2012: A Short Look Back At What I Read

Before the look back, a quick look forward. Coming soon (or eventually) in 2013:

  • Reviews of collections by James Arthur, Bruce Beasley, David Biespiel, Stuart Friebert, Laura Jensen, A. E. Stallings, and Wendy Willis
  • Posts about William Matthews’ and Christian Wiman’s poetry
  • The afore-mentioned monthly look at an animal poem (replacing 2012’s Months posts)
  • Some more extensive film reviews on occasion, in addition to the short ones you can always find, frequently updated, on the Film page

Now for the requisite (and for all it’s cliché to do so, enjoyable) quick look back at the reading I did this year. (I stuck the Worst in the middle, because I didn’t want to end on a low note).

Best New-To-Me Poet: Larry Levis (see this post from April for more on what I love about his poems)

Best Memoir: Portrait of Myself by Margaret Bourke-White. It’s quite well-written, this personable window into what it was like to be a groundbreaking female photographer in the early/mid twentieth century. I found her independent ego and front-line tales (front lines meaning not only her wartime work, but gender barriers and Parkinson’s too) pretty remarkable, and it’s an easily enjoyable read. Runner-up for Best Memoir: A Different Person by James Merrill. Based on this book, which focuses on the time he spent as a confused young man in Europe, Merrill has secured a place at my “if you could invite anyone in history to dinner” dinner table — A Different Person is delightful, graceful, and the parts that are a little coy or surely a little embellished are part of the charm.

Best Sci-Fi: Blackout & All Clear by Connie Willis. See entry #1 of the Most Vivid Reads posts for more on these totally addictive time travel/historical novels.

Best Re-Read: Rising & Falling by William Matthews. Matthews is in the what I have taken to calling my personal pantheon, along with Levis, Komunyakaa, Bishop and Doty. More about him to come.

Best Novel: All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. Also wins for the category of Novel I Read This Year That I’m Most Likely To Read Again. It’s superb.

Worst Novel: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I said in my review of the movie that I bet the book was better, but I was wrong. Wow, is this bad writing. I mean the world is interesting, and if you hold your nose at the descriptions of them the characters kinda are too, but wow, it’s bad.

Novel I Most Regret Reading: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Lonesome Dove is very well-written, and the characters are memorable, sure, but McMurtry’s pessimistic world view in this book, its attitude towards life, is one I just can’t abide. Also, a lot of really terrible things happen to the people in it, and although I’m not a super-prude when it comes to depictions of violence in my art/entertainment, I really could have lived without it in this case.

Best Poetry Collection I Read That Was Published in 2012: Bruce Beasley’s Theophobia, with its fabulous vocabulary, complicated riffing, considered spirituality, and great humor. More on Theophobia to come.

Best Book of Essays: Ambition and Survival by Christian Wiman. Posts on Wiman, Poetry‘s editor, to come too. I found these essays not only well-written and interesting, but his ideas and conclusions, and questions for that matter, feel like the result of much consideration, in a way I like very much.

Best Essay: “No” by Brian Doyle published in the Kenyon Review. A great piece about editing, from both sides of the rejection slip.

Best Article: a tie between The New Yorker profile of Bruce Springsteen by David Remnick and Michael Lewis’ Vanity Fair profile of Obama.

Best Chapbook: Little Richard the Second by Gregg Biglieri. “Every pink owl / Now writes on its / Own low frequency // It knows how to / Tone itself down / To see these // Scorched ghosts / Glow through / Unspoken // Cracks in the big / Blowhole of / Paradise.”

Best Poetry Reading: That’s a tough one, actually; I went to quite a few good readings this year in Portland, including Bruce Beasley at Wordstock and Martha Collins at Reed College, but for sheer charisma and reading presence I have to go with Nikki Finney reading from her National Book Award-winning collection Head-Off & Split at Reed.

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