The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig

I recently ordered this book for the library’s 400s – which is Dewey Decimal-speak for books about languages – and I’m so excited about it. This is a book which “poetically defines emotions that we all feel but don’t have the words to express”, resulting in a riot of whimsy and thought-provoking word creation.

Started as a website in 2009, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows has captured the hearts of many, including John Green who said it “creates beautiful new words that we need but do not yet have.” It includes such words’ definitions as ‘sonder’, the feeling of wondering about strangers, realizing that their lives are as vivid and complex as yours is, ‘anemoia’, the nostalgia for a time you’ve never actually experienced, and ‘zenosyne’, the sense that time is constantly getting faster. Drawn from creativity and inspired by languages around the world, the Dictionary is a great read to shift your perspective and tap into your most subtle nuanced feelings. Even better, it’s illustrated!

If you like unusual words, beautiful books, and deep feelings, do try this book – if only for that beautiful cover!

Black Genius, in its Own Words

Today I’m highlighting several things I’ve recently ordered for the library that I think will add beauty and insight to our collection – focused on the experience of African-Americans, including full measures of joy, grief, hope, shame, love, and vulnerability. Have your own reading or listening suggestions? Tell us in the comments!

 Dreams of a New Day: Songs by Black Composers features baritone vocals and piano accompaniment over eight tracks by black composers, many with lyrics by eminent poet Langston Hughes.

 

 

You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience is an anthology curated by Tarana Burke and Brene Brown, meant to act as a counterpart to Brown’s famous works on vulnerability.

 

 

 

Life, I Swear: Intimate Stories from Black Women on Identity, Healing, and Self-Trust by Chloe Dulce Louvouezo is an illustrated collection of essays inspired by a podcast and telling the stories of prominent Black women’s journeys to self-love and healing.

 

 

 

For more recently-published celebrations of the Black experience, try:

Love in Color by Bolu Babalola, a striking retelling of myths, especially from West Africa, but drawing from folklore traditions around the world.

Black Magic by Chad Sanders, on the resilience and confidence the author gained from navigating America as a Black man, and how it contributed to his career success.

We Are Each Others’ Harvest by Natalie Baszile, detailing and celebrating the past and present of African-American farming, including how American culture has been shaped by these connections to the land.

The Disordered Cosmos by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a combination love letter to science and vision for a more inclusive scientific community, criticizing harmful systems which are in place.

Read Until You Understand by Farrah Jasmine Griffin, which dives into historical records of Black genius, from Malcolm X to Stevie Wonder to Toni Morrison, to show the wisdom of Black culture.

Great Podcasts: Think Deeply

Most of the time, I want a podcast that’s going to make me laugh or tell me an interesting story (or preferably, both) but sometimes I want a podcast that’s mindful, thoughtful, and helps me see things in a new way. Here are a few podcasts to try if you’re looking for a moment of gentle profundity, or insight.

Poetry Unbound (or any of the On Being family of podcasts) is a particularly beautiful place to start, in my opinion. In Poetry Unbound, poet Padraig O Tuama reads a poem and offers insight into what the poet may be saying (about life, being human, etc.) before reading the poem a second time. A great podcast for feeling calm and profound. Other podcasts from On Being include the eponymous On Being, Becoming Wise, and This Movie Changed Me, all on the same theme of life’s meaning and personal transformation and insight.

For a print version of this podcast, try The Poetry Remedy, edited by William Sieghart, or for a timely collection, Together In A Sudden Strangeness: America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic, edited by Alice Quinn.

If you’re looking for a podcast that makes you think and helps you rest, but also teaches you something new, you may like 99% Invisible. This popular podcast focuses on the design, architecture, and infrastructure which underlies our daily lives but all but completely escapes our notice. Aiming to help you see the world differently, it’s accompanied by a print book, The 99% Invisible City, by the show’s creator Roman Mars.

And of course, there are also podcasts to help you start a meditation and mindfulness practice, such as Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris. This podcast features guests, insights, and advice into how to live a more mindful life. Accompanying the audio insights is Harris’ 2014 book 10% Happier: How I Tamed The Voice in my Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works.  For a more practical, advice-based book, see Harris’ Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics.

Key Changes: New Quirky Music

I love ordering the music CDs for the library – getting the inside scoop on all the new albums coming out is great fun for me. The only thing I like better is sharing the cool new music with other people! Today I’ve got another two albums, recently ordered for the library, which give us a great opportunity to think about how the artist’s work has changed and matured over the course of their career.

Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass by Lana Del Rey is another unique installment in already unusual body of work. Her music is hard to classify in my mind, with old Americana glamour (think 1950s and 1960s) fatalistically described in hypnotic, narcotic vocals. I’ve heard it described as a red rose smoking a cigarette. Another word people use is “sadcore”, which describes a moodier, alternative musical style featuring depressive themes, bleak lyrics, and/or downbeat melodies. It’s perfect music for thinking about doomed love or the flaws in the American dream. She has continually evolved over the course of her career: her first album, Born to Die, was a breakout hit, heavy with American nostalgia but influenced by hip-hop and indie pop. A subsequent album, Ultraviolence, was more guitar-based, sounding like psychedelic or desert rock, and was followed by Honeymoon, which had a thick, crooning sound that felt like a time warp, according to one reviewer. Her next album, Lust for Life, was for her fans, and it was followed by her biggest success, Norman Fucking Rockwell, which delved deep into twisted and sordid American fantasies and was called “massive and majestic” by reviewers. In Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass, she has created a spoken word album, putting a series of original poems over musical accompaniment. Another studio album is anticipated in early 2021, titled Chemtrails over the Country Club.

Love Goes by Sam Smith is another artist that I’ve always felt stands apart from the crowd. They first rose to fame in 2012 and 2013 performing on other artists’ tracks, before releasing their first studio album In the Lonely Hour in 2014. This album rocketed to the top of the charts and won them 4 Grammy awards. They continued to release individual tracks, including Writing’s On The Wall, a very atmospheric song for a James Bond film in 2015, Promises with Calvin Harris, and Dancing with a Stranger with Normani. In 2017 they released a second studio album, The Thrill of It All, which was also a big success, especially the lead single Too Good At Goodbyes. This third album features another string of wildly successful singles including How Do You Sleep, To Die For, and I’m Ready with Demi Lovato. The beauty of Smith’s music is that it has grown increasingly personal and intimate over the course of their career; In The Lonely Hour had a crooner, R&B sound that was familiar, though extremely catchy, and the lyrics told age-old stories of love and loss reminiscent of music by Adele. With The Thrill of It All and subsequent singles, Smith became more vulnerable, putting more personal truth into their songs and developing a more meditative, unique sound. This album promises to be the most authentic record yet, featuring tracks that already popular as well as new unknown songs. Early reviews are positive, saying that with this album Smith celebrates freedom and self-expression in a way they haven’t before.

The Tiny Journalist by Naomi Shihab Nye

The daughter of a Palestinian immigrant to the US, Naomi Shihab Nye, latest collection of poetry delves into the heavy topic of the the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the real disparage of land, power, culture, and control. The poems can each stand on their own but as an inter-woven tapestry are reminding the reader of the brutality of borders, walls, occupied lands and conflict.

In one of her poems from the collection:

“Losing as Its Own Flower,”

“Truth unfolds in the gardens,

massive cabbages, succulent tomatoes,

orange petals billowing,

even when the drought is long. . . .

In a way, we did lose. Where is everybody?

Scattered around the world like pollen.”

The reader is reminded of the beauty of life and the simplicity of the earth’s nourishment in contrast to boundaries – mental, physical, emotional, and the tragedies of war, death and fighting created by man.

The Tiny Journalist focuses on the struggles for all humans not just those in Palestine or Israel, but more on the elements of the disparities of war and the nonjudgmental hand of destruction.

The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One by Amanda Lovelace

The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One … love this title … and come on … that title pretty much says it all. A bit of misandry wherein I prefer feminism (equality of the sexes) but this is a quick powerful read for that witch in all of us both male and female. Seems to be written at the height of the 2016 election and the women’s marches thereafter. Here’s an excerpt from page 127:

forget

being ladylike

(whatever

the hell that means)

& allow

yourself to

show

the world

just how

unapologetically

angry

this

inequity

makes you.

let it all

go.

-throw flames like a girl.

Thought provoking, anger provoking, female power provoking read. Very short and quick. Check it out to give yourself a bit of a punch of always needed fire.

The Sun and her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

The Sun and her Flowers, a 2017 Top Fiction and Literature book of poetry as well as a New York Times Bestseller, is the second brilliant poetry book by Rupi Kaur.

Kaur’s Poignant second book is another incredible work helping all of us relate to our human condition and the common thread binding us between each other…..this thread of humanity, raw emotion, depression, tears, joy, love and life in all of it’s glorious and dark forms.  Excerpt from the book:

“this is the recipe of life

said my mother

as she held me in her arms as i wept

think of those flowers you plant

in the garden each year

they will teach you

that people too

must wilt

fall

root

rise

in order to bloom”

Life is hard. We all do our best. Be kind, do your best. Go to your local library and check out this book.

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Young but wise beyond her years, Rupi Kaur’s words in Milk and Honey will move you perhaps to tears. Amazing how only a few words can have so much meaning and can translate across time, space, and language.

This poetry book is a must read whether or not you are a poetry lover or hater. Do yourself a favor and read it. Moving, raw and riveting, Kaur takes you on a journey of love, loss, and rebirth. Experiencing the human condition through her thoughts and words there will be something for each one of us humans to relate to and perhaps find some meaning and understanding through our own trials of love, loss, and living in general.

Quarter Life Poetry: Poems for the Young, Broke and Hangry by Samantha Jayne

quarter life poetryQuarter Life Poetry: Poems for the Young, Broke and Hangry by Samantha Jayne is a poetry collection for the disheartened, for the hungry, for the post-college 20-somethings who really thought they would have their life completely together by now. In other words, while reading this book, I felt like it was written for me. This is a book of comedic poetry, one that poses short, amusing, and remarkably light-hearted, sarcastic comments about life that we thought we would have figured out by now.

Samantha Jayne is an actress and writer who lives out in Los Angeles. One of the things she has become famous for are her popular Tumblr and Instagram accounts, Quarter Life Poetry, where she posts snappy four-lined poems about her life as a 20-something post-college. She has poems paired with related images on topics ranging from work, money, sex, life, student loans, love, and any/every other challenge that people going through life post-college are faced with on a daily basis.

Jayne’s poetry really captures what it’s like when you find out that yet another one of your friends in pregnant while you’re just trying to keep a plant alive, how you feel trying to pay off your student loans while working a 40 hour a week job that doesn’t allow for much of a social life, and also how it feels to be stuck in a dating scene with what seems like the less than desirables right after college. Jayne perfectly illustrates the fact that students in college think life post-college is glamorous, when in reality, the post-college adults know that being in your 20s is really all about just trying to find yourself amongst piles of student loan debt, cheap take-out, and the more-than-occasional trip to the store to buy more wine. While this book was marketed towards post-college 20-somethings, it is a quick, short read that people of all ages can enjoy as they reminisce on their post-college life.

Love, of a Kind

love, of a kindLove, of a Kind is the seventh book of poetry put together by Felix Dennis. Dennis was diagnosed with throat cancer in January 2012. As a result of that diagnosis, he began bringing together and revising poems for what he believed to be his last book. The poems here run along the themes of pain, life, death, and love.

The author lived a fairly loud and extravagant life after a humble beginning. Dennis was born and lived a life of poverty in a south London suburb where he dealt with his father moving to Australia, his mother choosing not to follow, and their subsequent divorce in a time where divorces just did not happen. As a consequence of their divorce, Dennis’ mother chose to not let her previous failed marriage be a reason for her or her children to not succeed in life. Dennis’ career spanned from publisher to poet to spoken word performer to philanthropist. Never one to stray from the limelight, various interviews with Dennis can be found online.

After his diagnosis in 2012, Dennis created Love, of a Kind as a way to cope. Dennis pairs his poems with woodcut engravings that help pull readers more completely into his world. Read along and feel Dennis as he pours his feelings about love into the words that he chose to be his memory after his death in 2014.