The Ilonka Reader

Notes on the Books I Have Read

Category: lit mag

Harvard Review, #47

I received the Harvard Review as part of my Journal of the Month subscription. I must say most of it I found boring. The stories and essays, for the most part, did not grab my attention. At least one I skipped after four pages of droll. The others I struggled through, trying to get something out them, trying to figure out what I was missing. The poetry also felt lacking, though I often feel that, but I came across three poems, two poets, that struck me deeply, and 3/20 isn’t too bad a success rate in my experience.

I will admit that getting sucked into literary magazines is hard because they jump around so much. With a collection of short stories or poetry at least the author is making a compilation for you and something, whatever makes the author unique, stays constant across the board. You can look forward to more of it. Editors of literary magazines are making compilations as well but the material is so disparate that the kind of continuity that keeps you engaged into the next piece is almost impossible to create.

The poems I loved were by Anya Silver (Maid Maleen and Snow White) and Charles Harper Webb (People Think That I’m a Gourmet Chef).

There was a story at the end about a Bangladeshi immigrant in Queens that was incredibly striking and sad and had amazing voice and narrative (by Martin Cloutier). And one of the first stories about a woman trying to get her child into daycare also did a great job with voice and tone though the narrative was not as strong (by Johanna Berkman).

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Tin House, winter reading

Volume 17, Number 2.

I subscribe to Journal of the Month, which sends me a different literary magazine each month. Tin House seems to be heavy on fiction, but it also has essays, poems, some reviews of books, and, in this issue, one comic or graphic novel short.

I didn’t get into any of the poetry, even though they had a lot of pieces by Sharon Olds who I thought I really liked. That’s okay, I don’t get into most poetry. It was all a bit too… wispy for me. Not enough grabbed onto something real that could keep me engaged and or even on point for the entire poem. I didn’t finish a lot, even though they were mostly short, and though the longest poem in the bunch did engage me past the first page it went on too long without any, as far as I could gather, progression.

It had an essay I’d already read called On Pandering by Claire Vaye Watkins which stood up to a second reading well. I skipped a couple of the essays because they didn’t grab me. There was an essay about a woman’s romantic history, tracing back generations, which I enjoyed but felt would have been better as inspiration for fiction.

I prowled through the fiction greedily. I don’t read a lot of short stories, and even fewer outside the context of a single author’s collection. They were all high quality, good stories and I enjoyed them, but only one stuck with me and towards the end I got tired of the format, actually skipping out on the last two. (There were a total of seven in the issue.) The one that stuck with me was Children by Helen Phillips. I happened to have seen a book of hers, The Beautiful Bureaucrats, recommended at the Harvard Book Store recently; she was described as similar to Haruki Murakami if Murakami knew how to write women. I didn’t put this together until halfway through the story, which is wonderful and weird and still sticks with me vividly.