Year in Reading

French BirdAn ongoing, briefly-annotated record of books read —with links to IndieBound and to particular bricks-and-mortar booksellers where purchases were made. (Most recent reads are at the top.)



I Have Nothing To Say About Fire: Poems by Marjorie Saiser.  When browsing in The Book Shop, I somehow recognized this title; and I was hooked after reading just one poem, “Last Day of Kindergarten”.  My oldest grandson is a kindergartner this year, so I was bowled over with recognition of his spirit, his bravado, his promise. Saiser’s poetry is poignant, inviting, genuine. Each poem in the collection is worth remarking upon, and many lines stay with me. But I memorized this one: “Let what I did and failed to do / drop like a leaf from my hand.” (The Book Shop, Green Valley AZ)

ask me

Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems by William Stafford, a posthumous collection edited by his son, Kim Stafford.  Ask Me includes one of the half dozen poems I keep in my own pocket,  “A Ritual to Read to Each Other,” which begins, “If you don’t know the kind of person I am / and I don’t know the kind of person you are / a pattern that others made may prevail in the world / and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.” Indeed. And every one of the other ninety-nine poems is just as necessary. This book would make a wonderful gift for any thinking person. (Ellen Plumb’s City Books, Emporia KS)

an elderly lady

An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good by Helene Tursten (translated by Marlaine Delargy). I’ve read Tursten’s first two Detective Inspector Irene Huss mysteries and I’m hooked. Her fiction is set in Gothenburg, Sweden so she is often grouped with the Scandinavian Noir writers. These stories, uniquely told from the murderer’s point of view rather than the detective’s, are delightful in a macabre way.  Plus, I love small-format books. This too would make a lovely gift. (Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita KS)

Becoming by Michelle Obama. I highly recommend the audio. I could listen to her speak all day. (Cloud Library).

The Best American Short Stories, 2018 by Roxane Gay, who gives this long-standing annual collection a much needed kick in the pants. (Valley Booksellers, Stillwater MN)

The Best Small Fictions 2018 –it’s astonishing how much good storytelling can happen in just a page or two. (Prairie Lights Bookstore, Iowa City IA)

The Long Take by Robin Robertson. A runner up for the prestigious Man Booker Prize. A novel in the form of a poem. Mesmerizing.  (The Bookworm, Omaha NE) *in progress.

white fragilityWhite Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo. Oh boy. This book is not only important; it’s a game changer. Worth laying aside defensiveness and denial about being racist in a white-oriented culture built on it, still shored up by it. Be brave. Read it. (Cherry Street Books, Alexandria MN)


Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh. An impressive blend of sociology, cultural analysis, reportage, storytelling and personal testimony. Powerful and beautifully written. It’s being compared to Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy and Ehrenreich’s Nickle and DimedDefinitely a book for our times (The Book Vine, Cherokee IA)



Heresy by Melissa Lenhardt. I had a hard time getting through this book, and not because it wasn’t a good story. It was. Nor was my difficulty due to the writing. Lenhardt is a very good writer. I was eager to read this feminist western! and the story itself did not disappoint; nor did the masterful telling; nor did the fully drawn and engaging cast of characters, with the protagonist being particularly well-done. But the FONT for Pete’s sake! The font (sans serif) used for the bulk of the narration (the protagonist’s journal) made the entire read unpleasant for me. And there was something unusual about the paper choice too. These are my failings, for sure. And if you are less distracted by such things, I hope you will read Heresy. It’s a good book! (Scout & Morgan Books, Cambridge MN)


Quiet Until the Thaw by Alexandra Fuller. I was skeptical about this novel. I tend to approach with caution writing by non-Natives that takes for its subject Native life. But I’ve read it twice, now: first for a Book Women reading retreat that didn’t materialize for me (first on the waiting list!), and again for a Book Women reading group which I will happen to hook up with in Arizona, on my upcoming Mountains and Plains Indie Bound Road Trip. I can’t quite describe Quiet Until the Thaw. But it’s a marvelously detailed, compelling story of Rez life (on the Pine Ridge reservation), a story both excruciating and hilarious, heart-rending and hopeful, enlightening and grounding.  I hope you will read it. (Plains Trading Company, Valentine NE)

nye voices

Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners by Naomi Shihab Nye. “…we are still adrift, / floating, thrum-full of / longing layers of sound” (inside cover flap). From one of our most accomplished and generous poets, a book of 95 poems that attend to and honor the multitude of voices that constantly swirl around us, speak to us, engage us. Whether they be voices from the past or present, from the news or next door; whether dear and long-forgotten or strange, urgent, and immediate, they invite a response, an acknowledgement, a telling, a song, a poem. These are beautiful and breathtaking poems. One of my go-to gift books for 2019. (Prairie Lights Bookstore, Iowa City)

well read

Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves by Gloria Edim (founder of the Well-Read Black Girl Book Club).  This is a marvelous and necessary collection of essays and testaments by prominent black women writers– from Barbara Smith to Jesmyn Ward, from Jaqueline Woodson to Lynn Nottage, from Tayari Jones to Tamia Wilson– about their own journeys into reading and how vital it is for black girls to recognize themselves and people like them in the pages of a book.  Just excellent. (Public Library)

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