Welcome to Read this Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that needs to jump onto your TBR pile! This week, I’m sharing my favorite poetry collection of the year.
Book Riot’s editorial team is writing for casual and power readers alike over at ! During the month of September, all new free subscribers will be entered to win Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler plus five mystery books from The Deep Dive. To enter, simply start a free subscription to The Deep Dive. No payment method required!
Please Do Not Touch This Exhibit by Jen Campbell
If you spend any amount of time on BookTube, you’ll find Jen Campbell, an author and book reviewer who creates weekly videos talking about what she’s reading. I discovered her channel back in 2016 and have loved watching her content ever since. Through her videos, I discovered her books, which range from children’s picture books to short stories to nonfiction books about bookshops. But my favorite of her books are her poetry collections.
In her most recent collection, Please Do Not Touch This Exhibit, Campbell examines a childhood growing up as a disabled girl who spent much of her time in and out of hospitals. Campbell was born with a rare condition called ectrodactyly-ectodermal dysplasia-clefting syndrome (EEC), which impacts everything from her tear ducts to her kidneys. Campbell was born with disfigured hands, and her doctors spent several operations reconstructing her individual fingers.
In “Alopecia,” Campbell describes her alopecia as small animals falling from her scalp. “The Five Stages of IVF” follows her long journey with IVF, its ups and downs, the disappointments and lingering hope. “Anatomy of the Sea” examines how the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl may have caused her genetic condition. And in the titular poem, “Please Do Not Touch This Exhibit,” Campbell captures her feeling as a child who was treated as a “curious specimen” rather than as a human.
Reading this poetry collection is like a walk into Campbell’s past of hospital operations, rejoining her in the present filled with fertility clinic waiting rooms and years spent shielding herself during the ongoing COVID pandemic. As a disabled person, I feel a kinship with Campbell’s poems. There’s something fundamental about her poetry—the hospital stays, the terrible doctors, the ever-changing disabled body—that connects with my own life. But, like all great poetry, Campbell’s collection contains universal themes about what it means to exist in the one body we are each given, of what it means to be human.
Book Riot has podcasts to keep your ears listening for days! Check them out and subscribe.
That’s it for this week! You can find me over on my substack Winchester Ave, over on Instagram @kdwinchester, or on my podcast Read Appalachia. As always, feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com. For even MORE bookish content, you can find my articles over on Book Riot.
Happy reading, Friends!