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the princess saves herself in this one by Amanda Lovelace

by Lindsay Gacad

No matter how outdated or clichéd you think fairy tales have become, their appeal remains undeniable today. The whimsy and call for the suspension of belief, as applied to the mundane of our everyday, grasps at our hearts, evoking a sense of nostalgia and hope.

When I asked the employee at Phoenix Books in Burlington if he had any new poetry collection recommendations, he took me straight to Rupi Kaur. While I am familiar with Kaur’s work and love her poems, I knew I wanted something less popularized. princess was his second choice for me, asking if I already knew Lovelace. I lied and said I did. After seeing the directness of its title, the book’s cover gripped me: striking, black matte with pure white lowercase print, left-justified. As I began to quickly flip through its thick and creamy pages, I was thrust into an emotionally charged adventure that was impossible to turn away from. This is the first poem I landed on when I opened its wondrous pages: “maybe I find it so hard to believe in heaven, because I don’t know if there will be poetry there.”

I didn’t know who Amanda Lovelace was, didn’t know her book the princess saves herself in this one was the 2016 winner of the Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Poetry. I didn’t know about her former acclaim or that she’s found grassroots success through her Twitter (@ladybookmad). As a fellow writer and aspiring poet, this is a unique place to write a book review from, a place of minimal previous knowledge of the author, a place of instant admiration and wonder.

In a most modern and innovative way, Amanda Lovelace has used her poetry to take the reigns of one of my most favorite fairy tropes: the princess being saved from her demons. This collection is broken into four parts and presented to us as “the princess, the damsel, the queen, and you”. The first three chapters beautifully weave together the author’s story, exploring her relationships with men, family, friends, society, her body, her writing and herself. We as readers, as women, as humans, can relate to nearly all of the elements of her story.

In “the queen” Lovelace’s words conjure the hazy ups and down of romance and heart-break with poems like, “before he left, he wrapped my heart in layers of barbed wire to make sure that no one else could ever get in, but you were more than willing to bloody your hands for me.”

For her final chapter “you”, Lovelace addresses the reader directly in a poetic love letter, promising that our work in progress (our work, our writing, our selves) is “pending: your own happy ending. – you’ll get there.” It addresses themes of love, family, mourning and empowerment, while keeping the reader both engaged and included. It provides an uplifting template for the stages in our lives, and our faith in each other.

If you’re feeling bombarded by today’s news headlines and the angst of the world’s political unrest, my prescription as an untrained and unlicensed therapist is this poetic journey alongside Amanda Lovelace.

Believe in the fairy tale, her writing style begs of us; her syntax is revelatory, honest and endearing, her collection is a safe place. For the harder and more dreary days, Lovelace’s poetry will deliver on its promise, and remind me that the princess can always undoubtedly save herself.

On her website, Lovelace describes herself as growing up a word-devourer & avid fairy tale lover. She has her B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Sociology. the princess saves herself in this one is her debut poetry collection & the first book in the women are some kind of magic series. A lifelong poetess & storyteller, Lovelace currently lives in New Jersey with her husband, their moody cat.

The second book in the series, the witch doesn’t burn in this one, will be published in 2018.

Lovelace’s poems and their inventive forms make this collection a heartfelt exploration of love for oneself and others.

 

Andrews McNeel Publishing, 2017.

ISBN: 978-1-4494-8641-9, 199 pages,

$14.99

 

Review: Vacationland by John Hodgman

by Christa Guild

John Hodgman has made his living off of telling tales and giving people orders. His first three books, satirical almanacs, cover topics ranging from fake historical anecdotes to the validity of the upcoming Mayan apocalypse. I first came across Hodgman through his podcast, Judge John Hodgman, where he mediates everyday conflicts with a self-righteous demeanor and certain unfailing rules, like that everyone should learn to drive a car with a manual transmission and living together before marriage is not sinful but is a major financial liability.

John Hodgman presides, and so I wasn’t surprised when a chapter of his collection of essays, Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches, began with a declaration: “I don’t like riding on city buses. Those things can go anywhere. There are no tracks, and their routes and stops are a collective fiction. What if something goes wrong?” (To be clear, I agree completely with Hodgman’s distaste for the bus. I once got on a bus thinking I’d end up at work and instead found myself being stared down by security inside a U.S. Naval Warfare Center). I expected that eccentric tone when I picked up Vacationland, knowing full well that Hodgman is a self-proclaimed narcissist. What I wasn’t anticipating was that the book would also be moving and filled with not just self-deprecation but intimate self-reflection.

Hodgman enters the page center stage with a promise: “I will be honest with you: there are no fun fake facts in this book. While I may evade particular details and change some names in order to protect the privacy of those who did not ask to know me, the rest is all the awful truth about my dumb thoughts and feelings. I am sorry for this. It is all I have left.” And indeed, Vacationland feels like a direct rebuke of the current political climate. No fake facts, no alternative truths, just the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth–it’s appropriate for a judge, even one of the internet variety.

Among the most powerful essays in Vacationland is “Rocks on Top of Other Rocks” where Hodgman and his best friend go swimming in a swimming hole that is semi-legal by the laws of the United States government and build cairns, which Hodgman fears is even less legal according to the cairn police. He battles his own reservations and confronts his instinctive desire to be a genius in everything—even if that thing is as simple as piling rocks on top of other rocks. And because Hodgman has promised to be truthful, he finally admits what we the audience have suspected: he and his friend have been high the whole time. This delayed glimpse of honesty is exactly what keeps us readers on our toes, certain that Hodgman won’t lie to us but also wary of what tricks he might pull on the next page. The essay is hilarious, sharp, and ultimately an indication of all the ways in which the book is successful: even through the littlest experiences, Hodgman is able to capture powerful insights.

But that’s how Vacationland functions—through a series of laughably innocuous moments like taking trash to the dump or visiting Perry’s Nut House, a little shop in Maine without a bathroom. Hodgman ruminates on the big questions and exposes his insecurities in the funniest way he can. Hodgman is one of those rare people that can make a truly smart joke out of basically anything, one of those people that all the rest of us want to sit and listen to for hours at a time, and in Vacationland he invites us in for tea – or for a scotch maybe.

Hodgman is first and foremost a comedian, and this book is first and foremost comedic; nevertheless, he is able to reflect on his past while also being forthright about his ridiculous privilege; the impetus for the book, he admits, is that he owns two summer homes and doesn’t know what to do about it. He takes the time to speak directly to the issues weighing on him – on all of us – without feeling the need to tackle it with humor. He states, “Yes, I shoplifted some off-brand beers and snuck into the London Zoo when I was in my twenties; but only now do I realize that I did so with full, if unconscious, confidence that I would not be executed in the street for doing these things.” These moments of solemnity are startling and powerful and likely give away a little more of John Hodgman than he would typically let us see.

John Hodgman’s Vacationland is a perfect example of the way white male voices can and should respond to modern day tumult, socially, politically, and personally. I very rarely put down a book and think, more boys should read this, but that is my hope for John Hodgman and his book about owning two summer homes. He writes about growing up, finding his place in the world, raising children, and losing family with a poignant voice and a large helping of clever comedy; the book doesn’t feel like an instruction manual on how you are meant to act, but something about Hodgman makes you want to follow in his footsteps. John Hodgman isn’t the voice of a generation, but he’s a beautiful example of how to take a step back and listen to those who are.

 

Vacationland (True Stories from painful beaches)

by John Hodgman

Penguin Random House, NY 2017

272 pages