Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide

This week’s other featured books, “The Last Hotel,” by Sonia Pilcer, “A Different Wakeful Animal,” by Susan Cohen and “The Book of Endless Sleepovers,” by Henry Hoke, can be found by scrolling down below this post, or by clicking the author’s name on our Author’s page.

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THE BOOK: Half in Love: Surviving The Legacy Of Suicide.

PUBLISHED IN: 2010

THE AUTHOR: Linda Gray Sexton

THE EDITOR: Dan Smetanka

THE PUBLISHER: Counterpoint Press, Berkeley CA, a prestigious independent publisher

SUMMARY: Despite the agony of witnessing my mother’s multiple, and ultimately successful, suicide attempts, I struggled with her magnetism and the undertow of depression that engulfed her life. With Half in Love, I speak to my own urgent need to escape the legacy of suicide that consumed my family. I believe this is a topic rarely explored, even today, in depth. Mental illness continues to be forbidden to speak about in public—and sometimes, even in private.

Image result for Linda Gray Sexton

I tried once, twice, three times to kill myself—even though, as a daughter, sister, wife, and most importantly, a mother, I knew the pain my act would cause the people who loved me. But unlike my mother, I did go on to live and to write a book about that struggle between life and death. With the help of my family, my therapist and my medications I was able to confront these deep-seated issues, outlive my mother, and curb the haunting cycle of suicide I once seemed destined to inherit.

THE BACK STORY: Half in Love took ten years to write. During much of it, I was acutely depressed and could type only a line or two a week. I often wrote and rewrote the same passages over and over. Eventually though, I became healthy enough to return to work full-time and to make the book “live” in ways I had thought impossible during the time I had given up on life.

I wrote it, digging into my own story in such depth, because I wanted others who were depressed or suicidal, or who had someone in their lives suffering from depression or the lure of suicide, to know that there is hope. I wanted to say: “don’t give up!” This need to help another person save him or herself surely originated from the fact that I couldn’t save my mother. But I did save myself and this is surely an important message, and that message was my sole motivation to write a book immeasurably painful to bring to the page.

WHY THIS TITLE?: My editor and I wrestled with the title for a long time. The subtitle was always the same, because that described the topic of the book, but we all wanted something more lyrical for the main title. I had a Keats’ epigraph at the front, which has the line: “Darkling I listen; and for many a time/ I have been half in love with easeful Death.” That really spoke to me. I knew what it was like to flirt with death. I was lucky enough to have been only half in love, though; the half of me that was not in love was the part that triumphed. My editor took the quotation and drew the title from it. I loved it the minute I heard it.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Half in Love has a broad audience, and its subject is one rarely written about on a personal level. Today in the U.S., someone kills himself every seventeen minutes, leaving behind family and friends who are bereft, or angry, or overcome with sorrow–and often, mystified. The book is for those who are “on the brink,” who are intractably depressed, who need to hear that there is hope of a better life—and one which is not to be found in heaven. It is also for the families and friends who struggle, because there is so much misunderstanding about depression and suicide. These are taboo topics, ones we are not meant to speak about, much less to dwell upon. I’ve received more email regarding this book than any of my others. It feels wonderful to know that I’ve reached people—whether they be the depressed or the survivors. All of us are in need of help as far as this subject is concerned.

REVIEW COMMENTS: “Like her mother, Sexton can create a startling intimacy with her readers. She comes before us emotionally naked, explaining the pull of self-cutting and suicide in a tone that’s unsettling direct…This book looks into the workings of the suicidal mind in a way that isn’t easily forgotten, raising provocative questions about how we approach and treat the severely mentally ill. Sexton paints suicide as a deadly disease mechanism: only the care of other people can save its victims, but those victims become experts at driving other people away. ‘The bare bones fact,’ Sexton writes from her own grueling experience, ‘is that no one wants to deal with a suicide.’” –The New York Times Book Review, “Editors Choice,” January 16, 2011

“To forge one’s own life free of a parent’s shadow is a challenge for any child, but when that child was born to renowned poet Anne Sexton, who committed suicide in 1974, the challenge takes on a particularly dark dimension. For Sexton, the shadow hides emotional turmoil and a legacy of mental illness passed generation to generation; despite determination to break the chain, Linda acknowledges passing it to her sons as well. With extraordinary transparency, the author intimately recalls her relationship with her unstable mother, who preened her daughter as an extension of herself before finally abandoning her. Sexton even includes an honest confession of the guilt she felt in succumbing to the legacy passed from her mother rather than ending it. The array of deep emotions here make it impossible not to sympathize with the author, and perhaps her raw account will leave the reader with an alternate legacy: the knowledge of the sometimes suicidal pain of mental illnesses and the love and care needed to overcome it. Sexton’s second memoir is a valuable examination of a dark and complicated subject.”— — Publisher’s Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“Linda Sexton’s determination to forge an identity independent of suicide and destruction is powerful; her book is a vivid and inspiring story of living through despair and coming out the stronger for it.” — Kay Redfield Jamison, author of An Unquiet Mind and Professor of Psychiatry, John Hopkins School of Medicine

“With brutal honesty, Linda Sexton has dared to explore a subject more taboo than almost any other: not only suicide, but what comes after, for its survivors. This is a book that will speak to anyone touched by the suicide of someone we knew or loved—as so many of us have been.” —–Joyce Maynard, author of At Home In The World and The Best Of Us

AUTHOR PROFILE: I grew up at the knee of a poet, witnessed her climb to the “big time” with a Pulitzer Prize and then watched the crash landing of her life, when she suicided shortly after my twenty-first birthday. Still stunned and grieving, I jumped into the role of her literary executor, and shortly thereafter began my own journey as a writer. I have written one book of non-fiction, four novels, and three memoirs—excerpts and reviews of which you can find at lindagraysexton.com, in addition to my biography, tales of my beloved dogs, my articles, reviews and newsletter essays. On the site there is also a subscription sign-up box for my (free!) e-newsletter essays. Living in Annapolis, Maryland with my husband and our three Dalmatians, I work every weekday at home from nine to five! I love yoga, meditation, sailing, drinking red wine, and I am also a bit of a “foodie,” though I love meatloaf and mashed potatoes as well. Most of all, however, I love hearing from my readers. So please write—I always answer!

SAMPLE CHAPTER:

Please go to lindagraysexton.com for an excerpt of Half in Love and then hang around to browse the site and learn more about me and my books.

WHERE TO BUY IT

All independent bookstores should be able to order the most recent ones for you. Amazon carries all of my titles, past and present. Barnes and Noble can order all of the latest available from my current publisher. All of my books are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound and other online sites. There are links on my website that take you directly to Amazon, or, if you know the title(s) you are interested in, you can just go directly to one of the online sites. All three of my memoirs—Half in Love: Surviving The Legacy Of Suicide; Searching For Mercy Street: My Journey Back To My Mother, Anne Sexton; and Bespotted: My Family’s Love Affair With Thirty-Eight Dalmatians—are also available as e-books for Nook and Kindle.

PRICE: Hardcover ($23.97); Softcover ($15.9); e-book ($9.99).

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Please write! I’m quite friendly and I’ll answer most questions. You can reach me via my website’s contact page at lindagraysexton.com. My Facebook page is lindagraysextonauthor, and you can find me on Twitter @lindagraysexton, but writing to me directly on my website is the best way to be in touch.

The Last Hotel

Sonia PilcerTHE BOOK: The Last Hotel: A Novel In Suites

PUBLISHED IN: 2014

THE AUTHOR:  Sonia Pilcer

THE EDITOR:
Naomi Rosenblatt

THE PUBLISHER: Heliotrope Books.

SUMMARY: Late 1970s. Aging sirens, intellectuals, eccentrics and connivers live in a small Upper Westside hotel, managed by Saul, a Holocaust survivor.  All their stories — funny, intimate moments between neighbors — occur in the lobby, the elevator, and inside the crumbling walls of their tiny suites. It ends on the night of John Lennon’s death as he entered the Dakota, right down the block from the Last Hotel in 1980.

THE BACK STORY: My father managed the Endicott Apartments Hotel on West 72nd Street.  Visiting him, I observed the residents, trying to imagine what went on upstairs in their rooms and between them. THE LAST HOTEL was the result.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had witnessed a way of life that was disappearing. Early 80s, these apartments were taken over by “a condominium consortium” and my father was forced to leave.  I was working on the book when he died in 2013. He was 95 years old, a survivor of Auschwitz. I hadn’t realized that the book was partly a tribute to him. The writing took about two years.

I’ve lived in “the city” since I graduated college.  I’ve watched its changes.

WHY THIS TITLE?: Because this was the end of an era in NYC history.  I imagined this as its last hotel, when all kinds of people could afford to live there. Imagine: the highest rent was forty five dollars a week. It attracted “the thrifty, the broke and broken, surviving spouses, divorcees, and emigres… It was a hotel of dreams and lusty dreamers.”

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT?  The Last Hotel is uniquely a New York story.  One of my niche audiences is those who enjoy Isaac Bashevis Singer and Bernard Malamud.  The book is flavored with Yiddish, and in fact, there’s an English/Yiddish glossary in the back.  The interest is historic too: an exploration of a NYC lifestyle that no longer exists.  It’s full of what I call urban archeology, the unearthing of stores, restaurants, bars that no longer exist.

REVIEW COMMENTS: 

“Sonia Pilcer writes with wit and deep tenderness as she precisely evokes the vanished world of a small West Side residential hotel filled with zany eccentrics and lost souls. You will laugh and you will feel your throat catch with hurt, but you will be absorbed throughout.” — Joseph Berger”Bittersweet, funny. Human and humane. A movie surely waits.” — Anne Roiphe.

The Last Hotel is a 20th Century ark filled with survivors of history and gentrification. Sonia Pilcer brings them all vividly to life with gentle wit and a generous heart.” — Hilma Wolitzer.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Sonia Pilcer was born in Augsburg, Germany and raised in the boroughs of New York City.

TEEN ANGEL, her first novel, launched Pilcer’s career in her twenties. It was bought by Universal Studios and she wrote the screenplay with Garry Marshall. The book has recently been reissued in a 35th Year Anniversary Edition. Her other novels include MAIDEN RITES, LITTLE DARLINGS, and I-LAND: MANHATTAN MONOLOGUES. Her adaptation of I-LAND played at the Thirteenth Street Repertory Theater for six years. Most recently, THE HOLOCAUST KID, her deepest and most personal book, explored the meaning of being ‘2G’, a Second Generation Holocaust survivor. Her theatrical adaptation was staged at Shakespeare & Co in Lenox, Mass.Sonia Pilcer teaches writing workshops at Berkshire Community College and the Writers Voice in New York City, as well as privately.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: The Last Hotel is my sixth published novel.  I would have liked to have had more readers, more reviews.  But this is the plight of the contemporary author, lost in the maelstrom of publishing.  I’m grateful to Heliotrope, a small independent publisher.  I’ve been told the book is fun to read and informative about what life was like in NYC, forty years ago. The biggest difference was that you didn’t have to be rich to live in Manhattan.  Working people lived next to artists.  Lawyers and retired teachers.  All met in the neighborhood dive around the corner. I’ve lived in “the city” since I graduated college.  I’ve watched its changes I tried to capture this moment in history and preserve in my own sentimental amber.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: This is the opening chapter, taken from my website:

Someone stole a letter. Passersby wondered. Was the missing letter an A? LAST HOTEL? O? LOST HOTEL? Or a U? But why would anyone steal a chrome letter from the hotel awning? Because it was there. Because it could be destroyed. Because no one cared about New York City, circa 1979.

Manhattan was broke, and a general air of lawlessness governed, if you didn’t live in select neighborhoods. Graffiti snaked the subway in ghetto nightmares. Dog turds, garbage on the street. Plastic bags floated in the sky like bloated ghosts. Metal gates klunking heavily over store windows. Abandoned buildings, broken windows, nailed boards painted with fake flower boxes.

It was a place to escape from, not visit. Certainly not bring a car. A stroll through Central Park, especially after 5, you took your life in your hands. Riverside Park was positively murderous. 69 Cents stores, Nedick’s, Max’s Kansas City, CBGB’s, the Tunnel, the Limelight, housed in an Episcopal Church on 20th Street, where someone was murdered as hundreds hustled to Donna Summer’s “Love to love you, baby…” Mostly, you had to have a strong stomach to live in the city.

This is the story of a small residential hotel on the corner of 72nd and Columbus Avenue, when such places still existed. When hotels were, in fact, a respectable way of life. Clean and affordable. For single women, especially, who liked to have a concierge-type downstairs, without the sorority of the Barbizon, which forbade gentlemen visitors. After romantic break-ups. Divorces. Funerals. Men liked it mainly for the longer term. Like renting an apartment, but they could pay weekly. No lease. No commitment.

Understand, residential hotels were not SROs, those scary, transient Single Room Occupancies that housed foul-scented dens of iniquity and worse. No, these hotels were faded movie queens who still possessed good bones and solid brass fixtures from the gilded splendor of a New York that was once piss elegant.

Built at the turn of the century, the Last Hotel had been a gin mill, flophouse and brothel, where fancy people came uptown for good times with the hoi poloi. Stories circulated about the hotel’s mythic speakeasy past of illegal booze, gambling, jazz, and rooms rented by the hour. There were nights when ghosts twirled past bewildered tenants. Sex juices rose in loud gurgles from the radiators! Many swore the vibrations of those licentious days lived in the walls and inspired its current inhabitants..

Inside, you could still see remnants of its glory days. An absurdly elegant lobby of marble walls with ornate moldings and sconces, white and black tiled floor, full-length smoked mirrors, and a glorious, non-working chandelier. A long turquoise vinyl couch, a mahogany coffee table, and a plastic rubber tree plant were chained to metal loops drilled into the floor.

A mere six floors, the Last Hotel was surrounded by tall, elegant hotels and doorman apartment buildings, taxis and limousines parked outside. Women in minks walked snooty little dogs past heaps of garbage mounting each day as the Sanitation Workers’ strike continued. The Athena, a Greek diner, occupied a ground floor storefront, floating in a sea of black plastic bags. Scents from the kitchen wafted in the lobby. Sizzling garlic, onion, eggplant, feta cheese, and souvlaki.

The Dakota, a castle-like fortress, was at the end of the block. Movie stars lived in palatial twenty-room apartments. John and Yoko occupied the penthouse. It was not uncommon to see them stroll into Central Park, arm in arm, Yoko in black leather and her huge dark glasses, and John, black sailor cap pushed far over his face, pea coat, jeans..

Most residential hotels in the neighborhood had fancy names. The Regency. The Oliver Cromwell. The Franconia. What Saul, the Manager, called the Greener School of “Think Yiddish, Dress British.” A few men who knew each other from Poland, some having survived the same ghettos and concentration camps, many who came on the same boat to America, scraped their savings – maybe ten thousand dollars each – and since the West Side was considered a war zone, picked up these dollhouses for a dime.

The Last Hotel attracted the thrifty, the broke and broken, surviving spouses, divorcees and émigrés. It was a hotel of dreams and lusty dreamers. All lived alone. Saul insisted. “Too small for two people. You’ll kill each other.”.

The place had a crummy charm – for those who disliked pretension and could handle funk. All the surfaces bore a coat of antique dirt. There were generations of cockroaches, of course, and the occasional water bug. The entire city was covered with cockroaches. Hector the exterminator came to spray the Last Hotel once a month, which is when the cockroaches visited someone else’s apartment..

Yet the residents shared rent pride. The smug satisfaction of having found a bargain in the toughest city in the world. Lincoln Center, built a decade earlier, was six blocks south. The New Yorker and Thalia theaters were nearby, not to mention The Embassy, which was just down the street. You could see an Ingmar Bergman double feature anytime. And eat Szechuan Chinese, Cuban Chinese, Cuban and kosher, all within a five minute walk. And Gray’s Papaya was down the block, where you could get two hot dogs with mustard and sauerkraut, and a papaya drink for 99 cents.

Living in the Last Hotel, one became part of random, raucous humanity, separated by cracked plaster walls. The lobby was the family room. The elevator offered daily rites of passage. The suites were paved with golden stories. Or rather, fragments of stories, curious particles of people’s private lives. What one could glean from a chance encounter in the lobby, a ride up or down the elevator, a trek to the laundry room in the basement. Puzzle pieces that glittered like Manhattan schist, enticing one to stay.

WHERE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. Available as Kindle edition.

PRICE: $6.99

CONTACT THE AUTHOR:

SONIAPILCER1@GMAIL.COMWEBSITE: SONIAPILCER.COM

A Different Wakeful Animal

Susan CohenTHE BOOK: A Different Wakeful Animal.

PUBLISHED IN: 2016

THE AUTHOR: Susan Cohen.

THE PUBLISHER: Winner of the 2015 David Martinson-Meadowhawk Prize from Red Dragonfly Press, a small, literary non-profit that has been publishing modern poetry and poetry in translation for more than twenty years.

SUMMARY: My second full-length poetry collection, A Different Wakeful Animal has no central theme, but many of the poems concern what perishes and what might remain, whether in the natural, personal, or larger human world. As much as my work can be summarized: I believe in the relationship between poetry and music, and also that death requires us to have a serious sense of humor.

THE BACK STORY: I abandoned poetry my sophomore year in college, and came back to it after a long career as a journalist and journalism professor, drawn by the way it allows you to approach the inexpressible. I completed an MFA program at Pacific University to immerse myself, expand the poets I read, and to try out different, lyric, and less narrative ways of writing. My first collection, Throat Singing, written before I entered the program, took me about ten years. A Different Wakeful Animal took me about three years, the product of that intense immersion in reading and writing.

When thinking about how the poems fit together, I realize almost all of them have some relationship to time: death and aging, but also how the past and future muscle their way into the present. The past is in the voices we hear, the expressions we use, the ideas we think we invented ourselves, the artistic masterpieces and historic places and ancestral stories that still speak to us. The future is—I hope—in the continuing physical world. My sense of loss in this book comes from the death of parents and friends in recent years, but I also have felt an expanding joy from poetry and from a deepening relationship to nature. As I wrote in “Why Whales Are Poems,” which originally ran in the Greensboro Review: “As long as whales are, the story is larger/than us, too big for prose.”

WHY THIS TITLE?: “A different wakeful animal” is a line in my poem, “Night’s Mouth.” I wrote the poem after hearing a coyote call out in the dark and remembering the first time they startled me when we moved to California in my adolescence.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Poems in this collection have appeared in dozens of journals, including Hunger Mountain, Los Angeles Review, Poet Lore, Salamander, Southern Humanities Review, and Tar River Poetry: won national prizes from Anderbo, Atlanta Review, Harpur Palate, and Literal Latte; and been reprinted in many anthologies, including The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry and Fire and Rain; Ecopoetry of California. Those publications reflect a wide range of aesthetics, so people who read a lot of poetry and people who read only a little of it might find something that resonates in this book.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

“The language, the word choice, the pattern and overall, well-wrought texture of these poems, caught my ear early and made this collection a pleasure to read and re-read. From wild fires and ash, birds and shadows, deaths in the family, trees and artwork, from all these facts Cohen fashions something natural. This is a solid, remarkable collection.”—Scott King, publisher Red Dragonfly Press, on why he chose the manuscript for the David Martinson-Meadowhawk Prize.

“There are pleasures in almost every poem in Susan Cohen’s excellent A Different Wakeful Animal, pleasures that arise out of an alertness to the natural world, and the original phrasing she seeks and regularly finds. Her descriptions constitute what I want to call intelligence—someone in the act of getting the world right, making it ours as well as hers. In her “Ode to a Brown Pelican,” she writes,”…today I catch you/on your own swimming the air/ with the equanimity of a leaf,/ immune to high ambition,/ but alert to small,/ quick opportunities.” Such opportunities, taken advantage of, are Cohen’s achievement, which is considerable, and, dare I say, give “high ambition” a good name. – poet Stephen Dunn

“A clear, distinctive voice and developed imagination leads us through Susan Cohen’s A Different Wakeful Animal where she works her way into loss with the movement and song of the many creatures she evokes. There are birds innumerable and arrayed, dragonflies, and frogs, but the speaker, too, is animaled, as are we all. We are reminded of this truth by death and desire, which is to say hunger, and this very human speaker who cannot give in or doesn’t totally trust this animal-side. This tightly-knit collection of poems asks us to interrogate our humanity; looking to find what has become taloned, what has become plumed.” – poet Dorianne Laux

AUTHOR PROFILE: As an eighteen-year-old, I was rejected from enrolling in a poetry workshop. It took me decades to come back to poetry, my first love. As a journalist, I was a newspaper reporter, a contributing writer to the Washington Post Magazine, and a professor at the University of California Graduate School of Journalism. While at Stanford University on a Knight Fellowship, I split my time between bioethics and poetry, co-authoring a book afterwards with Christine Cosgrove: Normal at Any Cost; Tall Girls, Short Boys and the Medical Industry’s Quest to Manipulate Height (Tarcher/Penguin; 2009). Aside from that, it’s been all poetry all the time. First, two chapbooks: Backstroking and Finding the Sweet Spot. Then, two full-length collections: Throat Singing (WordTech;2012) and A Different Wakeful Animal.

SAMPLE POEM:

QUIVER

“My body, … it is not the earth I will miss, it is you I will miss”

– Louise Glück.

I say good riddance to my body,

its conspiracy of veins and bowels and vertebrae.

I can trust a deer to pick its way through trees,

a daffodil to bully its way through frost. Once,

I saw the silhouette of a baby seal

held inside the translucence of a wave

like a portrait in a locket. How quartz

threads through rock, and a heron

threads through air then lands

and stills to a piece of quartz.

The way even weeds flower. Just now

Just now the dullest brown bird appeared,

clumsy at our feeder, and picked

at soggy seed. I watched the quiver

of its tail while it fed its hunger.

Need I say bodies must be fed?

I say the earth is the body I will miss.

Even if I could only touch it dis-

embodied, send a shiver

down the outstretched limb

of a single eucalyptus.

Even if I could touch down only

in the linear brittle body

of a dragonfly, one evening,

some rank bog, skim the skin and flit.

WHERE TO BUY IT: Red Dragonfly Press https://reddragonflypress.org/store.html#!/A-DIFFERENT-WAKEFUL-ANIMAL-by-Susan-Cohen/p/65960640/category=17961052 , Small Press Distribution https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/Default.aspx?bookid=9781945063015 , Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Different-Wakeful-Animal-Susan-Cohen/dp/1945063017.

PRICE: $16

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: http://www.susancohen-writer.com/

The Book of Endless Sleepovers

THE BOOK: The Book of Endless Sleepovers

PUBLISHED IN: 2016

THE AUTHOR: Henry Hoke

THE EDITOR: Sallie Merkel, Michael J. Seidlinger

THE PUBLISHER: Civil Coping Mechanisms, now an imprint of The Accomplices

SUMMARY: A kaleidoscopic memoir in which poetry and prose fragments combine to tell a story of queer boyhood in Charlottesville, Virginia and beyond.

In his atmospheric debut, Henry Hoke maps the wild country of adolescence, the murky realm of childhood and its mysterious stirrings, where the names of cities are always changing along with our own, as we swap them for those of our favorite characters: The Hardy Boys or Huck Finn or Peter Pan. A land where pet bunnies are eaten by owls in the night and cats change owners at their own will. The Book of Endless Sleepovers is beguiling and evocative and sometimes sad. It is not to be missed. — Kate Durbin, author of E! Entertainment

Image result for Henry Hoke + author + photoTHE BACK STORY: I discovered my own flavor of hybrid writing, mutating genres and forms to tell autobiographical stories, while earning an MFA in creative writing at California Institute of the Arts. This book compiles work I did during and after into one unified whole.

WHY THIS TITLE?: A line from the first chapter: “Parents: if you teach your children to pray, they will only pray for endless sleepovers.”

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: It’s like no other memoir you’ve ever experienced.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

“I love how Henry Hoke plays fast and loose with autobiography and genre. The Book of Endless Sleepovers is wry and finely-wrought, a philosophical fever dream studded with the pleasure of proper names and surprising turns of phrase, a lyric page-turner.” — Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts.

“Endless Sleepovers blurs the lines that divide poetry, lyric memoir, and fiction, speaking to another cultural moment: refusal of classification. Hoke builds his own genre, one that fits his own story and therefore his own talents, naturally. The result is a reading experience that is as quick and light as a freshly shaken Polaroid. Mandatory reading.” — The Rumpus.

“Hoke’s book dazzles. Beneath the surface of linguistic playfulness and narrative experimentation are real truths about love and brotherhood and especially about childhood: wild and thrilling and, as all childhoods are, full of terror. There is so much here that will astonish, surprise, and delight.” — Rahul Mehta, author of No Other World

AUTHOR PROFILE: Henry Hoke is the author of The Book of Endless Sleepovers and the story collection Genevieves, which won the Subito Press book prize. His writing appears in Electric Literature, Hobart, The Collagist, Carve and the Catapult anthology Tiny Crimes. He co-created and directs Enter>text: a living literary journal.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: Support independent presses! Read outside your comfort zone. xoxo.

SAMPLE CHAPTERS: https://pankmagazine.com/piece/bottomless-pit/ https://entropymag.org/castrati/ http://thefanzine.com/grand-rapids-a-constellation-of-pieces-that-tells-one-true-story/

LOCAL OUTLETS: Your local indie bookstore can order it for you, since it has international distribution. Just ask them!

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: https://www.amazon.com/Book-Endless-Sleepovers-Henry-Hoke/dp/1937865770 https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-book-of-endless-sleepovers-henry-hoke/1124887735

PRICE: $15.95

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: henry-hoke.com.

Weather Report, March 18-April 1

Image result for Spring Break photos + free

(Photo from deadanbreakfast.com).

Our currently featured books, “The Couple Who Fell to Earth,” by Michelle Bitting, “The Nature of Truth,” by Sergio Troncoso and “The Secret History of Kindness,” by Melissa Holbrook Pierson, can be found by scrolling down below this post, or by clicking the author’s name on our Authors page.

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First of all, I’m declaring next week as Spring Break for Snowflakes in a Blizzard and all its employees (meaning me).

While the metaphorical blizzard of published books is still raging on Amazon, I’m fleeing the still-chilly New York Adirondacks and heading down to Virginia for a week. True, it’s not Fort Lauderdale — but at this point, temperatures in the ’70s will feel like Fort Lauderdale. Plus, I’ve outgrown wet T-shirt contests, anyway.

Since Internet access will be problematic for me at times during the trip, I’m just going to call the week of March 26 an official holiday. Maybe by the time I get back to Upstate New York, the real snow will have melted.

I’m highlighting an extra book this week to make up for it.

UPCOMING ON SNOWFLAKES IN A BLIZZARD, MARCH 19-APRIL 1

“HALF IN LOVE: SURVIVING THE LEGACY OF SUICIDE,” BY LINDA GRAY SEXTON.

This book provides the perfect rational for one of Snowflakes in a Blizzard’s niches — discovering and re-visiting books that have been out for a few years.

Whether you’re a writer or a reader — or, most probably, both — you are no doubt familiar with that number Amazon attaches to every book on its site. The one tagged “Amazon Best Seller’s Rank.”

bio_nyThe thing is, this number refers to how the book is selling right now. It might have had a much lower number — even one in “best-seller” territory — within a year or two of its publication, but then the law of diminishing returns kicked in. At some point, nearly everyone who really wanted to purchase and read that book had already done so. Meanwhile, the publicity machine has moved on to other books, and even the author of the aforementioned work may have largely put it behind them.

In the case of “Half in Love,” that’s a shame. The book is not only riveting, but it’s as timely now as when it came out in 2012. Alas, suicide hasn’t ceased to be a issue.

Linda’s mother, Pulitzer Prize winning poet Anne Sexton, committed suicide after several earlier attempts. Some of her poetry candidly confronted the strange attraction that ending her life had for her, an attraction that was passed on to her daughter.

Linda writes: “Half in Love took ten years to write. During much of it, I was acutely depressed and could type only a line or two a week. I often wrote and rewrote the same passages over and over. Eventually though, I became healthy enough to return to work full-time and to make the book “live” in ways I had thought impossible during the time I had given up on life.

“I wrote it, digging into my own story in such depth, because I wanted others who were depressed or suicidal, or who had someone in their lives suffering from depression or the lure of suicide, to know that there is hope. I wanted to say: “don’t give up!” This need to help another person save him or herself surely originated from the fact that I couldn’t save my mother. But I did save myself and this is surely an important message, and that message was my sole motivation to write a book immeasurably painful to bring to the page.”

Surely, a book worth waiting for.

“THE LAST HOTEL,” BY SONIA PILCER

Late 1970s. Aging sirens, intellectuals, eccentrics and connivers live in a small Upper Westside hotel, managed by Saul, a Holocaust survivor.  All their stories — funny, intimate moments between neighbors — occur in the lobby, the elevator, and inside the crumbling walls of their tiny suites. It ends on the night of John Lennon’s death as he entered the Dakota, right down the block from the Last Hotel in 1980.

As with Linda Gray Sexton’s book, there was a deep parental connection.

My father managed the Endicott Apartments Hotel on West 72nd Street,” says Sonia. “Visiting him, I observed the residents, trying to imagine what went on upstairs in their rooms and between them. THE LAST HOTEL was the result.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had witnessed a way of life that was disappearing. Early 80s, these apartments were taken over by ‘a condominium consortium’ and my father was forced to leave.  I was working on the book when he died in 2013. He was 95 years old, a survivor of Auschwitz. I hadn’t realized that the book was partly a tribute to him. The writing took about two years.”

“A DIFFERENT WAKEFUL ANIMAL,” BY SUSAN COHEN.

From Susan: “I abandoned poetry my sophomore year in college, and came back to it after a long career as a journalist and journalism professor, drawn by the way it allows you to approach the inexpressible. I completed an MFA program at Pacific University to immerse myself, expand the poets I read, and to try out different, lyric, and less narrative ways of writing. My first collection, Throat Singing, written before I entered the program, took me about ten years. A Different Wakeful Animal took me about three years, the product of that intense immersion in reading and writing.

“When thinking about how the poems fit together, I realize almost all of them have some relationship to time: death and aging, but also how the past and future muscle their way into the present. The past is in the voices we hear, the expressions we use, the ideas we think we invented ourselves, the artistic masterpieces and historic places and ancestral stories that still speak to us. The future is—I hope—in the continuing physical world. My sense of loss in this book comes from the death of parents and friends in recent years, but I also have felt an expanding joy from poetry and from a deepening relationship to nature. As I wrote in ‘Why Whales Are Poems,’ which originally ran in the Greensboro Review: ‘As long as whales are, the story is larger/than us, too big for prose.’”

“THE BOOK OF ENDLESS SLEEPOVERS,” BY HENRY HOKE.

In his atmospheric debut, Henry Hoke maps the wild country of adolescence, the murky realm of childhood and its mysterious stirrings, where the names of cities are always changing along with our own, as we swap them for those of our favorite characters: The Hardy Boys or Huck Finn or Peter Pan. A land where pet bunnies are eaten by owls in the night and cats change owners at their own will. The Book of Endless Sleepovers is beguiling and evocative and sometimes sad. It is not to be missed. — Kate Durbin, author of E! Entertainment

 

 

 

 

 

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The Couple Who Fell to Earth

This week’s other featured books, “The Nature of Truth,” by Sergio Troncoso and “The Secret History of Kindness,” by Melissa Holbrook Pierson, can be found by scrolling down below this post, or by clicking the author’s name on our authors page.

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THE BOOK: The Couple Who Fell to Earth.

PUBLISHED IN: 2016.

THE AUTHOR:  Michelle Bitting.

THE EDITOR: John Gosslee and Andrew Sullivan w/ design by James Meetze.

THE PUBLISHER: C & R Press.

SUMMARY: These meditations, cosmic-toned, yet utterly visceral, demonstrate Michelle Bitting’s continuing growth and power as a poet of love, loss, the daily and deeply human experience, together with a maturing eye to understanding greater mythological tropes. Woven throughout her contemplation of the terrible beauty and struggle of family dynamics, corporeal desire, the injustices and revelations of life in the 21st century, thrums a vital connectivity to the mystic and mythological strains of the past, newfangled to the present in a way that ultimately sheds light on what it is to be alive and conscious of who we’re called to be. To read Michelle’s poetry is to take a wild, passionate ride through the rubble of the quotidian, to be shocked by sensual discovery and awakened to a relentless curiosity for both the surreal and historical. These poems travel—an expansion in service of communion with the world, confrontation and acceptance of self.

Michelle BittingTHE BACK STORY: I had been writing these poems for several years. The first iteration of the collection was a chapbook titled “How Like Marriage is the Season of Flowers”, a title prompted by the James Merrill poem “Cloud Country” and the first line of that piece. My poem stayed in and, in fact, opens The Couple Who Fell to Earth. I was studying towards completing a PhD in Mythological Studies and a lot of that investigation influenced the poems as you might imagine!

WHY THIS TITLE?: Because the nature of the collection orbits domestic life, married and parental life and how those realities clash, co-mingle with, and puzzle into human existence on this planet PLUS I love David Bowie, well, you get the picture. Titles crawl towards you and into your lap of their own accord.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? I believe there is an immediacy and grit as well as strong musicality and intellectual flair to this work. I think readers can relate on a basic human, experiential level and at the same time be transported and challenged. At their best, they divulge, mourn, “instruct”, celebrate, and soar. One hopes…

REVIEW COMMENTS:

“In a multi-directional “one shape” of voices, time, people, spaces Bitting takes us in and out of her all seeing third eye poetics. We go into an orb of family, love, then we swoop out into the delight of humanity. And, in a sense, these refractions are the “the self’s / shady daguerreotype coming to surface / through exposure to light.” In day-to-day terms we find enlightenment and paradox—“ of death and peppermint,” of “birth and strange beauty,” of “Elysium nothingness” and “mythmaking machinery.” I find Michelle’s cosmic mechanics fused with historical platforms akimbo and the “sheen” of personal meditations, a rare accomplishment. A unique treasure of visions and voice.”  — Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States.

“There’s delirious beauty tumbling down every page of The Couple Who Fell To Earth. Michelle Bitting’s poems deal with the domestic and the feral; I’m caught up in “Eden-scorched mouths,” and “a sea of furrowed manes and exoskeletons,” and I never want to leave. She confronts personal history, the familiar body, the spiritual world, and the human condition in rich, wildly original language.” — Bianca Stone, Author of Someone Else’s Wedding Vows.

“Michelle Bitting is a poet of the natural world but in a completely Transcendental sense. Like Emerson, her poems seem to claim that, even in the face of all kinds of traumatic loss, “beauty breaks in everywhere.” The Couple Who Fell to Earth holds things of the world up to the eye in an effort to glimpse heaven, or as Bitting herself says, ‘Accept me. I love the dawn. / The sun is a sea / I throw myself into…’ This book is all heart.”  — Jericho Brown, Author of The New Testament.

AUTHOR PROFILE/AUTHOR COMMENTS: http://voyagela.com/interview/life-work-michelle-bitting/
http://www.michellebitting.com .

SAMPLE.

The Couple Who Fell to Earth

We went flying without a map

as naked astronauts often do.

The borders of our bodies blended into one,

an erosion of planets and vaporized stars,

we hurtled through space

and burned up entering.

Please forgive this clumsy beauty,

no more than grains of dust,

moon debris, a streak of light.

We land and make a circle,

a cornucopia in the crop

and the heat of our hips

bores down, carving a cradle,

the perilous pit,

the stone fruit heart

of human fire.

The body loves what it loves

and we can’t stop it;

we become an O around,

we become the snake itself,

the Rosetta coil, the upper room.

We are flag and stigmata,

the ship set sail,

smoking orifice, the holy divot

and buried cup. Lips

to each other’s eyes,

we will seal our demons in,

the flowering trees

and muddy gardens

of our Eden-scorched mouths.

Crowns tossed to the breeze,

the honeycomb bleeding gold

and the queen’s poison darts.

We have watched the fountain grass,

felt their glowing spines

shoot through us,

the mournful wheat heads

made of glass

trace a cross

on the cistern tomb.

And to think we slept through it all,

though

the dream kept smacking us

with every surge

of the sea’s cold blade.

We are the lion

and the lamb, the tooth

in the flesh, the flaming halo

and silken curl,

the wounded bird

and coming ecstasy,

this kingdom we’ve built

till death do us part.

LOCAL OUTLETS: Los Angeles Bookstores (like Beyond Baroque, Venice).

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: https://www.crpress.org/shop/the-couple-who-fell-to-earth/ Amazon, Barnes & Noble.

PRICE: $16.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: michelle@michellebitting.com    poemshaper (Instagram) Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/michelle.bitting

The Nature of Truth

Sergio TroncosoTHE BOOK: The Nature of Truth

PUBLISHED IN: 2014

THE AUTHOR: Sergio Troncoso

THE PUBLISHER: Arte Publico Press

SUMMARY: A graduate student at Yale, Helmut Sanchez discovers an ugly truth about his boss, a world-renowned German professor. In a letter written fifty years ago, Werner Hopfgartner absolved Austria of any guilt for its participation in the Second World War. What kind of sick mind would rationalize away the murder of millions of Jews, gypsies and other subversives, Helmut wonders. How can it be that he has been helping, and even admiring, such a person? As the young researcher continues his quest for answers in Austria and Italy, Helmut uncovers even more horrific facts about his boss, which fuels a dangerous obsession for justice. What will Helmut do with the truth he discovers?

The Nature of Truth by [Troncoso, Sergio]But he isn’t the only one who hates Hopfgartner. Regina Neumann, a colleague in the department, seeks to nail the aged scholar for his sexual involvement with young co-eds, a sordid practice everyone knows about but ignores. Hopfgartner has also left behind many former lovers and students. This suspenseful novel explores right and wrong, good and evil, and the murky borders in between.

THE BACK STORY: I grew up poor along the United States-Mexico border, but I ended up at Harvard and then at Yale. This was quite a leap in so many ways: psychological, cultural, linguistic and ultimately philosophical. I studied philosophy at Yale as a grad student, and I often noticed that the debates, which on the surface sought the truth, were often laced with rivalry and hate and even obsession. Hume said much the same thing, the pursuit of philosophical truth is not just about anything ‘objective,’ but is also suffused with emotions and prejudices. I also wanted to write a novel about identity, where someone is ‘half-here and half-elsewhere’ and is trying to find out where he belongs. So Helmut Sanchez, this half-German, half-Mexican student was my vehicle to explore these philosophical topics about the pursuit of truth, how it can become obsessive and how it can even undermine ‘doing the right thing.’

WHY THIS TITLE?  Well, in retrospect the title was a nod to my philosophical pursuits and questions, that’s why I called it The Nature of Truth: I wanted to get at, through fiction, how truth is pursued, how it is obscured, and how it is linked to hate. But I think the title was too clunky, too heavy, in a way, and probably turned off some fiction readers. It’s a good story, or at least I tried to make it one: philosophy in literature. My favorite writers are not surprisingly Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche and others who mixed philosophy and literature.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: I think if a reader is looking for an unusual ‘idea novel’ set at Yale, by a Mexican-American author who is serious about philosophy, then this novel might open a reader’s eyes. Too often Mexican-American writers are relegated to a certain ‘minority box’ by readers not familiar with them, and I have been trying to expand and explore beyond any of those boxes, or limitations. A reader will have a novel serious about philosophy and the pursuit of truth, and I hope will come away with questions they will keep asking of other work and writers.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

Clifford Hudder

5.0 out of 5 stars Transcends Literary Borders

September 24, 2018

Amazon Review 

The Nature of Truth is an amazing novel, the title of which could be daunting to some readers. Don’t be daunted! Troncoso’s other, very evocative fiction set in El Paso, Texas, might cause him to be pigeon-holed by some as a “border writer.” Here he transcends—even transgresses—literary borders, as in categories of genre or type. It’s a philosophical book that’s also an engaging example of academic fiction after the fashion of one of my favorites, David Lodge: in this case an insider’s look at the culture of Yale. That’s just the beginning. The Nature of Truth is also a psychological drama, a historical mystery, a love story, meditation on race, culture and vengeance . . . a profound investigation into whether murder can be justified—and if I tell you it likewise involves Nazi Germany and the Holocaust you’ll probably tell me that’s a bridge too far, but in fact Troncoso’s finely written page-turner never descends into formulae, flat characters or melodrama. I told a friend this is the kind of book Dan Brown would write if he could write, but anyway—The Nature of Truth is a surprising and in my view under-appreciated novel that’s the most engaging work of fiction I’ve read in a long time.

Laurence S. Williams

5.0 out of 5 starsvoice and conflict are intelligently done. Bravo.

September 25, 2015

Amazon Review

The Nature of Truth is an insightful tale of intrigue, suspense, vengeance and redemption set amid the backdrop of the hallowed halls of academia. Mr. Troncoso places us behind the scenes as Helmut Sanchez uncovers a dark secret about his mentor and one of Yale’s prestigious professors. The story travels across the ocean and across time. It explores the dark side of the human soul. The language employed by Mr. Troncoso flows in a literary style all his own. the settings, voice and conflict are intelligently done. Bravo!

AUTHOR PROFILE: Sergio Troncoso is the author of The Last Tortilla and Other Stories, Crossing Borders: Personal Essays, and the novels The Nature of Truth and From This Wicked Patch of Dust. He co-edited Our Lost Border: Essays on Life amid the Narco-Violence. Among the numerous awards he has won are the Premio Aztlan Literary Prize, Southwest Book Award, Bronze Award for Essays from ForeWord Reviews, International Latino Book Award, and Bronze Award for Multicultural Fiction from ForeWord Reviews.

For many years, Troncoso has taught at the Yale Writers’ Workshop in New Haven, Connecticut and the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center in Sleepy Hollow, New York. He is a member of the board of councilors and an officer of the Texas Institute of Letters. He has served as a judge for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the New Letters Literary Awards in the Essay Category. His work has recently appeared in Yale Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Texas Monthly Magazine, and New Guard Literary Review.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: “I appreciate my readers, and I always believe there will always be readers for serious literature exploring difficult, yet fascinating ideas. We live in an internet world where flimsy two- or three-sentence ‘thought’ is taken as serious thinking by many. That’s too bad, and demeans us in many ways. We are capable of concentration and complex thought, and even appreciate a good story that crosses many different borders.

SAMPLE CHAPTER:

First Three Chapters of The Nature of Truth:

http://sergiotroncoso.com/novels/truth/index.htm

WHERE TO BUY IT: My books are available at Amazon and Barnes and Nobles and any independent bookstore.

https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1558857915/sergiotroncos-20

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/nature-of-truth-sergio-troncoso/1005659900?ean=9781558857919

https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781558857919

PRICE: $16.95, or less.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR:

http://sergiotroncoso.com/