I love reading the writing of people I know. It's not just because I'm stoked to know what they care most about, there's the added dimension of camaraderie and a sense of community, like WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.
Someone recently suggested, and not directly mind you, that writing positive book reviews all the time impugned the integrity of the reviewer. (I've loved the idea of "impugning someone's integrity" ever since a long-ago employee of mine, angry over being written up, claimed that my co-lead and I were doing just that to him.)
I don't always like all of the writing of people I know, but when I don't, I keep quiet about it. There are arguments for and against writing negative reviews of small press publishing, but I am in the firm camp of "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER & It is hard enough to rise above the din of all those bookfair books without lending sour notes to it.
Is it easier to find things to like about the writing of people I like? Yeah. No doubt. But all this means is that the reviews I post here are (almost always) both positive AND truthful. And I ain't gonna lose any sleep over it.
DAVID OLIMPIO - s/t from Awst Press
I don't actually think this book has a title, but I like the idea of it being "s/t" which is recording industry shorthand for "self titled"—used for albums like Led Zepplin's Led Zepplin and Van Halen's Van Halen. It's almost always the debut album* (this is Olimpio's debut collection) that is the s/t album, as though as artists, we have to earn the right to a title other than our own names.
Olimpio claims a lot more than just his name in this brief, but powerful collection of three previously unpublished essays and one photo/poem assemblage. He stakes claims against his own super powers, his exigency, and his past. There are ghosts in there, and they drift through sentences that are trying to get at truth, that are trying to understand the why from the what happened. Olimpio asks a lot of questions in these works, and I look forward to reading more and more of the answers as he continues (I hope) to write essays.
I first met David on Twitter, and his sentence-level attention is apparent in these essays. He leaves plenty unsaid, and maybe there's room there, someday, for some longer philosophical/psychological delving, but in this collection, it's all about fast punches making slow arcs.
You can read more of his work here: Awst-press online and here: DavidOlimpio.com and the s/t collection is available in both hard and digital copies. I'm an analog girl, so I like having the hand sewn version. (Even if he didn't sign it. GRRR.)
*But not always, see also Beyoncé and The Beatles for post-success s/t albums.
BRIAN OLIU - Level End from Origami Zoo Press
Look, I am a total Oliu fangirl, so don't expect a lot of objectivity here. I dig the way his prose rambles in and out of a narrative, how it bobs and weaves around what you thought was the story. Whether he's writing Missed Connections or essays about basketball, he's never really just writing about someone in the crowd at a football game or a famous player's bank shot style. He's writing about love and home and family and what we want and need and get out of life.
In Level End, a collection of essays ostensibly about video games, Oliu writes about longing and regret and the end of things. Each essay starts with the line, "When I arrived, the music changed—" and then it does. At the end of a level in a video game, the player starts out from a place where s/he has been racing and fighting and striving, and so, too, do these essays start out at a place of transition. But walking through the last doorway of a level also signals the beginning of the boss battle, when the worst the level has to offer comes stomping or slithering or looming up at you. It is these boss battles that make up the bulk of the essays in Level End.
Oliu battles a number of demons and ghosts here, quietly and with lyric reverence, from "Boss Battle: The Eye From Which We See Ourselves" to "Boss Battle: The Girl I Was Supposed to Save." Every few battles, he gives the reader a Save Point, which just like in the games, gives you a chance to go back, if you've lost your way, and try again to succeed.