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Tag Archives: five-stars

Slaves to Do These Things (2009): Selling One’s Soul to God Is to Betray the Other

Slaves to Do These Things (2009): Selling One’s Soul to God Is to Betray the Other

Amy King, Slaves to Do These Things (BlazeVOX Books, 2009)


Carpentry is a dirty business. photo credit: Amazon

Every once in a while, I run across a poet—the last one was Timothy Donnelly, over a decade ago—whose work feels like it’s introducing me to a new language, one that is parallel to ours, but lying just beneath the surface, a language where quotidian words are used in new, unfamiliar, and exciting ways. Slaves to Do These Things is steeped in this kind of language, but still oddly grounded; it feels kind of like an unholy union between Donnelly and, say, Matthea Harvey. And since I basically worship both those poets, you probably know what I’m going to say here.

By the way, if you’re reading this on the day I post it, head on over to Folder Magazine. King is the featured poet this month. (The timing of the posting of this review is, of course, not a coincidence at all. Both King and Folder deserve far, far more exposure than they have gotten to date.)

I come for you on the people’s chariot
interpreted in nightgown,
sidelined, and smoking,
breakfast huevos in hand,
for we are poorer figures with lust,
and poorer still, talking this city
from block into block into
that which sells
a plastic surprise
in the snake oil’s morning,
a unisex of truth bearing.”

…begins “Stimulus Package”, and you see what I mean? “The people’s chariot interpreted in nightgown.” That feels like something that would make perfect sense if you just looked at it a slightly different way. And it works. Some of the language in here just blew me away. (I singled out the line “Leaning into backdrafts just to glow”, from “The Fear of Hope Is Also Beautiful”, in a social media post the other day.)

I’m stunned, and kind of in love, and need to get my hands on everything this woman has ever written. *****

The Ethical Slut (2009): I Don’t Know, You Naughty Boy, I’ve Never Kippled!

Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy, The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships, and Other Adventures (2/E) (Celestial Arts, 2009)

Four happy woodcut-looking figures with big hearts adorn the cover of the book.

Your soul is in trouble and requires repairs.
photo credit: Wikipedia

Perhaps the most important thing to know about The Ethical Slut, if you’re just hearing about it for the first time, comes from Annie Sprinkle’s blurb on the back. “The Ethical Slut is one of the most useful relationship books you could ever read, no matter what your lifestyle choices.” This is indeed the case. Even if you’re a committed monogamist (like most folks around the globe today who are in serious relationships), there is a great deal of information in here you can use; given that polyamory is simply an exponential projection of normal relationship dynamics, the books presents a masterclass on the same stuff about relationships that’s covered in every other self-help book. And since they’re looking at situations that most people will consider absurd, they’re going well out beyond what the monogamous will think of as the worst case scenario. As a result, simply put: this is the best self-help book, not only about relationships, but about anything, that you will ever read.

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Early Autumn (1981): The Pinnacle of Parker’s Career

Robert B. Parker, Early Autumn (Dell, 1981)

[originally posted 12Feb2002]

All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey. photo credit:

All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey.
photo credit:

It may still be a little too early in the game to call the Spenser novels some of the great twentieth-century detective fiction. There cannot, however, be any doubt as to the continuing popularity of, and loyalty to, the line of novels written by Robert Parker about the combination renaissance man/gumshoe. Over the twenty-odd years since The Godwulf Manuscript hit the shelves, Spenser fans have accumulated like mosquitoes in a light fixture. We’ve watched the characters, consistent over the space of more than twenty novels, grow and change, not just reflecting the spirit of the times (go back and read about some of the godawful getups Spenser dressed in in the mid-seventies, and you can easily imagine Spenser himself looking back and saying, “what WAS I thinking?”) but reflecting real changes in the characters themselves. Robert Parker has achieved something remarkable; he has given us a quarter century in the lives of a select few people in real-time (for the most part) without the storyline ever degenerating into soap opera.

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Night of the Living Dead (1968): …And All that Came After

Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968)

[originally posted 26Feb2002]

A collage of the film's major characters adorns the movie poster.

They’re coming to get you, Barbara.
photo credit:

How many records has this movie broken, and how influential has it been? Night of the Living Dead is, arguably, the last film to date to have so radically changed the face of filmmaking as we know it. Love it, hate it, be indifferent to it, one unarguable fact remains: Night of the Living Dead is the single most influential film of all time, if for no other reason because it was the catalyst that sparked the induction of the MPAA ratings system. In other words, every film made in America since 1969 has been influenced by Night of the Living Dead.

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Straydog (2002): One of the Best Books You Will Ever Read

Kathe Koja, Straydog (FSG, 2002)

[originally posted 4Nov2002]

A collie thrashes against a cage, teeth bared, on the book's cover.

Bite. Bite. Bite. Cry.
photo credit: Goodreads

Over the course of my existence I’ve read somewhere between fifteen and twenty thousand books. While I am one of those people who will start sniffling at the merest hint of decently-rendered emotion in a movie, and bawl like a baby when certain songs come on the radio, I’ve never been that way with books. With reflection, I’ve been able to think of three books that reduced me to tears while reading them (Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows, Kathe Koja’s Strange Angels, and Clive Barker’s Sacrament). Add a fourth to the list: Kathe Koja’s newest offering, the short novel Straydog.

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A Storm of Swords (2000): George R. R. Martin’s Crowning Achievement (Thus Far)

George R. R. Martin, A Storm of Swords (Bantam, 2000)

[originally posted 2Nov2001]

The hilt portion of a sword, with a blue filter overload, decorates the book's cover.

Minimal. I like it.
photo credit: Amazon

It is impossible to write a review of A Storm of Swords that would not injustice the Martin neophyte by being rife with spoilers from the first two novels. Suffice to say that the third book in the series doesn’t fault the first two, and in fact is the finest of the three published to date. Martin begins to tie his loose ends together and push his main characters toward what we assume will be a final (thousand-page) cataclysmic battle in book six, introducing us to some characters who have only been heard about previously and throwing his patented monkeywrenches into the works in as many places as he can. It is only in reading the third book that the true slowness of the first two becomes clear; once Martin gets on a roll, he really gets rolling, and while the other two books are readably quick, the last two hundred fifty pages of A Storm of Swords demand to be read in one sitting, and strong is the will of the reader who can put the book down within that section.

If I highly recommended this series after finishing A Game of Thrones, I’ve now upped it to the must-read list. The series would have topped my list of reads in any other year, and this year only has the bad fortune of being #2 in that I also encountered Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy this year as well. *****

Emotional Traffic (1989): Your Baggage Is Lost in Poughkeepsie

Ira Sadoff, Emotional Traffic (Godine, 1989)

[originally posted 28Mar2001]

A painting of a woman sitting on a bed adorns the book's cover.

The inner world and its rewards.
photo credit:

What separates great poetry from good? Oftentimes the question is unanswerable, as the quality of poetry which makes it poetry is undefinable enough without putting qualifiers on it. But sometimes greatness is achieved simply through the act of putting an old idea in a new way. This is often what makes Ira Sadoff one of the two or three finest poets working in America today.
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