My first book for Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer was The BreakBeat Poets, an anthology of poems by and for the hip-hop generation. Right there, you can tell that I am clearly not the target audience, but that cover…I’m not going to lie; it was work reading this book. I had never even heard of any of the poets included in this anthology, and I don’t know anything about Hip-Hop music either (or at least I didn’t when I started). So my reading was accompanied by lots of Googling and YouTubing, and even with that, I know that many references went straight over my head. But even without knowing anything, really, it’s easy to see how important the beat is for both the music and the poetry. I really liked the rhythm that underlies each poem, and the word play was often ingenious. One of my favorite lines was by Thomas Sayers Ellis:
I am tired of the hyphen. It makes Go-Go stutter.
I have a thing for hyphens—and dashes—so the humor I see here really appeals to me. (According to Wikipedia: Go-go is a popular music subgenre associated with funk that originated in the Washington, D.C., area during the mid-60s to late-70s. It remains primarily popular in the Washington metropolitan area as a uniquely regional music style.) But I am probably doing the anthology an injustice by picking out a line about grammar. When you remember where the Hip-Hop culture originated and why, the protest and civil unrest that is intertwined with the genre, you will not be surprised that many of the poems process experiences with drug use, violence, and discrimination. There is much rage and sadness.
Overall, it was a challenge for me to read this book, and honestly, I will always prefer a different type of poetry. But poetry, like any other art form, is meant to be a challenge, a way for us to understand and learn about the environments and mindsets of different people with different experiences, and in that, my reading experience was a success.
My second summer-reading pick was crime fiction. While I grappled with the BreakBeat poems at night, I listened to Nele Neuhaus’ The Ice Queen during my commutes.
When I started, I didn’t know that the book is part of Neuhaus’ series featuring detectives Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein. But it worked quite well as a stand-along book. There were enough explanations to make clear how the two came to work together, but the background information certainly didn’t bog down the story. Here ,the two detectives are faced with the brutal murders of three senior citizens, two of which are respected Jewish Holocaust survivors who inexplicably have tattoos that indicate they were members of Hitler’s SS. All three have ties to Vera von Kaltensee, a philanthropist who rules her family with an iron fist.
I wasn’t too thrilled at first that the crimes were rooted in Nazi atrocities, but Neuhaus was able to make it feel fresh. The two detectives were interesting, and while I initially thought that, as Bodenstein’s subordinate, Kirchhoff would play a lesser role, I was happy to see her play a significant role in solving the crime. The story was perhaps a bit long, and sometimes, I felt that the clues that were supposed to lead me down the wrong trail were a bit too obvious. But it kept my interest, and overall, it was a satisfying listening experience.