so my nye resolution this year was to read 100 books. I don’t feel like I’ve read nearly enough stuff to do this whole poetry thing properly, so that’s part of the reason. (also I’m goddamn competitive.) here’s the list so far (I’ll do this in chunks; this is pt.1; the first 15.) There’s novels, books of short stories, and poetry chapbooks. I’ve also done brief reviews of all the books (more for me to remember how I felt about them than anything else, my brain is like a sieve…)
Also, recommendations for more books appreciated 🙂
1. A Manual For Cleaning Women (Lucia Berlin)
I’m slightly in love with Lucia Berlin. I would have loved to have met her. Her writing is punchy and funny and self-deprecating and dark; mostly autobiographical. She led an incredibly interesting life, and I feel like she’s pretty criminally overlooked really. Some of her short stories are seriously short (“Macadam” is less than a page) but she never fails to craft a detailed image.
2. The Outrun (Amy Liptrot)
Reading “The Outrun” was weird for me because it focusses on both the Orkney Isles (where I’ve been going on holiday most years since I was maybe 11) and London, where I’ve lived for the last 3 years. Apart from the constant “I know that place!” going on in my head, this book is really important. The author’s struggle with alcoholism is intertwined with her move to London and the tech-heavy existence she leads there. Her move back to Orkney is literally a breath of fresh air. Life-affirming. I hate that term, but there you have it. Life-affirming.
3. Grief Is The Thing With Feathers (Max Porter)
A short, sweet, beautiful story-poem. It’s very introverted and close-knit; the way it focusses in on the father’s vs. the sons’ reactions to the mother’s death via a third party (the crow) works amazingly. It’s funny, moving, and somehow dark and light at the same time.
4. The Glorious Heresies (Lisa McInnery)
Couldn’t put this down. Almost physically. I think I read it in a day. I love, love, love noir; so this was right up my darkened alley. Lots of anti-heroes and seediness, plus written in brilliant, punch-to-the-gut prose. (Makes me even happier that it was written by a woman.)
5. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (Raymond Carver)
This is actually my mum’s book; she also has the version of Carver’s short stories that hasn’t been brutally attacked by an editor, “Beginners”, which I also want to read at some point. WWTAWWTAL (whoah) is fairly Chekhovian in style (but worlds away from Lucia Berlin’s work, which I actually prefer). Having read snippets of “Beginners”, the editing seems to have had a very strong impact on the tone of some of the stories (some more than others). This is interesting in itself. I like Carver’s sense of detail; his focus on the small things which might seem mundane at first glance.
6. Fast-Speaking Woman (Anne Waldman)
A lot of Waldman’s poetry focusses on the incredibly broad and colourful nature of woman-ness. I love her stream-of-consciousness style, and I wish I could write poetry like her. Her work owes a lot to First Nation chants, something I would like to know more about.
7. The Beat Road (edited by Arthur & Kit Knight)
Kinda does what it says on the tin; through pieces written at various times by people involved in the movement, “The Beat Road” paints a pretty succinct picture of the mood of the time. It’s allowed me to take one more step along the journey to being obsessed to the point of cliche with the Beats.
8. Like (Ali Smith)
I didn’t know much about Ali Smith’s work before. Having read up on other peoples’ response to this (her first novel; I thought I may as well start at the beginning), I actually had kind of the opposite reaction to most people. I preferred the second section of the book; critics seemed to prefer the first. For some reason the tone of the first part irritated me (I felt like the prose was almost too oversimplified, which is weird because usually I like really straightforward, clear prose). It didn’t help that I felt like I was being kept in the dark as a reader; for not much reason, as it turned out. The idea behind the novel was interesting, definitely; but maybe I should’ve tried one of her later works. The story it turned out to be wasn’t the one I was expecting from the tone of the first part; I thought it was going to be grittier, and that the characters would elicit more empathy from the reader.
9. A Place of Greater Safety (Hilary Mantel)
Bloody brilliant. Seriously. Not even really sure what to say. As a reader, you get a window into even the most minor characters’ heads. The contrast between the wider brutality, and the camaraderie between the main characters, is incredible. Speaking as someone who only knew the very basics about the French Revolution before reading this, I now feel kind of like I knew the people involved personally (I know, a lot of it had to be fictionalised because there weren’t enough records available, but damn).
10. Ariel (Sylvia Plath)
“Death & Co.” & “The Munich Mannequins” are my favourites. I don’t know what else to say- she’s Sylvia bloody Plath.
11. Feelings: Soft Art (published by Rizzoli)
So this is an art book, which may be cheating (it’s not, though, because I made up the rules). Some of the pieces in here have directly inspired poems. I love the idea of “soft art”, not just because of the pastel colours and gradients and general squishiness, but the general squishy-ness of it all; artists putting all the delicate parts of themselves into their work.
12. Sunshine (Melissa Lee-Houghton)
“Sunshine” has a grimy, gorgeous, fucked-up beauty to it. The subject matter of these poems is often bleak, but they also involve a lot of wit and dark humour. Emotionally difficult to read and process, but a lot of the best poetry is. (Not that I feel like I currently know enough poetry.)
13. Just Kids (Patti Smith)
I’ve read it before, anyway. Just fancied it again because it’s a beautifully emotive book, which once made me cry on the bus to work. The purity of her relationship with Mapplethorpe shines through in this, and it’s an amazing memorial to him and his work.
14. Illuminations (Arthur Rimbaud)
Well, I guess I can’t be a poet if I haven’t read Rimbaud. I really love “Illuminations”. I’ve gotta admit, “Just Kids” is the only reason I would’ve thought to read Rimbaud’s work, but I’m particularly a fan of his more mystic stuff (i.e. “Mystic”… also “Flowers”, “Marine”, “Metropolitan”).
15. Text & Drugs & Rock & Roll (Simon Warner)
I have to say, this was a struggle. I find any even mildly academic book to be something of a struggle; especially one about a literary movement (the Beats) whose “First thought best thought” approach to writing was/is basically the antithesis of academia. Personally I felt like the whole thing was over-analysing a movement which is probably best communicated through interviews with the people who were involved (which has been done anyway in various other formats). I found out some interesting new stuff about people I admire, though, which is always good.
I’m currently reading number 16: Herman Hesse’s “Steppenwolf”.