by Philip Metres
(Alice James Books, $16.95)
The most talked about movie of last year, American Sniper, thrust the effects of the Iraq War into the spotlight. Similar emotional, political and cultural terrain is traversed in Philip Metres' new poetry collection, Sand Opera, but from a vastly different perspective.
"On some level I feel my book is really an anti-American Sniper," says the poet and English professor at John Carroll University. "[In the film,] almost all of the Iraqis depicted are bombers, terrorists. I wanted my book to consider the humanity of all the participants in the war, both the Iraqis and the soldiers."
Writing Sand Opera was Metres' response to reading the haunting Amnesty International testimony about the human rights abuses of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. "The topic chose me," says Metres, himself an Arab-American.
The most effective technique Metres employs in conveying the prisoners' nightmare is his use of redacted texts, which mirror censored detainee testimonies. The gaps spur the reader to fill in, freeing the imagination to construct interpretations even darker and more damning than anything in the original language.
The result is a remarkable book, a troubling and absolutely necessary testament to the terrible cost of war.
Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen
by Mary Norris
(W.W. Norton and Co., $24.95)
Grammar may seem boring, but to Cleveland native Mary Norris, who works in The New Yorker copy department, it's a fascinating way of life. As much a memoir as a writing reference, Norris weaves historical anecdotes — Noah Webster changed the British spelling of gaol to jail — with personal tales such as her struggle to find the proper pronoun to address her transgender brother. It's proof that beyond the rules of language, what we say and how we say it matters.
God Help the Child
by Toni Morrison
Alfred Knopf, $27.95)
Nobel laureate and Lorain native Toni Morrison grapples with the theory that childhood trauma breaks a person for life in this chilling tale of adults still reeling from the effects of molestation, murder and racism. Morrison's tangled prose slowly then swiftly unravels into a harrowing portrait of what happens when wounds ignored for a lifetime are ferociously confronted. As Clevelanders still wrestle with the tragic loss of a 12-year-old boy, this desperate plea couldn't be more necessary.
God is Always Hiring: 50 Lessons for Finding Fulfilling Work
by Regina Brett
(Grand Central Publishing, $24.00)
Being jobless or stuck in an unsatisfying career is all too common. So during those end-of-the-rope moments, Regina Brett's third installment in her 50 Lessons series delivers an insightful nudge toward professional fulfillment. Consider Lesson No. 2, "Everything changes when you change," Brett's tale of being a struggling 22-year-old single mother. The Plain Dealer columnist's positivity might be the perspective shift that leads to the next "you're hired."