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30 review for How to Be Better by Being Worse

  1. 4 out of 5

    mad mags

    (Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review through Library Thing's Early Reviewers program.) So I tell them the story. Vintage thrift store, mid-July. I take two jackets to the dressing room, similar in style but one is clearly made of heavier substance, and noticing a $30 difference, I switch the price tags. The girl at the counter actually says, What a steal. Now, if you're expecting my parents to groan with disapproval, or to make some appeal to the eight comma (Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review through Library Thing's Early Reviewers program.) So I tell them the story. Vintage thrift store, mid-July. I take two jackets to the dressing room, similar in style but one is clearly made of heavier substance, and noticing a $30 difference, I switch the price tags. The girl at the counter actually says, What a steal. Now, if you're expecting my parents to groan with disapproval, or to make some appeal to the eight commandment, then I should tell you that all their lives they've been robbed. ("Leather Jacket") My mother wouldn't let me do much in the kitchen. I was told to watch the biscuits. I watched them burn. ("Let Me Eat Cake") Based on the book's title, I expected HOW TO BE BETTER BY BEING WORSE to center on the poet's growing awareness that sometimes you have to engage in minor social harms as a strategy of self-care: to protect yourself from the sometimes damaging demands of others. Being cruel to be kind - to yourself. Reader, enter the tragedy of misplaced expectations. A few of the pieces are adjacent to this idea, but not enough for my liking; although, to be fair, the copy on the book's back cover promises a slightly different theme: "HOW TO BE BETTER BY BEING WORSE freely indulges in harmless wickedness as its speaker grows in self-awareness, slowly learning to let go of inherited shame while continuing to seek self-forgiveness for the harms he has caused the outside world." This hits a bit closer to home, though I didn't always get a measurable, linear sense of growth as we progressed from Part One to Part Four; nor would I call a trail of accidentally dead animals "harmless wickedness." (To wit: there's a Pomeranian left dead in a ditch, the result of a hit and run that the author regards in a weirdly cavalier manner, and a turtle starved to death in the course of a botched house-sitting job.) Overall I found HOW TO BE BETTER BY BEING WORSE to be a bit of a mixed bag: some poems I enjoyed, others not so much, and a few excerpts just rubbed me the wrong way. (See, again, the needlessly dead animals that seem not to affect the narrator all that much.) Jannise's poems center on themes of self-pity and -esteem; kind strangers met at Halloween parties; pettiness and jealousy; falling in and out of love; heartbreak, and heartbreaking; Queen biopics and cat cafes; the dos and don'ts of being a mascot; parental relationships; and the singular heartbreak of visiting a family member in prison. "Flamingo Sexual" - for which Jannise won a 2020 Pinch Literary Award - ranks among my favorites, as does "What I'm Into," "Ways to Do It," and "After Visiting My Brother in Prison." "Passengers, 1938" is at the bottom of my list, and brings to mind a line from "I'm writing well for no one but myself": "And I want to say I get that / but I don't." Honestly, I think that sums up damn near every book of poetry for me, love it or not.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Germaïne

  3. 4 out of 5

    Emer Kate

  4. 4 out of 5

    Madeleine Maillet

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mark Jenkins

  6. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

  7. 4 out of 5

    Liz Baldwin

  8. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mihiret

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alexia

  11. 4 out of 5

    Leanna

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kayla Mroch

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marion

  14. 5 out of 5

    lil

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ema

  16. 4 out of 5

    Genevieve

  17. 5 out of 5

    ㋛ ㋡

  18. 5 out of 5

    rosalind

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lea

  20. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

  21. 5 out of 5

    kunal helambe

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mimi

  23. 5 out of 5

    Isaiah

  24. 5 out of 5

    Laura Beth

  25. 5 out of 5

    William E. Dudley

  26. 4 out of 5

    Moon

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dawn Cowle

  28. 4 out of 5

    Isa

  29. 4 out of 5

    Courtney Smith

  30. 4 out of 5

    Grant Patterson

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