Guest Review: Revolutionary Mothering: Love On The Front Lines

for D.A.W. (because we intermothered)

Who will take us in? This is what Glenda Moore was asking when she knocked on strangers’ doors for hours in late October 2012. Caught outside with her young sons in Staten Island, New York during Hurricane Sandy, she asked this when doors were opened, only to be closed in her face. (Later, some of the people who refused to help said they thought she was trying to burglarize their homes.) She asked this until she lost grip of her sons. Until the sea said,  I will take them.  

The bodies of Brandon, 2, and Connor, 4, were discovered nearby a few days later.


This is how marginalized mothers are unsheltered every day; this is why an arbor-anthology had to be built, and its name is Revolutionary Mothering: Love On The Front Lines (PM Press, 2016). The aim of this collection of communiqués, poems, essays, and visual art is to center mothers, who, like Moore, are locked out of “angel in the house” iconographies–i.e., primarily “radical mothers of color with a few marginalized (queer, trans, low income, single, and disabled) white mothers,” in the framing words of editors Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens, and Mai’a Williams. And how do the editors define mothering? Panoramically. Enter this anthology knowing that there is a new spelling of the name: “m/other.” Spell it like “investing in each other’s existence,” as Loretta Ross does in the brilliant preface. Spell it like “less as a gendered identity and more a possible action, a technology of transformation,” as Gumbs does in her poetic, incandescent essay, “m/other ourselves: a Black queer feminist genealogy for radical mothering.” Spell it like “a primary front in this struggle {against a colonial, racist, hetero-patriarchal capitalism}, not as a biological function, but as a social practice,” as Cynthia Dewi Oka does in one of the book’s most electrifying entries, “Mothering as Revolutionary Praxis.”

“Revolutionary mothering” may be more redundant than oxymoronic, according to the biome of this book. However, Malkia A. Cyril reminds us in her incisive “Motherhood, Media, and Building a 21st-Century Movement,” the weaponized think-of-the-children has been used to undergird “a conservative vision of family” and the carceral state. Cyril asserts:

…empire is sustained, and mothers become one of the tools of its continuous resurrection.


just as mothers can become the ideological vehicles for hierarchy and dominance, they are uniquely positioned to lead both visionary and opposition strategies to it. With the right supports, mothers from underrepresented communities can help lead the way to new forms of governance, new approaches to the economy, and enlightenment of civil society grounded in fundamental human rights. In fact, they always have.

With blazing authority in “Forget Hallmark: Why Mother’s Day Is a Queer Black Left Feminist Thing,” Gumbs dismisses “the assumption that mothering is conservative or that conserving and nurturing the lives of Black children has ever had any validated place in the official American political spectrum.” (If it was so conservative, why have so many forces been arrayed against it?) Gumbs argues convincingly that Black motherHOOD is fundamentally insurgent; Black mothers, past and present, harbor futurity.


Witness the diversity of dispatches from the front lines: in Victoria Law’s “Doing It All…and Then Again with Child,” an organizer-mama writes letters to incarcerated women (many of them also mothers) that incorporate her daughter’s drawings–and travels to Chiapas, Mexico to hear Zapatista mothers talk about seamlessly integrating children into revolutionary struggle. Irene Lara invokes “Tlazolteotl, the Nahua sacred energy of birthing and regeneration” in the ceremony-limned “From the Four Directions: The Dreaming, Birthing, Healing Mother on Fire.” Mothers construct a theatre of testimony to resist genocide and extrajudicial killings in Arielle Julia Brown’s “Love Balm for My SpiritChild,” reminding me of the indefatigable Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo. In Lindsey Campbell’s “You Look Too Young to Be a Mom,” a chorus of young mas flip scripts that insist teen pregnancy is disaster unalloyed. tk karakashian tunchez megaphones “WE ARE WELFARE QUEENS AND WE AREN’T ASHAMED” in the manifesta, “Telling Our Truths to Live.” In “On My Childhood, El Centro del Raza, and Remembering,” Esteli Juarez re-members being raised by a father and other activists who occupied an abandoned school in Seattle, Washington for months, so that Chicanos, Mexicanos, and Latinos could have a public space to “gather, build community, access resources, [and] organize.”

The etymological root of “anthology” is “many flowers,” and Revolutionary Mothering is truly a fistful of spiky, necessary blooms. You need to be present for stories like these: Norma Angelica Marrun reflects on an undocumented childhood in the U.S. without her mother in “Why Don’t You Love Her?” In “Birthing My Goddess,” H. Bindy K. Kang is subjected to reproductive profiling and surveillance targeting South Asians in British Columbia. Terri Nilliasca reveals that the international adoption machine is built for white Westerners, and not balikbayan coming to the Philippines to adopt (“Night Terrors, Love, Brokenness, Race, Home & the Perils of the Adoption Industry: A Journey in Radical Family Creation”).

This book is riven with border lines–indeed, one of its conceits is lines, from “shorelines” to “between the lines”–and those lines matter. Border and bottom lines often mark what kind of mothering one has access to; Gumbs summons “immigrant nannies like my grandmother who mothered wealthy white kids in order to send money to Jamaica for my mother and her brothers who could not afford the privilege of her presence.” Cynthia Dewi Oka adds that “collectivizing caregiving in our communities is linked to dismantling a capitalist empire that abuses Third World women’s bodies as part of its infrastructure.” The children of marginalized mothers in the U.S., Loretta Ross makes clear, are primed to “become disposable cannon fodder for U.S. imperialism.”

There are some lines in the sand, uncrossable uncrossable. Gumbs calls out “neo-eugenicist” rhetoric and its relationship to “globalized ‘family planning’ agendas that have historically forced women in the Caribbean, Latin America, South Asia, and Africa to undergo sterilization in order to work for multinational corporations”; she also quotes officials who suggest that aborting Black fetuses in the U.S. will reduce crime and sterilizing women in “developing nations” will “prevent economically disruptive revolutions.” Oka punctures the population-bomb bogeyman embodied in “Black, indigenous, and Third World children…as perpetrators of environmental degradation.” In fact, mothering and radical homemaking are the imaginarium our moment needs, Oka insists–as she sketches a vision of the homes and habitats to come: “Perhaps the kind of home we need today is mobile, multiple, and underground.” The home as rhizome. A site of flux and disturbance, in the most generative sense. The home of the warning shot, to shoo away the State (see: Korryn Gaines). As an otherworldly realm of revolutionary eclipse and endarkenment: “Perhaps we need to become unavailable for state scrutiny so that we can experiment,” she muses, leaving us with a deepened “encumbrance upon each other while rejecting the extension of our dependence on state and capital.” Isn’t this kind of reliance and resiliency we will need, considering the demands of climate change? Is this what it means to mother in the Anthropocene?


Thankfully, this book doesn’t neglect to hold what is unresolved and difficult about mothering and being mothered. There’s pressure on people of color to craft reactive hagiographies about our mothers; while the impulse is understandable–don’t talk about your mother’s failures since the State is all too prepared to enumerate and criminalize them–stories like Rachel Broadwater’s “Brave Hearts” are refreshing. In it, Broadwater meditates on her disappointment with her own traumatized, imperfect mother. Mai’a Williams eschews the soft-focus sentimentality surrounding “mamahood” when she writes, “It’s a visceral sense that vulnerable, quivering life is breaking you and you have to let it.  It’s not self-sacrifice. It may not even qualify as love. It isn’t sweet. It isn’t romantic.” This is beautifully and painfully illustrated in Vivian Chin’s essay, “Mothering,” which is mysterious, fraught with slippage, and haunted by damage not quite known. This is the anti-lullaby–this is rage-son, ankle bracelet, juvenile court, polliwogs not getting enough nutrients, you don’t help me with shit. Fabielle Georges’ “The Darkness” flickers with the radioactivity of colorism, lookism, and Black self-loathing. Claire Barrera talks about being short-fused due to chronic pain in “Step on a Crack: Parenting with Chronic Pain.”


If this anthology’s foremother is This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color–indeed, its initial title was This Bridge Called My Baby–then its sibling might be the zine movement. China Martens traces a brief history of “subculture media” that includes The Future Generation zine she started in 1990. Several zinesters are featured in Revolutionary Mothering, including Noemi Martinez of the zines, Making of a Chicana and Hermana, Resist.  Martens explores how zines oiled her leap to blogs and “online snippets” especially suited to the time-strapped mom. Some of the anthology’s contributions (like Mamas of Color Rising’s “Collective Poem on Mothering”) read like raw, urgent telegraphs from mothers out of time–“time traveling is a necessity,” Martens says–and these seemingly rush-crafted pieces add to the anthology’s sense of welcome and immediacy.


Revolutionary Mothering is a dreambook. Place it on your bedstand and when you awaken, scribble your not-quite-daylight visions in the margins so your dreams will be in good company. With its protean take on mothering, expect to pick up a new book each time you open it. And while we’re dreaming, I would have loved more voices from mothers who embody the truth that “mother” is “older and more futuristic than the word ‘woman,’” as Gumbs wrote. Also invoked by Gumbs, I want more stories from the house mothers of ball culture themselves. Next time, then. I have gotten into the habit of collecting radical anthologies, and this one ranks among my favorites: I was rocked and healed and mothered by this open-armed anthology itself, and suspect it will go on to give birth to other anthologies, other worlds. Mothering got next.

If your potential was visible on your body, like a hologram of your future, you’d know what things to just give up on without trying . . . but then you’d never know that you change your hologram potential if you try.

Rio, Katie Kaput’s nine-year-old son in “Three Thousand Words”

Those caregiving collectives? Those “phamilies, chosen and stronger than blood” tk karakashian tunchez speaks of? Yes, those. We have an amphibious city to build now, and Revolutionary Mothering offers so many blueprints, so much holographic potential. Let’s hold each other close, before the rising seas.

Almah LaVon is a poet errant and incogNegr@ who is often based in western Pennsylvania. More of her writing on books can be found in the forthcoming anthology, Solace: Writing, Refuge, and LGBTQ Women of Color.

Shivanee’s postscript: It’s a tasselated, tapestried honour to have Almah’s critical work on Novel Niche! Many thanks to her, and to the editors and contributors of this formidable anthology, purchasable here.

Duane Allicock’s Thoughts on The Man Who Ran Away by Alfred H. Mendes

Published in 2006 by The University of the West Indies Press. Edited by Michèle Levy.

While reading this short story collection, I couldn’t help but come away with the sense that, had Alfred Mendes existed during a time without such fierce intellectual competition, his name and talent would have stood a greater chance of being sufficiently acknowledged and lauded. Alas, coming of age and into your own in a period when you occupied the same space with a figure such as C. L. R. James, all but guaranteed that you would always be relegated to the shadows cast by the glare which reflected off that West Indian luminary.

Include the names of a few other younger, but very promising authors, such as Lamming, Naipaul and even Selvon, who would eventually become internationally acclaimed, and you begin to realize why the name Alfred H. Mendes continues to receive honourable, but never effusive mention in the West Indian canon. Which is a shame, because what was discovered while reviewing the work of this Trinidadian writer of Portuguese descent, is that the man not only crafted eloquent literature, but articulate West Indian literature. In the end, there’s just that indefinable ‘something’ that results in some brands becoming ubiquitous, while causing others to remain so obscure, that when you do mention them, people get that ‘eureka moment’ and mutter, “Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about that…”

Like many authors of his generation, Mendes continued to mine a timeframe during an era about which he felt passionate, and for him, the tales told remained rooted in the decades of the 1920s and 30s, a preference which is of such great significance, that it is included in the work’s title. The title story is the first in the collection, and sets the tone for what, essentially could be an exploration of what a familiar Trinidadian song writer referred to as our “Old Time Days”. While the Nappy Mayers composition carried more than a whiff of rosy-eyed nostalgia, Mendes’ depiction cannot be charged with attempting to gloss over any of our lesser desirable qualities.

His portrayal of Trinidadian society in eleven of the twelve stories which span these years, maintains an appreciation for the complications inherent in a society as multiethnic and multicultural as ours, and the limited impact that a century had had on modifying the prevailing attitudes of the members of a society connected by the colonial experience. This observation is not meant to imply that all the reader should expect is thinly veiled, heavy handed rhetoric, clothed in a literary facade; far from it. A writer as competent as Mendes operates with subtler brush strokes, and introduces realistic characters, many of whom are memorable and would perhaps even be familiar to someone who may have grown up during this time. The persons are, in spite of class, ethnicity or gender, often shown to be products of their era, with their attitudes and assorted prejudices to their fellow Trinidadian informed and haunted by this shared colonial experience.

Of the stories themselves, I will say that Mendes, who had a self-avowed passion for describing the natural beauty of our West Indian environment, renders it with aplomb, in none more so than the stories “Malvina’s Nennen”, and “Colour”, the sole inclusion whose setting is not in based in Trinidad. I’ll also admit that although most of the characters are fairly well drawn, there are moments where the stories that they inhabit left me unsatisfied, and with a distinct sense that, like the content of many a popular music album, they were included to make up the numbers. There is even an instance where I found the plot and climax of an earlier offering being essentially plagiarized. Not even the brevity of the repeated tale could redeem it for me, and that final shortcoming, brevity, is what brings me to my major grouse with this collection.

I will readily acknowledge that it is the quality, and not necessarily the quantity of words used which can make a story not merely resonate with a reader, but elevate it to the level of the truly memorable. Yet, I will also go on record and state that Mr. Mendes handicapped himself with some of the shorter inclusions in this collection. However, on those occasions when he gave his muse free reign to roam wherever it pleased, the compositions, though lengthy, are really something to behold, and likely to elicit the most emotionally charged reaction from the reader.

What may irritate the Tobagonian who reads this collection though, is that although the subtitle does specifically acknowledge Trinidad as the setting of choice, for some inexplicable reason, he also chose to make Grenada the setting of his final story, a decision which might be interpreted as an affront to our sister isle.

Although editor Michèle Levy, readily recommends this work by Mendes as a useful “text for university literature courses”, I’m once more left with the impression of the author’s abilities not simply being under marketed, but undervalued. Admittedly, he may be regarded as a torchbearer whose light shines less brilliantly than the authors mentioned earlier, but confining him to the stuffy setting of a class filled with English undergrads may expose him to a fresh round of ridicule and apathy which might very likely cause him to ‘turn over in his grave’.

I’ve often found that the only way that an artist like Mendes becomes more recognizable, is to sell his strengths to a wider readership, rather than a niche clientele. Often times a connoisseur, maybe even an influential one, will come along and pay top dollar for an obscure collection because of the very flaws which provide it with its unique character. With that awareness in mind, permit me to offer that person looking for a new vintage of literary wine to sample, something from one of the lesser known vinters, a Mr. Alfred Mendes. Now, some of what you taste you’re going to love, others you’ll wish you had more of, and some you’ll simply spit out. Just remember though, that when everyone else is gushing over the finer points of their Cabernet Naipauls, and their Pinot Lammings, you can take delight in having tasted something not only unique, but equally well aged.

Duane Allicock hails from the island of Trinidad and lives for reading, cycling and running; in that order. When not pursuing any of these passions, he prefers to immerse himself in listening to music, or the silence of the Mount Saint Benedict monastery, pondering on life’s humorous ironies.

Duane Allicock’s Thoughts on The Gift of Rain, by Tan Twan Eng

Published in 2008 by Weinstein Books.

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, 2007.

“You were born with the gift of rain. Your life will be abundant with wealth and success, but life will test you greatly. Remember—the rain also brings the flood.”

I’ll open this review with a tiny confession of sorts; I’m a bit of a sucker for quirky titles and quotations featured at the beginning of any literary work. The effect it has on me is akin to what the average man may experience while driving, and suddenly spotting a pretty woman jogging in the opposite direction. We’re both likely to get whiplash; me, from craning my neck to try and read what’s written on the spine of the shelved book and him from the fender-bender he will inevitably cause.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, Tan Twan Eng’s debut novel The Gift of Rain, is the kind of work which could have piqued my interest from the title alone, but the aptly selected quotation from Jean-Dominique Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly pretty much ensured that I would read on. Partly because I was intrigued, but primarily because those two aspects are merely decorative icing; to be certain about how the creation tastes, I have to consume the sample.

The story told is as common and familiar as rainfall is to the island of Penang in Eng’s novel; that of an autobiographical tale recounted by an individual who is in his twilight years. The character in question is Phillip Hutton, a half Chinese, half British native of Penang who, in his early seventies, is the lone resident of the mansion which has been in his family for generations. What precipitates the telling of his story, and simultaneously stirs him from years of self imposed solitude is the arrival of two entities, both of which are obliquely related to him by varying degrees of separation.

The most unfamiliar element in the equation goes by the name of Michiko Murakami, a Japanese woman of similar age, whom Phillip, though never having met her before, remains convinced that she has for a long time “…been set upon a path that would lead her to the door of my home.” This is because Phillip once heard her name spoken by his long deceased friend and sensei, Hayato Endo, during the very tumultuous years when he came of age; namely the Japanese invasion of Penang in World War II. As a mutual person of interest, Michiko’s arrival instantaneously carries him back to that era.

However it’s his listening to her ‘fill in the gaps’ about the life of this enigmatic ghost from his past which cements the effect. The final impetus to his confronting the memories of that period though, is the result of a pair items innocuously presented as gifts; an old katana and a letter, written by Endo in 1945, which had only recently reached Michiko prior to her meeting Phillip. So, with all these seemingly random, but related set pieces in the appropriate positions, Phillip Hutton, “…gently unfolded” his “life, exposing what was written, letting the ancient ink be read once again.”. Thus begins a story in which the action, save for those occasional key intervals in the tale where both the elderly narrator and the reader might require a quick break to refresh themselves, principally occurs during those six years of the war.

Now, I’ll admit that the aforementioned story-telling mode is fairly effective for this type of narrative, and the connection which Eng establishes with the reader, through Michiko, is accomplished so deftly that one could literally imagine Phillip Hutton as a real person. By the end of this novel I could feel his pain, loss and identify with his moments of anxiety and ambivalence in having to choose between his loyalty to friends and greater causes, which in his case, is defending his family and the country he called home. I could even empathize with the sense of grief and alienation he often experienced when, despite having the best of intentions, every completed action made him feel like he was being hurtled along the road to hell.

There remain certain elements in the story however, which reminded me that although this is eloquently composed fiction, by a very capable writer, it is still a debut novel. My first grouse is with the coalescing of those parts which introduce Phillip in his teenage years. Whenever you do read Gift you may beg to differ with me, but in hindsight, I was left with a sense of contrivance in how Eng attempted to weave together the circumstances of Phillip and Michiko’s initial encounter. I’ll admit, stranger things have happened than a mailed package meandering around Asia for more than four and a half decades, but the plausibility of the prospect produces a strain which could break that aforementioned ancient katana.

Another feature that I found equally double edged was the presentation of genders in this debut. Having studied and read my fair share of works across cultures from the bildungsroman genre, it was a welcome change to observe a young man’s transition from youth into adulthood, facilitated no less by his exposure to a martial art, in this case aikido. Even the treatment of the growth of the father-son relationship is handled in a way that, like Phillip Hutton, I could imagine myself echoing his observation about “the best of fathers” who endure their sons’ “callousness with dignity and silence”. As the novel progressed however, I began to notice a pattern; almost every critical relationship in Eng’s book is distinctively male. Be it Phillip and Kon, a fellow student of aikido, training partner and friend, Phillip and his father Noel, Phillip and his grandfather, and the most profound, Phillip and Endo.

I’m not saying that there’s a dearth of female characters, some of whom, like Phillip’s sister, Isabel, and his Aunt Mei, are drawn in a relatively satisfying manner. Yet the reality is that as figures in this work, they don’t seem to exist in their own right, but are merely supporting characters in the drama of Phillip Hutton’s life, and only gain significance when they assist him in discovering a key facet about himself. The female relationships in Gift are thus often tenuous, strained, and too often the female member met a tragic end.

Furthermore, there’s a specific white elephant in the room that needs to be acknowledged, and that is the relationship between Phillip and his sensei. As bonds go, it is indeed one of a very intense loyalty, and the subject of serious conflict, not merely between Phillip’s family, and friends, but also Endo and the latter’s associates. There’s also a fair amount of anguish present between the two characters, so much so that my ‘gaydar’ kept detecting a barely concealed homoerotic vibe to what is shared between the student and teacher.

There are moments where I found that that the two talk and even act like a couple. What’s more, even though Michiko speaks of the romantic affection she had for Endo, and Phillip states that he heard Endo utter her name, I don’t recall it being spoken of by Endo in similar terms. I’d also have never guessed that he had a past love waiting for him from the manner in which he and Phillip would stand near each other, and Endo would occasionally caress Phillip’s face, or another seemingly innocuous part of his anatomy. There’s one scene in the work, where Eng has Endo rubbing Phillip’s bruised muscles after a particular vicious round of training at the Japanese consulate that is rendered in such a tender tone, that were it not for the imagined scent of liniment, you could expect the moment to proceed in a particular fashion.

Admittedly the author never has a physical consummation of this intimacy occur, seemingly content to have the two circle each other, bound by their duty to family, country and the tenets of aikido. It’s an ambiguous portrayal that, alas, could leave parties on either side of the gay/straight divide feeling equal parts unsatisfied or uncomfortable with the writer, wishing he didn’t vacillate.

Rest assured though, these identified objections to The Gift of Rain ultimately do not detract from the work being a most noteworthy debut. Eng is at his absolute best when illustrating his natural environment, and I recommend that future readers look out specifically for his description of a boat ride Phillip takes with Michiko to observe fireflies. Also, when incorporating the key moments of Penang’s history during that era into the narrative, Eng doesn’t allow himself to get carried away. He is also adept at capturing the capriciousness of the time, both for many of the key characters, and also that of the ordinary citizens, none of which is presented quite so well as the fate which befalls an elderly piano teacher.

Ultimately, I could see this work resonating with both those who have never had a father figure in their life, while making those who did, remember the pleasant and less pleasant moments of growing up. The colonial subject will identify with both the personal and national feelings of abandonment, especially at critical moments in the experiences. Phillip Hutton’s story also speaks to the fact that personal alienation touches both the affluent as well as the impoverished. In the end, I, like Phillip didn’t gain a full appreciation for his ‘gift’ until the close of the work and I wouldn’t want to spoil the epiphany for anyone. Just know that when the revelation arrives and you turn the final page, the denouement will feel, in a word, gifted.

Duane Allicock hails from the island of Trinidad and lives for reading, cycling and running; in that order. When not pursuing any of these passions, he prefers to immerse himself in listening to music, or the silence of the Mount Saint Benedict monastery, pondering on life’s humorous ironies.

McKinley M. Hellenes’ Thoughts on Lenny Bruce is Dead by Jonathan Goldstein

Published in 2006 by Counterpoint Press.

“It was happening so fast. He had this funny feeling that it might be him. It might be him that this was all about …

This is how you become a certain way. This is how you become who you are.”

–Jonathan Goldstein

Reading Lenny Bruce is Dead is like channel surfing through a movie that occasionally, and terrifyingly, reminds you of your own life in shocking and embarrassing ways. Goldstein’s style is both guileless and visceral, with a humour and delicacy that reads like the sort of poetry you hesitate to call poetry because poetry doesn’t usually have so much ejaculation in it. It is the seamless contrast between the obscene and the transcendent that gives the writing its profound power. Imagery, gorgeous and decadently crude, completely unconnected to the narrative, lingers for days:

“He liked jerking off to flappers. These women were all dead but their spirit lived on in his erection and when he came, they died all over again.”

There is a sort of magic realism inherent in certain imagery that lends a lucid, dreamlike quality:

We all saw that we were really the size of Chrysler Buildings and sex was about angels dying from the sheer beauty of it all and that the greatest pornography of all was the human imagination.”

The prose is infused with a longing for which there is no cure, except perhaps to read books like this one.

The novel, the scanty plot of which concerns a young man called Josh whose mother dies and leaves him and his emotionally helpless father alone to cope with her absence, is held together and made cohesive by remembered moments of his life that lend context to the dishevelled present:

“He ran through the snow and all he could see was white. It was as if he was dead and nobody could see him. At the depanneur, he walked through the aisles and pretended he was car exhaust.”

The novel is filled with small, breathtaking moments like that, moments that rip you backwards through time until you are a kid again, eating cereal while watching early 1980s cartoons in your He-Man underpants. It somehow evokes perfectly whatever time period in which you grew up and the time when life was the most confusing. You know you will never be happy like that again, except in retrospect.

The narrative is broken up into tiny increments that are the literary equivalent of snapshots taken randomly out of the album and scattered on the floor. These little vignettes are memories not only of Josh’s childhood and his dead mother. They also include the sordid details about all the girlfriends he has ever had, his relationship with his father, his rabbi, several of his friends, the coming of the Moschiach, and an arch nemesis or two. It isn’t a novel about coming of age, however. It has nothing to do with resolving parental issues, or coming to any conclusions about the mysteries of the human condition. Goldstein’s style has a disquieting morbidity, reminding you at the least likely moments that you are afraid to die. Certain lines of dialogue and internal narrative that perfectly articulate all the insane thoughts you don’t have the courage or imagination to put into actual words. Thoughts too profound to share out loud are expressed so simply, they almost seem mundane:

“He woke up in the middle of the night and felt nothing but that he was alive. This was the panic he kept trying to describe. Being.”

Each paragraph of Lenny Bruce is Dead is a novel of its own. Cut each one out and slip them into fortune cookies. Break one open when you need to reminded that any stupid, shitty forgettable moment of your life is beautiful and irreplaceable, no matter how disgusting or embarrassing it is. It will tell you over and over: You are completely and irretrievably alone, but you are not the only one. There is no prize for most pathetic, least loveable, or easiest to confuse. We’re all in this boat together and it’s sinking, so don’t miss out on any opportunity you get to jerk off or get laid or eat something you know will give you diarrhoea later, but what the hell. “One day there will be no difference between anything.” Goldstein writes, “It’ll all be the exact same thing. One day you’ll look in the dictionary and there will be only one word and you’ll just have to make do.”

There are books you love for reasons you can’t explain. It has little to do with what the book is about. None of the essential plot points are more meaningful to you than the ones in any other book. It isn’t the way the narrative resolves itself perfectly or charmingly unravels at the last possible minute, so you’re never quite sure if you got it or not, or even if you were supposed to. If you worry about whether or not you are “getting” a book, Lenny Bruce Is Dead probably isn’t for you. If you want a book that gets you, even if you don’t get it, then give it a try. I doubt you will be disappointed. And if you are, at least you will feel understood. Goldstein’s narrative is seemingly plotless and disjointed until at the end of it all, you look back and say, Okay. I sort of get it now. Can I just start again, please? I promise I’ll pay attention this time.  For what has been called an experimental novel, there is no gimmick here. Just an honest and hilarious and deeply human story that has haunted me for nearly a decade. I’ll keep reading it, again and again, for all the decades to come.

McKinley M. Hellenes is a writer living in the Ruskin area of Mission, British Columbia. Her writing has appeared in various magazines of ill repute. She is currently at work on a novel about Post-War Vancouver and a Feminist look at Holocaust survival, for which she received a Canada Council for the Arts Grant. She spends her days waiting for the seals to come take her away. In the meantime, writing stories suffices.

“Come, turn the page with me…the best is yet to be (again)” – A Special Feature on Rereading.

Today, I finished The Lord of the Rings for the second time. (The last time I completed it, I was in my fresh-faced teens.) Today, as I closed the cover, placed it back on the shelf that holds my most treasured tomes, I knew that I would read it again, and again, until my fingers turn gnarled with the passing of time.

This feature is not devoted to a review of The Lord of the Rings, however.  (That challenge I shall save for a future time.) When I began this particular reread, it occurred to me that many readers dislike (and specifically avoid) any rendezvous with books. “Why should I do that?” I remember a distant friend retorting, when I pressed the issue, as part of a lively discussion. “There are so many other books in the world to read—if I enjoyed it when I read it the first time, then that’s all well and good, but I’m not going to waste the effort to go through it again.”

In turn, I posed the simple question, “What is your favourite book to reread, and why?” to a handful of my dear colleagues and bookish comrades. I am pleased to share ten thoughtful responses, ranging from the whimsical to the wistful, to the wise, in no particular order.

The Harry Potter series ~ J.K. Rowling

The Reader: NickRAWR

The Reason: “I’ve been an avid fan of the Harry Potter series since I was a kid. There’s no doubt that some will debate its legitimacy as an amazing series, but what cannot be debated is the impact it has had on pop culture as a whole. My  obsession with the series might have something to do with nostalgia, but for the most part it’s because the world and the characters that Rowling weaves are not only believable but a joy to delve into. The fact that the series is essentially seven years long means that I basically grew up alongside these characters. Everything about the Harry Potter series feels comfortable, like an old friend. That is the reason I constantly re-read the series. That is the reason I don’t get bored of it.”

NickRAWR can always be found on the online battlefield of Call Of Duty, making music or tap-dancing to aggressive heavy metal.

{You can read Nick’s original creative writing at his personal blog, Dusty Mindroads.}

The Discovery of India ~ Jawaharlal Nehru

The Reader: Sumana @ Books with a Cup of Coffee

The Reason: “In The Discovery of India, Nehru sets out on a voyage of self-discovery and offers a penetrating analysis of his own motherland. The book, first published in 1946, prompted Albert Einstein to write to Nehru: “I have read with extreme interest your marvellous book…It gives an understanding of the glorious intellectual and spiritual tradition of …India.” India’s past, her glory, her victory, her shock, her reminiscence, her philosophy, her geography, her fate, and her everything… This is a compelling read from the man who lead India in her darkest hour; the man who was chosen by destiny to enlighten the Indians, proves himself to be an enlightened soul when it comes to knowing her. The history is nothing like a research material, as it was intended to primarily ignite curiosity in a nine year old girl to know about her motherland. At times the book seems a little bit exaggerated, but it was written to make readers passionate about India.”

I am Sumana, a stay at home mother to 2 little boys. I am from India, but living in U.S. for 10 years now and I love, love and love to read. Why? Because…

{You can read Sumana’s insightful thoughts on books at her review blog, Books with a Cup of Coffee. She’s also amenable to Facebook friendships, here.}

The War of the Worlds ~ H.G. Wells

The Reader: Rae

The Reason: “Why do I keep going back for more? The War of the Worlds was the first sci-fi book I ever read. I’ve never been into sci-fi, even as a kid, but H.G. Wells painted a picture that lived on in my young mind. Gargantuan machines sent from Mars to enslave our Earth, coupled with the rich language of the Victorians; what was not to like?! It certainly made a refreshing change from Star Wars and Star Trek! Over the years, I’ve read and re-read this tiny book and, with it, my collection of Wells’ work has grown as has my love for this early version of science fiction. Star Wars? No thanks, I’ll take dirty, great machines from Mars please!”

When she’s not being the world’s most awesome events manager, Rae spends her days writing novels set in a Victorian world of sex, drugs and heavy metal.

{You can reach out to Rae, by befriending her on Facebook, here.}

Summer and Smoke ~ Tennessee Williams

The Reader: Pixxy

The Reason: “In high school (a long time ago!), I fell in love with Tennessee Williams’ works. It first started with buying The Glass Menagerie for my literature class. After reading it, I thought to myself that I had to have more! This desire led me to the very dear to my heart play, Summer and Smoke. My emotions and part of me became attached to that play; it felt like if the character Alma and I were feeling the same sort of self conflict at the same time, if that even makes sense. The main characters are Alma (who is my favourite) and Dr. John. Her angelic character of almost suffocating and debilitating purity is in love with the scandalous, drunkard, broken but almost fixable and redeemable Dr. John. One of the main reasons this play is irresistible is that people love this sort of love story; the characters are flawed but love each other so there is a possibility of ending in bliss, or their flaws can lead to utter destruction.”

Pixxy is a kind soul that devours dark chocolate, sips tea, loves pixies, gnomes and music.

The Complete Book of Marvels ~ Richard Halliburton

The Reader: Books, Personally

The Reason: “This was the book I came back to over and over as a child. I believe it was my father’s book when he was a child. Richard Halliburton was a world traveler back in the earlier half of the 1900’s, when travel was not so easy or so commonplace. His adventures took him to every exotic corner of the world, from which he compiled his travel stories and photographs. From the mountainous Tibet, where he met the Dalai Lama (then a child!), to the secret city Petra carved out of stone, to the ruins of Angkor Wat to the pyramids of Egypt, the places in this book so captured my imagination, I never tired of reading it. The book was quite old already when I came to love it, and by the end it was barely held together with tape.”

Jennifer of Books, Personally is a mom, avid reader, and blogger. Oh, and traveller, both in person and in armchair.

{You can read Jennifer’s thoughts on books of all sorts at her review blog, Books Personally. You can also follow her on Twitter, here.}

Ender’s Game ~ Orson Scott Card

The Reader: K @ Baffled Books

The Reason: “This is the first book I had to read for school and actually enjoyed enough to read it again. In those days I didn’t read very much, and the mere idea of having to read something for school automatically negated any chance of me ever actually enjoying it. However, I did enjoy reading it…I would like to say it is because I could relate to the main character, Ender Wiggins…but I’m no boy genius, and if an alien race called ‘the buggers’ had any designs on world destruction and they needed a brilliant strategist…I would certainly be the last person they would call. I think I enjoyed it because I was just a kid reading about another kid and I’m still that kid…just a bit taller with some facial hair…”

K is a Literature major who is looking that perfect job where all he does is read…which he does anyways!

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy ~ Douglas Adams

The Reader: Lisa @ Baffled Books

The Reason: “This is one of my all time favourite books. I don’t usually re-read books, and if I do, never too often, but this is one book that I always come back to! It’s the book I read when I can’t get into anything else and the audiobook I listen to if I can’t sleep. “Why?” you ask? Douglas Adams writes in such a friendly and outright silly style that never makes me fail to giggle (or snort inappropriately). His characters are sweetly dysfunctional and get themselves into the most ridiculous situations. Adams’ writing is so perfect and absorbing that I never stop to question some things that wouldn’t have made any sense in any other book: How on earth did we get onto this spaceship? Who knows! But something entertaining is going to happen next and no matter how many times I’ve read it and despite the fact that I know exactly what’s going to happen next, I can’t stop myself from laughing when it does happen! He even sneaks some very interesting philosophical questions in there. For example: Why do we do the things we do? Because the Earth was destroyed of course! I love this book, and the rest of the series, and it is the only book I ever come back to like this!”

Lisa has a very busy life trying to study philosophy and read enough to satisfy the cravings while six cats have a very busy life trying to stop her.

{K and Lisa co-engineer the eclectic book review blog, Baffled Books. You can also keep up with Baffled Books on their official Facebook fan page, as well as Lisa’s Twitter, here.}

The Little Prince ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Reader: Liza

The Reason: “I first read The Little Prince in my seventh-grade French class in high school, and I have loved it ever since.  Most books intended for children are often overlooked as being unsophisticated.  However, this book not only presents social commentary on the absurdities of the adult world, it does so in plain and simple language.  And, in my opinion, a person or text that simplifies abstract concepts is more worthy than one that complicates.

The descriptions of the adults are silly and comical, but not written with malice or cruelty.  More like the honest reflections of a child observing something he doesn’t understand.  Whenever I need a little rest from the absurdities I see around me, and need to renew my faith in humanity, I pick up this book, and remember these words: “On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur. L’essential est invisible pour les yeux” (“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.”)

Liza Kane is a full time reader, writer and dreamer, though she pays the bills as a store manager.  She shares her writing journey on her blog, Redeeming the Time and on Twitter, here.

What It Is ~ Lynda Barry

The Reader: Almah the Alchemist

The Reason: “I keep coming back to this book for more because I never really leave. I wander into a thicket of images and get caught in a tanglescape of memories. This densely, intensely illustrated creative guidebook shows and tells, every page a well. Through constellations of collage Barry offers a map for “writing the unthinkable.” She offers such lush permission to write, dream, remember, draw. But she does so elliptically, impishly. What it Is manages to be an irresistible invitation to create and a stirring meditation on the slippery, fugitive nature of what is.

Almah the Alchemist enjoys color, and is the director of the Institute of Imaginary Books. Friend her on Facebook, here, to receive the spectral book catalog!

Great Expectations ~ Charles Dickens

The Reader: Andre Bagoo

The Reason: “I come back to this for its opening sentences: “My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my christian name Phillip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit that Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.” In other words the protagonist is in a battle between forging his own destiny and fate: between naming himself and being named. A few lines later we learn that the “father” of the first sentence is dead and just as his name has been cut short—both advertently by others and inadvertently by himself—so much of Pip’s life has also been cut short of prospect, of opportunity, of expectation. This is a miraculous opening for a miraculous book. While Great Expectations is heavy-handed, perhaps, in some of its symbolism, its miracle remains the fact that every single line Dickens wrote in it is pregnant with possibility. Whenever I go back I always see more.”

Andre Bagoo is a journalist and blogger with a crush on Foucault.

{You can – and should – follow Andre’s blog, ::: P L E A S U R E :::, here.}

My friends and rereading allies have made a brilliant case for novel and reader reunitings, so I will add only that it has been a pleasure to unearth a treasure trove of new and familiar titles through their eyes. Merry reading (and rereading) trails, to all.

Shakirah Bourne’s Thoughts on Summer Lightning, by Olive Senior

Published in 1986 by Longman Books.

Winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, 1987.

A good piece of literary fiction focuses on style, psychological depth and deep, powerful characters. It often tackles important issues that are usually controversial and complex, and the writing not only entertains the reader, but allows for some introspection on society, and perception of self. Olive Senior’s Summer Lightning and Other Stories encompasses all of the aforementioned elements, highlighting several social issues in Jamaica, through the eyes of naive and engaging characters.

Olive Senior’s writing style is very simple and conversational, although it addresses deep issues. It is entertaining, with sharp details, often ironic and filled with humorous dialogue. For instance, when a protagonist Beccka innocently asks the Archdeacon “Please Sir, do angels wear brassieres?” or when Beccka is told to pray for her Aunt Mary and responds, “No. Not praying for nobody that tek weh mi best glassy eye marble”. One of the more outstanding qualities of her work is Senior’s ability to combine dialect and Standard English, reflecting the rhythmic language and slang of Jamaica without the general reader losing any understandability of the plot and story. For example, a quote from the story “Real Old Time T’ing”,

“Nuh the one-eye Doris he still have a look after him and she so busy dropping pickney year after year that what she know bout keeping house could write on postage stamp.”

Without the use of dialect, some of the words would be less impactful on the reader. Moreover, her use of dialect and Standard English not only differentiates characters, setting natives and foreigners apart, but symbolizes themes such as social class and acceptance/rejection of culture. This is seen in the story, “Ascot”, where the narrator and Ascot grew up in the same village. The narrator stayed in the village and continued to speak Jamaican English and Patois, as opposed to Ascot who left for America to improve his life, which meant disregarding Jamaican Creole and speaking in Standard English with an American accent.

Style and language are just a few ways Olive Senior illustrate themes in her stories, enriching their psychological depth. One seemingly simple narrative is filled with multilayered issues with societal contradictions and social perceptions. The story “Summer Lightning” tells of a young boy living with his aunt and uncle, who is given a small garden room to play in. It is his secret and private room until an old man who stays with his family a few weeks every year “for nerves” arrives, and as the story evolves we learn that the old man has vulgar intentions for the boy. This simple story explores religion; the perception of Rastafarianism in particular, as the aunt both feared and respected one of the characters, Bro. Justice. Bro. Justice approached the boy’s aunt out of concern for the boy’s safety and she “took it as an occasion to lecture him about his appearance, his manners, his attitude…and heard nothing of his mutterings of “Sodom” and “sin”. Bro. Justice’s warnings could have also been ignored because the old man was probably a wealthy, white man, thus exploring the theme of status, and how injustices are ignored depending on a person’s colour, wealth and class. Senior uses a powerful use of symbolism in this story; the only character that has a name, Bro. Justice is used as a representation of Rastafarian culture, as well as justice.

Senior also makes good use of symbolism in “The Boy Who Loved Ice Cream” where the ice cream represented the loss of an object. Throughout the entire story Benjy’s aching love for ice cream, which he had never tasted, was described in vivid detail, “you didn’t chew it, but if you held it in your tongue long enough it vanished, leaving an after-trace that lingered and lingered like a beautiful dream”. Alas, with such beautiful description, the reader empathized with the Benjy’s thirst for the unknown, and is devastated when his dream to taste ice cream is tragically destroyed because of the suspicious and jealous nature of his father:

Benjy is crying Papa Papa and everything is happening so quickly he doesn’t know the point at which he loses the ice cream…and he cannot understand why Papa has let go of his hand and shouting and why Mama isn’t laughing with the man anymore…”.

Senior illustrates the theme of relationships through Benjy’s eyes, allowing the message to be so much more powerful, as it is a clear glimpse of the society, seeing all the irrationalities and inequalities without bias. All of her characters are unique, and the reader becomes easily attached, cheering when they are victorious and sharing in every loss and pain.

Overall, Senior’s work is the full Caribbean package; full of life and excitement, explores many societal issues and themes, history, and culture, all the while being simple to read and humourous. For these reasons, I believe that it is an excellent portrayal of an example of valuable literary fiction.

Shakirah Bourne is an award winning short story writer from Barbados who is not afraid to voice what others try to keep secret.

As a fellow participant in The Cropper Writers’ Residential Workshop for 2010, I was honoured and pleased to interact with Shakirah and her distinctive writing style! Check out her Twitter and Facebook Fan Page, both dedicated to providing resources and advice for struggling up-and-coming writers.