If you think you don’t like poetry, Simina Banu’s Pop will surprise you. Having just stumbled through a reading of W.B. Yeats’ 1919 The Tower, I approached Pop with that swelling sense of inadequacy that haunted me as a student, that I do not understand poetry.

But what a joy. Tension between two lovers in the kitchen of “Whole Foods” includes this gem: “It’s a shame I can’t bake bread / with gluten / to throw at you.”

There are handwritten bits in the shape of donuts. Miniature word-search puzzles with sass.

“A Discourse” presents the poet fantasizing “about annihilating / all the theories you admire / with logic, art, or gardening / but it doesn’t matter. / This is a love story.”

There are so many ways to use Cheetos that I never knew. Later, “Words started dropping / off balconies, hanging / onto preceding phrases.”

Then, there’s “Paradise Lot”. And a poem that “downloaded an iPhone app to learn to let go”.

Simina Banu should proselytize for poetry. Er, actually, I guess that’s what Pop is.

Teresa Dovalpage’s Death of a Telenovella Star (2020) is a novella that focuses on Marlene Martínez, who plays a significant role in the author’s book-length works, Death Comes in through the Kitchen (2018) and Queen of Bones (2019).

Originally, I was drawn to this series for its Cuban setting; Dovalpage was born in Havana and completed her PhD in New Mexico where she lives now.

In the novella, Marlene is travelling with her niece on a cruise, as a quinceañera gift, so the appeal shifts to the locked-room scenario. And because the title solves the mystery of whose body will be discovered, any further plot-appeal rests in resolution.

No matter, because the part of the story I most enjoyed was the intergenerational relationship between Marlene and Sarita, which is credible and occasionally amusing.

Although Marlene is not a detective in this novella (she’s running a bakery in Miami), there are no further spoilers, so beginning here could provide another entranceway to the series.

Reading Ben Okri’s The Famished Road introduced me to contemporary African literature.

I grew up reading stories about witches and sylphs, and Enid Blyton’s strange creatures were nothing like the hauntings in Ben Okri’s Booker-Prize-winning novel.

It’s common writing advice for teachers to tell their students that stories have beginnings and middles and ends.

But a novel like The Famished Road reminds us that, if one person’s idea of an ’ending’ is another person’s idea of a ‘beginning’, the stories those two writers will record will have very different shapes.

It also helped me understand that stories emerge from their environs in a way that I hadn’t recognized before.

Dangerous Love (1996) has fewer hauntings. Its genesis is the author’s first published novel, The Landscapes Within, which he finished when he was twenty-one years old. (It was published in 1981.)

“I had wanted to write a novel which celebrated the small details of life as well as the great, the inner as well as the outer. I had wanted to be faithful to life as lived in the round, and yet to tell a worthwhile story. The many things I wanted to accomplish were to ambitious for my craft at the time.”

This is Omovo’s and Ifeyiwa’s story. He is a painter. “What you forget returns in a hundred other shapes. It becomes the true material of invention.” What he paints is so powerful that it is confiscated by the authorities.

His mentor reminds him: “Don’t live only in your head. You are in the world.” But his world is increasingly consumed by Ifeyiwa, although she has been married off to another man. “She liked the way he stared into the distance, the way he seemed to enter another realm, when an idea possessed him.”

Their connection is powerful, but there are other fascinating relationships here too (particularly Omovo’s with his father and brothers, and his relationships with a couple of other men in the village).

There is a lot of sorrow in this story. “Our society is a battlefield. Poverty, corruption, and hunger are the bullets.” And Okri’s prose forces you to slow down. There are very few commas but the sentences are phrase-soaked.

He is in the process of becoming, and that takes time. “In seeing clearly begins the real responsibility.”

What books in your stack might not seem, at first glance, to belong all to the same reader?