2017: A Year in Books

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This year, I ended 2017 by reading my *seventy-fifth* book! I had secretly been hoping to hit 100, but I fell short of that goal. Still, I am so glad I got to read so many amazing new books this year (and to re-read a few old favorites, too). Here is my list in chronological order. I will note my favorites at the end and any ones that have a * are re-reads. I hope my list gives you some ideas for your bookshelf.

***2017***

  1. Syllabus by Lynda Barry
  2. History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
  3. Eleven Hours by Pamela Erens
  4. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
  5. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley *
  6. Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
  7. Bruja by Wendy Ortiz
  8. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
  9. Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
  10. Abandon Me by Melissa Febos
  11. Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
  12. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
  13. Marlena by Julie Buntin
  14. Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell
  15. The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry
  16. Page After Page by Heather Sellers *
  17. Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson by Modern Library *
  18. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
  19. Rookery by Traci Brimhall *
  20. A House of my Own by Sandra Cisernos
  21. Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce
  22. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  23. Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch
  24. Bright Air Black by David Vann
  25. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
  26. Woman Most Wild by Danielle Dulsky
  27. Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah Maas
  28. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
  29. Witch by Lisa Lister
  30. Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
  31. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
  32. A Million Junes by Emily Henry
  33. Fledgling by Octavia Butler
  34. The Sellout by Paul Beatty
  35. Hunger by Roxane Gay
  36. Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes *
  37. Euphoria by Lily King
  38. Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
  39. Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
  40. Women in the Material World by Faith D'Alusio *
  41. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
  42. The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt
  43. House of Names by Colm Toibin
  44. The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
  45. The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
  46. The Nix by Nathan Hill
  47. Witches of New York by Ami McKay
  48. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  49. Lit by Mary Karr *
  50. What Happened by Hillary Clinton
  51. The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
  52. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken
  53. Norma by Sofi Oksanen
  54. Devotion by Patti Smith
  55. The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni
  56. Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang
  57. The Power by Naomi Alderman
  58. The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
  59. Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
  60. The Art of Misdiagnosis by Gayle Brandeis
  61. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanthi
  62. Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  63. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
  64. Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process by Joe Fassler
  65. The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness
  66. Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
  67. Literary Witches by Taisia Kitaiskaia and Katy Horan
  68. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg *
  69. Saudade by Traci Brimhall
  70. Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood *
  71. Witch Wife (poems) by Kiki Petrosino
  72. Blue Pastures by Mary Oliver *
  73. Autumn by Ali Smith
  74. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison *
  75. My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Of my list, eleven were rereads (about 14%), sixty-two were written by women (about 83%), and nearly 25% were books by writers of color. As for genre, fiction was the favorite--about 65%, with non-fiction at 24% and poetry at just six books total. In 2018, I hope to keep increasing cultural diversity and to incorporate more poetry. 

My top books of 2017 were (in no order)

  1. The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness
  2. Fledgling by Octavia Butler
  3. The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt
  4. Hunger by Roxane Gay
  5. Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  6. The Power by Naomi Alderman
  7. Autumn by Ali Smith
  8. Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich
  9. Abandon Me by Melissa Febos
  10. The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni
  11. The Art of Misdiagnosis by Gayle Brandeis
  12. History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
  13. Bright Air Black by David Vann
  14. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
  15. Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

Writing my "top books" list was nearly impossible, since I read SO many books I loved. Priestdaddy and What Happened were probably my "least favorite" reads and are the only ones I wouldn't likely recommend, though there were a few others that didn't *quite* live up to the hype for me personally. Overall, 2017 was a powerful reading year for me. I am excited about at least a dozen books coming in 2018, and looking forward to the ones I never saw coming to knock me out, too. If you're a writer, please keep writing. I want your book on my list someday. Happy 2018 and happy reading!

Light & Shadow

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The whole world feels like it is mutable. Inconsistent. Unsettled. We all tumble through the latest headlines and heartbreaks and blessings and brokenness. Finding ourselves, if we are lucky, tangled in a large swath of light. Finding ourselves tangled in a lover’s arms. A kiss as remedy. A conversation as medicine. A flare in the darkness. A touch and we remember what hope feels like.

Read the rest of my most recent photo essay at Modern Creative Life: HERE

Into the Woods

"The last remnants memory destroys."  ~W.G. Sebald~

Then, I ran off into the woods to find out if my words were still alive after a busy year of teaching and keeping a life, a house, a family running. We are all still here, but is the creative flow? That's always the question for me after I am away from the page in a full-on way for any period of time. I'd been writing small bits, but not with a full-on committed intensity that the work deserves. As the car wound its way up a long dirt road to a mountainside, I realized I was about to find out if my pen still held a whole universe.

 Millay Colony for the Arts, May 2017. Me, at my desk for hour after hour. Me, in workshops with Melissa Febos and Samantha Hunt. Me, watching deer out the window and listening to the chaos of birds. One night, as I read out loud to our group about screaming foxes, coyotes came down into the field and started calling, not to be outdone. My friends there said, They're encouraging you to use your voice. It rained almost every day. The rain made the whole world alive. I wandered alone over rutted gravel roads and miles of pages. There must be a way to keep this momentum going somehow, Melissa said over lunch. And, I wished there would be, but knew that (for me) once I was out of New York state, I would be back into the busy and my words would again ebb away to low-tide drifts, waiting until the next time. 

I understand that I don't have forever to figure this balancing act out. I visited Edna's grave and left her an offering in gratitude. In using her voice, she created physical and emotional space for other writers to do the same. Edna wasn't a mother, so she would likely not understand the bargains I must make in order to create--the patience it demands--the energy and mental space to hold room for everything. But, my life is the one I have chosen and would choose again and again. The words did come back to me. Full-throated. Glorious. It was easily the most productive long weekend I've ever had as a writer. I am back now three days and haven't written anything other than journal entries and these wandering words, but that doesn't reduce the impact of the time at Millay. And, the truth--the night I returned, I was awakened from my sleep just before dawn to the sound of the foxes welcoming me and I knew that I was home again.    

A Year in Books 2016

                                           

                                           

“Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.”

~Jane Smiley~

Reading has long been my deepest passion and comfort and escape. Books have led me to my career as a teacher and writer. Books have saved my life more than once. Books have given me empathy, intelligence, adventure, perspective, love, and power. They are everything. It's been this way for me since I was a small child. My love for books was incessant to the point where my mother decided to teach me to read before I started kindergarten so that she could get an occasional break from me and my requests for her to stop everything and read to me. This knowledge I went into school with was a gift--while my classmates learned the alphabet, I was given the indulgent luxury of going to the carpet with a book of my choice from the shelf and tucking quietly in around myself there to read in solitude while they practiced. Even now, not a day goes by where I don't read at least a page or two of whatever book I'm into. Nothing will ever convince me that reading isn't its own kind of symbolic, transformative magic.

All of that said, 2016 wasn't a great reading year for me. I didn't get through as many titles as I normally do. By October, I realized that my time online was having a negative impact on my books and I eventually cut out social media (which I've since returned to in a much more infrequent way). During my two week break from online life, I read eight books, compared to my one or so per week the whole eleven months before. This is all I needed to know. I am going into 2017 with a goal to *double* my reading of last year. My brain felt completely rewired by tapping into the words on the page as opposed to the ones on-screen. And though, yes, I may be retreating just a touch from the stream of content and information flooding my computer screen, I am deepening my connection to life. My goal for 2017 is to read 100 books--this is a crazy high number with all that's going on in my schedule and personal life, but I have little doubt I will reach it, if I continue to replace mindless scrolling for page turning. I want to return to that little girl sitting quietly, lost in the middle of a room full of people, traveling across infinite universes of books. 2017, a year of literary homecoming.

My books of 2016 (in the order in which they were read or re-read, as noted by the *)    

  1.  The End of Alice by A.M. Homes
  2. Witches of America by Alex Mar
  3. Falling in Place by Anne Beattie
  4. The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham
  5. The Mistress' Daughter by A.M. Homes
  6. The Third Angel by Alice Hoffman*
  7. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto*
  8. The Red Convertible by Louise Erdrich*
  9. M Train by Patti Smith*
  10. Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver*
  11. A Forest of Souls by Rachel Pollack
  12. What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
  13. Georgia by Dawn Tripp
  14. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  15. The First Book of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz
  16. LaRose by Louise Erdrich
  17. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
  18. It Didn't Start with You by Mark Wolynn
  19. Voyager by Diana Gabaldon
  20. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
  21. Dreams of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon
  22. Salt & Honey by Isabel Faith Abbott
  23. Rough Magick by Jessa Marie Mendez & Francesca Lia Block
  24. The Girls by Emma Cline
  25. An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon
  26. Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon
  27. Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
  28. The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
  29. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  30. The Folded Clock: A Diary by Heidi Julavitis*
  31. Beauty is Convulsive by Carole Maso
  32. Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst
  33. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
  34. Feeding your Demons by Tsultrim Allione
  35. Difficult Animal by Lisa Lutwyche
  36. Writing Begins with the Breath by Larraine Herring*
  37. Hagseed by Margaret Atwood
  38. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
  39. One Hundred Names for Love by Diane Ackerman
  40. What It Is by Lynda Barry
  41. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg*
  42. The First Bad Man by Miranda July
  43. When Mystical Creatures Attack by Kathleen Founds
  44. Mysteries of the Dark Moon by Demetra George
  45. Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung
  46. Memories of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada
  47. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
  48. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  49. Rookery by Traci Brimhall*
  50. The Big Girls by Susanna Moore
  51. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
  52. To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

There were some others in there that I either abandoned or didn't fully get through, but these listed are the start-to-finish 52. A few of them are by friends of mine, which made those an even more special reading experience (I did disqualify them for my "favorites" though, just to be fair). A few of them I really disliked (Witches of America was completely misleading and Love Warrior was just awful--I'm sorry to all of you out there who loved it); a few I was very disappointed in (always a letdown, especially when it is an author I really love--Ann Patchett, I'm looking at you). My favorite writers for the year were: Helen Oyeyemi, Patti Smith, Louise Erdrich, Yaa Gyasi, Kathleen Founds, Yoko Tawada, and Eowyn Ivey. Please, please, please go read their titles I listed above. I'm serious. I read all of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander books and it was a very fun series--immersive and entertaining--but not my favorites as far as the writing itself goes at all. I read two men, fifty women--a ratio I plan to keep pretty close to, though I am looking to increase the diversity of my authors and book genres overall. Here's to a Happy New Year in Books...may your reading life be rich & varied & wild & out of control in 2017!

Five

“When someone you love dies, and you're not expecting it, you don't lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time...Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes—when there's a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she's gone, forever—there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.” ~John Irving~

I didn't know I would never see her again. We stood outside the doctor's office, my sister on the phone to my brother, and Mom started to tear up. What's wrong, Mom? I touched her hand. She shook her head, tried to smile but couldn't. Hey, it's okay. You alright? She looked me square in the eye, her greenish-brownish entirely beautiful eyes nearly spilling over, holding mine. I'm scared, she said. 

I'm scared.

Those words haunt me now. I'll hear them in random moments and I'll see the ache in her face--the sorrow--and, yes, the fear. She wasn't supposed to die. She just had a routine test in a doctor's office and was supposed to go back in the morning to hear the results to see if anything further needed to be done. I kissed her. Oh, mom. I said. I love you. Everything is going to be alright. We'll get through whatever it is together. Yeah? She kissed me. I love you, too. I'll call you later.

I left her. Went back to work. That night, she did call me and we talked for a few minutes about how she was feeling--weak, still very anxious. She was watching my sister decorate her Christmas tree and having a cup of tea. Her voice sounded quiet, but still exactly hers. We said our goodbyes and our I love yous. We said we would talk in the morning. I'll call you on my way to work, Mom. I can come over to the doctor's when you guys go in.

My phone rang before dawn. I got up and grabbed it from my desk where I'd left it the night before. My sister on the other end, incoherent. Screaming. I felt my body hit the hardwood floor in the bedroom, my knees giving out on me. I dropped the phone but could still hear her screaming. I finally asked her to put my ex-husband on the phone because he was already there with her. There with them. Since he lived in their neighborhood, my sister called him to come as soon as she found her. I'm so sorry, he said, she is gone. I paused. Are you guys sure? Maybe you are wrong. He wept audibly, I'm sure. I'm so sorry. You need to come. 

I can't. I'm scared.

I didn't want to go there, but I did. Five years ago today, we lost her. But, I have been slowly losing her ever since. When someone dies out of nowhere like that, it takes time to move from shock to grief. Often, even still, the shock and pain of it will roll through me and I have to pause to catch my breath. I think it has taken me five years to understand that she is really gone--my grief just beginning. She was in her sixties. She was vibrant & spirited & opinionated & stronghearted & she is still needed on a daily basis, but she's gone. I wish, more than anything, I could have a cup of tea with her and ask her advice on a million things and tell her how right she was about absolutely everything. No one on this Earth loved me more than she did. I miss her love. I miss her.