Summer Reads with Blue Mesa Review

Classes are back in full swing at the University of New Mexico, but we’re not quite ready to let summer go. Keep reading to find out what each of our editors recommends you pick up from their summer reading list!

Tori Cárdenas – Editor in Chief

This summer, I’ve been reading Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark to prepare for my comprehensive exams. I first heard about the Golden State Killer on my favorite podcast’s very first episode, My Favorite Murder. It’s the first true crime book I’ve read front to back—partly because true crime has always frightened me, but also because McNamara’s style of writing is so compelling (Karen and Georgia are also the funniest ladies on the planet, so that helped too).

McNamara employs these immersive POV shifts that connected me emotionally with the action, but still let me keep a detective’s objective distance when it got to be too much; she echoes these chilling metaphors and images throughout the text, creating tension and a nagging paranoia. This book is helping to give a depth and substance to my dissertation that I couldn’t have developed on my own, and I’m glad I overcame my fear of true crime enough to read it. I also recently moved into a new house and am currently suspicious of everyone.

Check out I’ll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara here:

Mario Montoya – Fiction Editor

Recently, a good friend (and BMR Associate Editor) Mitch Marty, gifted me a book that I can’t set down. Anybody who grew up bumping rap in the nineties will feel the same. It’s called Go Ahead in the Rain by Hanif Abdurraqib, his third, and it focuses on exactly what it says on the cover: “It is a love letter to a group, a sound and an era.”

The group is A Tribe Called Quest, the highly influential rap collective from Queens, New York, that changed the sound of rap forever, introducing a hip-hop, jazz fusion. For rap fans who experienced “The Golden Era” of rap, ATCQ’s music is considered a soundtrack to that time, a blueprint of sorts. And Abdurraqib takes us through his own fandom, from childhood to young adulthood, alongside the rise and sudden fall of one of rap’s most iconic groups.

Check out Go Ahead in the Rain by Hanif Abdurraqib here:

Michelle Gurule – Nonfiction Editor

The first book I jumped into off my summer reading list was Danzy Senna’s, New People. The novel is set in Brooklyn and follows soon to be married interracial couple, Maria and Khalil, on a bit of a downward spiral. Senna tackles race, identity, stereotypes, lust, and—what I perceived as the sort of existential restlessness of being a 27-year-old woman—through wickedly smart characters and hilarious subplots, which are both true to life and occasionally so outlandish (and yet, totally plausible) that I couldn’t be pulled away. New People is equal parts comedy and wit, which, as a humor writer, I find to be a challenging balance to bring to the page. I loved this novel for its premise and craft. There is so much to learn from Danzy Senna.

Check out New People by Danzy Senna here:

Darren Donate – Poetry Editor

The books that stood out to me the most over the course of my summer-reading were Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and Maurice Manning’s One Man’s Dark. I believe that Vuong’s work pushes the language of the contemporary novel to its absolute edge—it’s impactful, but not ornamentary. There are no dull moments in On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and I hope to be able to teach it in the classroom one day.

One Man’s Dark is a testament to Manning’s vision of Kentucky. Reading Manning’s poetry had me reflect on hyper-regionalism (and its representation) in contemporary poetics. Manning is able to capture his roots with poise, empathy, and humor—something that I wish to capture in my own writing. And now that I have One Man’s Dark in my hands, I have a model I can endlessly learn from.

Check out On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong here:
Check out One Man’s Dark by Maurice Manning here:

Seth Garcia – Poetry Editor

This summer (read: my whole life) I’ve been coping with my anxiety by reading poetry. I finally picked up Leaves of Grass in honor of Whitman’s bicentennial birthday. Forrest Gander’s Be With was also a sad and memorable collection.

And yet, one of the most impressive standouts has been Shane McCrae’s The Gilded Auction Block. Apart from being a poetry-producing machine (this guy churns out a book every other year like clockwork) McCrae writes some of the most syntactically interesting work today.

In stuttering language which masterfully mimics both the Trumpian rhetorical style and the distressed mind of one who has to put up with it, McCrae pays homage (read: brilliant critique) to the present moment. Whether in poems examining his past experiences with his neo-Nazi grandmother, or fantasizing about what death would look like if God turned out to be aligned with our dogmatic administration, McCrae proves (like all other great poets) that the personal is political.

Check out Leaves of Grass here:
Check out Be With by Forrest Gander here:
Check out The Gilded Auction Block by Shane McCrae here:

Ari McGuirk – Managing Editor

I read twelve books this summer to prepare for my comprehensive exams and for a seminar I’m taking this fall. Memoirs, essay collections, novels, and even a comic—they begged me to reconsider the limitations I’d placed on my own project. But one stood out to me above all others: Tommy Orange’s There, There.

This novel weaves over a dozen character arcs together with stunning precision. Each line drips with voice while juggling numerous points of view. Orange’s characters are flawed, winning, fully fleshed, human. More importantly, they’re all native peoples. As the book points out, too often people have antiquated notions, based in stereotypes, of what it means to live as a native person in this country. Orange banishes those colonialist ideas into oblivion, writing his characters and their struggles as they exist in modernity, all the while reminding his readers of the history of native peoples on this continent.

Check out There, There by Tommy Orange here:

Mitch Marty – Associate Editor

Love, death, and taxidermy. Or Mostly Dead Things. If I left it at just the title, the vibrant green cover with its stark pink flamingo would be enough to entice a fair number of people, but Kristen Arnett packs worlds into this novel set in a central Florida town that feels on the edge of ruin. The narrator, a queer taxidermist named Jessa-Lynn, finds her father splayed out in the back of their family shop with a suicide note that tasks her with keeping her family together. The broken family dynamic, the haze of cheap beer, and the dilapidated state of the town not only reminded me of life in the rural Midwest, but about how place becomes a character in its own right and drives a compelling thread of this story that borders on leaving, staying, a sense of obligation, and an inability to escape from yourself and your choices.

Grief, history, and death cling to these pages like the thick humidity of Florida’s summer. They could be as suffocating as the smell of roadkill once the sun breaks over the asphalt, but Arnett creates such a fantastic web through the narrative of these chapters as they bounce between the present and the past that I kept wanting to see what fresh kill might be stuffed next in the back of the family shop, what new hybrid display of sex and taxidermy crafted by Jessa’s mother might appear in the gallery across town, and how the burden of family might be rectified.

Check out Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett here:

Lastly, don’t forget to submit your work! We only have eleven days left of our Summer Contest judged by Jake Skeets, Lesley Arimah, and Francisco Cantú. To get an idea of what we’ve published previously and what we might be looking for, make sure to read over the editor blogs that we’ve been publishing since June first and check out our most recent publications on our website.

Mitch Marty