danielewski’s intimidating novel Only Revolutions. Like all of Danielewski’s work, this book is formally impressive. At its most basic, the novel contains two stories narrated in something between free verse and stream-of-consciousness. In order to read these two stories, the reader will flip the book over every eight pages, reading from each end simultaneously. And the formal fireworks only begin there.
Mitch Marty, Managing Editor
Over the summer I amassed a book list for the upcoming semester, and despite sticking my nose into a couple books (Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, Women Who Run With The Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarisa Pinkola Estés), I made little progress reading anything. Because of how much I read during the semester and reading for our Summer Contest, I haven’t been able to sit still long enough to read anything else. For me, the summer is about exploring and writing. As the summer break comes to a close though, I steadily changed my course, still opting to deviate from the list for the semester to dive into The Recovering by Leslie Jamison. It’s phenomenally tragic, brutally honest, masterfully written, and fueling the nonfiction I’m writing in the way that only a great book can.
Hayley Peterson, Editor in Chief
I’ve been craving memoir this summer. I just want to read about how someone else makes sense of their life, you know? So I picked up The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy at Powell’s City of Books while I was in Portland visiting family, and then read it in about 36 hours (and I’m a slow reader). I’ve read a lot of Levy’s reportage in The New Yorker, which I love, but there’s something so special about an author sharing her life on the page—the messy parts, the loving parts, the painful parts—that helps me remember why I write, and why I read.
A great memoir makes me feel I’ve connected with someone else in the world. If you’re feeling at all lonely, read a memoir; if your feelings about sexuality, gender, and love are making you feel lonely, read THIS memoir.