My Year in Reading, September to December


Good books from the final four months of the year…

  • When I reach the end of Mr. Colson Whitehead’s back catalogue, it will be a sad day indeed; fortunately, still a few to go: Sag Harbor
  • Essays on nature and landscapes in Scotland: Findings by Kathleen Jamie
  • Muriel Spark continued: The Comforters (meta before meta existed!), Symposium, The Driver’s Seat (not my favorite Spark novel but it’s three months later and I’m still disturbed)
  • The problem with a book that’s one long sentence is that there’s never a good stopping point; I enjoyed this innovative story: Solar Bones by Mike McCormack
  • A funny tale in the Highlands: To Be Continued by James Robertson
  • In each of these books, ghosts of the past – literal ghosts from Missisippi’s Jim Crowe era prison camps – play a part: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesamyn Ward deserves every award it gets, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the ending of Hari Kunzru’s White Tears, where cultural appropriation turns to horror
  • One of my favorite novels of the year – beautiful prose, lively characters, a great ending: Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
  • On Cats by Charles Bukowski was pure delight
  • The title is more of a hook than a representation; this is a searing search for faith and a rumination on God and love: The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
  • In Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor the changing seasons are as much a character as any human
  • Learned lots about India and Pakistan and enjoyed it most of the time: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  • This is the year I learned I loved frontier stories; these two books may be amongst my favorite novels: My Antonia by Willa Cather and Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
  • My awe and enjoyment of Jane Gardam lives on: Bilgewater
  • Nobody writes South Florida like Carl Hiaasen: Razor Girl lived up to every expectation I had
  • The title should be a bad motivational poster, but Elizabeth Strout makes is true and beautiful: Anything is Possible
  • Still thinking about this collection of short stories; it’s The Moaning Bench that I can’t let go of: Five-Carat Soul by James McBride
  • And finally: River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey (YA alt history where hippos live in the Mississippi), The Power by Naomi Alderman (wow / oy / yikes), The Revolution of the Moon by Andrea Camilleri (Sicilian historical fiction), Glass Houses by Louise Penny (these characters have become friends), and The Days of Abondonment by Elena Ferrante (harrowing, harsh, had to keep reading – the usual Ferrante).

Christmas Lights by May Sarton



When everyone had gone
I sat in the library
With the small silent tree,
She and I alone.
How softly she shone!

And for the first time then
For the first time this year,
I felt reborn again,
I knew love’s presence near.

Love distant, love detached
And strangely without weight,
Was with me in the night
When everyone had gone
And the garland of pure light
Stayed on, stayed on.

The Museum (At Last) By Nikki Giovanni


President Obama wasn’t there at
The Legacy Opening of the African American Museum,
Maybe he like I would have preferred
So that others would recognize
Maybe Brown
And always a combination
Though we don’t always know why
Walking finally into
The Hall
Traversing through the airport
Security to show no
Bombs no guns no
Thing but our tears
And fears over all these years to get here
The Little Old Ladies
So dear to all of us
So courageous
So precious
Had taken all
The wheelchairs
They were dressed
To the nines
Their Sunday hats
Their make-up
Their high heels
Even if they couldn’t
They were smiling
Even as they remembered
Selma and Nina singing
Mississippi Goddamn
Even though they still felt
The pain of discovering
Emmett Till especially when their arms
Reached to embrace
Fannie Lou Hamer We Didn’t Come for No
Two Seats
Understanding what would await her
When she crossed
The Mississippi border
The Viola Liuzzo who came
Because she couldn’t not come looking
At the white men pulling up
To shoot her in the head
And they want to talk about
How they love white womanhood?
We have the photo but where
Is the wedding Ring wouldn’t?
That be a statement
Dr. Bunch was talking but could not
Be heard
He who talked to hundreds of thousands
Was not there to speak
Or eat how lovely
To have had Martin to
That table
The gentlemen in their Black
And White partaking of this table
Feasting on the beautiful food
And drink calling
Out to each other those
Who had survived
Smiling with each other
Those who had come
These 50 Years
Embracing each other not
On the loss of Martin
Or Rosa
Or Thurgood
But in the standing embrace
That all people are created Equal
And today we felt their singing
And dancing and drinking with us
Because today we are
For one
Brief moment

I Am Waiting by Lawrence Ferlinghetti


, ,

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder
I am waiting for the Second Coming
and I am waiting
for a religious revival
to sweep thru the state of Arizona
and I am waiting
for the Grapes of Wrath to be stored
and I am waiting
for them to prove
that God is really American
and I am waiting
to see God on television
piped onto church altars
if only they can find
the right channel
to tune in on
and I am waiting
for the Last Supper to be served again
with a strange new appetizer
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder
I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting
for the Salvation Army to take over
and I am waiting
for the meek to be blessed
and inherit the earth
without taxes
and I am waiting
for forests and animals
to reclaim the earth as theirs
and I am waiting
for a way to be devised
to destroy all nationalisms
without killing anybody
and I am waiting
for linnets and planets to fall like rain
and I am waiting for lovers and weepers
to lie down together again
in a new rebirth of wonder
I am waiting for the Great Divide to be crossed
and I am anxiously waiting
for the secret of eternal life to be discovered
by an obscure general practitioner
and I am waiting
for the storms of life
to be over
and I am waiting
to set sail for happiness
and I am waiting
for a reconstructed Mayflower
to reach America
with its picture story and tv rights
sold in advance to the natives
and I am waiting
for the lost music to sound again
in the Lost Continent
in a new rebirth of wonder
I am waiting for the day
that maketh all things clear
and I am awaiting retribution
for what America did
to Tom Sawyer
and I am waiting
for Alice in Wonderland
to retransmit to me
her total dream of innocence
and I am waiting
for Childe Roland to come
to the final darkest tower
and I am waiting
for Aphrodite
to grow live arms
at a final disarmament conference
in a new rebirth of wonder
I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again
youth’s dumb green fields come back again
and I am waiting
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder

The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing by Marianne Moore



is an enchanted thing
    like the glaze on a
        subdivided by sun
        till the nettings are legion.
Like Gieseking playing Scarlatti;

like the apteryx-awl
    as a beak, or the
kiwi’s rain-shawl
        of haired feathers, the mind
        feeling its way as though blind,
walks along with its eyes on the ground.

It has memory’s ear
    that can hear without
having to hear.
        Like the gyroscope’s fall,
        truly unequivocal
because trued by regnant certainty,

it is a power of
    strong enchantment. It
is like the dove-
        neck animated by
        sun; it is memory’s eye;
it’s conscientious inconsistency.

It tears off the veil, tears
    the temptation, the
mist the heart wears,
        from its eyes—if the heart
        has a face; it takes apart
dejection. It’s fire in the dove-neck’s

iridescence; in the
of Scarlatti.
        Unconfusion submits
        its confusion to proof; it’s
not a Herod’s oath that cannot change.

From Ecclesiastes 3, King James Bible…


To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2 A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.

Merry Autumn by Paul Laurence Dunbar


, , ,

It’s all a farce,—these tales they tell
About the breezes sighing,
And moans astir o’er field and dell,
Because the year is dying.

Such principles are most absurd,—
I care not who first taught ’em;
There’s nothing known to beast or bird
To make a solemn autumn.

In solemn times, when grief holds sway
With countenance distressing,
You’ll note the more of black and gray
Will then be used in dressing.

Now purple tints are all around;
The sky is blue and mellow;
And e’en the grasses turn the ground
From modest green to yellow.

The seed burrs all with laughter crack
On featherweed and jimson;
And leaves that should be dressed in black
Are all decked out in crimson.

A butterfly goes winging by;
A singing bird comes after;
And Nature, all from earth to sky,
Is bubbling o’er with laughter.

The ripples wimple on the rills,
Like sparkling little lasses;
The sunlight runs along the hills,
And laughs among the grasses.

The earth is just so full of fun
It really can’t contain it;
And streams of mirth so freely run
The heavens seem to rain it.

Don’t talk to me of solemn days
In autumn’s time of splendor,
Because the sun shows fewer rays,
And these grow slant and slender.

Why, it’s the climax of the year,—
The highest time of living!—
Till naturally its bursting cheer
Just melts into thanksgiving.

Sonnet 123 by William Shakespeare


No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change:
Thy pyramids built up with newer might
To me are nothing novel, nothing strange;
They are but dressings of a former sight.
Our dates are brief, and therefore we admire
What thou dost foist upon us that is old,
And rather make them born to our desire
Than think that we before have heard them told.
Thy registers and thee I both defy,
Not wondering at the present nor the past;
For thy records and what we see doth lie,
Made more or less by that continual haste.
   This I do vow, and this shall ever be:
   I will be true, despite thy scythe and thee.

The Sanctuary by Ford Madox Ford


Shadowed by your dear hair, your dear kind eyes
Look on wine-purple seas, whitened afar
With marble foam, where the dim islands are.
We sit forgetting. For the great pines rise
Above dark cypress to the dim white skies
So clear and black and still—to one great star.
The marble dryads and the veined white jar
Gleam from the grove.  Glimmering, the white owl flies
In the dark shade.  .  .  .
.                                 If ever life was harsh
Here we forget—or ever friends turned foes.
The sea cliffs beetle down above the marsh
And through sea-holly the black panther goes.
And in the shadows of this secret place
Your kind, dear eyes shine in your dear, dear face.


All Hallows’ Eve by Dorothea Tanning



Be perfect, make it otherwise.
Yesterday is torn in shreds.
Lightning’s thousand sulfur eyes
Rip apart the breathing beds.
Hear bones crack and pulverize.
Doom creeps in on rubber treads.
Countless overwrought housewives,
Minds unraveling like threads,
Try lipstick shades to tranquilize
Fears of age and general dreads.
Sit tight, be perfect, swat the spies,
Don’t take faucets for fountainheads.
Drink tasty antidotes. Otherwise
You and the werewolf: newlyweds.