Book Review: Sexy Haiku by Nick Brooks

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Making all haiku in Paris that little bit sexier. Photo credit: Jennifer Taylor

When the Nothing in the Rulebook team were asked to review Nick Brooks’s Sexy Haiku – a collection of haiku that follow one man’s relationships – we did the only sensible thing and carried the book with us on a romantic trip to Paris. After all, nothing quite says ‘city of love’, as reading haikus that range from the intimately descriptive –

I ease in     sideways

Between a shifted thong

And the flesh of your thigh.

To the tragically relatable emptiness of meaningless sex –

It doesn’t matter

How long you try       I can’t come

Unless I feel loved.

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Sexy meringue, anyone? Or just more sexy haiku?

Indeed, what perhaps really resonates throughout the entire book is this almost tragic feeling that exceptional moments in love are so rare, that when they occur, one cannot fully appreciate them – since they will inevitably end, perhaps never to be repeated; and yet, having occurred, will always lead those involved to compare and contrast all future experiences with said moment. Consider, for instance, the following:

We come at the same time

Both our faces raw     tangled

If it could always be like this.

In these haiku, there carries a sense of loss for moments of perfection; and through this a sadness of never being able to truly live in the moment or experience present pleasure – where moments that are good are soured by the thought that they will not always be as good. In this way, Brooks delivers a sense of in-the-moment-nostalgia, where lovers have a premonition or foresight of themselves looking back at certain moments from the future, longing to re-live them and yet knowing they perhaps never will.

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The Moulin Rouge ain’t seen no haiku as sexy as this.

If there is to be a criticism of this book, it is that there is perhaps not a clear enough perception of the female perspective of love and sex. Instead, we are presented with haiku that have a distinctively masculine tone and voice.

Of course, masculinity is no bad thing and having spent so many years with men generally taught to suppress their emotions and repress urges to reflect on their sexual encounters and their experiences of love, it is refreshing in many ways to finally have a book that allows us to explore how men experience these things in the sort of raw, true and ‘real’ manner that only poetry and writing really allows. Yet one cannot help but think this book perhaps requires a partner – an equal in form and style; but from the female perspective. Sex, after all, is something that necessitates partnership. And so, without this, Sexy Haiku feels once again only part of a whole – which in turn adds to the sense of loss and incompleteness that is carried in the undertones of its pages.

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Sexy haiku can be enjoyed by men, women, and giraffes alike.

What this book does very well is capture the absurdity of both sex and love. We witness the complications of negotiating a threesome; the politics of semi-open relationships; the trepidation of setting out into unknown sexual waters of BDSM, or even trying “a new position, beyond the three recommended”; and, of course, those moments that somehow just happen, even though nobody really knows how they happen or why they occur, except that those who experience them know they feel somehow right and logical at the time – for instance, take the following:

She holds up an

overripe avocado

winks coyly at me    licks her lips.

While Brooks clearly has a fine eye for the intricacies of language and syntax, the haiku that stand out are these moments that are so relatable. Not everyone of course has the specific experience of using avocados sexually – although, in the age of the hipster, and with John Lewis reporting sales of avocado products up over 100% year-on-year, perhaps more people than you’d think actually do have similar experiences. Yet in reading these haiku, readers will inevitably be drawn to – and re-live – their own absurd-but-not-absurd-at-the-time sexual memories (avocado-based or not).

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What these haiku do very well is capture the absurdity of both sex and love.

In turns moving, funny, grotesque, romantic, filthy, and, yes, sexy, Sexy Haiku delivers on its essential promise of providing readers with a poetically erotic journey through the nuances of love. This is not to say that every haiku in the collection will be to each and every reader’s tastes; but that, when looked at together and taken as a whole, each fits together with the others in a way that complements them and brings new and added meaning. In this way, this is a book that can be read and re-read over and over – because it is that rarity in books these days in that every time you return to its pages you uncover new meaning, and find something new to enjoy and appreciate. This makes Sexy Haiku the perfect addition to any bookshelf.

“What do you like?” the first haiku in this collection asks us.

“This,” we might reply. “This is very good.”

 

Purchase Sexy Haiku from Freight Books here:  https://www.freightbooks.co.uk/product/sexy-haiku/  

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The Waves Burn Bright – Book Review

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There should be a critical term for a book that you can’t stop reading; but also makes you stop and think. One that is both page-turner and intellectually stimulating, politically active and engaging. Reading The Waves Burn Bright – the latest novel by Scottish author Iain Maloney – takes you on one of those rare, utterly enjoyable literary experiences where you find yourself disappointed to have to close its pages (to change trains on the commute to work; or because it’s three in the morning and you’ve been reading avidly on your sofa having come in late from a day in the office/football practice/drinks/boozy dinner – delete as appropriate – and you realise there is a real chance you might not sleep at all if you don’t force the pages of this book closed).

Even with its pages closed, it is a book that stays with you. You will find yourself musing on its action, pondering the motives of the characters, and re-imagining the events described in the hours between reading. Indeed, there are certain passages that are so vividly described, so moving and intense, that they will remain with you long after you have come to the end of the book. For instance, as we follow the principle protagonist of the novel, Carrie Fraser, experience the traumatic evening of July 6th 1988 – the night of the Piper Alpha oil disaster, in the terror-gripped hospital waiting room, the emotional impact is frighteningly real.

It is, of course, nigh impossible to truly imagine the feelings of the families that were forced to wait in those sterile hospital walls waiting for news from the oil rig that night; nor of the men aboard the Piper Alpha itself. A disaster of such scales is rarely possible to contemplate; but less to write about effectively. As Kurt Vonnegut notes in Slaughterhouse 5, there can sometimes be an expectation that it is easy to write about these types of events (in Vonnegut’s case, the destruction of Dresden), because “you only have to write about what you saw”. Of course, the reality is quite the opposite, and so it is a sign of Maloney’s considerable writing skill that he is able to not only recreate and describe the night on the oil rig (brought to life through the eyes of Carrie’s father, Marcus), but also able to capture the raw emotional impact that the Piper Alpha disaster had – not just for the men and their families immediately involved, but also of the wider Aberdeen community.

This manifests itself – at times – as righteous anger in the writing. The bitterness, for instance, carried in Marcus’s remarks as he recalls: “nobody cared about safety standards” – or the revelations Carrie discovers for herself: “decisions about safety, budgets, cuts, were made onshore by people who would never be put in danger.” This, of course, is the natural reaction to events that expose – ultimately – the failures of the modern neoliberal capitalist model, where profits are placed above people, and regulations stripped away. Here, The Waves Burn Bright places the blame for the disaster squarely and quite fairly at the door of the oil industry – but without the need to create moustache-twiddling villains of the oil company executives themselves.

Of course, this is not just a book about the Piper Alpha disaster – thematically and narratively, The Waves Burn Bright touches upon numerous different elements and dimensions. Carrie’s world-traveller life post university, Marcus’s alcoholism, gender roles and sexuality, questions of reality, of how we derive meaning from life. Are adventures good for us or do they just wreck our lives? Does travelling the world make you a cultured adventurer, or just a way of avoiding coming home, of addressing feelings we rather would avoid or ignore?

These are questions that are not necessarily met with answers in the book. This is a relief, for there is often a tendency in modern writing to lay it all out there for the reader – as though we wouldn’t be able to bring our ideas to the table otherwise (which ultimately is surely against the very nature of literature, reading and writing). Indeed, Maloney’s real strengths as a writer is that he doesn’t fill in just for the sake of it. There is a Hemingway-esque brevity to many of his sentences; particularly in the passages describing the night of the Piper Alpha disaster itself, as well as in other pivotal narrative moments, such as during Carrie’s visit to the Sakurajima volcano in Japan. This style ensures it is the reader who fills in the gaps – and our mind runs along the same thought patterns of Maloney’s protagonists. This creates a liberating sense of openness and inclusivity – which is surely a key reason why reading The Waves Burn Bright is such a pleasure.

 

I Am Because You Are – Book review

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You might assume that an anthology celebrating the centenary of Albert Einstein’s famous General Theory of Relativity might be a little too deeply rooted in its heavily theoretical source material. Yet in reading this marvellous little book, it soon becomes clear that I Am Because You Are (Freight Books)is the kind of anthology that helps even the least scientifically-minded reader understand the mind-blowing, reality-altering beauty of physics.

This feat alone should grant this book deserved accolades – for too often it seems we are content to sit within increasingly closed worlds, and it so often falls to literature to open these portals through space and time, to capture our imaginations and take us on journeys we perhaps didn’t think were possible – opening up whole new realities, worlds and ideas.

Indeed, it is thanks to I Am Because You Are that, as readers, we are able to encounter fantastical circuses and impossible acrobatic stunts; brought into intimate scenarios of family lives struck down by familial break down and depression; encouraged to question our response as we watch “rising temperatures and new weather patterns [the] oceans evaporate and the atmosphere wither”; asked to contemplate whether we are simply “talking about the end of time”; we are able to discover delightful new turns of phrase that leave us asking whether we are “wise beyond our years or too immature to appreciate terror”; and we are even forced to consider whether we might, in actuality, all be rabbits – or was that a pygmy marmoset?

Such is the display of writerly talent on display here that we are reminded that, as with space and time, the possibilities of literature will likely never cease to astound, amaze and inspire us.

Yet the success of this collection of fiction, poetry and non-fiction goes beyond this. Largely, this is down to the excellent variety of writing on show from a wide-range of authors, and thanks to the incredible depth each individual story works on.

This depth stretches from the microscopic to the macroscopic, variously seen through intimate, tightly focused stories to wider reaching, expansive pieces that look at grand ideas. Yet each are original and provide gripping insight into the universe as a wide, grand space, and also into our own worlds and universes we create for ourselves. The existentialist themes that are found throughout the anthology of course look to continue Einstein’s greatest quest – to help us better understand our place within the universe, and our place within time. Fittingly, the book often leaves us asking more questions than it gives us answers for.

There are 23 pieces of writing here, from 23 writers. Naturally, we have 23 different points of views and 23 ways of approaching narrative, of using language, 23 different voices; 23 different styles.

Each deserves its own review and description – but that is perhaps for another day, since this review is about the collection as a whole. Fortunately, this is neither a case of the collection being more than the sum of its parts; nor of one or two stories or poems overshadowing everything else. The two work in perfect equilibrium and balance together. This feat, one might be tempted to suggest, perhaps is an example of Einstein’s theory in practice, and even to use that rather hammy and corny phrase, “it’s all relative”.

This is not to say that every piece is excellent or without fault, and nor is it to guarantee that they will all be to your liking; but isn’t that the point of an anthology? For their part, the editors – Tania Hershman and Pippa Goldschmidt – have skilfully created a place to showcase original and unique thinking, all through the prism of Einstein’s greatest theory. Their precise placing of each piece is extremely deft, and it’s charming to appreciate the way the structure of the anthology allows ideas and emotions to build up inside of you, only for these to change suddenly as a new piece of writing takes you down some entirely unexpected route or direction.

To badly paraphrase the great man himself (for the purposes of this review): Imagination will take you from A-B, but this book will take you anywhere you want it to. To put it another way; you won’t be quite the same after reading it.

  • To order ‘I Am Because You Are’ for £8.99, go to http://freightbooks.co.uk/i-am-becasue-you-are-edited-by-pippa-goldschmidt-and-tania-hershman.html 

New anthology celebrates Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity

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In November 1915 Albert Einstein published his now world famous General Theory of Relativity. It introduced to physics new concepts, such as the curvature of space-time and black holes, and it made extraordinary predictions about the bending of light around massive objects. I Am Because You Are is a timely collection of new fiction and non-fiction from novelists and science writers, all inspired by the theme of Relativity. Each contributor treats the subject in their own unique way. The results are charming, witty, sometimes challenging but always accessible, presenting complex science themes in imaginative, easy-to-understand and highly entertaining ways.

Contributors include novelists Andrew Crumey, Dilys Rose and Neil Williamson, alongside popular science communicators Pedro Ferreira and Jo Dunkley. Edited by acclaimed, award-winning writers Pippa Goldschmidt and Tania Hershman, I Am Because You Are will be the perfect vehicle for both press and public to engage with this landmark centenary.

Michael Brooks, author of 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense, said of the new anthology: “Sparkling with wit and originality, making a virtue out of the frail humanity of science, these stories perfectly reflect the breathtaking poetry of Einstein’s greatest theory. Enlightening, entertaining and sometimes moving, this collection is a beautiful celebration of relativity’s influence on our cultural landscape.”

This collection of fiction and non-fiction is perhaps the way to mark the hugely important 100th anniversary of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. And it’s publication by Freight Books taps into massive interest in popular science through imaginative writing.

About the editors

Tania Hershman spent 13 years as a science journalist, writing for publications such as WIRED and NewScientist, before becoming a full-time fiction writer. Her first story collection, The White Road and Other Stories (Salt, 2008), was commended by the judges of the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers. Her second, My Mother Was An Upright Piano: Fictions, was published in May 2012 by Tangent Books. Tania’s stories and poems have won various prizes, been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, been widely published and broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4. Her debut poetry chapbook will be published in Feb 2016.

Pippa Goldschmidt’s novel The Falling Sky (Freight, 2012) was runner-up in the Dundee International Book Prize. She has a PhD in astronomy and worked as an astronomer. She has worked as a writer-in-residence at several academic institutions including most recently the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg in Germany. Her short stories, poetry and non-fiction have been broadcast on Radio 4 and published in a wide variety of publications including Gutter, New Writing Scotland and the New York Times. Her story collection The Need for Better Regulation of Outer Space was published by Freight in May 2015.