Having a single post to cover all I read in 2016 was a bit overwhelming—both to write and, I'm sure, to read. So I've decided instead to do a monthly recap of books I've read, and share a little about each book. For past months, see:
I read a lot of skinny books last month, which I guess is as good a way as any to read a lot of books.
I finished reading Rebecca Solnit's A Book of Migrations, which I'd started in March (fittingly, since it is about her travels in Ireland). I really loved it to begin with, and wished I'd had it with me when I went to Ireland three years ago, but as the book went on, it seemed to wander off into to many side tracks. She kind of tracks her travels through the country with accounts of historical figures and events in Ireland's troubled past. Which was all very interesting, until it wasn't anymore. And it felt a little directionless, in the external story. I guess I wanted more grounding in the places she was going to and why.
I also read a slim little volume called Field Notes from the Grand Canyon, by Teresa Jordan, which is exactly what the title implies—Jordan's handwritten and illustrated journal from a run down the Colorado through the canyon. It also includes a short essay and introduction. I bought it some time ago but just now sat down to read it, in part because I've recently taken up watercolor painting (which I plan to post about sometime), and I enjoy Jordan's watercolor illustrations. It also fits into my own book-writing about a trip. (Notice a theme in my reading?)
I read the poetry collection I Am a Horse, by Kate Newmann. I had the good fortune of meeting this Irish poet in her home country a few years ago. She has a gentle presence that belies the power of her poems. Newmann has a fascination for tragic geniuses, Polar explorers, obscure Irish heroes—people who endured frostbite, tuberculoses, the madness inside their own heads. She writes about men and women of great talent who were in some way fatally flawed, or condemned by society because they did not conform in some essential way. The title poem, which is about dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky, contains the lines, "A ballet...about / the agony / of an artist / when composing." This is what so many of her poems are about, the agony of an artist, whether it's a self-inflicted agony, or physical or mental illness, or rejection by the world, or some combination of the above. Newmann approaches her subjects with clarity and directness, but also with a tenderness and compassion, something we could all use more of in the world today.
I read an odd little novel called Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, by Edwin A. Abbott. Published in 1884, the book is a satire of Victorian society and an allegory about the perils of close-mindedness set in a two-dimensional world where all of the characters are shapes—lines (the women), triangles (the lower classes), squares (the author and minor bureaucrats), polygons (the upper classes) and circles (royalty). The whole book is kind of a thought experiment. I'd heard about it a long time ago, was reminded of it when considering some of the dystopian novels that have been making a comeback lately, and happened upon a $3 copy at a used book store, which seemed like fate.
For writing inspiration and education, I read The Science Writers' Essay Handbook, by Michelle Nijhuis, which probably sounds like the dullest book ever, but which was actually a very engaging and an enlightening journey into the essay form. It's companion to a book called The Science Writers' Handbook, which I plan to get my hands onto post-haste. If you enjoy good nonfiction writing, I recommend checking out any of Nijhuis's many essays.
Note: I used to try to find links to books from independent booksellers, but that is rather time-consuming, so I broke down and linked to Amazon on this post. Don't construe this as an endorsement of the evil giant and do consider finding books that interest you at your local library or indie book store.