Happy New Year! Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, on to business.
I know what you’re thinking, but I don’t mean the best books published in 2020. A lot of fantastic books published this past year were overlooked due to the pandemic, cancelled author fairs, and evaporated promotion opportunities. No, I’m referring to the books I enjoyed the most in the last twelve months--including books I reread for comfort (difficult year, remember?). If you’d like the full list, I will post it in my writing blog in the near future.
BEST OF BOOKS READ 2020:
--I love this book so much. The concept is brilliant. Each short poem is written in the voice of each denizen of the graveyard in Spoon River, with the exception of the two poems that bookend the collection. Each new resident’s story reveals secrets buried beneath the veneer of a wholesome rural community. This is one of those books I come back to again and again, because each reading reveals more layers.
The Answer Is Not Here by Lisa M. & Sean Thomas Dougherty
--Lisa and Sean Dougherty are married poets, and the book is like reading their love letters to each other. Simply beautiful.
The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley (audiobook via Audible)
--I hadn’t read many new scifi or fantasy books in awhile, but this one was irresistible. Soldiers are broken down into light for interplanetary travel that changes them in more ways than one. Is the main character experiencing time differently than the rest of her platoon or is she simply crazy? What’s really going on? The reader for this was amazing also, and I couldn’t wait to get to the end. A fantastic read!
--Another book I reread often, translated from the original French, so different versions vary slightly. Cyrano is almost perfect: a superior poet, soldier, author--except that he feels himself unworthy of the woman of his dreams. Why? Because he has a big nose. However, she has eyes for the handsome Christian, and views Cyrano simply as a dear friend. What results is the most sublimely tragic romance in history, with Christian courting the beautiful Roxanne with the words of lovesick Cyrano. I cry every time I read this and keep coming back for more.
ODD LOTS, SCRAPS & SECOND-HAND, LIKE NEW: POEMS by Will Wells
--I was given an autographed copy of this book, an eclectic collection with poems about the author’s immigrant family, love poems, and more. I don’t really have much more to say about it, other than it was just lovely. I really enjoyed it!
Moby Dick by Herman Melville (Audible audiobook)
--One of my favorite books, it’s prose that reads like poetry. You may be familiar with the general plot of Ahab and his white whale, but that only scratches the surface. The real delight of this novel is the constant ruminations of Ismael on everything from philosophy to the anatomy and brotherhood of man. Everything is metaphor, woven within this compelling story of madness and the crew that--despite being manned by sane men--follow Ahab to their own watery graves.
Paradise Lost by John Milton (NOOK ebook)
--As part of my self-education, I wanted to acquaint myself with this classic. In recent years, I’ve made a point of trying to read or listen to epic poems, and I absolutely adored this. I found Satan to be a compelling and sympathetic villain, with a genuine beef against the Almighty, right up until he decided to screw over mankind because of his daddy issues. He observes man and woman, feels sorry for them, then proceeds to tempt them anyway because his revenge and his standing with the other fallen angels is more important to him than mercy or kindness. The composition, imagery, descriptions, and other aspects all combine to make this poem a masterpiece. I’m considering reading Paradise Regained as well.
*note: While you can get this book free through manybooks.net, it’s written with archaic English spellings, so spending a few bucks for a modern version is well worth the price!
Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan (ebook)
--When I read this series of essays, I wasn’t really sure where they were going. The end result, as far as I could see, was an impressionistic novel about a family living in America. I don’t really know how else to describe it, but I loved it.
Quintessence by William F. DeVault (ebook)
--Beat Poet Laureate Emeritus William F. DeVault has a unique gift for words, combining form and romance in this beautiful collection.
Meat and Bone by Sandra Feen (paperback)
--Columbus poet Sandra Feen writes with both skill and vulnerability, never more so than in this personal narrative of a marriage gone wrong. I felt such empathy and love while reading this; it really drew me in.
A Place to Stand by Jimmy Santiago Baca (ebook via Overdrive)
--I read this nonfiction book, because it was recommended to me by a close friend. If you’ve ever wondered about our nation’s prison system and what it does to the people inside, this book is about that and so much more. Jimmy Santiago Baca went to prison, survived, and rose beyond it through the power of poetry and perseverance. A truly inspirational and heartbreaking book.
The Walking Dead, Vol. 32: Rest In Peace (via Hoopla Digital)
--Once again, I read through the entire series of The Walking Dead, because--as I’ve said before--it cheers me up: no matter how bad things are, at least we’re not living in the zompocaylpse. This book, the final installment of the series, wraps up loose ends and delivers gut punches along with a healthy helping of hope for the future.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
--I’ve been trying to fill in gaps in my education by reading at least one classic a year that I’ve never read before. This one, about a boy taking off for an adventure in the big city, reminded me a lot of Old School, and I enjoyed it just as much!
The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura (ebook via Overdrive)
--A mixture of nonfiction essays about the culture, cultivation, history, and enjoyment of tea, as well as the most beautiful book I’ve read this year. It was written as prose but reads like poetry.
Writing on the Wall: Social Media - The First 2,000 Years by Tom Standage (Audible audiobook)
--I had previously listened to another audiobook by this author, A History of the World in 6 Glasses, so I expected an interesting nonfiction book. There’s not really much more to tell, since the title really says it all. I liked the book, with the small caveat that one of the chapters seemed to be almost identical to one I had listened to in the previous book--probably because some material overlapped. Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed the read.
The Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (audiobook via Audible)
--An amazing fantasy steeped in Middle Eastern mythology with a fantastic new magic system and engaging characters. The audiobook was read well and with feeling. My only complaint about this book is that the next one in the series isn’t out yet!
A Place So Deep Inside America It Can't Be Seen by Kari Gunter-Seymour
--Honestly, I already posted a review, so I’m going to quote it here:
a deeply personal yet profoundly relevant account of growing up in Appalachia; the book speaks insightfully of profound loss in the language of her own family's wisdom. She is eloquent with simple terms, onomotopeia, and the natural musicality of language. Reading her words, you get a feel for the traditions of the region she grew up in, as well as her own personal experiences--presented in a relatable way. Her poems have feeling. They have punch. They wrench your gut and warm your heart. You need to read them.
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (ebook via Overdrive app)
--This novel about the sons of Mr. Nancy--an incarnation of the spider god, Anansi, is pure joy. Lots of fun and mischief and general adorableness.
Trekonomics by Manu Saadia by (audiobook)
--A student of science and economic history, Manu Saadia makes the case for the plausibility as well as the likelihood that Gene Roddenberry’s idealistic economic vision will become humanity’s future. I was genuinely surprised, if not ultimately swayed, by the logic of his arguments.
The Circus of His Bones: Poems by Steve Brightman (Trade paperback)
--This themed poetry collection tackles the narrative of Adam and Eve in modern everyday life. Since I was already familiar with some of this poet’s work, I expected to enjoy the book, but it was even better than I’d anticipated. Absolutely brilliant.
Dante's The Divine Comedy translated by Clive James (Audible audiobook)
--Although Dante’s masterpiece needs no introduction, I will say that this translation into modern prose was easy to understand and well read.
Currently reading/listening to
--Despite enjoying this poem at first, after reading a third of the book I’ve become bored with Byron’s long-winded verse. The narrative is racy when he sticks to it, but he digresses constantly: sometimes humorously, sometimes to make some moral point, and often to pick on his contemporaries--especially Wordsworth. Because of this, Don Juan’s actual story is constantly sidelined and I finally just lost interest altogether. I’m glad I read as much as I did--as this book is considered one of Byron’s greatest works, but I doubt I’ll pick it up again.
An Introduction to Haiku with translations and commentary by Harold G. Henderson
--This book is a lovely mix of haiku from different masters, along with some history and explanations of how to read and appreciate the form. Because this was a library book that I read slowly, I need to pause for the moment (my hold was up) but plan to check it out again to continue my study.
Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler
--I acquired this ebook via a Humble Bundle deal a year or more ago, but only began reading it recently. I’m thoroughly invested in the story: in a near future devastated by climate change, the followers of a new religious cult, Earthseed, must navigate the dangers of a world gone mad. This is science fiction, but it’s also a terrifying vision that the last year has taught us may not be all that far fetched after all.
I apologize for the lateness of this post. Recent events in my personal life disrupted my writing schedule for December and January. By February, my routine should return to normal. Thank you for your patience, and I sincerely hope 2021 marks a return to normalcy for you as well, when you will be able to meet friends and family safely, and everyone’s social lives will be resurrected.
I’d also love to specially thank my sponsors, Paul Weimer, Doug, Debi Schiavoni Shepherd, John Burroughs, and Joy for your patronage. In the meantime, stay safe, stay well, and read often!