These are the books of the middle of the grey season here in Seattle. It’s been a good month for reading.
Books that I read:
Best American Poetry 2016 — Edward Hirsch, ed. (2016)
Not as lovely and full of surprises as the 2014 edition edited by Terrance Hayes. This is more predictable poetry from the major venues and it lacks the punch and pull of some earlier volumes. Nonetheless, there are fine pieces of work here. And if you’re looking for a new to you poets this is always a good way to find them.
* why is the default organization alphabetical? surely there are more interesting ways to arrange a volume of poetry *
Visiting Privileges: New and Collected Stories — Joy Williams (2015)
What can I say? — Joy Williams continues to produce stories and vignettes that challenge our version of what a personal narrative means. And our notions of how people are connected and disconnected from their milieu and from themselves. I just read an essay that discusses the sense of self vs not-self in regards to mental illness. (See next month’s reviews for more.) There are thin places in the psyche where “I” rubs up against “not‑I” and the distinctions become problematic. This happens in many of Williams stories. And then there is the simple joy of her language.
* who am I, when I am not who I am? and who are you? *
Eleanor and Hick: The Love affair that Shaped a First Lady — Susan Quinn (2016)
I stopped part way through this. The relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and her friend Lorena Hickok has been discussed to death by ER scholars and while this book makes a good case for a tightly intimate relationship bordering on a love affair between the woman it’s actually a pretty dull book. How anyone can make story of a lifelong relationship between two powerful women who go on to change history seem so dull? By making it mostly a list of dates, and places, and excerpts from letters that provides no great insight into either woman.
* reads like a travelogue to a dull country *
The Round House — Louise Erdrich (2013)
The very short version: a brutal attack on a woman results in a changed relationship between a father and son. There are many characters familiar to readers of Erdrich’s stories here. They populate the edges of the story and bring perspective to a story of a woman traumatized, her husband who wonders how to bring his wife back from the abyss, and their 13-year-old son, Joe who is thrust prematurely in the adult world of imperfect justice. Fine writing and characters that we can care for, and Erdrich’s insightful excavations into the interior of the human heart and what it means to love.
* what happens when adolescence runs up against the adult world *
Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer — Fredrik Backman (2016)
A novella. Told in the voice of man who is slipping into dementia. Grandpa sits in a square in a park with his grandson NoahNoah. It’s a square that grows smaller and smaller each day as the memories of his life time slip away. You’ll fall in love with the boy who sits watching his grandfather and not quite understanding what’s happening to his hero. As well as feel a touch of compassion for the son who watches as his father confuses his grandson with himself. It’s a story about slowly saying goodbye.
* Poignant. I read it on Christmas Eve — in one sitting. *
Wishful Drinking — Carrie Fisher (2008)
Carrie Fisher is honest, tough on herself, and funny. The book is related to the one-woman show that she did in 2008. (Filmed by HBO in 2010). While it retains many of Fisher’s characteristic funny moments, it lacks the vocal and gestural tricks that Fisher used in the show to make the thing hang together.
* watch it, don’t read it *
As always click on the cover to see the book at Amazon.