As a writer and teacher, Erin is devoted to poetry. She also loves novels that shake her out of place and let her experience the world through their characters. Short stories, essays, memoirs, and great children’s books round out her favorite reading experiences.
If you’re a poetry fan, you’ve likely already heard about Judas Goat, Seattle poet Gabrielle Bates’s debut collection. Bates is one of the voices on the Poets Salon podcast, and these last few years her poems have been appearing in some of the nation’s most celebrated literary journals. Judas Goat is thoughtful and foreboding, using fairy tales and religious figures to examine desire, betrayal, and belonging. I especially admire how the poem endings expand and deepen their reach and meaning. Highly recommend.
One of my favorite books of 2022 is this gorgeous bilingual edition of Neruda's Book of Questions. Here's a lyrical dance of thought and color, with Valdivia's illustrations perfectly complementing the poems. It's technically a children's book-- but I know a lot of adults who will happily display it on their coffee tables. A great gift for the young at heart and all those who believe in the magic of words.
In her second collection, Bambrick recounts her sexual assault and the resulting trauma, as well as gender roles and expectations in male-dominated culture. Her lyric essay and poems are sharp and somehow delicate; they bring to mind the work of Carolyn Forche, though of course Bambrick's voice is all her own.
Admittedly, the last two years have made even some of the most bookish people I know feel a little distracted and overwhelmed when it comes to our to-be-read piles. But Jess Walter’s new collection is an arm-around-the-shoulder kind of read that draws you in with humor and warmth. I loved the surprises in these stories, the mastery of the telling, and how full of hope they are. The title story had me grinning from ear to ear.
How does one choose the 75 "best" American poems of the year? I always enjoy reading each editor's explanation about the impossible task. In this series you'll find poets you've read for years as well as those you've haven't known about until now. I flagged so many pages my copy looks like a confetti party.
Gorgeous indeed! This visually stunning edition of Dickinson's "envelope" poems is a treasure in my library. Makes a great gift for poets and collectors.
Based on a true story, Fighting is Like a Wife tells the story of a boxer and his wife. Addicted to fame and the fight, Bobby won’t walk away, and Valorie suffers. This tragic pattern is laid out literally on the page, with innovative forms that evoke the trap of abuse. Trigger warnings: violence, suicide.
These poems, many written in Japanese syllabic forms, are like little wishing stones for your mind to hold and smooth over. Fans of Neruda's BOOK OF QUESTIONS will like this. Perfect for dipping into during quiet moments of the day.
This psychological thriller is an absolutely hair-raising page-turner! A group of young filmmakers travels to a village left empty some 50 years ago, in search of answers to the mysterious disappearance of all of the villagers following a gruesome murder. Their quest leads them to the brink. Who or what is observing their every movement?
This marriage story is about how love faces the greatest challenges and endures. A gorgeous read-- highly recommended!
This novel, about a young scientist working to discover a solution to conquer addiction, grapples with loss, depression, rage, and faith. Raised evangelical, her relationship to God is tested after she loses the person she loves most. What can be solved by science, and what is unanswerable? "Transcendence, holiness, redemption"--I was moved by this story from one of our new, most gifted storytellers.
Set in a small town in Ireland in the 1980's, this story has at its heart one man who must come to terms with his own history and that of his church and town. Quietly and simply told but powerful in its reckoning, this novel is about kindness and how one person can make a difference. Beautiful and moving.
Two newly orphaned children travel through the American West in the Gold Rush era. As Chinese Americans, they're outsiders struggling to find where, and what, home is. This novel is about land, hunger, ownership, family, and courage. Zhang gives readers a new version of the classic Western in achingly gorgeous writing. One of my favorite books this year.
I've been collecting this series since it began in 1988, and though my enthusiasm for each volume differs, I love how it's become an historical artifact of sorts. Each volume features a guest editor (2021 is curated by Tracy K. Smith, Poet Laureate of the U.S. 2017-2019), who, along with their picks for the 75 "best" poems of the year (culled from literary journals), writes an introduction. The introduction serves as a lens on what was fashionable in poetry that year as well as what was happening in the country. The collection itself shows a shift from the ivory tower of poetry to one that better represents diverse voices and experiences: in the first 22 years of its existence, only two guest editors were people of color (Rita Dove and Yusef Komunyakaa); in the last decade, there have been seven. The series regularly addresses the value of labeling something "best," an imperfect measure if there ever was one, but it's heartening to see that its own aperture is widening.
Set in the early 1970's, this is the first book in a trilogy about the Hildebrandt family. Franzen writes morally complex characters, exposing their struggles, insecurities, and failures that stem from the secrets each keeps. Crossroads, though a whopping 600 page book, is a page-turner, set aflame by ambition, desire, youth, and white-savior complex. The blindedness of the family's patriarch is by turns funny and sad. I'm looking forward to the next part of this trilolgy following the Hildebrant's into new decades, and seeing what, if anything, they've learned.
Babb is the one of the greatest American writers you've never heard of, and her novel, Whose Names Are Unknown, is (until recently) an unsung masterpiece. Babb turned in this manuscript to her publisher at the same time John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath hit the shelves, and as a result, it went unpublished until 2004, the year before her death. Set during the dust bowl of the 30's, her characters head west to California and encounter brutal hardship. The warmth and heart with which Babb treats her characters is telling; this is a necessary, empathetic book, especially considering the plight of our city's own unhoused population.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry!-- This new collection by Suess is a stirring memoir-in-verse. Nothing is off-limits: sex, drugs, and rock n roll--it's funny, irreverant, but also a deeply felt exploration of self and grief.
"This is a basic world/ we are unfolding," Laura McKee writes in the opening poem of See You Soon, and it's in her skillful hands that the world shifts, dreamlike, re-creating itself page after page, each poem a delight of thought and movement. This collection is a favorite of mine.
Nella is an underpaid, overworked editorial assistant at a prominent publishing house. She’s also the only Black person in her office—until Hazel arrives. This funny, sly novel offers a lot of social commentary to think about— book groups will love it. Part mystery and part science fiction, the story surprised and entertained me at every turn.
Kary Wayson's poems are sound-driven marvels--read them aloud! Smart, challenging, and enchanting, I love the way they move and sing.
A writer stuck in his career hears a can't-miss plot and ends up "stealing" it--sort of. What ensues is a funny, smart, heart-pounding thriller. It's deliciously wicked, with a startling ending. I gobbled this up in one weekend. If you're looking for a page-turner, this is it!
Rosie Monroe is just 18 and escaping a childhood of neglect and trauma when she meets and falls for a much older man. This novel is full of plot twists wrapped around serious issues, including classcism, misogyny, abuse, and extreme poverty. Rosie finds herself trapped in an uncompromising landscape. I couldn't put this novel down, and now that I've finished I can't stop thinking about it. The story is visceral; every step deeper into the woods brings beauty, rage, and madness, and Rosie is a character you won't forget.
Written in Italian and translated into English by Lahiri, her prose has all the delightful flavor of the Italian city her character calls home. This novel is a meditation on solitude, what it means to move through the world as a woman alone, growing older, reckoning with past wounds and facing a future without a family to buoy her. I was entranced by the novel's form and the poignancy of the narrator's situation. An incredibly graceful book.
Tough, funny, and heartrending, Espada's poems are about growing up, family, and what it means to be seen as "other." He uses a prose- poem structure that's accessible and subtly striking. "Asking Questions of the Moon" is just one of the many in this collection that stays with me. Espada's is a voice of love and of protest. Don't miss this book.
This memoir by the former U.S. Poet Laureate is a heartbreaking account of her young mother's murder at the hands of Trethewey's stepfather. It's an urgent and honest exploration of loss and survivor's guilt, and how trauma is carried in our bodies as well as in our hearts. This story is difficult and trauma survivors should be aware of possible triggers.
Biss masterfully examines the advantages of white America, and its prejudicial impact on our educational, judicial, and socioeconomic systems. Written more than a decade ago, Notes from No Man's Land is a must-read alongside current texts informing white society's political wakening.
This novel is a poetic, lush rendering of a parent/child relationship between an older widower and the young girl he's hired to return to biological parents years after she's been taken captive by and assimilated into a Kiowa tribe. Set in the western territories in the 1800s, the quiet force of this book, its humor and pathos, had me spellbound.
Set in the small farming community of Holt, Colorado, this novel weaves together the lives of a pregnant teen, a high school teacher, two boys abandoned by their mother, and two elderly bachelors. This is storytelling without pretense-- Haruf even forgoes quotation marks-- allowing the courage and compassion of his characters to shine. If you're looking for a novel about ordinary people and the grace they show one another in difficult circumstances, this is it. Be sure to follow it with Eventide and Benediction, the other two novels in the trinity.
Chang brilliantly uses the obituary as a formal structure for her exploration of grief. The loss of her mother arrives again and again in ordinary, everyday guises. Heartbreaking and at times darkly funny, this collection will appeal not only to poets but to anyone who's lost a loved one.
If you want to see what American poets are "getting up to," as this year's guest editor Paisley Rekdal puts it, you'll find a good sampling here. Every year I look forward to the newest anthology in this series; Rekdal, the first Asian American poet to curate, has included a great, diverse array of voices here.
A wonderful education in cooking! Nosrat makes it fun to try new recipes in this instructional and approachable how-to. Gorgeously illustrated-- and the recipe for buttermilk roast chicken is the best I've ever made.
A new collection by former Washington State Poet Laureate Kathleen Flenniken! These poems navigate loss, fear, and growing older, and also examine white America's romantic view of the past. I loved this so much I blurbed it!
Parents behaving badly! This fun page-turner pokes at privilege and anxiety in the realm of K-12 education. It's a snarky delight to watch the wind-up and dizzying fall.
At the end of the Civil War, Simon, a 23 year-old soldier conscripted into the Confederate army, escapes from his regiment and, with his ragged musician friends, struggles to make a home and a living in the worst of circumstances. Simon dreams of a place of his own with the woman he loves by his side. Fans of Jiles' News of the World will enjoy the characters and rich texture of this story.
Davis's second full-length collection is full of tenderness and music. These poems are about family and fatherhood; they consider the lives lived and lost by Black men and boys in America; and the grace of love against fear, anger, and hurt. Night Angler is a moving experience.
Set in New York City’s Chinatown at the end of World War II, this reissue of Louis Chu’s Eat a Bowl of Tea is the story of Ben Loy and Mei Oi, a young couple entered into a marriage arranged by their “bachelor” fathers in America and their mothers in China. Their promising match immediately faces trouble: because of his impotency, she strays, and the consequences threaten to unravel not only their marriage but precarious relationships within their society. Part history lesson and part soap-opera, Chu’s characters are alive in their use of language (I learned a new way to swear!), their humor, bravado, and woundedness. Changing traditions propel this page-turner of a love story.
Actor Willis Wu feels like a background character in his own life. As an Asian American, he's been assigned the role of the overlooked. This innovative novel (it's written in screenplay form) is a darkly funny, sad, and poignant story that follows Wu as he gets ready for his breakout role. Thought-provoking and throughly enjoyable.
These selected poems by former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey come together in a must-have collection. A master of form and story, Trethewey weaves together history and personal narrative in ways that never fail to move me. Her Pulitzer prize winning collection, NATIVE GUARD, is included in these pages. Highly recommended!
Bierds, a professor in the creative writing program at the University of Washington, regularly draws on historical figures for her poems. In this, her latest collection, she focuses on Alan Turing, the brilliant scientist and WWII codebreaker who was persecuted for being homosexual. Bierds uses innovative poetic forms to masterful effect, mirroring Turing's coding. Her work is precise and empathic.
Ruefle's poems unfailingly delight me. Surprising at every turn, these unfussy little meditations remind me to look and listen more closely to the world.
An elderly woman's husband dies and to cure her loneliness, she brings in a chicken from her farmyard. When the chicken becomes transfixed by a t.v. commercial, she calls the local doctor. The rest of the novel is a conversation between the two, whose relationship unfolds as we read. This is a smart and funny book.
It's no exaggeration to say that I love Laura Kasischke's work and will read anything she writes. This collection is a thoughtful and winsome culling of her previous books, plus new poems. Don't miss it.
These poems read like origin stories, stories of growing up and home, and identity--ways we see ourselves and ways others see us. Narrative in structure with lyrical heart. I enjoyed every page.
This is one of my all-tiime favorite books, and one I often think about. Savage, heartbreaking, lyrical--Ward's writing will haunt you in the way exquisite things do.