Tag Archives: Book Review

Good Can Come From Bad: A Review and Comparison of “The Goldfinch” Book and Film

Posted by Hemingway Lovullo, Fiction Reader for 8.2

After polarizing box office reviews, with critics and regular moviegoers alike ranking the movie everything from one to five stars, The Goldfinch film seems to require a certain kind of taste to enjoy it. And indeed, the book it was based on is not for the faint of heart either.As an avid reader and moviegoer, my expectations for this story were very high. So imagine my surprise when I found myself, for once, liking the movie better than the book! It’s true, I devoured the book, in love with the writing and the characters–from bitter, pessimistic Theodore Decker to his alcoholic Russian friend (and lover?) Boris Pavlikovsky. However, I was unfortunately blindsided by an ending that seemed to betray everything I had felt for the characters in the novel.

(Spoilers ahead!)

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Nicole Callahan

Aisha Sharif’s To Keep From Undressing: A Review

What is the connotation of the word “performance?” Our primary association with “performance” is the theatrical; our understanding of performance has become inextricably linked to the idea of something pretended, something acted out but not done. We think of performance as dishonest. To perform humility or joy is not understood to be the same as to be humble or joyous.

That may be why people dismiss the idea that identity is a type of performance. To say that identity is what you do and not simply what you are is often an uncomfortable proposition. Many people find comfort in identitarian labels—for good reason. Labels like “woman” or “man,” “gay” or “trans,” “Chinese” or “Jewish,” unite individuals with shared experiences and allow for societal comprehension of complex concepts. Aisha Sharif’s collection of poetry, To Keep from Undressing, resonates with a truth seldom expressed so thoroughly: that identity is a performance. A complicated, contradictory performance, clearly, but a sincere one, nonetheless. Throughout her collection, Sharif’s speakers wrestle with their lived experiences. They are Black, Muslim-American women; daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, and poets. The way these identities interact is at the very heart of Sharif’s work, it informs the structure of her poetry and her understanding that each identity is its own intricate performance.

To Keep from Undressing is divided into five sections. Each includes a part of the poem “If my Parents Hadn’t Converted: Questions and Answers,” which straddles the line between humorous and sincere hypothetical scenarios. The poem explores how the speaker’s entire life was shaped by one decision. Christian Aisha, or “Marian Elizabeth” would have had a prom dress “just short enough / to reveal / [her] knees.” When asked how many Muslims the Christian version of herself would “actually befriend,” she leaves no response at all. The poem serves as a pillar to the collection, always returning it to the key questions of who we are and how our experiences shape us. Sharif suggests that her Christian self is still her in a way, but that despite the fact that we all have various versions of ourselves contained within us, the Christian Aisha is missing certain key experiences that are an important part of her current identity.

The experimentation with structure in Sharif’s poems establishes her poetic identity. Sharif manipulates the formal aspects of poetry to build upon new ideas. Her poems’ experimental structures further emphasize the importance of performance. In the poem “A Mathematical Expression of Faith,” the relationship between the speaker’s family’s old Christian ways and the new Muslim ways they practice is presented as an equation to balance. Many poems have a call-and-response structure or a song-like quality to them. “After School on the City Bus, Memphis, TN,” for example, is performed as a school yard chant. At a live reading of the poem, Sharif’s voice echoed out the words of a juvenile bully, a taunt which she wishes she had responded to with a song of her own, by singing “Muslims know god.” Poetry’s very roots lie in performance, and these poems emphasize that relationship. Sharif has a firm understanding of her poems’ sonic qualities and the way they play with language and vernacular, for example in “Hijab Be,” where Sharif discusses the versatility and freedom of her fellow hijabis, how “Hijab be prayin’ still. / Hijab be raisin’ hell.” She combines and shapes her different identities and different schools of thought—scientific, schoolyard, Black, Muslim—to establish the identity of her work.

The collection’s philosophy on identity culminates in “The Fitting Room,” where Sharif’s speaker explains to a non-Muslim saleswoman why she wears the hijab. The speaker questions her own choice to cover, though she doesn’t reveal this to the saleswoman. Despite the way she questions her faith, she chooses to put her hijab back on, “pinning the performance in place.” This action is her way of performing faith through her doubt, which shows the complexity of her relationship to covering. Sharif’s hijab reifies her belief in a concrete way. In the simple act of putting on a headscarf, a mere performance, she creates her identity.

In contrast to the act of dressing, the creation of poetry serves as a symbolic undressing. Sharif’s work is the dissolution of identity markers to reach at the undefined internal experience. The collection takes its name from a line found in “Iddah: Part II,” which explores the time after the speaker’s sister got divorced. The sister lies stagnant in yesterday’s clothes, she does “anything to keep from undressing.” When considering the way in which putting on a hijab cemented her external identity in “The Fitting Room,” the act of dressing becomes synonymous with performing identity. In this way, her sister’s fear of undressing signifies an unwillingness to lose her identity of “wife.”

To Keep from Undressing balances the creation and deconstruction of identity. The collection constructs identities, as contradictory and complex as they may be, but it also deconstructs the actions we take to create our identities. It dresses and undresses the poet. To Keep from Undressing is itself a performance that created something real.

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Electric Arches: A Review of Eve L. Ewing’s Sci-Fi Love Song to Black America

Posted by Olivia Martel Cockerham, GD Art Editor and Poetry Reader for 7.1

In her first book of poems, sociologist Eve L. Ewing takes the reader traveling through time. Beneath its stunning cover by Trinidadian artist Brianna McCarthy, Electric Arches reveals magic powers and “moon men,” machines that let you speak back into history and receive voices of the past. It traces the legacies of historic African American figures to the routine and daily struggle of black people facing abuse from police and civilians alike; the past and present of black America bleeding together and reaching, stretching out to hopeful tomorrows. Continue reading

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Shara McCallum’s Madwoman: an Exploration of Female Identity, Race, and Strength

Posted by Arianna Miller, GD Co-Poetry Section Head for 6.2

Shara McCallum was this semester’s visiting poet at SUNY Geneseo.  I had not only the pleasure of sitting down for lunch with McCallum, both also of reading her diverse collection, MadwomanMadwoman spans across what it means to be a woman, to have the privilege of being a black woman who appears white, and to accept being the daughter of a schizophrenic, all with the underlying presence of her Jamaican heritage.    Continue reading

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A Review of Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach, and a reflection on the relationship between art and story

Posted by Francesco Bruno, GD Fiction Co-Section Head for 6.2 

I invite you to refute the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover,” and contemplate the paperback edition of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, published in 2011 by Alfred A Knopf. The cover shows a colorful menagerie of bodies in manifold contortions and postures. The translucent figures overlap and blend with each other, but no single figure grabs a central focus. The book’s title is laid over this image (again, the font is translucent) and the cluster of bodies is put into focus by a background of stark white space. The cover suggests not cacophony but polyphony, its narratives not shouting over one another but offering a variety of perspectives and lenses through which readers can continuously re-interpret the cover. Continue reading

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A Kind of Book Review of Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky With Exit Wounds

Posted by Frank Bruno, Fiction Reader for issue 6.1

In May of 2016 Ocean Vuong’s first full length collection of poetry, Night Sky With Exit Wounds was released by Copper Canyon Press. The book has since received swaths of rave reviews and a number of prestigious awards including the Whiting Award, the Forward Prize, and the Thom Gunn Award. Despite the relative media buzz created by the book, it only came to me a year after its initial release when my friend read me the poem “Thanksgiving 2006.” I started reading my own copy this past June and finished it last week. Continue reading

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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Posted by Anthony Bettina, GD Creative Non-Fiction Reader for 5.2

Yes, everyone in America knows (or at least should know) about the plight of the African-American from the inception of The United States America to present day. It is a topic of frequent discussion in political and social circles alike when addressing concerns such as the legitimacy of Affirmative Action in an attempt to counter-act the unforgivable wrongs of slavery in America.  But, what we as Americans fail to do is truly understand the horrors of slavery and its lasting impact on America.

What Harriet Jacobs does in her narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is truly remarkable. As a partially self-taught speaker & writer of English, she manages to eloquently explain the natural rights denied to the common black woman, whether this be the right to their own children, right to consent, or right to abide by their own religious beliefs. To get a more in depth look at her life, I encourage you to read this biography about her, and to learn more about slavery in America in general check here. Her relationship with her first master- “Dr. Flint” is especially revealing.   Continue reading

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The Opposite of Loneliness: Marina Keegan’s Sentiments for the Student

Posted By Emily McClemont, GD Creative Nonfiction Reader for 5.2

“Sparkl[ing] with talent, humanity, and youth.” (O, The Oprah Magazine).

In May of 2012, Marina Keegan graduated magna cum laude from Yale University. She lost her life in a car accident shortly after. Two years following Keegan’s death, a collection of her short stories and essays was published. A New York Times bestseller and Goodreads Choice Awards in Nonfiction (2014) winner, The Opposite of Loneliness conveys, as Keegan’s former mentor, Harold Bloom states, Keegan’s request for the student generation “to invest their youthful pride and exuberance both in self-development and in the improvement of our tormented society.” Continue reading

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SUNY Geneseo Launches National Book Review Month

Posted by Nicole Sheldon, Creative Nonfiction Editor and Art Curator for Issue 4.2

With the spring semester in full swing the SUNY Geneseo campus is bustling with students who are finding that each day is busier than the last. It’s more than a week into February, and here at Geneseo Assistant Professor of English Lytton Smith, Editing and Production Manager Allison Brown, and I have launched National Book Review Month, or NaRMo, for the month of February.

get reviewing posterThe literary world celebrates events such as National Poetry Month and National Novel Writing Month, and we’ve set out to add National Book Review Month to the literary calendar. Book reviews are an often-overlooked part of the literary landscape, and many readers fail to recognize the value in reading and writing reviews. Reading a book review may give you that extra nudge to read that book you meant to indulge in over the summer. Or, perhaps reading a book review would have prevented you from abandoning the novel that wasn’t what you initially expected.

That’s the beauty of book reviews—they’re a way for readers to express their opinions about what they’ve read, and share their views with the rest of the literary world. Word of mouth is great when recommending a book—but publishing reviews online for readers all over the world to see is bound to have a greater impact. Continue reading

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GD 3.2 Preview: Featured Author Karin Lin-Greenberg

Two reviews of Karin Lin-Greenberg’s Faulty Predictions by GD staff members Sarah Diaz & Chrissy Montelli (see below). 

Written by Sarah Diaz, GD Poetry Reader for 3.2 & Poetry Editor for 3.1

A Review of Faulty Predictions: Stories by Karin Lin-Greenberg

As a self-proclaimed poet, I often find myself reluctant to read fiction. When I picked up Faulty Predictions, the genre ‘short fiction’ eased my concerns slightly, though I remained somewhat skeptical. The opening story of the collection, “Editorial Decisions” employs the first-person plural point-of-view and just like that, falling into the 2013 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction winner was easier done than said. The collection was published by the University of Georgia Press. Karin Lin-Greenberg received her MFA from University of Pittsburg, an MA from Temple University and an AB from Byrn Mawr College. Her work has appeared in literary journals such as Epoch, Kenyon Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Five Chapter among others. She is currently an assistant professor in the English Department at Siena College in upstate New York. Continue reading

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