Reading by the glow of a year on fire

2019 was a good year for books but a weird year for reading. For pleasure, work, and mood-medicine, I read constantly, but it’s been different lately: my poetry rate is typical, but fiction and I have had some problems. I couldn’t finish things, or I read multiple books in alternating fragments, concentration flickering. I received less solace from it.

What worked best for me were predictable genres: mysteries, fantasy, historical fiction. I’ve heard others say that they’re overworked and sad about politics, so the more escapist a book turned out to be, the better. That’s true for me, too, but personal stresses have diluted my attention even further. On the happy side, reading Shenandoah subs takes time and energy I used to devote to reviewing. I’m also launching my fifth poetry collection and my debut novel next year, and an essay collection in 2021. Good LORD did I reread and revise those mss, over and over, and when you’re reading your own pages you have less time for others’.

I still read and admired lots of poetry collections–many of those listed in “best of 2019” articles, and also small-press volumes by Erin Hoover, January O’Neil, Kyle Dargan, Martha Silano, Amy Lemmon, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Ned Balbo, Jeanne Larsen, Niall Campbell, Hai-Dang Phan, Paisley Rekdal, and Oliver de la Paz. I reviewed Franny Choi’s Soft Science for Strange Horizons. My brief year-in-review piece, forthcoming soon in that magazine, gives a shout-out to poetry collections that touch on sf as well as fun novels by Atwood, King, and a few others. Some sf-ish books I was excited to read, though, disappointed me, especially Ta-Nehisi Coates’ novel, which I found tedious (am I the only reader who thinks “Slavery is” might be an inauspicious way to begin a sentence?).

A few more books that touched, haunted, and even changed me: Joy Harjo’s Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, especially a prayer-poem near the beginning. A Holly Black fairy-tale my son recommended. Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, because of its disturbing exploration of “bad” parenting. Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, I don’t even know why–dark side of Downtown Abbey, maybe? Patchett’s The Dutch House, perhaps because I took it in more slowly than usual, as a brilliantly-delivered audiobook by Tom Hanks. And as I’ve posted before, I didn’t think The Slow Professor was a great book, but it gave me a lot to chew on as I considered how next year ought to be different.

2019 saw a lot more beautiful poetry books by beautiful people, and I WILL get to them in 2020, as well as voting for whatever candidate the Democratic party puts up against the current flaming-ass-in-chief. Oh, and I’m going to keep rereading this little treasure as I try to launch my own little fire-starters as brightly as possible. Happy new year, fellow readers!


1/8 Hoover, Barnburning* (review)

1/13 Hayes, American Sonnets* (reread for class)

1/14 O’Neil, Rewilding* (fandom)

1/15 Komunyaaka, Dien Cai Dau (reread for class)

1/20 Barnhart and Mahan, Women of Resistance* (for class)

1/25 Coleman, Words of Protest, Words of Freedom (reread for class)

1/29 Macfarlane, The Lost Words* (for class)

2/6 Bashir, Field Theories (reread for class)

2/7 Harjo, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings* (reread for class)

2/23 Dargan, Anagnorisis* (fandom)

2/24 Abraham, al youm (for class)

3/4 Mathieu, Orogeny (for class)

3/5 Nezhukumatathil, Oceanic (reread for class)

3/13 Silano, Reckless Lovely (reread for class)

3/16 Michelson, Dreaming America (reread for class)

3/25 Kaminsky, Deaf Republic (buzz—Twitter mostly)

4/6 Brown, The Tradition* (loved the title poem on

4/6 Jernigan, Years, Months, and Days (review)

4/11 Camp, One Hundred Hungers (reread for campus visit)

4/15 Lemmon, The Miracles* (fandom)

4/18 Fisher-Wirth, The Bones of Winter Birds* (fandom)

4/20 Silano, Gravity Assist* (fandom)

4/20 McCarthy, Surge (new pressmate)

4/21 Balbo, 3 Nights of the Perseids* (fandom)

4/27 Shakespeare, Sonnets (just got caught up in them)

4/30 Nethercott, The Lumberjack’s Dove (friend’s recommendation)

5/1 Kaneko, The Dead Wrestler Elegies (planning for his visit)

5/4 Youn, Ignatz (Krazy Kat fandom)

5/5 Xie, Eye Level (strong reviews)

5/14 Miller, Emily Dickinson’s Poems As She Preserved Them (teaching prep)

5/18 Larsen, What Penelope Chooses* (fandom)

5/18 Hayden, Exuberance* (fandom)

5/18 Selznick and Whitman, Live Oak, With Moss* (comics version, teaching prep)

5/18 Seay, The See the Queen (teaching/ visit prep)

5/18 Alleyne, Honeyfish* (teaching/ visit prep)

5/23 Camp, The Turquoise Door* (campus visit)

5/23 Nguyen, Ghost Of* (good reviews)

6/4 Nelson, The Freedom Business (forget where I bought it!)

6/10 Frank, Sometimes We’re All Living in a Foreign Country (bought at a reading)

6/12 Bashir, Where the Apple Falls (research)

6/17 Campbell, Noctuary* (fandom)                                                                             41

6/18 Rekdal, Nightingale* (fandom)

6/20 Bashir, Gospel (research)

6/21 Gray, Radiation King* (received review copy)

6/22 Schwartz, Miraculum (found it on my shelf)

6/23 Phillips, Reasons for Smoking (found it on my shelf)

6/23 Honum, The Tulip-Flame (found it on my shelf)

6/23 Baker, waha / mouth (fandom)

6/24 Phan, Reenactments* (fandom and research)

7/1 Choi, Soft Science* (for review)

7/4 Matejka, The Big Smoke (found it on my shelf)

7/8 Satterfield, Her Familiars (reread for research)

7/11 Bray, Small Mothers of Fright (research)

7/12 Ginsburg, Dear Weather Ghost (research)

7/12 Ginsburg, Double Blind (research)

7/13 Dawson, Big-Eyed Afraid (fandom)

7/14 Legros George, The Dear Remote Nearness of You (found it on my shelf)

7/15 Calvocoressi, Rocket Fantastic (found it on my shelf)

7/16 Ali, Sky Ward (research)

7/17 Mlinko, Marvelous Things Overheard (bought at a conference)

7/20 Winslow, Defying Gravity (by a friend)

8/25 Hancock, Cairns* (by a friend)

9/19 Gailey, She Returns to the Floating World* (reread for teaching)

9/23 H.D., Sea Garden* (reread for teaching)

9/26 Seay, To See the Queen (reread for her visit)

9/28 Lusby, Catechesis* (buzz)

9/30 de la Paz, The Boy in the Labyrinth* (fandom)

10/4 Eliot, Prufrock and Other Observations (reread for class)

10/8 Eliot, The Waste Land (reread for class)

10/10 Giménez Smith, Be Recorder (awards nominations)

10/? McLarney and Street, A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia (I’m in it!)

11/10 Hong, Age of Glass (met her at conference)

11/19 Hughes, Montage of a Dream Deferred (reread for class)

11/29 Jones, dark//thing* (met her at a conference)

12/8 Sze, Sight Lines* (prize win)

12/24 Heid Erdrich, Curator of Ephemera (prep for a possible campus visit)

12/27 Parker, ed., Changing is Not Vanishing (friends’ rec, for teaching)

12/31 Graber, The River Twice* (fandom)


1/5 Miller, Song of Achilles (daughter’s recommendation)

1/19 Miller, Circe (daughter’s recommendation)1/27 Burns, Milkman* (book group)

2/9 Walker, The Dreamers* (reviews and Emily Mandel’s blurb)

2/23 Anders, The City in the Middle of the Night* (fandom)

3/17 Oyeyemi, Boy, Snow, Bird (friends’ recommendations)

3/31 Oyeyemi, Gingerbread* (fandom)

4/6 Martin, Passage to the Dreamtime (play) (bought at a conference)

4/19 Black, The Dark Part of the Forest (son’s recommendation)

4/25 Chambers, Calls for Submission (met at a conference)

5/3 Herriman, Krazy & Ignatz (teaching prep)

5/8 LaValle, Destroyer (teaching prep)

5/19 Garstang, The Shaman of Turtle Valley* (local writer)

5/28 McLaughlin, Bearskin* (local connections plus Edgar win)

5/31 Atkinson, Transcription* audiobook (friends’ recommendation)

6/17 Walton, Lent* (fandom)

6/22 Crouch, Recursion* (NYT review)

6/23 Cisneros, The House on Mango Street (reread for teaching)

7/1 Hubbard, The Talented Ribkins (gift)

7/7 Kim, Miracle Creek* (reviews)

7/12 Ginsburg, Sunset City (research)

7/19 Ray, Whiskey Tales* (translator is a friend)

7/20 Rosenberg, Confessions of the Fox* (daughter’s recommendation)

8/1 Adieche, Americanah (teaching)

8/3 Waters, The Little Stranger (fandom)

9/9 Horrocks, The Vexations* (preparing for her visit to campus)

9/16 Atwood, The Testaments* (fandom)

9/25 King, The Institute* (fandom)

10/16 Joukhadar, Map of Salt and Stars (preparing for visit)

10/? Pullman, Book of Dust* (fandom)

11/? Patchett, The Dutch House* (audiobook for travel, word of mouth)

11/28 Coates, The Water Dancer* (ads; sounded good but wasn’t very)

12/15 Stout, Fer-de-Lance (friend’s recommendation)

12/20 Christie, Murder on the Orient Express (had never read it!)

12/25 Hoffman, The World We Knew* (friend’s recommendation)

12/30 Harrow, The Ten Thousand Doors of January (friend’s recommendation)


1/26 Fennelly, Heating & Cooling (reread for class)

2/6 Harjo, Crazy Brave (preparing for her visit)

3/16 Traister, Good and Mad* (college colloquium)

4/29 Sacks, Sacks, Way Up North in Dixie (research)

5/? Gay, The Book of Delights (fandom)

5/21 Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming (reputation)

5/22 Davis, Why Art?* (gift)

6/4 Hayles, Chaos Bound (research)

6/10 Atkins, The Laws of Thermodynamics (research)

6/10 Polkinghorne, Quantum Theory (research)

6/22 Darling, Je Suis L’Autre: Essays and Interrogations (research)

6/22 Kiefer, Nestuary (fandom)

6/24 Anker and Felski, Critique and Postcritique (research)

7/10 Vargas, Dear America* (teaching)

7/14 Moore, 16 Pills* (pressmate)

7/17 McSweeney, The Necropastoral (research)

8/7 Anzaldúa, Borderlands/ La Frontera (reread for teaching)

8/25 Rich, Permeable Membrane (gift)

11/27 Berg, Seeber, The Slow Professor (to co-lead faculty book club)

12/2 Hughes, ed., Sylvia Plath Drawings (fandom)

12/29 Slate, Little Weirds* (gift from daughter)

*published within the last year or so

5 responses to “Reading by the glow of a year on fire”

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