Reviews of the Week with Tracy McCubbin, Eve L. Ewing, Rachel Poliquin, and More!

Every weekday we feature a different review on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, or in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight.

A nonchastising method for decluttering; a glimpse at an artist and bowerbird making beautiful creations side by side; a research endeavor that inspired a volume of poetry; a fun field guide to the subterranean world of the mole; a day capturing the complex struggle of emigrating for a better life. Both creative journeys and the human impulse toward self-betterment are offered in the Reviews of the Day, posted between June 3 and June 7, below.

Monday, June 3

Making Space, Clutter Free, by
Tracy McCubbin

Though organizing expert McCubbin touches a bit on the emotions surrounding the accumulation of stuff, this isn’t another Kondo-clone, because she dives into the heart of why decluttering is so difficult. Like selling a house, stuff-riddance is laden with one or more of seven emotional blocks, like feeling that our stuff connects us to our past, or that we’re trapped by other people’s stuff. Wisely, McCubbin doesn’t chastise; instead, she shares client stories that allow people to relate, get comfortable, and perhaps start thinking about lightening their loads. Particularly helpful are McCubbin’s room-by-room lists of what to watch for (form and function, repurposed and double-duty furniture, adjusting adjustable shelves in the kitchen) and her five questions to ask about each and every item: Do I use it semi-regularly? Is it making me money? Will I buy it again or borrow it? Do I have a place to store it? Do I love it?

Tuesday, June 4

Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me, by Susan L. Roth

Part picture-book memoir and part informational text, this fanciful ode to the creative process and the colorful courtship practices of bowerbirds will delight budding artists and bird-lovers alike. Roth narrates the ways in which she and the bird, native to Australia and New Guinea, are similar. They both collect “unusual, often unrelated stuff”—he to attract a mate, and she to illustrate her stories. However, this lyrical meditation is more than just a compare-and-contrast exercise. The author-illustrator dives deep into how and why she makes her crafting decisions, presenting the artist’s process as a fluid endeavor, equal parts cerebral and mechanical. The jewel-toned and textured collage illustrations, filled with paper cuttings as well as found objects, further demonstrate the complexity and ingenuity that each masterpiece entails. Roth and a feathered friend are featured side by side throughout the vibrant pages, and readers will want to jump in alongside them.

Wednesday, June 5

1919, by Eve L. Ewing

During her research for Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side (2018), sociologist, educator, and versatile writer Ewing encountered a 1922 “government commissioned” report titled The Negro in Chicago: A Study on Race Relations and a Race Riot. To her surprise, as she explains in the introduction to her second book of poetry, following Electric Arches (2017), it turned out to contain inspiring passages: “They were so narrative, so evocative, so imagistic.” Ewing was particularly struck by the report’s coverage of the 1919 race riot that began during a July heat wave, after Eugene Williams, a 17-year-old African American swimming in Lake Michigan, drowned when white men hurled stones at him, and the police failed to act. Ultimately dozens of people died, more than 500 were injured, and hundreds of homes and businesses were decimated.

Thursday, June 6

Moles, by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Nicholas John Frith

Having sunk her teeth into Beavers (2018) in the first entry in the Superpower Field Guide series, Poliquin now digs into moles—those “tunneling torpedoes” whose subterranean superpowers include “Indefatigable Paws of Power,” “Arms of Hercules,” a fantastically sensitive “Early Whisker Warning System,” the ability to turn around in tight places due to “Super-Squidgibility,” and the admittedly-unproven-but-too-good-to-leave-out “Saliva of Death.” Along with unpacking each power in succession, the author leads a house tour beneath the turf to point out typical latrines, “worm pantries” (where live provisions are stashed, their heads bitten off so they can’t escape), and other expertly excavated chambers and tunnels. She surveys New and Old World mole species and explains how the blood of the “blazing bitsy backhoes” is uniquely adapted for low-oxygen environments. Pop quizzes mix recaps with ringers (True or false: “Moles are strong enough to juggle bulls”), and the back matter features a small but choice heap of print and web resources . . . including, of course, The Wind in the Willows.

Friday, June 7

Among the Lost, by Emiliano Monge, translated by Frank Wynne

Award-winning Mexican writer Monge dares to present a love story featuring human traffickers Estela and Epitafio, which uses the framework of Dante’s Inferno and takes place, with a fatalistic intensity, in 24 hours. The relentless pace and vivid language, dynamically translated into English by Wynne, and including phrases from Dante and quotes from actual migrants, brings home the physical and emotional anxiety of those who have risked everything in the faint hope of a better life across the border. Monge realistically describes the horrors facing the men, women, and children making the journey, though there’s also a surreal quality to the landscape the star-crossed lovers and those depending on them traverse. Monge shows how the corruption of the soul afflicts young and old alike when the powerful prey on the vulnerable, yet he also creates nuanced villains grappling with self-doubt and fear.

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About the Author:

Michael Ruzicka, Office Manager, was raised in suburban Los Angeles, received a BA in Creative Writing/Poetry at UC Santa Cruz, then moved to Birmingham, AL, where he spent five years owning an independent bookstore and earned an MLIS. He has brought his librarian skills to Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive, Battle Ground Academy, The Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Michael is very excited to be a part of Booklist and call Chicago his home.

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