Engine Empire

Dear Ana,

I’m currently in a very sketchy Best Western in New Jersey contemplating the life choices that have led me to this point. I haven’t updated in fifteen years and what was supposed to be a short break due to school work became a lengthy hiatus, so I am deeply sorry about that. On the other hand, I read a book today, which shouldn’t be something I’m boasting about, but that’s where I’m at now.

Engine Empire by Cathy Park Hong, is a short volume of poetry trisected into three parts. As the backcover attests, it’s a trilogy in one work. In Hong’s revelatory words, the worlds of the wild west, pre- and post-industrial china and the nebulous realm of the internet come together to make a whole that works somehow. Hong is a phenomenally insightful and hugely creative poet; her poems vary widely in form and style, from prose poems to sonnets to ballads to more abstract fare. Within each form even, there is playful exploration of the sounds of words and something that touches at the very heart of what poetry is.

For instance, in section one, a poem entitled “Ballad of I” is…well I’ll let you read a sample for yourself:

O Boomtown’s got lots of sordor:

odd horrors of throwdowns,

bold cowboys lock horns,

forlorn hobos plot to rob


pots of gold, loco mobs

drool for blood, howl or hoot

for cottonwood blooms, throng

to hood crooks to strong wood posts.

The best way I can describe the volume as a whole, is that it hurtles. It’s something that lends itself easily to a one-sitting read, yet it is also one that makes you want to stop and savor.

The poem that left the deepest impression for me is probably “Of the Zoo on 6 Chrysanthemum Road”: (in its entirety)

The farmers used to worship the giant pelican which would open its pouched maw to drop down rain. writers worshipped spotted little men who would whisper fantastic plots in their ears while they slept. We now worship animals that exist. The porcupine. The civet cat. The snake. Even the ant. Our forests are vast empty chambers. Hike to the deepest heart of our mountains and you hear nothing except for the wind’s hiss of all that has shamed you. The zoo is the most popular attraction. One zookeeper cares for the only two sea turtles in the world. They are both 100 years old. Everyday, she snaps on gloves and then she gently massages the male turtle so that he may seed one day.

Also, I agree that we should slow this review train down to once a month. That seems doable in college, if you still want to continue it then?




Links again

Hi Crystal,

I’ve also been super busy, so I’m going to put some links on here too. Also, sorry I haven’t really been adhering to the every-other-Friday schedule! Let’s try every other weekend, maybe?



This is a very eloquent and very cool article about the lack of female quest narrative.



This report is pretty long, but I think it’s worth browsing. It’s about Latin@ people in the media, and it definitely resonated with me.



I think I’ve told you about this, but I love this article by Adam Gopnik. He captures the feelings and the meaning behind driving really skillfully.



This is another New Yorker article but it’s beautiful and articulate and all that I aspire to be.



This is where I first saw Speedboat and it’s a cool list. (I think a lot of the books we’ve reviewed on this blog are on there, actually! Including The Secret History, which reminded me how much I’m still obsessed with that book.) Not that I really need any more books to add to my reading list right now.


So that’s what I’ve been reading lately, instead of books. See you soon!

– Ana


Dear Ana,

It would seem unreasonable that I’d have to resort to links in the place of a review at this point in the year and everything, and yet here we are. I haven’t had a chance to read a book this week in anticipation of the science olympiad state competition, which went as well as expected. Anyway, here are a few pieces I found incredible and/or eye-opening.

Phenomenal think-piece on Kim Kardashian’s influence as a cultural icon:


This is about the passing of David Carr and reads like a monument or a eulogy. Also, very interesting look behind the curtain of journalism:


This is the article referenced within, a well-researched look into the differences in housing situation as a result of race and those effects’ still-present ripples: http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/05/the-case-for-reparations/361631/




Hi Crystal,
I just finished a really interesting and kind of under-the-radar book called Speedboat, by Renata Adler, so you’re going to get a review of it. Surprise!
The novel is about a young female reporter living in New York City (surprise again!) and is told in a series of ostensibly unrelated vignettes. It’s kind of what would happen if Sylvia Plath had a very brief and uninformative meeting with William Faulkner and Bret Easton Ellis. The book was a cult hit in the 1970s when it was serially in the New Yorker, but it was recently reissued.
So like I said, the book is told in vignettes. It uses abrupt changes in time and subject matter to create a 1970s New York City that is emotional and gritty and full of changing meanings. It was actually a relief to be able to let go of a book’s plot for once, and pay more attention to things like language and characterization. This disparate narrative reminded me of the way people’s minds think and jump between thoughts and essentially trail off in real life. Also, there were also some very insightful little lines in the book that reminded me of the first book I ever reviewed for this website, An Anthropology of an American Girl (which I still love more than a lot of things.) I’ll leave you with some examples:
Sink when you are truly stuck, when you have stood still in the same spot for too long, you throw a grenade in exactly the spot you were standing in, and jump, and pray. It is the momentum of last resort.”

“Things have changed very much, several times, since I grew up, and, like everyone in New York except the intellectuals, I have led several lives and I still lead some of them.”

Lots of love,

The Bluest Eye

Dear Ana,

This is a bit of a Flashback Friday, if you will. I read The Bluest Eye for an English honors project & maybe almost March feels like a time of reflection or maybe I haven’t finished the book I’m currently reading. Regardless, we ought to always talk about Toni Morrison when possible.

Toni Morrison’s writing reminds me of spoken word poetry. The prose has such a thrillingly descriptive way of stating ordinary things. Example:

They come from Mobile. Aiken…From Marietta. From Meridian…When you ask them where they are from, they tilt their heads and say “Mobile” and you think you’ve been kissed…You don’t know what these towns are like, but you love what happens to the air when they open their lips and let the names ease out…The sound of it opens the windows of a room like the first four notes of a hymn.


And through the channel of this phenomenal writing, The Bluest Eye explores the heavy topics of race and the ways certain sectors of society views race-based concepts of beauty. The Breedloves have accepted society’s definition of ugly. They take the belief that black equals ugly, and don’t bother looking for another answer. This unquestioning conviction that society’s views are the gold standard cements their perceived aesthetic immobility. Thus, Pecola is almost forced into believing that a miracle granting her blue eyes is the only solution to a lifetime of ugliness. Whereas Claudia, a foil for Pecola, sees this fundamental injustice and gets angry about it.

If you haven’t read it, I hope you do. Of all the books I’ve read in my four years of HS (almost over!) this is easily one of the best.



Little Women

Hey Crystal!
So I’m a terrible human, and I forgot it was my turn to post a review last week? Things have been busy and weird lately. Sorry a thousand times. But anyways, today I’m going to talk about a Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, which I recently re-read and am having some new thoughts about.
I’ll skip a long summary, but it’s about the four March sisters, who are growing up in picturesque 1800s New England.
So I read this book in the fifth grade, I think, and it was my first Real Book. Because of that I kind of took everything in it to heart, and I started spewing all these moral lessons that I had learned from Marmee March. Now I’m reading it again and I’m more skeptical, which seems to be happening a lot lately. The book tries pretty hard to instill Christian values, but it also sticks to traditional gender roles pretty resolutely. For a while after reading that book, my idea of success was thrifty domestic bliss. And sometimes the four girls seem flat; you can probably describe each of them with a single word. But there are a lot of classic books with problems, and I think what I take some issue with here is that Little Women seems very innocuous, and like a good read for impressionable young girls. It’s still a very lovely book, and Jo is a good feminist protagonist; I just wish I had been able to read it with that proverbial grain of salt that I seem to be putting to good use these days. Maybe I’m just cynical. But it’s all of these little things that contribute to sexism. On that note, have a nice weekend!
– Ana

All the Light We Cannot See

Dear Ana,

I’m so sorry this is late! I’ve had a heck of a week. The scioly competition was today, and the mad scramble leading up to it is kind of breathtaking to watch (and participate in). Though we did make States! So.

Anyway, I recently read All the light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

It has grown something of a huge following among critics, not disimilar to Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

And I have to say that overall it really does deserve all the hype. It is superbly written, and Doerr is tremendously gifted at description. Ordinary events become, through Doerr’s words, a swirling, intensely chromatic, dynamic picture. You can taste the gun-smoke tang of Paris during the dusk of Hitler’s regime. You can hear the melodious French of a sheltered blind girl growing up too fast in the midst of war.

Which is all to say that yes it’s beautifully written. But I suppose the general problem is that the opportunity cost of such detailed and delicate and finely wrought description is a well paced plot. Doerr ends up with a hundred or so more pages than really necessary or pertinent.

The novel follows two different children into adulthood during the years leading up to and past World War II. Marie-Laure and Werner have two different experiences, one being a blind French girl and daughter of a museum curator and the other a German orphaned boy. There’s a maybe-magical blue diamond involved. Radios feature a lot as well.

They meet like 80% into the book or something, which I found a little ridiculous because prior to that meeting the book read like two completely disparate books contained in alternating chapters.

Also, what happens to one of the children seemed really emotionally cheap to me. But if this was supposed to be reflective of life, then I guess that’d be the point?

This isn’t the ending we deserve.

But this is the ending we get. (Is that how it goes?)