2016 was another difficult year for any sustained reading. Seems to be a trend of mine lately. I am certain the reason is my being still fully engaged with the renovation of our new home in Florida and spending two months of summer at our small cabin in Michigan. Recently I even abandoned what had become an extensive three-year writing project, opting instead now to pilfer what I can from it and proceed in a different direction. On a brighter note my wife’s disagreeable and frightening bout with a serious neurological issue due to a fall has subsided enough that she has recovered a good part of her previous life back. But nothing ever remains the same. Florida continues to provide a balm for all that ails us, even in light of having to deal in September with Matthew, our first hurricane, and its pummeling affect on our senses and physical properties outside these four walls we now call home.
I did manage to read my fair share of books, but again woefully lacked the number of five-star reads I have historically grown accustomed to procuring. As always, I restrict my year-end report to only those books that garnered a five-star ranking from me. This does not mean the lesser sixty or so books I read were not worth my time or trouble. I often remember segments from minor works more vividly than those I deem a five-star read.
Claire-Louise Bennett’s first book [b:Pond|25333047|Pond|Claire-Louise Bennett|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1428656359s/25333047.jpg|45069198] turned out to be the most amazing read of the year for me. The book had sat on my shelf for the last couple months of 2015 until I finally got the urge to look at it soon after the new year began. Every story felt as if you had been sitting there in the kitchen with Claire-Louise and she was relating perhaps insignificant details about her life to you but making them captivatingly full, always clever, charming, and meaningful. The more I learned of her travails and proclivities the greater involved I became and thus grew more than enamored with her as a person of interest to me. The rhythm and lengths of her chapters (or stories, if you insist) flow well and ease into each other, offering up a gait easy and comfortable enough to keep pace with. I also particularly enjoyed her use of a sophisticated vocabulary. Never did I deem her choice of words as pretentious or out of place with what she was accounting. I considered the book a novel and was impelled to twice read it completely, back to back.
In March I received a review copy of Jerome Charyn’s [b:A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century|24796140|A Loaded Gun Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century|Jerome Charyn|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1429097946s/24796140.jpg|44432215]. For me, this was by far the best biography so far written on Emily Dickinson; the most interesting, informative, well-written, and entertaining. A joy to read. A total surprise.
It took me over a year to read [b:Miss MacIntosh, My Darling|596358|Miss MacIntosh, My Darling|Marguerite Young|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1364314316s/596358.jpg|583036] by Marguerite Young but I finally finished it. The book numbered over a thousand pages and the print was very small. The text a rambling treatise on life as in a perpetual dream state. Her tone never changed, the rhythm remained constant, and the language she employed seemed perfect. I cannot recall one instance when a word struck me as being wrong, or that she might have used a different one for better affect. However, the book was difficult to read. There really was no plot. Young simply focused on about six characters all connected in one way or another. All had been given several pages, and by the time she was finished with them they each remained memorable. It was astounding to me how MargueriteYoung could maintain and keep us moving freely among every drifting cloud within her ranging subjects.
I am not sure how I discovered Mary MacLane but she did not disappoint. The editor of this collection, Michael Brown, has devoted years to resurrecting MacLane from the dead. [b:Human Days: A Mary MacLane Reader|13266635|Human Days A Mary MacLane Reader|Mary MacLane|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1324376021s/13266635.jpg|18279424] was like holding dynamite. The titles included began with her first book [b:I Await the Devil's Coming|15797986|I Await the Devil's Coming|Mary MacLane|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1348791477s/15797986.jpg|19257619] which blazes off the page. Her selected letters are also amazing. But after Mary MacLane left New York for Boston there was a bit of a drag in her writing. She managed however to compose her next novel, [b:My Friend Annabel Lee|8247838|My Friend Annabel Lee|Mary MacLane|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1417408336s/8247838.jpg|13095453] there, a book also remarkable because it offered such a fresh literary difference. In addition, the articles included in this collection for which Mary wrote for the magazines of her time were quite fun to read. But I began to notice her vivacious light was fading by the time she returned home to Butte, Montana and approached the age of thirty. In Butte she composed the sequel to her amazing first book, but it clearly lacked the same energy and passion. Mary, in her writing, was intensely more direct at age nineteen, and seemed to pull back as she aged after acquiring instant fame and notoriety as a youngster. She may have fell victim to her own celebrity, and thus weakened herself as a writer. Nonetheless, Mary MacLane was a remarkable talent and very much worth reading.
Any admirer of Emily Dickinson’s [b:The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson|67522|The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson|Emily Dickinson|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1411632009s/67522.jpg|26747087], or any fan of otherworldly great poetry, is missing out on an exquisite experience if avoiding, or failing, to study this most recent collection of fragments titled [b:The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson's Envelope Poems|17574856|The Gorgeous Nothings Emily Dickinson's Envelope Poems|Emily Dickinson|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1385964842s/17574856.jpg|24515026]. What is witnessed here is her process firsthand and it is nothing short of amazing. To see what actual version of each poem Emily finally settled on to be included in her final handmade fascicles is priceless. Emily Dickinson never ceases to delight and mesmerize me, even to the extent of enacting severe head explosions, as desired.
[b:The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America|15830|The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America|David Allen Sibley|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1430787148s/15830.jpg|17647] is a guidebook certainly to find its lofty place among my other treasures. My good friend Jesus in Florida (not to be at all confused with the Christian version) remarked yesterday, "Birds offer free entertainment", and I could not agree more. Perhaps it is a little late in life for me to find a new interest in identifying birds, but owning a cabin in northern Michigan and a small house near the Indian River estuary here in Melbourne provides ample opportunities for an emerging familiarity. Filled with detailed information and illustrations, this book should offer years of delight and even wonder, I suppose, if I live long enough to be fully deployed in my new mission.
[b:The Wall|586852|The Wall|Marlen Haushofer|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1435260852s/586852.jpg|573687] by Marlen Haushofer is a novel of redemption under grave circumstances. It is a tale of determination and persistence in the face of uncertain and daunting circumstances. The book could be deemed an instruction manual on how to live a life with one’s own self, alone and entrusted with responsibilities perhaps too great for the typical human being handed them. But the narrator prevails and actually thrives in her seclusion, and is given the opportunity for true self-esteem and meaning in her life. Haushofer writes in an engaging style, conversing with the reader as if on solid ground and friendly terms, tolerant at all times for the fate she has been faced with, and in my eyes kindly hoping that we might do the same, given similar circumstances. Through her lot of characters she inherits (all domesticated animals), Haushofer develops their personalities emotionally and spiritually to the degree we become as well attached to them, and worry for their happiness, good health, and safety.
Via an Audible Audio app on my iPhone I listened throughout the entire summer to [b:Jerry on Jerry: The Unpublished Jerry Garcia Interviews|25434442|Jerry on Jerry The Unpublished Jerry Garcia Interviews|Dennis McNally|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1435189545s/25434442.jpg|45195926]. Chances are good that I will revisit this from time to time as Jerry offers many pearls of wisdom regarding all sorts of life's art and conditions. Quite an engaging individual.
Although [b:The Folded Clock: A Diary|22716391|The Folded Clock A Diary|Heidi Julavits|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1419180457s/22716391.jpg|42243652] by Heidi Julavits is called a diary, in many ways it isn’t. The individual entries feel more like short essays to me. Each entry certainly does have a date on them just as diaries do, but they just as well could have been called chapters with titles heading them. The subjects vary widely, and are vast and numerous, but they always circle back to the personal Heidi Julavits and where she locates herself in each event, predicament, example, or given date. Such an interesting personality comes through in her writing that Heidi Julavits always leaves me wanting. And desire, in all its many elaborate aberrations, is really never such a bad thing, is it?
Cory Taylor died at age sixty in July of 2016, but not before finishing [b:Dying: A Memoir|32173363|Dying A Memoir|Cory Taylor|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1474469419s/32173363.jpg|50269241] that somehow details her life beginning to end. In this short book she deftly, and honestly, presents the history of herself as a child growing up, opening and expanding to the world around her, and then on to her contracting and retreat from it, resorting to living her final days contained within two small rooms. But Cory Taylor, in the face of it all, gracefully and gratefully composes a work bereft of pity, sentimentality, and remorse. Hers is a love story, pure and simple. And a complete joy to read.