The Civilized World (Holt Paperbacks)
Wyss, a Hopkins fiction writing grad, infuses her debut novel with a warmth and empathy that practically radiates off the page. Using five female characters and nine interconnected stories—set in West Africa and the U.S.—she explores contemporary notions of identity, home, and forgiveness. Her women grapple with cultural differences as they navigate public and private terrain that can be baffling, and at times, downright perilous. But they persevere with a dignified sense of self that allows them to conjure compassion for others, and at vital times, for themselves. The development of Wyss’s memorable characters, especially the proprietor of the Precious Brother Salon, drive the narrative, which arcs gracefully toward an unexpected resolution.
Hon: Past, Present, & Future (Eight-Stone Press)
This special edition of William P. Tandy’s terrific zine focuses on the “hontroversy” surrounding the trademark of the term by Café Hon’s Denise Whiting. Considering the publication’s name, Tandy figured to have an opinion on the subject, and his introduction takes a multifaceted look at the origins of the word, its connotations over time, and the current uproar over ownership of it. It’s a thoughtful piece that serves as a perfect gateway to the more pointed and personal pieces by the likes of Rafael Alvarez, Bill Hughes, and Cheryl Fair that follow. Both individually and collectively, these essays get to the heart of the controversy by letting Baltimoreans articulate their feelings about an often elusive and slippery quality that makes this city so special. It speaks to what makes us so protective of local culture and customs and, in a mere 56 pages, reveals more about the fabric of the city than a rambling treatise ever could. And that’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from every issue of Smile, Hon.
Hum Who Hiccup (Narrow House)
You might be tempted to compare Mason’s poems to E.E. Cummings—that is, if Cummings built Gehry-like haiku out of offhand observations, wide-eyed philosophy, made-up games, and Homeric hymns. Mason has long been a refreshing and playful presence on the local poetry scene—he’s also one-half of The Tinklers, a similarly spirited, much-beloved music duo—and here, he ups the ante with unconventional verse that bends with vulnerability and corkscrews with delight. His humming, hiccupping, and tinkling are welcome reminders that serious work doesn’t have to be dour or severe. Sometimes, it doesn’t even have to be serious.