The Vegetarian: Han Kang

I’m usually good about saving money, but I do have a weakness: books. I try to buy used or sale books whenever possible, but every now and then I find myself unable to resist an attractive cover and intriguing premise.

I passed by The Vegetarian for months and finally succumbed. 

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Homemade vegetarian nachos to go with an aptly titled book

I have little experience with Korean literature, and all I knew of this novel was its reputation. 2016’s Man Booker International Prize winner, The Vegetarian has been translated into several languages and has gained worldwide attention. I wanted to read what was fresh and talked about, rather than always combing through books of yesteryear.

I paid full bookstore price for The Vegetarian and it was worth every penny.

This novel is a triptych of sorts, each portion of the story told by a different narrator, and all centered around the same woman, Yeong-Hye. Yeong-Hye is tormented by strange, bizarre nightmares and sees vegetarianism as the only solution. Her obstinate nature tears apart the tenuous relationships in her family, and sends everyone spiraling to points of no return. I realize this depiction sounds a great deal like the blurb on the back of a book, but telling you more would spoil the drastic twists and turns this story takes.

What I can tell you is that this novel is so visceral and matter of fact, it borders on depravity. These are not easy characters to understand, let alone like. The sexuality of this novel is perverse, yet unashamed. Han counters the awkwardness and stoic nature of her culture, with absolute fearlessness.

The sunlight coming into the room was bright. Her disheveled hair wrapped around her head like an animal’s mane, while the crumpled sheet was coiled around her lower body. The smell of her body filled the room, a sour, tangy smell with notes of sweetness, bitterness, and a rank animal musk.

There are other points where this novel haunted me as I slept. I loved every moment.

What sells me most on The Vegetarian is theme. This is not a horror novel, or even fantasy, despite all its supernatural elements. This is a work of feminism, and more broadly speaking, a work of human failings. The most heartbreaking moments are its most human: loveless marriages, dreams deferred, family conflict. It’s clear that Han attracts a disparate audience, lovers of the real and surreal can come together and appreciate all this novel has to offer.

I know I certainly did.

One Hundred Years of Solitude: Gabriel García Márquez

This will not be an easy book to discuss. I considered waiting a few days to write this review, since I finished the book just yesterday afternoon. However, doing so would risk me losing the odd swirling feeling I’ve experienced for the last day and a half.

I ask you all this: have you ever closed a book, looked around the room, and pondered your own existence? Where am I? What year is it?

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Perhaps not the best idea to finish a book of this magnitude with my desk lunch in the middle of the workday

This was One Hundred Years of Solitude. And if you ask me whether I liked it, the most basic question about any book, I wouldn’t really have an answer. Liking something involves a certain level of contentment and ease, but I finished this book with none of those feelings. Just bewilderment and a long dull ache.

Considered to be one of the greatest works of Latin American fiction, One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the saga of the Buendía family and their life in Macondo, an isolated land that their patriarch founded. To describe a ‘plot’ for this novel, as if there is a clear beginning, middle, and end, is a bit of a fruitless endeavor. This book is the meandering, collage history of dozens of characters, each of which dies in misery. Happiness is short lived. Disaster is imminent for each and every Buendía. Some suffer slowly, other suddenly.

What keeps you reading One Hundred Years of Solitude is not the plot, but García Márquez’s impeccable imagery and seamless weaving in of the supernatural. The writing is nothing short of top notch, especially in moments where the most mundane, off-putting anecdotes are rendered beautiful:

She would put handfuls of earth in her pockets, and ate them in small bits without being seen, with a confused feeling of pleasure and rage, as she instructed her girl friends in the most difficult needlepoint and spoke about other men, who did not deserve the sacrifice of having one eat the whitewash on the walls because of them. The handfuls of earth made the only man who deserved that show of degradation less remote and more certain, as if the ground that he walked on with his fine patent leather boots in another part of the world were transmitting to her the weight and the temperature of his blood in a mineral savor that left a harsh aftertaste in her mouth and a sediment of peace in her heart.”

In terms of the supernatural, García Márquez weaves in prophets, ghosts, mythology, and alchemy so seamlessly that at times you forget that this is a world unlike our own. It simply feels like a distant culture, and magic just part of the folklore. He’s a master of the genre for a reason. He practically defined.

So, did I like the book? Again, hard to say. But there’s a deep confusion, a deep affection, and I have a strong feeling I’ll never forget it.

The Year of Magical Thinking: Joan Didion

There is a folk singer named Phil Elverum, also known as Mount Eerie, who released an album last year entitled A Crow Looked at Me. The album was a raw, aching exploration of his own feelings after the death of his wife. I never listened to the whole album. In fact, I could barely get through the first song, ‘Real Death’. I felt like I was invading on a stranger’s innermost thoughts and darkest feelings. It was a frightening place to be.

In a way, I expected a little of this from The Year of Magical Thinking. Both are pieces of art that stem from grief, from the loss of a beloved spouse, from difficulty coping with a new existence. But Didion’s experience is not Elverum’s experience is not anyone else’s experience with death. It’s one of the most potent themes in literature, like love, because no two experiences are the same.

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I needed cookies for this one.

Didion’s work welcomes readers and observers. It is not the invasion of listening to A Crow Looked at Me. She opens with a kind of quartet that finds its way to many places in the book:

Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

The question of self-pity.

This quartet calls the reader to her narrative and her struggle, invites comparison and empathy. There are passages throughout that meditate on the very nature of grief. There are other passages that reference exact pieces of art that Didion uses to process her feelings, everything from a play by Euripides to Clinical Neuroanatomy. It’s all very populist in a sense.

At the same time, the work is personal. Didion pulls from her own novels and those of her late husband. There are memories of Paris, Hawaii, New York. Past and present are muddled together. Complicating her work further is the idea of interrupted grief. Not only has her husband passed away, her daughter spends several months in and out of hospitals recovering from one trauma after the next. In classes I’ve taken on bereavement, we’ve discussed how interrupted grief can be the most painful and disjointed of all. Didion’s pain is palpable. She was so close to losing both a husband and child.

There are moments that feel circular, bogged down by mundane details of travel and small talk and bureaucracy. I believe there aren’t enough raw moments. Not enough risks taken. The work reads as guarded, but perhaps that’s because I’m used to more unabashed portrayals of grief. There was no wailing in The Year of Magical Thinking. There were barely even tears.

Still, this is one of the seminal memoirs on grief for a reason. There is much to appreciate in The Year of Magical Thinking. When it comes to these fundamental human experiences, such as grief, read it all. Each person stands alone.

Londonstani: Gautam Malkani

I’ve reviewed a fair number of books that kept me interested for hundreds of pages, only to sputter out at the ending. Today, I found the opposite.

Like many of my books, I found Londonstani at a used bookstore. I was intrigued by the cover, thinking at first that someone had drawn all over it with ballpoint pen. The fact that it was the original art compelled me to give it a try. I had never heard of the book nor its author. Apparently, it was released to some buzz back in 2006, but didn’t sell as well as originally anticipated. Here it lingers, in relative obscurity.

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Enjoying spring break with my dad’s homemade blueberry waffles

To be fair, Londonstani is not an approachable book, at least not at first. The piecemeal language, combining various Indian languages with flashy brand names, colloquialisms, and urban posturing, was difficult. After a while I found myself compiling a glossary in my mind, and eventually I couldn’t see the characters speaking in any other way. It was also a nice contrast to see the more ‘westernized’ characters speaking in plainer English, further separating groups already delineated by race and culture. The cobblestone language that Malkani creates turns out to be the best way to cut through to the book’s social commentary.

The characters also took some time to get used to. Empathizing with a shallow, somewhat violent gang of teenage slackers isn’t always easy. Jas, the protagonist, serves as the straight man for his group of friends: Hardjit, Amit, and Ravi. If you strip away some of the gangster posturing, and pay close attention to Jas in particular, there is a lot to take away from these characters. The novel is in essence a coming of age, even if the path they take feels coarse and unfamiliar.

Most peculiar of all to me is the idea that I thought I’d read everything to offer in terms of the Indian immigrant story. It’s a trope brought to life time and time again, but Malkani offers something new with his antiheroes, hypocritical morals, and genuine despair. There is despair in this novel, there are outpourings of emotion, and that in and of itself differentiates it from stilted, buttoned-up immigrant stories. The Namesake this is not.

Good desi boys who din’t ever cause no trouble. But how many a them’ll still be here in Hounslow in ten years’ time, workin in Heathrow fuckin airport helpin goras catch planes to places so they could turn their own skin brown? No fuckin way I was gonna be hangin round with them saps no more, with those gimpy glasses I used to wear, my drainpipe trousers an my batty books. Fuck that shit.

I won’t spoil the ending. I can’t bring myself to do so. I found that the ending was controversial to critics. Some found it cheap and gimmicky, others found it astonishing. I have no shame in saying that I belong to the latter category. This ending had me flipping through the whole book for answers, frantically looking for pieces that I didn’t see. Even if aspects of the book drag on, bogged down by the slang and shallowness, the ending is a marvelous payoff. Not just the very end either, but the climax and falling action, as Jas struggles to make sense of his crumbling world.

This isn’t your typical coming of age, your typical immigrant fiction, or even your typical novel. This is a wholly unique read that I’m absolutely glad I picked up.

The Night Circus: Erin Morgenstern

I like to call myself an aspiring fiction writer, although some days are better than others when it comes to productivity. My current project is an experiment in magical realism, and for research, I picked up a handful of books well-known in the genre. Along with Borges and Garcia Marquez, there was The Night Circus. Something modern to light my way.

The book caused quite a stir upon publication in 2011. Beginning as a humble NaNoWriMo project (a fact that surprises me to this day), it was compared to the likes of young adult fantasy behemoths such as the Harry Potter series and the Twilight saga. Frankly, I don’t understand. The Night Circus skews considerably older than Harry Potter and especially Twilight, serves as a standalone narrative, and calls back to an entirely different era. The only similarity is, well, magic.

And while I was never a fan of Twilight, I can say that in terms of sheer impact, Harry Potter this book is not.

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Broke out the yarn and settled in for a relaxing afternoon

The plot of the story is relatively simple. Magicians Prospero the Enchanter and Mr. A.H. engage in a challenge, one of many, in which they pit two challengers against each other. One is Prospero’s long lost daughter, Celia, and the other is an orphan, Marco. Both are taught magical ability through two widely different schools of thought, and the setting of their eventual challenge is a magnificent traveling circus that only takes place at night. Le Cirque des Rêves is where the two meet, fall in love, and recognize the torture that is their circumstance. All the while we are drawn into the audience of this circus through snippets written in the second person, as well as through the story of Bailey, a passionate onlooker.

The woman wears a dress something akin to a bridal gown constructed for a ballerina, white and frothy and laced with black ribbons that flutter in the night air. Her legs are encased in striped stockings, her feet in tall black button-up boots. Her dark hair is piled in waves upon her head, adorned with sprays of white feathers.

 

In terms of pure aesthetics and worldbuilding, Morgenstern delivers. For lack of a better comparison, the book reminded me of someone I’d like to be, wish I could be, but am not. Dressed in all black and white, with an elegant splash of red lipstick. Walking with an air of quietude and mystery. Passionate yet restrained. I’ll never be that person but it’s the stuff of imagination and daydreams. Le Cirque des Rêves, or The Circus of Dreams, is the only fitting name. I’ve never been one for the circus but this is one I’d visit. I’d stay all night.

But this book cannot just be aesthetics, there is also a plot. It’s here that my opinion falters. You see, to sustain an over 500 page manuscript you need a complex, tightly-woven plot, and that doesn’t happen here. The story meanders. There are lulls and points with little payoff. The death of Tara Burgess happens and then fades away, with little relevance to the rest of the story as a whole. We’re held in suspense far too long at points. And the ending, for all its magical glory, isn’t given due diligence. It took me a few reads to truly grasp what had occurred, and I left feeling ambivalent.

For all of Harry Potter’s worldbuilding, how swept away to Hogwarts my generation felt, the books brought with them a compelling plot with a multitude of engaging characters. The Night Circus stumbled. Forgive my cliche, but this book is the definition of style over substance. And it could’ve worked too, had Morgenstern trimmed the fat.

Scott Pilgrim (Series): Bryan Lee O’Malley

My boyfriend and I rarely agree when it comes to art. He’s a computer nerd with a love for action movies, video games, and comics. I’ve always preferred books, music, and sports. We’ve found a few points of intersection over the years: Studio Ghibli films, Paul Simon albums, live theatre. Not much else.

Recently I took him up on a recommendation, fully expecting to loathe it. I’d heard of Scott Pilgrim and didn’t think much of it. Too quirky, too nerdy.

“This isn’t for me,” I thought. “There’s nothing for me in this.”

But I gave it a try anyway.

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Thankfully Ryan owned all six of these so I didn’t need to wait to find each one. A very quick read overall.

For those unaware, Scott Pilgrim is a six volume graphic novel series detailing the life and adventures of the titular character. His quest is simple; to win over the mysterious Ramona Flowers, he needs to defeat her seven evil exes. ‘Defeat’ is no exaggeration either, these are battles fought with fists, weapons, words, and the supernatural. Scott Pilgrim blends careful character development and young adult relationship drama with video game tropes and fantasy elements.

I liked the former and grew weary of the latter.

Surprisingly, Ryan agreed. The man who grew up on video games found those elements in Scott Pilgrim to be shoehorned in, and a bit of a distraction.

“I kept reading because I liked the characters. I liked watching them interact,” he said.

For a little while I found it difficult to even like the characters. Scott and his friends are a group of early twenties slackers, few with any true ambition in life. Seeing most of them around my age, or even older, felt off-putting. Scott himself is dim, callous, and naive, hardly characteristics for a protagonist you can love.

Nevertheless, there’s charm. There are quiet moments. Sometimes Scott and Ramona just enjoy each other’s company, or the group of friends eat greasy food and go to terrible costume parties. Those moments are something special. The relationships in particular feel very real. While I may not buy the journeys in and out of subspace, I can appreciate Scott’s inability to own his mistakes, or Ramona’s tendency to run from problems. These are human conflicts, and the obvious growth each character undergoes is very real. The quirky parts of the storytelling, perhaps the main plot overall, feel like frippery by comparison.

As a further disclaimer, I’ll say this. Scott Pilgrim is dated. The books were written in the mid 2000s and it’s amazing how much things have changed since then. I’m not even referring to the landlines and lack of computers, but certain humor elements. For instance, one of Ramona’s evil exes is a vegan with ‘vegan psychic powers’ and it all feels very tired and overused. Vegans are here and they’ve been here for a while now, guys. Additionally, and I feel like a drag for coming back to this, but the idea of a group of post-college individuals bumming around with no direction or anxiety about life feels like a luxury my generation just doesn’t have. We’re broke, y’all. Most of us have to have direction in our teens.

But overall, I’m happy to have read Scott Pilgrim. This was a casual read but not a passive one. I felt for each and every character (especially Kim, Kim’s the best, no questions asked). And honestly, I’m more inclined to take recommendations from my boyfriend now. There’s a first time for everything.

A Bend in the River: V.S. Naipaul

I have a soft spot for books about the Indian diaspora. As a child of Indian immigrants, I look to my parents and see the inherent struggle of uprooting your whole life, moving away, setting up life anew, and blending cultures all the while. V.S. Naipaul was not an immigrant from India, but carried his culture from Trinidad to London to Suriname to countless other places. He lived as a perpetual immigrant, carrying the otherness of his race everywhere he went. Even India felt alien, because he was not only Indian either. It’s a feeling I’ve understood all too well throughout my life.

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Sometimes I have the urge to make a big bowl of dal and eat it like soup. Besides, I prefer Indian food for Indian writers.

A Bend in the River concerns itself with Salim, a young man raised in an Indian community in Africa. The concept of Indians in Africa wasn’t new to me. Mahatma Gandhi spent many years in South Africa, and he was one of many that sought new fortune and success in a developing land. Nevertheless, I had never read it in literature before, and was intrigued.

What I got from A Bend in the River was not so much careful worldbuilding and establishment of Salim as a stranger in a strange land, although there were moments. Salim indeed spends a great deal of time describing his surroundings: the villagers, the struggling shop, the treacherous jungles surrounding them, etc. And Naipaul also devotes a great deal of time to African politics, militias, and the rise and fall of puppet governments. I know very little about African history, so I cannot comment on his accuracy, but the instability described throughout the novel certainly adds to the sense of tension and unease.

“The world is what it is; men who are nothing,
who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.”

Surprisingly, it is the characters that dominate this novel, and not in an expected nor positive way. The best comparison I can make is to Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, in which a handful of bored young men and women occupy a new land, amuse themselves, and seem to internalize very little about the world. This isn’t an insult to Hemingway, who aimed to and succeeded in capturing the Lost Generation. Naipaul captures the attitudes of non-Africans, whose plight is inherently ephemeral because there is always some wealth, education, and the possibility of leaving. Even Salim, who seems tied to his meager shop, is capable of more just by nature of his inborn privilege. Most frustrating about this is the waste. None of Naipaul’s characters have a great sense of, well, character. They’re highly self-absorbed to the point where you doubt Salim’s validity as a narrator. He has a very cold view of the world, and of people who should really matter to him. Although A Bend in the River was written in 1979, one calls to mind the vapid characters of the American Modernist era. Although, as a fan of this literature, I wonder still if this is a good thing or bad thing.

Some criticize Naipaul for being a ‘colonial apologist’, characterizing a free Africa as a lawless, savage place that needs civilization. And while it’s true that a colonial Africa is less violent, Naipaul does depict the cultural wasting ground that is a Europeanized world. Salim, Indar, Yvette, and to some extent Mahesh and Shoba represent a profound disillusionment with building a new life and a new civilization. If there is an argument here, it’s to stay away from Naipaul’s Africa and his characters.

But, to be fair, that doesn’t mean stay away from the book.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: Aimee Bender

This is a bit of a retrospective review, all things considered. I read this book close to one month ago, and the more I think about it, the more my opinions change.

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I swear I didn’t intend to match my coffee mug to the cover of the book. But it’s a beautiful color, isn’t it?

I wanted to like this book, and initially I did. I have a close, personal tie to food writing. When I was an undergraduate I wrote a set of short stories relating each of my family members to fruits from our past and present. I promise it wasn’t as cheesy as it sounds! Nevertheless, I’m a strong believer in food as a source of lush, evocative metaphor and imagery. Bender delivers when it comes to her depictions of food and character, especially when the two come together. Rose’s mother is the best example of this. Seen almost exclusively for her homemaker role, the connections between her sadness and the food she cooks are palpable and moving. I found myself wishing the story maintained its focus on her, rather than drifting to Rose’s brother and other members of the family.

“Mom was stirring eggs; she was sifting flour. She had one bowl of chocolate icing set aside, another with rainbow sprinkles. A cake challenge like this wasn’t a usual afternoon activity; my mother didn’t bake all that often, but what she enjoyed most was anything tactile, and this cake was just one in a long line of recent varied hands-on experiments. In the last six months, she’d coaxed a strawberry plant into a vine, stitched doilies from vintage lace, and in a burst of motivation installed an oak side door in my brother’s bedroom with the help of a hired contractor.”

Rose Edelstein, our protagonist, is little more than her magical gift. She can sense emotions through the food she eats, and little else. It is understandable that such an all-consuming ability, often thought of as a curse, can overtake one’s personality. However, any attempts to expand Rose beyond this fall flat. She has few aspirations and almost no spark. Her romantic efforts are unconvincing. I’m supposed to root for her and George, but find myself losing interest. He can do better, and does.

The book is surrealist at its premise, but lulls you into a sense of ease. You sense the subtle conflicts between Rose and her family members, but the tension doesn’t explode until late in the novel. This is when, I believe, the narrative falls apart. Joseph’s story arc simply does not work.

It’s impossible to discuss what happens to Joseph Edelstein without spoiling the novel. It’s a twist ending, one that some would argue spoils rereading. But so little attention is given to this twist that it feels like a cop-out, if anything. His status as scientific recluse, indulged by his mother and ignored by his father, was of interest for a while. However, when it is revealed that Rose is not the only Edelstein with a magical gift (her paternal grandfather had a particularly strong sense of smell), you suspect further revelations along the same lines. I wasn’t surprised that Joseph had a gift…but the nature of his gift was an annoyance. The book sputtered to a finish, yielding no strong feeling in any direction. It was almost as if the novel gave up, struggling to tie its loose ends together.

In short, if you are looking for wonderful food writing, there are a multitude of other sources I’d point you to. Ones without a meandering plot, dull characters, and a rushed ending.

Pigs in Heaven: Barbara Kingsolver

So, I’ll start by saying that I rarely read series books. As a child I tore through Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events, but as I got older I started to prefer self-contained works rather than a longer series. I found Pigs in Heaven at on a Goodwill discount shelf and had no idea it was a sequel to anything, let alone a book I’d had on my to-read list for years.

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Breakfast reading.

I picked up Pigs in Heaven for the author, Barbara Kingsolver. As a senior in high school I read her magnum opus, The Poisonwood Bible, and proceeded to recommend it to everyone I knew. I had also heard of Barbara Kingsolver’s debut novel The Bean Trees and intended to read it at some point, but I didn’t realize that my impulse purchase, Pigs in Heaven, was its sequel till I was halfway through. There are references to the previous book, especially in hindsight, but enough context is given to make the narrative self-contained. You can get by without reading The Bean Trees is what I’m saying, I certainly did.

Pigs in Heaven is mainly focused on Taylor Greer, an independent woman with an adopted child, Turtle. Taylor herself is abrasive, hard to like at times, but she is fiercely devoted to Turtle and fights for her throughout the book. After Turtle is responsible for saving a life and receives national TV coverage, a lawyer by the name of Annawake Fourkiller is immediately drawn. Annawake is Cherokee and very proud of her heritage, and immediately suspects that the Cherokee child Turtle has been illegally adopted. Drawing from elements of her own past, Annawake seeks to rehome the child within her tribe. Much of the story is taken up by Taylor’s attempts to hide Turtle. A subplot concerns Taylor’s mother Alice, who is also independent and unhappily married. She helps Taylor on her journey and meets Annawake. Alice even visits a Cherokee reservation and falls in love with the way of life.

Kingsolver’s prose is simple and elegant, taking a backseat to the personalities she crafts. The secondary characters especially deserve praise. I fell in love a little with Jax, the lovelorn musician. The enigmatic Barbie proved a fun distraction. Even the stoic Cash Stillwater was an interesting detour. However, the novel stretches itself thin in a few ways.

The first is Kingsolver’s insistent knowledge of Native American culture, given voice via Annawake. Annawake is undoubtedly the antagonist of the story, with the amount of attention given to Taylor as well as our own Western biases, believing a child should remain with its mother. Kingsolver tries so very hard to make Annawake’s perspective relatable. And it is, to some extent. The idea of a dying tribe and a communal culture is certainly appealing. Alice indulges it for some time, as do we as readers. I do feel a bit uncomfortable reading about native culture from a non-native lens, but Kingsolver does appear to be respectful and boasts a great deal of knowledge. I just found it heavy-handed at times, and in the end I still saw Annawake as the clear antagonist, despite her tragic backstory and tribal claims. To me, the ending was a sigh rather than triumph.

Speaking of which, the ending. Rushed. Terribly rushed. I felt like I was reading the end to a bad lifetime movie, or a cheesy romantic comedy, but without the catharsis that usually comes with those stories. It read like a book that was trying to write its own television script, and this was off-putting to say the least. Make of this ending what you will, but it was not for me.

Overall, Pigs in Heaven is an interesting blend of cultures and histories, not without its faults but mostly rewarding. I’d recommend this to fans of Kingsolver and newcomers alike.

Honey and Salt: Carl Sandburg

I’ve never been a connoisseur of poetry. I had a phase in which I devoured Sylvia Plath, and I dabbled a little in reading the romantics after a college course, but my knowledge of poetry is scant to say the least.

All I’d read of Carl Sandburg was “Chicago”, just the poem itself, not even its collection. Having lived in that city’s suburbs for several years, I recognized the industrial beauty of his images. Chicago has changed a great deal since Sandburg’s lifetime, but still pales by comparison to New York and LA, at least in people’s perception. I liked the characterization of Chicago as perpetual underdog, scavenging for relevance.

So when I found Honey and Salt at a bookstore in where else but Chicago, I had to pick it up. I guess I liked the idea of owning poetry as well. Until now the only collections I had were anthologies.

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Took a cue from Carl and tried honey and salt on bagel. Highly recommend.

Unfortunately, what I found in Honey and Salt was disappointment.

Don’t get me wrong, Carl Sandburg showed an undoubtable gift for image. There is a beauty in the most unassuming of lines. The poem “Personalia” for instance, essentially prose in its composition, was potent in its quaint observations of life both natural and manmade. Additionally, “Timesweep” features truly unique metaphors and pinpoint attention to detail, making it stand out from the others. Honey and Salt has its gems. I noticed that the poems I enjoyed most were reminiscent of “Chicago”, in style, content, or both. This might be my own personal taste in poetry shining through, but it is worth noting that Sandburg is most known in popular culture for “Chicago”, and won the Pulitzer Prize for the collection from which it came.

“The simple dignity of a child drinking a bowl of milk embodies the fascination of an ancient rite.”
–Personalia

Overall, however, I was struck by some of the trite compositions in Honey and Salt, and how little impact each individual poem left on me. Several poems opted for parallelism as a dominant feature. While this can be a powerful literary device when used sparingly, it starts to feel worn out over time.

When the same parallel structure is used over and over and over again, it feels very worn out.

“Love is a clock and the works wear out.
Love is a violin and the wood rots.
Love is a day with night at the end.
Love is a summer with falltime after.
Love dies always and when it dies it is dead”
–Kisses, Can You Come Back Like Ghosts?

Additionally, I was surprised to find out that Sandburg wrote this collection of poetry in his mid-80s. Written in 1963, it was one of the last poetry collections Sandburg wrote before his death in 1967. There are signs of Sandburg’s content being rather timely. Poems such as “Skyscrapers Stand Proud” and even “Cheap Rent” show some of the bitterness and doubt of the establishment that would later characterize the 1960s. However, a great deal of Honey and Salt feels rooted in a different time. Sometimes this can be a good thing. In my case, I found a great deal of the work rather dated.

I’ll close by confessing yet again my ignorance when it comes to poetry. From what I’ve seen this is a well-reviewed collection. I won’t begrudge you reading and enjoying it. In fact, give it a try, and let me know what you think.