Monday, January 16, 2012

Monday Muse: Winter Reading

Once a quarter I share with readers the books on my tables and night stand. Below, in alphabetical order by book title, are some of the books, not all new, that I've read over the last few weeks and months or am reading now. There is not one I wouldn't recommend. I have not listed all the poetry collections and chapbooks I'm dipping in and out of; some of those will be reviewed in my Monday Muse column in the coming month or two.

Blue Nights by Joan Didion (Knopf, November 2011) ~ I read this book — some call it memoir; Didion calls it nonfiction — almost straight-through and see it as the necessary companion to the author's The Year of Magical Thinking. Classic Didion, it shows us the raw, unexposed underside of grieving, the parts of loss we hold deep inside and on no day do not think about.  

Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, translation by Edith Grossman  (Vintage/Random House, 2004) ~ This autobiography ranges from birth year, in 1927, to the 1950s. Like anything by Marquez, this book will leave you awed by the writer's extraordinary story-telling ability. It's one of the most evocative romps through autobiography I've read.

My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet's Life in the Palestinian Century by Adina Hoffman (Yale University Press, 2009) ~ I discovered this compelling, award-winning biography while doing research for a post last fall about the work of the late Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali. The book is both superbly researched and written, and I came away with great admiration for the poet whose contemporaries included the late Mahmoud Darwish. Hoffman, an essayist, critic, and co-founder of Ibis Editions, tells the story of a remarkable man, recreating his life's story within historical and cultural contexts rendered with objectivity and empathy. There is a lot of political history also in this book that I often found heart-breaking to read.

Shoes Hair Nails: Stories by Deborah Batterman (Uccelli Press, 2005) ~ I received this collection of wonderfully told stories, set in Brooklyn, New York City, and Las Vegas, as a gift. Much of what makes these stories work so well is Batterman's skillful use of detail, her ability to create an authentic voice for each of her spirited characters, her humor, and her insightful reading of relationships. A story a night from the book is an ongoing pleasure.

Something Urgent I Have to Say to You: The Life and Works of William Carlos Williams by Herbert Leibowitz (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, November 2011) ~ Though I'm only a hundred-plus pages into this highly erudite, massively detailed, 452-page biography of the poet, I can say that it is clear that Leibowitz has hold of a subject of enormous interest to him. I find particularly interesting Leibowitz's perspectives on and literary analyses of Williams's poems.

So What: New & Selected Poems, 1971-2005 by Taha Muhammad Ali, translations by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi, and Gabriel Levin (Copper Canyon Press, 2006) ~ I found many of the poems in this collection to be moving. The poet's landscape, both internal and external, is deeply scarred yet there is place for humor in these poems and always the work evokes a sense of humanity, justice, and love come by naturally.  Note: The Arabic version of each poem appears en face.

Townie by Andre Dubus III (W.W. Norton, 2011) ~ I've been reading this memoir slowly, as I find I can take only so much of the brutality and grittiness Dubus delivers so cinematically. Dubus's portraits of the people in his life, from his divorced parents to street thugs, are drawn with great clarity and skill and are very much alive on the page. The old mill towns in which Dubus grew up are the kind many of us have at least passed through at some point in our lives and hope never to see again. The life Dubus lived is not one to envy. That he was able to make so much of himself despite his harsh environment is a testament to his strength to survive. 

Woolgathering by Patti Smith ~ Completed by Smith on her 45th birthday, Woolgathering was first published in 1992 by Hanuman Books. The new edition, republished late last November by New Directions, includes a selection of Smith's photographs and illustrations and a new piece, "Two Worlds". 

Both memoir and fiction, Woolgathering interweaves childhood remembrances with self-discoveries, truths with the imagined. If you've read Smith's wonderful Just Kids, you know how beautifully she writes. Woolgathering is a small book that, to use Smith's words, "[carries] one away, into a realm that could not be measured nor even remembered." It belongs on your shelf next to your Annie Dillard.


Glynn said...

I read the Garcia Marquez autobiography when it was first published. It's god.

Hannah Stephenson said...

I'm on the lookout for new books right now. Thanks for this list!

S. Etole said...

It would be hard to choose just one.

Louise Gallagher said...

I always feel reassured when I see some of the books on my beside table on your list. I feel connected -- and I feel inspired because you offer up more books to explore.