- The Fleshly School of Poetry by Robert Buchanan. Maybe it’s a little weird that I’m recommending a critical essay, but this one by Robert Buchanan is hilarious (as far as critical essays go, that is). In it, he is critiquing the work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a Victorian poet and artist, member of the PreRaphaelite Brotherhood, and Buchanan’s contemporary. I found myself laughing the whole way through this essay, because Buchanan is so sassy and mean. He literally uses the word “nasty” in a critical essay in order to describe D.G. Rossetti’s poetry. He even says that the world would be a better place if D.G. had never written anything at all. Such sass. To the modern reader, D.G. Rossetti’s poetry would not seem racy or provocative, but to the Victorian Buchanan, it was enough to send him into a fit. Needless to say, Robert Buchanan wasn’t amazing at his job, but this essay made for a pretty entertaining class discussion.
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Jane Eyre is a book that I definitely should have read a long time ago. It is, by far, the most accessible classic I’ve read. That being said, there is so much going on under the surface. Common Victorian themes such as empire, gender, and reality versus romanticism rear their heads throughout the novel. Setting plays a huge role, and the book as a whole breaks several major conventions of the 19th Century novel. For example, it has an unlikely narrator and contains unusual cross-class relationships. Also, there’s a love story thrown in there, for the all the romantics. I have to admit that I’m not Rochester’s biggest fan. I do prefer movie Rochester to book Rochester, but I think Mr. Darcy has ruined me for literary love interests.
- Bluets by Maggie Nelson. How to describe this book? In Bluets Maggie Nelson documents her obsession with the color blue in a compilation of short lyric essays. The essays focus on her experiences, feelings, and connotations surrounding the color, and in seeking to describe something that is indescribable (such as a color), she addresses taboo topics such as depression and sex. It is such an interesting concept that I believe is accomplished extremely well.
- Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins. I have to admit that the first time I read this book, I couldn’t make it to the end, and I had no intentions of ever attempting to read it again. But as it was on the syllabus for one of my classes this semester, I was obligated to give it another go, and this time, I absolutely loved it. The book is told from dual perspectives but focuses mostly around a king who decides to rebel against death and live forever. Magical realism, mythology, and perfume play large roles in the story as well, but I won’t give too much away. The message of the book is quintessentially bohemian in that it paints bohemianism as something that is not confined by a specific set of behaviors or circumstances, and it calls to mind the relationships between the natural and the synthetic, the animal and the civilized, the essence of a person and how he or she identifies, desire and convention. Tom Robbins’ stories and writing style are incredibly unique and a little bit weird, but I definitely plan on picking up his other books.
- Just Kids by Patti Smith. This book is in the running for my favorite book I read this month (along with Jane Eyre). Just Kids is Patti’s Smiths memoir on her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe and her life as an artist. Unlike so many other “bohemian” texts I’ve read, Smith portrays her art and the art of her friends as something that requires discipline, and I really enjoyed that about the book. She doesn’t romanticize the idea of the starving artist, although she quite literally was one. Rather, she outlines the evolution and journey of her art and her community throughout the sixties and seventies. The book is beautifully written and tragic, as it serves as a sort of elegy for Mapplethorpe. Even if you are not a fan of Patti Smith, I highly recommend you read it.
- Mowing by Robert Frost. I had a teacher once who said that Robert Frost is the most misinterpreted American poet to ever live, and I would probably have to agree. “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” are severely misunderstood on shocking levels. “Mowing” is no exception, and I’ll admit that when I first read it, I thought it was a poem about farming. I was partially correct. On the surface, the poem is about someone who is cutting hay and laying it in rows. However, when someone in my literature class suggested that the poem is actually about writing, a lightbulb went off. Of course it is! Through his word choice and images, Frost creates a metaphor paralleling cutting hay and writing poems. It’s brilliant, and it completely blew my mind.
- This Is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams. Although William Carlos Williams is known best for “The Red Wheelbarrow,” “This Is Just to Say” is an incredibly famous poem, because it indirectly makes a commentary on which subjects are worthy of poetry. The poem is short and reads like a note that would be left on someone’s refrigerator. There are several different interpretations of this tiny poem, but I like it because it focuses on the mundane, but doesn’t idealize it.
What did you read this month?