I have to say, I’m pretty impressed that I was able to read 72 books in 2011. It was a year filled with monumental life changes, and I had only read 50 in 2010. But I told myself that if I’m going to be a “real” writer, I’ve got to read more. And that’s what I did. I’m hoping to hit at least 88 in 2012. Yes, that’s an arbitrary number I just came up with.
Now I’m going to talk about books that taught me something.
Erin Elizabeth Smith’s The Chainsaw Bears taught me that you can write a whole chapbook of poems with the same name and it won’t necessarily be intolerable. I had thought of doing it in the past, but Smith’s was the first that didn’t make me want to stop. Those wooden bears made me feel things.
xTx’s Normally Special taught me to be blunt. I’ve been having trouble saying what I want to say in my own work, largely fearful that it might be too much for readers to handle, but xTx taught me to throw those thoughts away. I shouldn’t be placing such restrictions on myself, especially in the early stages of writing. I can do what I want, and the right readers will find me. I am the right reader for xTx.
Kevin Young’s Jelly Roll taught me how musical short lines can be. Previous to Young’s work, I’d been quite adamant about my hatred for short lines—mostly because I find Kay Ryan’s work quite trite and, overall, terrible—but something in Young’s diction showed me that I shouldn’t make such sweeping judgments. His poems are incredible, and I’ve been writing in short-lined couples ever since. Emulation.
And Cathy Park Hong’s Dance Dance Revolution taught me a lot about language acquisition and interpretation.
Otherwise, I read a lot of fabulous books this year, of which I heartily recommend the following:
Molly Gaudry’s We Take Me Apart
Ryan Call’s The Weather Stations
Philipp Meyer’s American Rust
James Wright’s The Branch Will Not Break
Carl Phillips’s From the Devotions
and Roxane Gay’s incomparable Ayiti
So, that’s the year in reading. I’m looking forward to 2012’s book list—many of which are patiently waiting for me in a stack in my bedroom.