Monthly Archives: November 2012

Not on My Nightstand, But in My Backpack

How rare and delightful it is for me to read something for school that I really, genuinely enjoy. This has become especially apparent to me as my coursework for linguistics has become more intense; long articles about syntax in Chinese or more obscure languages like Warlpiri often make reading a chore or even a nightmare for me. So when my French professors assign texts by authors like Marjane Satrapi or Annie Ernaux, I’m thrilled. Even reading Jean-Paul Sartre seems like a treat to me sometimes, which is probably not a very good reflection on my definition of fun…

At any rate, I would highly recommend the following books to anyone who needs some high-quality French reading (or French reading translated into English, of course!):

Embroideries (Broderies) by Marjane Satrapi
Satrapi is most famous for her graphic novel/film Persepolis, but even if you aren’t familiar with her work this book is fantastic. It is also presented as a graphic novel with really beautiful and often comical black and white illustrations, and it documents a group of Iranian women having tea together and sharing stories about love, sex, and men. This book is a really quick read and provides insight into the private lives of the women featured in the novel, such as Marjane’s grandmother, mother, aunt, and their friends and neighbors.

Shame (La honte) by Annie Ernaux
I first read Annie Ernaux for a French class a couple years ago, and I immediately fell in love with her writing. Her style is lacking in embellishment, but her attention to detail (especially in describing very ordinary, mundane situations) is astonishing. Most of Ernaux’s work is autobiographical, and this book is no exception. It tells the story of how her family’s social and economic status impacted her life as a young girl growing up in northern France, and how her origins became a source of shame for her. I also recommend her book Exteriors (Journal du dehors), which is a collection of journal entries about everyday contemporary life on the outskirts of Paris.

Some other great French authors/poets/playwrights I think are worth checking out are:

  • Jean-Dominique Bauby
  • François Bégaudeau
  • Marguerite Duras
  • Anna Gavalda
  • Jean Genet
  • Hervé Guibert
  • Bernard-Marie Koltès
  • Jacques Prévert

Bonne lecture!

~Cecilia (Senior, French/Linguistics major, Xylem’s Submissions Co-Chair)


On My Nightstand: poems, poems

In a Cafe

I watched a man in a cafe fold a slice of bread

as if he were folding a birth certificate or looking

at the photograph of a dead lover.

Richard Brautigan

Comforting things: my fuzziest blanket. The window cracked open. A handful of milk candy wrappers on my nightstand, spelling out a delicious and handsome sweet on my tongue. Falling asleep to poems, poems. 

Like Emma mentioned last week, it’s so rare for me to find time to read simply for leisure. But I’ve started this ritual every night where I read one poem or two before going to bed while eating one milk candy, and some days, this read-&-sweet goodnight pattern kind of blooms into my daily miracle.  

So. Poetry on my nightstand this week:

The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster, by Richard Brautigan. Crazy collection of poems published in the 1940s. And also, is the home of the poem I quoted above. Brautigan is incredible and also insane. Many of his poems are fairly short, yet they are all tucked with stunning observations about the world. In one of my favorites, The Chinese Checker Players, he wrote:

When I was six years old

I played Chinese checkers

   with a woman

who was ninety-three years old.

She lived by herself

in an apartment down the hall

   from ours.

We played Chinese checkers

every Monday and Thursday nights.

While we played she usually talked

about her husband

who had been dead for seventy years,

and we drank tea and ate cookies

   and cheated.

–Richard Brautigan 

!!! I hope you are stuttering exclamation points. This is the kind of poetry Brautigan feeds you: lines stuffed with endings that just kiss you hard on the mouth. 

(A side note: Brautigan also wrote one of my favorite prose poetry books, In Watermelon Sugar, a fictionalized narrative on a post-apocolyptic world, and characters’ struggles to define and love such a world.)

Another poetry book worth noting: Teeth, by Aracelis Girmay. I saw Aracelis perform in Ann Arbor a few years ago, and decided to begin writing poetry because of her. Yeah. She’s pretty lovely. Her poetry is infused with images that flip and sing and scald. Her poems rotate between diving into the political, to small day-to-day blessings. In one of my favorite poems by her, Ode to a Watermelon, she blesses the fruit. Now every time I slice a watermelon, all I do is think:

I love you your color hemmed
by rind. The blaring juke & wet of it.
Black seeds star red immense
as poppy fields,
white to outsing jasmine.
Again, all that green.

and later:

Sandía, día santo,
yours is a sweetness
to outlast slaughter:
Tongues will lose themselves inside you,
scattering seeds. All over,
the land will hum
with your wild,
raucous blooming.

–Aracelis Girmay

Oh, shoot. Thank goodness for Aracelis.

Finally, a must: Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, by Patricia Smith. A book erupting with dynamite sticks. I was insanely lucky to be at the Chicago book release party for this event last March. Patricia writes to cleanse and to dirty you up – in all the best ways possible. Many of her poems in this particular volume deal with familial and racial pride, spark, and struggle. I’m a HUGE advocate of her work! She’s got sass and strength all fried up inside this book. Plus, there’s some crazy delicious references to Southern food within many of her poems (cornbread lovers out there!? where you at!)

To end, mark your calendars! PATRICIA SMITH IS COMING TO ANN ARBOR on November 29 for this year’s Poetry Night in Ann Arbor! (At Rackham Auditorium, doors will open at 7pm) Both PATRICIA SMITH and SHIRA ERLICHMAN (another wonderful poet and songwriter!) will be the featured poets of this year’s event. If you love being swept over by some serious joy and feeling like you are built completely out of sugar, I HUGELY recommend you to come to this annual event! There will be youth performers from the Neutral Zone’s VOLUME Youth Poetry Project, and University of Michigan U-Club slam poets. Finally, Patricia and Shira will be releasing a book for the event, published by the Neutral Zone’s Red Beard Press! More info on all this goodness to come.


Enjoy the week, wonderful people! Go read poems and giggle and fall in love!

Carlina Duan – Sophomore, English major, Xylem’s Layout Chair 

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On My Nightstand

I used to read for fun. And then I became a college student. When reading for classes tops 600 pages a week, reading for fun becomes a luxury. Most weeks my personal reading is limited to skimming The New Yorker at the gym and maybe reading a chapter of a novel as I’m falling asleep or eating breakfast before class.

My reading list is a growing problem, in that it is growing at a rate faster than I could ever possibly hope to read. I need to read those canonical classics- Anna Karenina, Moby Dick, and how have I not read The Scarlet Letter yet? But at the same time, I want to read all sorts of contemporary fiction- The Tiger’s Wife (Tea Obreht), This is How You Lose Her (Junot Diaz), and even The Casual Vacancy (J.K. Rowling).

As such, my nightstand is always precariously stacked. This is what’s in my current pile:

 Nowhere Man by Aleksandar Hemon: I haven’t started this yet, but it’s on the list for my immigrant fiction class, so I’ll be reading it soon. As an added incentive, Alexander is coming to the University on November 29th for a roundtable and reading. I’ve heard great things about his work, and I love the opportunity to ask authors questions about their craft.

My Father’s Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow: I have a slight cookbook obsession. I’m a vegetarian, and as such I’m always looking easy and appetizing veggie options. While this cookbook isn’t strictly vegetarian, almost all of the recipes have adapted versions that are vegetarian or vegan. I’m very intrigued by the vegan brownie recipe and the homemade black bean burgers.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Leviathan: I read two chapters of this in September and haven’t touched it since. I like John Green’s fiction and I’m a regular watcher of his weekly vlogs on YouTube, however I’ve only read David Leviathan’s most recent book The Lover’s Dictionary. The book centers on a straight teen and a gay teen that share the same name and the resulting overlap of their two lives.

 My Antonia by Willa Cather: If I’m being honest, this has been on my nightstand since June. I’m a fan of Willa Cather generally, and I especially love her short stories and novel Death Comes for the Archbishop. It’s amazing to me that I haven’t read this, probably her best-known publication. I started the first chapter and I’m intrigued, but I haven’t really had the time I’d like to devote to this. Maybe over Thanksgiving break?

 The rest of the stack:

Percival’s Planet Michael Byers

Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Unaccustomed Earth Jhumpa Lahiri

On Writing Well William Zinsser

The Swan Thieves Elizabeth Kostova

Lord of the Flies William Golding


~ Emma Kruse (Junior, English major, Xylem’s Advertising Manager)