What Northlanders were reading in 2009Find out which two local books dominated fellow readers' lists, and see what our area's Publishers Weekly correspondent and established authors like Anthony Bukoski curled up with in '09.
By: Matthew R. Perrine, Budgeteer News
Similar to last weekend’s list of what Northlanders listened to ’09, this list of book recommendations was pieced together after I e-mailed a number of Twin Ports personalities and asked: What was your favorite local and non-local book released in the past 12 months, and why?
Anthony Bukoski, author/professor
Local: May I select two favorite local books released in 2009? One carries a 2008 copyright date, but, trust me, the book was officially published in 2009: Yvonne Rutford’s poetry collection “This Fragile Nest.” The other local favorite is “Beloved on the Earth: 150 Poems of Grief and Gratitude,” published by Holy Cow! Press. These are fine books, moving collections about nature and about love and loss. Consider, for example, Yvonne Rutford’s “Tethered As I Was.”
Non-local: My favorite non-local book is probably J.C. Hallman’s short-story collection “The Hospital for Bad Poets,” published by Milkweed Editions. I reviewed the book for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I thought the collection was funny and quirky — a very compelling reading.
Tony Dierckins, author/publisher
Fiction: Anthony Bukoski’s “North of the Port”* — fantastic short stories in the classic sense, with clearly drawn characters that give you a real feel for Superior’s historic, ethnic East End.
Non-fiction: Sarah Vowell’s “The Wordy Shipmates.” Vowell shows us again that history is often fun — and funny. This one takes an eye-opening look at early New England settlers, warts and all.
Linda LeGarde Grover, writer and professor
Local: “Divine Daisy” by Bud McClure. There are so many themes in this deceptively simple story: the presence of the intangible, whether we can or choose to acknowledge it or not; differences between what children and adults perceive; animals’ modest and respectful view of the world, including humans; the fragility of our corporal existence; and the ordinariness of the spiritual world. McClure’s gently explanatory narrative of Daisy, the magical yellow dog, is beautifully illustrated by Ginny Maki, whose subtly colored line drawings seem to almost move with the fluidity of the story.
Non-local: “Day After Night” by Anita Diamant. This fictional story of four young women who survived the Holocaust is based upon a true historical event. Diamant brings the world of post-Holocaust Israel to life through characters whose choices, made in horrifying times and extraordinary circumstances, seem real and credible. The common denominator of the internment camp experience, escape, and building of new lives on the ruins of the old bind their pasts and futures to all of us here in the 21st century.
Claire Kirch, Publishers Weekly correspondent
Local: “Beloved on the Earth: 150 Poems of Grief and Gratitude,” edited by Jim Perlman, Deborah Cooper, Mara Kirk Hart and Pamela Mittlefehldt and published by Holy Cow! Press. The authors of the poems are writing about the universal experience of the loss of a loved one that we humans inevitably experience, and they articulated the feelings and emotions surrounding the experience of grief and mourning in such a way as to provide great comfort to the reader. There isn’t a weak poem in this collection; Linda Glaser’s “After” and Deborah Cooper’s “Visitations” especially resonated. Even though the work of such internationally renowned authors as Ted Kooser, Adrienne Rich and Marge Piercy are included in it, Minnesotans are well-represented, proving yet again how much talent we have here on the edge of the universe.
Non-local: That’s a tough question. I read a lot, especially fiction. One book that resonated with me, and just blew me away, was “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett, published by Putnam. It’s set in Mississippi during the Civil Rights era, and tells the story of a young white woman who comes home from college at Ole Miss and sets out to write down the life stories of black women who are hired by white families to raise their children but then aren’t trusted alone with the silver. The story is narrated by Skeeter, the white woman, as well as two of the black maids with whom her life intersects. The Civil Rights era is a fascinating moment in our nation’s history, and this book tells the story of the struggle for equal rights from another perspective. I especially appreciated how the author exposes the hypocrisy of those who supported segregation, without being heavy-handed about it.
Christa Lawler, Duluth News Tribune reporter
Fiction: “Beat the Reaper” by Josh Bazell. In the first few pages of this book, a doctor with extensive martial arts knowledge — who is in the federal witness protection program — thwarts a would-be mugger, stretching the assailant’s ligaments like they are Silly Putty. This debut novel from Bazell is non-stop madcap, whiz-bang hilarious. (You’ll want to cover your eyes when he does a “shin bone-ectomy” on himself.)
Another favorite: “Homer & Langley” by E.L. Doctorow. Just as hoarding has become the OCD d’jour, Doctorow publishes this fictionalized account of the Collyer brothers, two NYC eccentrics: one blind, living among piles of newspapers and found items, including a car that was assembled in their dining room. Doctorow takes liberties with their story, switching their birth order and giving them longer lives.
Nonfiction: “Lit” by Mary Karr. Karr’s third memoir is her own personal “VH1 Behind the Music”-style story, picking up the tale around where “Cherry” ended and stumbling into “The Liars’ Club.” It’s all the stuff that happened after adolescence, seeping into the part where she committed her tumultuous upbringing to paper. First she has to shake her addiction to the drink. There is also a cameo from the late David Foster Wallace, whom Karr dated briefly and intensely. (He chucked her coffee table at a wall.)
Bud McClure, writer and professor
Non-local: Mary Karr’s “Lit.” This is the third in a series of memoirs (after “Cherry” and “The Liars’ Club”). “Lit” deals with Karr’s addiction, troubled marriage, child-rearing and budding career as poet and author. She chronicles her struggles with breathtaking candor and a keen wit that makes this a page turner. The book is beautifully written — nary an extra word in the entire 300-plus pages. She is the writer’s writer, and this certainly qualifies as my pick for the best of 2009.
Sheila Packa, poet
Local: Ellie Schoenfeld’s “The Dark Honey.” She is a wonderful poet!
Jim Perlman, publisher/editor
Local: “Beloved on the Earth: 150 Poems of Grief and Gratitude,” edited by [myself], Deborah Cooper, Mara Hart and Pamela Mittlefehldt and published by Holy Cow! Press, because of the breadth and depth of its poetry — including some 40 poems by Midwest poets — on the topic of expressing grief and gratitude for those dearly departed.
Non-local: “Lit,” a memoir by former Minnesotan Mary Karr. It is a searing, funny, poignant and unforgettable story of her escape from a destructive family upbringing, only to repeat many of the same vices as a parent and wife herself. It redefines memoirs as to what they can come to embrace physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Matthew R. Perrine, Duluth Budgeteer News reporter
Local: Bud McClure’s “Divine Daisy.” I understand this is the go-to favorite locally this year, but its more-than-meets-the-eye approach to storytelling is really something special. Like Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” back in the day, McClure’s tale of a boy’s dog and her magical relationship with rabbits deserves every bit of high praise it has been receiving.
Non-local: John Updike’s “My Father’s Tears.” The iconic, sometimes-controversial scribe behind “Rabbit, Run” and “Couples” entertains with a set of late-career triumphs — including the masterful “Blue Light,” which first appeared in Playboy. Unfortunately, this collection was Updike’s last: the author passed away when ’09 was fresh, at the age of 76. At least in my heart and my home, the world of literature will forever be left with an unpluggable hole.
Kim Robinson, author/avid reader
Local: “Divine Daisy” by Bud McClure. It was a fun read, filled with reality, fantasy and hope. I like the idea that everything goes on and on and on, even if that means a little boy sees his dog again through a rabbit!
Non-local: Not sure yet, but I think it will be “Lit” by Mary Karr.
Jeffrey Woolf, author/publisher
I’ve pondered this question over a good many beers the past few nights, and each night has witnessed itself exhausted with fruitless energy, coolly rejuvenated by a slow, northern-crisp buzz.
It is not to say there haven’t been good books released in the Northland this past year. It’s only that I do not pretend to keep myself abreast with such things, the moment they occur, and for the sake of others among which I am not the target audience.
I do not seek out books so much as I am sought, as if by some whirling cosmic miasma. At first whiff is repulsion, a direct sickness of the creative effort like a gangrenous wound upon public display. Then, once the nausea has settled, a strange curiosity arises like that of the freak-show spectator peering toward the stage from behind the balding heads and peacock feathers of the crowd before him. It is only when walking alone at night down a dark alley do I find myself accosted by this grotesquely creative thing — summoned, as it were — paralyzed by a sentiment at once recognizable as my own, living within another being. It is then when the symbiotic union occurs, much like a surrender. This process of reverse symbiosis with a book can sometimes take years to occur. It could very well be there has been such a book released under our noses, promising to deliver mankind from all his ills. Who’s to say? Or, conversely, perhaps there are no more such books to be had. Perhaps the American poet is dead.
In the preface to Henry Miller’s “Time of the Assassins,” an essay on the French poet Arthur Rimbaud as a prophetic mirror, Miller himself ponders this very question: “The status and condition of the poet — I use the word in the large as well as the strict sense — unquestionably reveal the true state of a people’s vitality. China, Japan, India, Africa, primitive Africa, here poetry is still ineradicable. What we obviously lack in this country, what we are not even aware that we lack, is the dreamer, the inspired madman.... Unlike Blake and Whitman, whose work is saturated with the ecstasy of a cosmic vision, our latter-day poets dwell in the depths of a black forest. In a whirlpool of coming darkness and chaos — a veritable tohu-bohu — the poets of today are withdrawing, embalming themselves in a cryptic language which grows ever more and more unintelligible…. The proof of this devastating utterance is demonstrable every day in every realm: on the battlefield, in the laboratory, in the factory, in the press, in the school, in the church. We live entirely in the past, nourished by dead thoughts, dead creeds, dead sciences. And it is the past which is engulfing us, not the future. The future has and always will belong to: the poet.”
*Technically a 2008 release, but, hey, what does it matter in the long run?
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