What should I read next? It’s a question we all ask ourselves time and again. Even with the countless essays, novels, screenplays, poems, and transmedia pieces to discover, to fall in love with or to detest, it can be a challenge to choose. Enter Expo Recommends, a curated selection of readings brought to you by the editors of Exposition Review.
This month, we have Expo’s Poetry Editor, Brian McGackin.
Locke & Key by Joe Hill (author), Gabriel Rodríguez (illustrator), Robbie Robbins (letterer), and Jay Fotos (colorist) (Comic)
The fun half of Halloween is all about ghosts, monsters, and horrors that we get to walk away from. Few comic book stories capture that spirit as perfectly as Joe Hill’s Locke & Key. A Lovecraftian tale set in small-town New England, it follows the Locke children’s attempt to start a new life after the murder of their father. Having moved back to their ancestral family home, they discover a set of keys that unlock mystical powers in their users—as well as the terrors living beneath the estate. The series creates a colorful mythology meant to introduce new aspects of eldritch horror to the world, but it’s also a fantastic book about family struggles in the wake of death and trauma.
What the Living Do by Marie Howe (Poetry)
Speaking of death and trauma, certainly the less-fun half of Halloween, I’ve never read a book that deals with the pain and confusion of loss better than Marie Howe’s What the Living Do. Written in the wake of her brother’s illness and death, Howe’s collection forges an unsure path towards acceptance of a life without. “The Last Time,” one of the shortest poems in the collection, is also one of the most powerful:
Graveyard Clay: Cré na Cille by Máirtín Ó Cadhain (Fiction)
Killing Poetry: Blackness and the Making of Slam and Spoken Word Communities by Javon Johnson (Nonfiction, Academic)
I had planned to work a few more harvest-y themes into these recommendations, but Halloween’s pull is apparently too strong, so why not throw a theoretical murder into the mix? Killing Poetry is a new work of academic nonfiction by Javon Johnson that questions the monolithic associations that come with slam poetry for many and digs deeper into the individual communities that have grown up around slam and spoken word poetry in Los Angeles and elsewhere. It’s an excellent investigation of identity, power, privilege, gender and race dynamics, and the ways in which community is built and discussed by those within and without. And don’t worry: No poetry was harmed in the making of this book.
Expo Family Bonus: The Bear Who Broke the World by Justin McFarr (Fiction)
Bonus recommendation! One of Expo’s own, a fellow USC MPW alumnus, Justin McFarr, has just published a fantastic new novel called The Bear Who Broke the World. Set in the Bay Area in the 1970s, it follows a boy, his younger brother, and their single mother as they navigate Berkeley’s peace and love sixties hangover. The book is a kind of field guide on how not to parent, but the writing pulls the reader along through the tensions and traumas deftly. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll see parallels between the book’s themes of childhood abandonment and this blog’s abandonment of its premise to recommend books with an autumnal flare. The Bay Area is notorious for its climate ambiguity, so pretend that it’s perpetually fall as you’re reading.