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C. O. Aptowicz RSS Feed (Austin, TX)

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Shader: 99 Notes on Car Washes, Making Out in Church, Grief, and Other Unlearnable Subjects
Shader: 99 Notes on Car Washes, Making Out in Church, Grief, and Other Unlearnable Subjects
by Daniel Nester
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.58
19 used & new from $9.97

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars sharp, thoughtful, heartbreaking, hilarious and human, December 29, 2015
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I have always loved autobiographic writing -- whether in prose, poetry or graphic novel form. There is something so fascinating in someone willing to expose themselves -- their vulnerabilities, their flaws, the truths, their lies -- and in how they chose to do it. Daniel Nester's SHADER is like the lovechild of two of my favorite memoirs: Chuck Klosterman's FARGO ROCK CITY and Kevin Sampsell's A COMMON PORNOGRAPHY. Like Klosterman, Nester defines himself from a young age by his music -- both his ever-evolving love and respect for it, and how is different his music is to his "shader" contemporaries. Music sizzles and hisses throughout throughout this book, connecting us to Nester in fresh, funny and powerful ways. And like Sampsell, Nester decided to examine this complicated childhood a format of (relatively) short chapters. Using the "Notes on [____]" conceit, Nester is able to light upon a full spectrum of his experience -- bouncing around between the hard and the easy, the present and the past, the devastating and the delirious -- but always lands this sharp, thoughtful prose on the steady-eyed, human truth. A true triumph!

Dark Sparkler
Dark Sparkler
by Amber Tamblyn
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.64
81 used & new from $4.41

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, haunting and fearless look at what the costs of being a young, beautiful woman in the spotlight, April 7, 2015
This review is from: Dark Sparkler (Paperback)
In her third full length collection of poetry, poet, actress and director Amber Tamblyn dives hard into the black waters of what it is like to be a young beautiful woman in the spotlight, and the result is equal parts stunning, staggering and illuminating. The daughter of a child actor (WEST SIDE STORY'S Russ Tamblyn) and a child actor herself (Tamblyn started a six year run on GENERAL HOSPITAL at 12), Tamblyn seems keenly positioned to receive and seek out stories of other young actresses crushed, damaged and even killed in the fame machine that is modern Hollywood. Reaching back into the golden age and as modern as this decade, Tamblyn charts these women's lives with a poet's eye, an actress's empathy, a director's sense of staging and historian's attention to detail. But Tamblyn herself is not lost in this story -- her realness is felt in her empathy, her fear and the push-pull that happens when you read a story similar to your own that ended horribly. You want to distance yourself for it, but you also want to pull it closer, understand it, even love it despite its tragic end. The epilogue which concludes this gorgeous themed collection is in itself worth the price of the whole book. It showcases Tamblyn's powers as a poet: her vulnerability, the dark delight of gut-punch metaphor, and an openness to her own darkness and fears.

Beautifully illustrated and fearless written, DARK SPARKLER is a brilliant new heights for the always risingTamblyn, and I am happy to be one of the earliest voices in the chorus of praise this book so richly deserves!

Bouquet of Red Flags
Bouquet of Red Flags
by Taylor Mali
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.04
46 used & new from $8.32

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Risky, Challenging, Complex & Great, October 29, 2014
This review is from: Bouquet of Red Flags (Paperback)
In his third full-length collection of poetry, BOUQUET OF READ FLAGS, poet Taylor Mali challenges himself in explore the full spectrum of his recent life experiences -- the light and the dark -- with poems that are as dazzling as they can be heartbreaking.

Readers are likely familiar with the Mali's work on the stage -- a popular touring poet, Mali is also the most viewed poet on YouTube -- and his best known works cover the subjects of family, society and, of course, teaching. But in this collection, Mali tackles the complex, challenging and emotionally-wrenching topic of divorce. In BOUQUET OF RED FLAGS, Mali gives readers an intimate look at the topography of his heart-break, as he examines the evidence, holds up the purity of his love, admits his failings (both with his now ex-wife, and with previous partners) and, ultimately, finds himself on a happier path.

BOUQUET OF RED FLAGS reminded me of Billy Collins's HOROSCOPES FOR THE READS -- another darker-themed book by a popular living poet also know for his wit and charming turn of phrase. And like HOROSCOPES, I am grateful for the bravery and openness which the poet gifts his long-time fans. Mali knows how to write a crowd-pleasing poem (and there are crowd-pleasers in this collection for sure), but it must of felt like a big risk to put so much of his heartbreak on the page.

But it is a risk for which I am so grateful.

Our Poison Horse
Our Poison Horse
by Derrick Brown
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.00
51 used & new from $4.87

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful, Confident & Joyful Dispatch on Life from A Beloved Poet, October 19, 2014
This review is from: Our Poison Horse (Paperback)
In this latest collection of poetry, OUR POISON HORSE, poet Derrick Brown continues to live up to the promise of his previous (and beloved) collections, breaking new ground and challenging himself in new ways. As follow up to this Texas Book of the Year award-winning book STRANGE LIGHT, we find Brown moving through and passed a crossroads in his life. A troubadour poet who lived mostly in California when not on tour, OUR POISON HORSE sees Brown moving to Texas and seeing his world -- and himself -- in a new light. The result is a book that is joy to read -- funny, romantic and thoughtful, and not afraid to move between shadow and light. Brown is in an interesting time in his career -- confident enough that his writing excludes a wonderful and intuitive boldness, but he is still wrestles with a delicious young hunger, that keeps his mind & metaphors ever moving. It is a joyful, complicated and incredible portrait of an artist fully coming into himself, and I highly recommend it!

Bad Feminist: Essays
Bad Feminist: Essays
by Roxane Gay
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.00
166 used & new from $4.69

8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Funny, Smart, Vulnerable, Expectation-Defying Delight, August 5, 2014
This review is from: Bad Feminist: Essays (Paperback)
As one of the most anticipated debut book of essays of the year, Roxane Gay's BAD FEMINIST certainly had a lot of hype to contend with... but I think she not only met those high expectations but exceeded them.

BAD FEMINIST is such a wonderful and eclectic collection, one that defies expectations of what it should be while also embracing everything you have loved about Gay herself. She is funny, smart and searingly honest. It doesn't discriminated between "high brow" and "low brow" topics, nor emotional vs intellectual positions. She is a complicated and isn't afraid to explore any topic of her choosing, even if she veers into territories that may seem difficult. Her writing isn't afraid to be hilarious, or heart-breaking, timely and timeless, personal, authentic and vulnerable.

Like her two previous books, AYITI and AN UNTAMED STATE, Gay's book will leave in a curious but delightful state: completely satisfied, but wanting more from this fearless new writer.

An Untamed State
An Untamed State
by Roxane Gay
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.28
137 used & new from $4.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Harrowing & Nuanced, June 23, 2014
This review is from: An Untamed State (Paperback)
With its first arresting page -- "Once upon a time, in a far off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones. They held me captive for thirteen days. They wanted to break me. I was not personal. I was not broken. This is what I tell myself." -- you get an immediate sense of harrowing, complicated and nuanced story that author Roxane Gay is about to tell.

I am sure much will be written about Roxane's handling of her protagonist Mireille's kidnapping and its brutal, visceral aftermath. It is handled deftly, unapologetically and very much rooted from Mireille's perspective. The violence that Mireille is forced to endure is of course the cleaving moment of her life: everything immediately becomes either before or after.

And this, was to me, the most impressive part of Gay's novel: the loving and complicated portrait of the loving and complicated Mireille. Before, during and after her ordeal, Mireille isn't simple or easy to understand. She is temperamental, willful and speaks without thinking, saying hurtful things she both means and doesn't mean. She is driven, conflicted, critical and nostalgic. She hurts the one she loves, loves the ones who hurt her, and understands, with frightening accuracy, the consequences of her actions, but lives her life only the way the only way she see how.

It was an utter pleasure to see how all characters develop, grow and change through out every aspect of this story. Like people in your own life, Gay's cast of characters are not easy to define or pin down. Their choices through out the book will surprise you, disappoint you, enrage you, challenge you and break your heart. You will this book looking at the people in your own life, and the world you live in, with new eyes.

I highly recommend this incredible debut novel, and am already looking forward to reading her next two works: her upcoming collection of essays, "Bad Feminist" and her forthcoming memoir.

This Is Between Us
This Is Between Us
by Kevin Sampsell
Edition: Paperback
Price: $3.70
58 used & new from $0.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another fantastic book from the unstoppable Kevin Sampsell, November 27, 2013
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This review is from: This Is Between Us (Paperback)
I absolutely adored Kevin Sampsell's previous book, his amazing memoir "A Common Pornography." It was a mainstay in a bag for years, and I give it as a gift to at least a half-a-dozen writers and friends. Needless to say, I was excited (and nervous -- my expectations were so electric!) for Sampsell's next book. a novel titled "This is Between Us." As it turns out the excitement was completely justified, and the nervousness a total waste!

Echoing the intimacy and honesty of the ultra-brief chapters in "A Common Pornography," "This is Between Us" pulls the reader in by giving us vulnerable and clear-eyed access to an ocean of moments in the five years of a romance. There are moments of quiet lust, lusty confusion, confusing intimacy, intimate comedy, comedic tragedy and tragic silence.

As someone who just left a decade-long relationship, I find down-right miraculous that Sampsell can be so graceful in showing us the spectrum of what it means to be a relationship: the bravado, the romance, the mistakes -- ones you admit to and ones that you hide --the juxtaposition of feeling like you know someone better than anyone else in the world while also realizing you may not know that at all, all the times you watch them silently, the locks you are always trying to pick within the other.

There is a lot of beauty in this book -- a lot of lust and romance -- but Sampsell allows us the gift of seeing beauty even when there doesn't seem to be any: the awkwardness of bumping into an ex's brother in a clothing store, the nervous heat of taking your girlfriend to place you once brought other woman, the parental fear that your leap towards to love might have consequences you can't easily reverse with the kid who didn't ask to brought into this world.

It's addicting, honest and immensely readable book. I highly highly recommend!

The Importance of Being Ernest
The Importance of Being Ernest
by Ernest Cline
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.14
54 used & new from $6.24

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fantastically Geeky & Hilarious Time Capsule of the Early Work of Ernest Cline, September 13, 2013
When I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be a writer. But growing up in working class Philly, it seemed like an impossible dream. I mean, I knew writers exists, but I didn't understand how they got to BE writers: the years of effort, the steps it took, the rejections & acceptances that would eventually put them on their path. When I began looking into the lives of writers I admired, I loved ones who seemed to have fought impossible odds -- creating wonderful and iconic work along the way -- to get them where they are. And it is for this reason that absolutely adore the Write Bloody Publishing's gorgeous illustrated re-issuing of novelist & screenwriter Ernest Cline's first (and only!) poetry collection, THE IMPORTANT OF BEING ERNEST.

For those fans of Cline's work that were first introduced to him via the (cult) film, FANBOYS, and even more so for those book-lovers who fell in love with Cline via his incredible debut novel, the NYTimes-bestselling READY PLAYER ONE, there is so much for love in this collection. We see Cline in his earliest years as a writer: ranting about his day jobs, railing against unchecked complacency & contemporary idiocy, and -- perhaps most fun -- unabashedly geeking out over the things he loves. Although these spoken word pieces are all over a decade-old, there is a smart freshness to them. Even though I've heard the pieces before -- you can download his spoken word CD for free on his website, and it contains many of the pieces in the book -- I still find myself laughing out loud. And the highly stylized, high-energy Len Peralta illustrations which accompany the pieces just add to the fun.

Feel free to google some of the best known works in the book -- "Dance Monkeys Dance" "The Geek Wants Out" "Tech Support" "Airwolf" "Nerd P*rn Auteur" -- to get a sense of what is in here, but please know that are lesser known Cline gems to enjoy as well. It is a fun & heartening book for any fan of Ernest Cline's, and any geeky writer wondering were a powerhouse like Cline got his start!
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Elegy Owed
Elegy Owed
Price: $9.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brave New Work by a Beloved Evocative Poet, June 1, 2013
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This review is from: Elegy Owed (Kindle Edition)
I am, admittedly, a huge Bob Hicok fan. I have all of his book (some of which I've previously reviewed on Amazon) and have felt privileged to watch his work evolve over the years in real. And in "Elegy Owed," his latest collection, he seems to have taken an enormous leap!

I remember seeing a Mark Rothko retrospective in DC when I was younger, and -- knowing how his painting style was going to end up -- marveling as the timeline the exhibition allowed me to watch the figuration in this paintings getting slighter and slighter, as the evocative color wash backgrounds get bolder and bolder. When he finally removed figures from his paintings altogether, his paintings pulsed and glow with pure color and emotion. You didn't need to understand what he was trying to express with the painting, but rather needed to just open yourself up to what it evoked in you.

I thought of this a lot while reading "Elegy Owed," as Hicok seems to have taken a big step away from traditional narrative work. This isn't to say this pieces don't sing with narrative elements, but images and tones are sometimes allowed to shimmer and glow without full context, and it is scary and delicious to allow this sorts of unmoored poems find a place in our reader hearts.

While the book is infused with themes of death, loss and betrayal, Hicok's stunning lines and turns, as well as his constant self-awareness ("We didn't jump-this is a poem" he writes in a poem titled "To speak somewhat figuratively about S.") still very much electrify. I feel in love with his work again and again with stanzas like "At the funeral, she wore a tricycle being pushed by her father / when she was five, her legs out to the side. // That's only true in this poem, like the cloud I'm looking at / is only true in this sky. / In all other skies, this cloud is a lie."

Or "When my father dies / naturally I'll want to call him / and tell him my father has died, he won't pick up, I'll decide / he's out raking leaves, that leaves are sullen, that I'm hungry / that my father hasn't died, and when he finally answers, / I'll stand in the kitchen wondering why I called, most / of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich completed, / all that will remain is for the parts to be joined, the jelly / to the peanut butter wing, I'll tell my father / I'm cooking, he'll nod and I'll hear him nod."

I mean, my stars, it just knocks me out! And those are just two examples!

Fans of his more narrative and concrete work should know there are a lot of mysteries in this book that won't be answered for you -- but that's a part of its delight, and a part of Hicok's wonderful journey as an artist. With "Elegy Owed" we are given all the bright and dark washes of his every evolving emotions, and it is a beautiful thing.

Blowout (Pitt Poetry Series)
Blowout (Pitt Poetry Series)
by Denise Duhamel
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.95
59 used & new from $7.94

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a wry, honest and human look at divorce, March 26, 2013
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Early in Denise Duhamel's "Blowout," she bemoans the unlucky coincidence that her previous book, "Ka-Ching" -- a poetry book which had a strong theme of money throughout it -- was slated to published just a few months AFTER another poetry book (by the poet Katy Lederer) which also dealt with the theme of money had garnered much praise, critical attention and even a write up in the New Yorker. "Just my luck," she wrote.

I couldn't help but think it must have felt like deja vu when "Blow Out," her latest offering which deals with the aftermath of her marriage ending at 16 years, comes out just a few months after Sharon Olds's critically acclaimed "Stag's Leap," which also deals with the aftermath of the poet's decades long marriage. "Just my luck," she must have thought... again!

But in the same way that everything you love about Sharon Olds sings so brightly & brilliantly with "Stag's Leap," everything you love about Denise Duhamel is radiant and wonder-soaked in "Blowout."

I fell in love with Duhamel's work because its humanity -- its frizzy hair, its stumbles on the side walk, its wild preparation for things that never happen, its ability to find meaning and hope in the everyday. Duhamel always seemed to be capturing her poems mid-stride, and there is a manic, beautiful energy which infuse her work. With other poets, I imagine them writing their poems tucked into a quiet corner in their library, or sipping tea at quiet kitchen table. I always imagine that Duhamel is writing hers on the backs of receipts, tapping them into the notes section of her phone, or creating them in her head as she runs from class to class, hoping she doesn't forget them before she puts them to paper. And I love that about them, and about her.

With "Blow Out," we see Duhamel reaching new heights of honesty and self-reflection. She tracks the dissolution of her marriage, moving both forward and backward through time. We see her identify warning signs, recall last moments, recall first moments after, struggle, weep, stumble, fall and get back up again -- all with Duhamel's trademark tender wryness. "You are attached to your husband by a cord running from your stomach to his," a psychic tells her in one poem, "Everything night I want you to work on loosening that cord before you fall asleep, OK?" I feel like this book is a product of all that hard, strange but necessary loosening, and another incredible book to add to Duhamel's incomparable stable of true, human poetry books about what it is like to be a woman in the 21st century.

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