To begin with I somehow deleted my Goodreads Reading Challenge a few weeks back. But I still have the count going and the books I’ve read are there on the profile. I have no idea how I did it, so I can’t really give an informed warning to anyone in the hope they may avoid such a thing. Maybe just don’t fuck with it. I can’t even remember what I was trying to do. In any case, here’s my second installment of my Goodreads year.
To begin with I have to say the best book I’ve read so far this year was Michael Robbins’s Alien vs. Predator. It was the first poetry collection I had read since finishing Denton Loving’s Crimes Against Birds last year. Mr. Robbins is a genius. I read nearly every poem out loud to someone, and each and every person I read them to absolutely adored them. I’ve never experienced a person’s work have that kind of effect on so many different people. The poems are formally structured for the most part and as far from formal in language and subject matter as a poet could possibly get. I really have no idea how he did this, but I can say that I’m basically mystified and inspired by the achievement. Read this collection. And his second collection The Second Sex is nearly as good. Read them both and be changed.
Here’s the other books I’ve read at this point in the year:
Visions by Troy James Weaver – I’ve been following Troy’s trajectory for a couple of years now and though I liked Marigold better than this one there was still that voice that is distinctly Troy’s in this one. I’m looking forward to what he does next.
Naked Friends by Justin Grimbol – This was a fun book but not much happened that had a solid reason. But I have to be honest, I was fine with that. It was a guided decent with some nice surprises.
Thanks and Sorry and Good Luck: Rejection Letters from the Eyeshot Outbox by Lee Klein – In about 2008 I received my one and only rejection letter from Lee Klein. I really wanted in Eyeshot but after that rejection I never sent again. I wish now I would have read more of the rejections he had posted there. After reading this book of selected Eyeshot rejections I can see clearly that Lee only ever had the best intentions, as can be seen in how much time he spent thinking about and sharing his thoughts with the writers in his response letters. If all editors spent as much time doing this we’d all be better off.
Handwriting by Michael Ondaatje – Behold my favorite writer. And also the first book of his poetry I’ve ever read. I didn’t care much for it. I saw what he was doing with the collection but I simply wasn’t interested. I felt bad about that. Still do.
Nothing is Strange by Mike Russell – This was a fun read. Inventive and innovative, and I now intend to read more of Mike’s books. He also has his own publishing thing going and it puts out books of fabulism and surrealism, etc.
Bluets by Maggie Nelson – This book had been on my radar (or rather all over the radar in general) for as long as I’ve been kicking around the indie scene. I finally got my hands on a copy at Barnes & Noble in Lexington and I’ll say that it reminded me of Anne Carson’s Beauty of the Husband a little bit, which is a fine thing, of course. But I’ll say Nelson makes the color blue her own, and there are clear and present moments of genius. I read it fast because it was good, though I’m still working to fully understand the immense hype.
Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery by Tim Earley – I read the very first poem in this magnificent collection and went instantly to social media and proclaimed with excitement that Tim Earley is the best poet writing today. I stand behind that statement now and it’ll take a poet that surpasses Keats to change my mind. But minds can be changed, mind you.
The Second Sex by Michael Robbins – Like I said, this one wasn’t as good as A vs. P but it was Robbins and it’s still amazing. His book of literary criticism comes out in a couple weeks. Buying it soon as it’s available.
Whim Man Mammom by Abraham Smith – I like the idea of Abraham Smith as a poet and, from what I’ve seen of him as a person who is a poet, he seems to be a cool guy. I saw pictures of him reading his latest poetry collection at Third Man Records about a week ago. Him and the whole scene looked turbo cool. But alas, I did not like this collection. I can appreciate what he was doing with language, but it nearly inaccessible. I’ll keep reading his work, though. I feel like there’s something great there.
EOB: Earth Out of Balance by John Minichillo – This was a turbo fun read. Smart, innovative, deep while still cool. John has always published really tight work, but this one is tight as bark on a tree. Future days with all notions of culture and social class turned on its head with some depleted resources thrown in for good measure. You honestly can’t go wrong with this book. And when I bought it the price was ridiculously low.
Paris Blues by Charles Baudelaire – It’s Baudelaire. I mean what more do I need to say. If you have an interest in poetry at all, this is one of the greats and someone you pretty much have to take into account. In Paris Blues we get some of the first prose poetry ever written. And it’s still among the best of all time.
The Devil’s Trill by Ron Houchin – Ron is a really good friend of mine. And also one of the best poets in all of Appalachia. With this book, he now proves he’s also a contender for one of the best young adult authors from the area. This horror novel that casts a group of scrappy kids in the shared, heroic lead is everything you’d hope it would be. I had the seriously amazing privilege to write a blurb for it, which goes: “Ron Houchin’s The Devil’s Trill is a thrilling and splendidly horrifying tale. But, beyond even that, it’s the story of a hardscrabble group of kids who face the impossible and, in doing so, discover a new kind of strength through friendship. It’s a real gift that Houchin has turned his poetic eye to the inner lives of these children and all they have to teach us about loyalty and courage. I had an absolute blast reading this book.“
On Broad Sound by Rusty Barnes – A book by another good friend. On Broad Sound is Rusty’s sort of love collection to his adopted New England home. Another Appalachia boy, he has written literature of that region and poetry as good as anyone for decades now. Recently turning his pen to crime novels, he’s doing wonderful work there. But On Broad Sound, in my honest opinion, is the best thing he’s written to this point.
Tinderbox Lawn by Carol Guess – This book made me want to write prose poetry. I’m convinced it would make anyone who reads it, writer or not, want to write prose poetry. I’ve looked at her other titles and I’m not sure I’d enjoy them as much, but this one should be a prose poetry classic.
Alright, let’s keep reading. Let’s be better readers. Let’s remind all of them (whoever they may be) that the world is made up of stories and that’s perfectly okay. Here’s what Bolaño says about it all: “Reading is more important than writing.”