I love to read, but I struggle constantly with my own expectations of how and what to read and specifically with how much to read. The struggle comes to a head about this time of year when I look back and make some kind of judgment about how I spent my limited time and energy. For 2018, I ended up reading 52 books, obviously, an average of one per week, although it wasn’t paced out that way at all.
Does it matter? Does the number of books I’ve read make me a better person? Does it make me a better writer? There’s some science to back up both possibilities. But more importantly, I enjoy reading. I love a book that captures me with its language and its characters, and yeah, a great narrative helps too.
Two of the books I loved the most this past year are Jacob Shores-Arguello’s In the Absence of Clocks and John Brandon’s Further Joy. Neither writer was familiar to me when I came across their work in magazines. Arguello’s poetry was found in The New Yorker, and I found a short story by Brandon in Oxford American. Both journal pieces blew me away. I felt so lucky to discover that each had books that were as thoroughly good as their individual publications.
Here’s the list of all 52 books I read this year. I’d love to see what you read in 2018. And I’d love to year which books were your favorites and which ones will stick with you.
1. Russell Banks – A Permanent Member of the Family
2. Virgil – Eclogues
3. Julia Cameron – The Artist’s Way
4. Laura Hunter – Beloved Mother
5. Elaine Fletcher Chapman – Hunger For Salt
6. Jacob Shores-Arguello – In the Absence of Clocks
7. Michael Dowdy – Urbilly
8. Eric Shonkwiler – Moon Up, Past Full
9. William Shakespeare – The Merchant of Venice
10. Marie Howe – What the Living Do
11. Robert Pinsky – At the Foundling Hospital (Feb)
12. William Shakespeare – As You Like It
13. Marie Howe – The Good Thief
14. Jacob Shores-Arguello – Paraiso
15. Madeline Ffitch – Valparaiso, Round the Horn
16. Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge – Poemcrazy
17. Todd Boss – Tough Luck: Poems
18. Walt Whitman – Song of Myself (Mar)
19. Marc Harshman – Believe What You Can
20. Rita Quillen – The Mad Farmer’s Wife
21. Linda Parsons Marion – This Shaky Earth
22. Greg Wrenn – Centaur
23. John Brandon – Further Joy
24. John Lane – Anthropocene Blues
25. Larry Thacker – Drifting in Awe
26. Rachel Danielle Peterson – A Girl’s A Gun
27. Michael Knight – The Holiday Season
28. Jia Oak Baker – Well Enough to Travel
29. James M. Gifford – Jesse Stuart, Immortal Kentuckian
30. Manuel Gonzales – The Miniature Wife
31. Sharon Kay Penman – Falls the Shadow
32. Crystal Wilkinson – The Birds of Opulence
33. James Herriot – All Things Wise and Wonderful
34. Ottessa Moshfegh – My Year of Rest and Relaxation
35. Rowling, Tiffany & Thorne – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
36. William Glasser – Choice Theory
37. James Herriot – All Creatures Great and Small
38. Sylvia Lynch – Jack Lord: An Acting Life
39. Kevin Fitton – Dropping Ballast (manuscript)
40. Jane Smiley – A Thousand Acres
41. Stephen Mitchell – Gilgamesh
42. C.D. Wright – One with Others
43. Kevin Canty – Into the Great Wide Open
44. George Eliot – Silas Marner
45. Michael Kardos – The Three-Day Affair
46. Christopher Smith – Salamanders of the Silk Road
47. Grant Faulkner, Lynn Mundell, Beret Olsen – Nothing Short of 100
48. Maureen Seaton – Fisher
49. Amy D. Clark – Success in Hill Country
50. Langston Hughes – Let America Be America Again and other poems
51. Cassie Pruyn – Lena
52. Kathryn Stripling Byer – Catching Light
I’m so fortunate to have interesting friends who are always doing creative things. Case in point is my friend Megan Galbraith. Below, you’ll see a letter Megan wrote calling for people to write love letters to ourselves. Megan has written one to herself, and if you’re game, she’ll trade with you. I’m working on my own love letter to myself right now. It’s not an easy task, but I’m glad Megan asked me to try it. I hope you will too. Check out Megan’s directions below.
Earlier this year, in the midst of personal despair, I came across a self-care tip that seemed simple enough: write a love letter to myself. I tried it. It knocked me on my ass.
As much as I poo-poo the self-care industrial complex, writing that letter did help. It also got me thinking hard about love, wanting more of it in my life, and about ways to collectively build each other up instead of tearing each other down.
So, as part of The Dollhouse, I’m launching a collaborative project called “Love Letters to Ourselves.”
I want to revive the art of letter writing, spread the love around, and understand how other people love themselves.
Will you write one? I want to see your beautiful soul.
Here’s what to do:
1. Write a love letter to yourself in any form
2. Include your name and return address
3. Put it in an envelope, lick a stamp and . . .
4. Mail your letter to: Lisette Ophelia Von Elsevier (see what I did there?) P.O. Box 483 Cambridge, NY 12816
5. When I receive it, I’ll mail you my love letter to myself.
6. Voila! Pen Pals.
Some year, I’m going to read 100 books within a space of 12 months. It wasn’t 2017 though. My list for this past year is so short, I’m almost ashamed to show it. But here it is anyway. Several of these books were read in manuscript form and aren’t available on the market yet. Look for them in 2018.
I’ve talked a lot about how problematic I find J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. And I never skip a chance to say again what a bad book it is. Beyond that, I recommend so many of the beautiful books on this list for various reasons.
I suppose the book I’m most proud of reading this year is Cormac McCarthy’s The Orchard Keeper. I started this book about 15 years ago–maybe longer. I suppose I wasn’t read y for McCarthy. And though I’ve read several of his other novels in the past decade, The Orchard Keeper sat on the shelf, never finished. Going back to it this year, I found it to be a really beautiful book, and I was glad I had kept it around all those years.
I’d love to hear what your favorite books were from 2017, or the one you’re most proud of reading. Let’s all read more this new year.
Here’s my full list:
1. Jim Wayne Miller – The Mountains Have Come Closer
2. J.D. Vance – Hillbilly Elegy
3. Alison Stine – Ohio Violence
4. Lincoln Michel – Upright Beasts
5. Ron Houchin – The Man Who Saws Us in Half
6. Iris Tillman Hill – All This Happened Long Ago – It Happens Now
7. Blas Falconer – A Question of Gravity and Light
8. Claudia Emerson – The Late Wife
9. Charles River Editors – The Library of Alexandria and the Lighthouse of Alexandria
10. Gerry Wilson – Crosscurrents and Other Stories
11-18. 8 manuscripts for a poetry contest
19. Mark Wunderlich – The Earth Avails
20. Timothy Liu – Don’t Go Back to Sleep
21. Anais Duplan – Take This Stallion
22. Peter LaBerge – Makeshift Cathedral
23. Jeanne Bryner – Both Shoes Off
24. Keith Lesmeister – We Could Have Been Happy Here
25. James Arthur – Charms Against Lightning
26. Ocean Vuong – Night Sky with Exit Wounds
27. Sean Frederick Forbes – Providencia
28. Clifford Garstang – Everywhere Stories Volume 2
29. Jenson Beach – Swallowed By the Cold
30. Adam Clay – Stranger
31. Joanne Nelson – If Not For the Mess
32. Katlin Brock – The Dead Always Stay OR Between the Wounds
33. Wes Sims – Taste of Change
34. Mark Powell – Small Treasons
35. Carol Grametbauer – Homeplace
36. Cormac McCarthy – The Orchard Keeper
37. Richard Hugo – The Triggering Town
38. Donald Morrill – Beaut
39. Lynne Sharon Schwartz – No Way Out But Through
Here’s a quick list of some of the wonderful poetry and nonfiction that I’ve found online in the last couple of weeks. This list is woefully short of fiction recommendations, but I’ll try to fix that soon. In the meantime, enjoy these pieces:
And the Best of the Net awards have been announced! Congrats to Cassie Pruyn for making the list with her poem, “Traveler’s Monologue,” originally published in Border Crossing. And congrats to Adam Clay who’s on the list with his poem, “When the People We Know Become the People We Don’t,” originally published at Jet Fuel Review. You can see the whole list here: http://www.sundresspublications.com/bestof/.