8 January 2018:
I worked my way through various phases last year, different streets, different towns, sometimes different states entirely. I discovered new voices, new places, reading my way around here and there. Some books I sought out—some seemed to almost find me.
I remember my mom asking me last Christmas, “How do you find all these little books?”
That is what I’d like to say now, but I think I said then, “the internet,” offering little to no help at all.
I am not entirely sure how we come across the books we do—at the time we do—or how they sometimes seem to arrive at just the right moment in our lives. There is a luck to it, a “way leads onto way” kind of thing.
But…what the devil does that mean?
It means I “discovered” Bernard Cooper (Maps to Anywhere) and Lia Purpura (Rough Likeness) last year because I read a Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction—an all-around goldmine of a book, full of great advice and diamond-bright writing.
From that, you may be inclined to ask—“But how did you come across the Field Guide?”
And that is a fair-enough question. I came across the Field Guide by reading the anthologies Judith Kitchen put together—anthologies of micro nonfiction and flash essays—wherein the Field Guide is listed as a suggestion for further reading. Kitchen put together four anthologies in all, the last being Brief Encounters (2016).
I came across Brief Encounters at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver two years ago, stuck there with a day free because my flight back to Bozeman was delayed. Once I had that book, back in Bozeman, I ordered its predecessors: In Short (1996), In Brief (1999), Short Takes (2005). I sat at my “kitchen” table early before work, starting nearly every morning of January, February and March 2016, with one of those books, working my way through each, learning what I could.
Through those anthologies—with so many different writers present—it was easy to believe (for me, at least) how finding books, or being found by books, can certainly be a “way leads onto way” kind of thing.
Of course, I know some people love to ask friends or family, even strangers: “Read any good books lately?” And that is as good of a way as any to discover a new author.
There is also the baron of business, Amazon, who can be both friend and foe, leading you down rabbit holes of related books, all the while making it dangerously easy to click ADD TO CART.
I can’t begin to explain here all the ways books come along to say hello—local stores, the library—and, besides, that is not what I wanted to talk about in the first place. I wanted to mention, quickly, the best books from my 2017 reading list, both poetry and prose. I wanted a small presentation of the books that meant the most to me last year.
So, here they are. Take them as you will. They may not do a thing for you.
—Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968), by Joan Didion
—Trespasses (2012), by Lacy M. Johnson
—What Comes Next and How to Like It (2015), by Abigail Thomas
—All the Wild That Remains (2015), by David Gessner
—An Earlier Life (2016), by Brenda Miller
—Bright Dead Things (2015), by Ada Limón
—Stealing Sugar from the Castle (2013), by Robert Bly
—Its Day Being Gone (2014), by Rose McLarney
—Light Here, Light There (2009), by Alexander Long
—Sharks in the Rivers (2010), by Ada Limón