The year 2017 motivated my wife and I to consider making new and enormous changes to our daily lives. In light of this upheaval, it proved to be a rather good year for serious reading. Returning to Florida after a summer in northern Michigan somehow provided a balm for all that ails us, even while facing the nagging memory of dealing in September 2016 with hurricane Matthew, our first hurricane, and then being freshly attacked by that beast of a lady Irma in 2017. Because of having to repair our wooden fence again, re-staking a few dozen trees, and performing extensive debris cleanup, my wife and I decided to list for sale our little renovation project, buy a travel trailer, and hit the open road. Our new home on wheels went into production on December 21 and will be ready for us to retrieve come March 6 of 2018. The house has been listed for sale since Thanksgiving.
In 2017 I did manage to read my fair share of good books, but again woefully lacked the number of five-star reads I historically have grown accustomed to procuring. I restrict my annual year-end report to only those books that garner a five-star ranking from me. This does not mean the lesser seventy or so books I read were not worthy of my time or trouble. I often remember segments from minor works more vividly than those worthy of five-stars. Notable authors whose books I did read that surprisingly failed to warrant that coveted ranking included Thomas Bernhard, Per Petterson, Henry David Thoreau, Raymond Carver, Sam Shepard, Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Berger, Deborah Levy, Michael Perry, Adam Phillips, Christine Angot, Eric Clapton, Nick Mason, and Karl Ove Knausgård. I did enjoy reading these authors, and a few of them even more than once. For example I read the entire oeuvre of Wisconsinite [a:Michael Perry|4078172|Michael Perry|https://s.gr-assets.com/assets/nophoto/user/m_50x66-82093808bca726cb3249a493fbd3bd0f.png] and at least three additional titles by my favorite contemporary philosopher [a:Adam Phillips|33751|Adam Phillips|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1363466197p2/33751.jpg].
The first of my five star classifications for the year went to [b:A Really Big Lunch: Meditations on Food and Life from the Roving Gourmand|32714100|A Really Big Lunch Meditations on Food and Life from the Roving Gourmand|Jim Harrison|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1481113198s/32714100.jpg|53293835] by Jim Harrison. Regardless of Harrison’s periodic poetic dirges of drivel, he is an American treasure. An iconic figure cut of gluttonous gourmet and storytelling of the first rank. That is, when his writing centers on food, friends, hunting, and fishing. A sad day indeed when it was reported he had died. But we who read him for over forty years knew it was coming. He drank too much and lived too heartily to have lasted even as long as he did. And this fascinating and rewarding book proves it. Quite an amazing and captivating read.
A courageous new fiction title produced a year ago that has yet to receive its rightful due is my own [b:Ailene Nou|33965272|Ailene Nou|M. Sarki|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1485082711s/33965272.jpg|54945677], a novella of the first rank regardless of its rather sporadic and spotty readership. I am certain that one day the book will be discovered. Meanwhile, I am happy simply to continue living my life as I read and I write.
Damion Searls produced not only a riveting study on the man Rorschach and his Inkblot Test, but what was to come from his labor and where it might be leading us now. [b:The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing|30746292|The Inkblots Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing|Damion Searls|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1474661517s/30746292.jpg|51290999] is a work crafted by a master wordsmith obviously willing to delve deeply into his subject. I could not recommend a book more highly than I do this one.
For probably the fourth time since its publication I again read [b:Pond|25333047|Pond|Claire-Louise Bennett|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1428656359s/25333047.jpg|45069198] by Claire-Louise Bennett. Such an amazing book, seemingly about nothing, but brimming with meaning. Every chapter feels as if you had been sitting there in the kitchen as she relates perhaps insignificant details about her life to you but makes them full and always clever, charming, and extremely interesting. The more she shares her travails and proclivities the greater involved I become and thus grow more than enamored with her as a person of interest to me. Never do I deem her choice of words pretentious or out of place with what she is accounting. Needless to say, I love her style.
For me, Lily Tuck’s [b:Sisters|34496928|Sisters|Lily Tuck|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1492215685s/34496928.jpg|55620015] was a barn burner. I first learned of Lily Tuck in a fiction-writing class Gordon Lish was conducting during the summer of 1995 in Bloomington, Indiana. Tuck was another of the many writers Lish had acquired in his writing stable as editor for seventeen years at Alfred Knopf. Lish loudly championed the skills of Lily Tuck and brought her to the attention of perhaps hundreds of his students. And because there were so many writers the great Lish published in his tenure at Knopf, and for the most part commercial failures amounting to a high percentage, Tuck has gone basically unnoticed by the mainstream, even though she won the coveted 2004 National Book Award in fiction for her novel [b:The News from Paraguay|77691|The News from Paraguay|Lily Tuck|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1410132758s/77691.jpg|1325348]. Her first book however, [b:Interviewing Matisse, or The Woman Who Died Standing Up|574202|Interviewing Matisse, or The Woman Who Died Standing Up|Lily Tuck|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1410136148s/574202.jpg|561204], published by Knopf and edited by Gordon Lish, was a tiresome and rattling drivel inaccessible to me which felt somewhat pretentious. But after reading this five-star wonder titled [b:Sisters|34496928|Sisters|Lily Tuck|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1492215685s/34496928.jpg|55620015] I am intent now on a sufficiently renewed attack on her other books as soon as possible. Tuck is certainly sophisticated, obviously born of the cultural elite. And few writers can make you feel you are with them in the room. She plays her instrument adroitly, disregarding the consequences of infidelities, and making them all feel worth it.
[b:The Book of Dolores|17288756|The Book of Dolores|William T. Vollmann|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1364251239s/17288756.jpg|23909942] by William T. Vollmann was one of three titles written by him that I read this year. Though very good, the other ones did not measure up to this book. Vollmann put his heart on the line here, and shared with this reader the greatest demand placed on it; his agonizing need to belong. How many of us are brave enough to say it, and strong enough to thrive in spite of it? Meanwhile, I am slowly plowing my way through some of his other literary offerings, which amount to many.
[b:To the Lighthouse|59716|To the Lighthouse|Virginia Woolf|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1346239665s/59716.jpg|1323448] by Virginia Woolf is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. Not much to offer in the typical plot-driven genre, but a generous array of dream states in which only the best hallucinogens could induce. Hard to believe it took this long for me to pull this book off the shelf.
Nate Blakeslee in [b:American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West|34427982|American Wolf A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West|Nate Blakeslee|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1490727269s/34427982.jpg|55499725] is a riveting history of the wolf, long-hated and feared for centuries due to myth and innuendo, and its re-introduction to protected lands once eradicated of them. The feature story throughout this sad but fascinating book centers on its main characters, good and bad, both man and wolf. Uplifting and at times defeating, this fine work brings important focus on a subject well worth our time. The fact that Congress and our bureaucracies continue to enable and sell-out to the corporate hunting and ranching industry at the cost of the treasured wolf is a travesty. Every year our government agencies, established to serve and protect us, destroy thousands of wolves on our tax dollar. There is detail galore in this book to help us learn more about the social behavior of wolf and man. And it is sad that wolves prove themselves more humane and conservative than humans are.
[b:Why Bob Dylan Matters|34217589|Why Bob Dylan Matters|Richard F. Thomas|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1505745082s/34217589.jpg|55268465] by Richard F. Thomas ranks at the top when it comes to being scholarly. Part of a long-standing Harvard class taught by Thomas, this distillation dissects no few examples of Dylan’s now-classic role in producing great works by stealing from others. More importantly, however, Bob Dylan makes what he steals his own. No small task and something only a very few distinctive artists can pull of successfully. But the great ones in fact do exactly that. What interests me most is Dylan’s process of creation based on the studies, experience, and knowledge of the professor’s obsession with great Classic art. It is no stretch to state that Dylan is one of the best in the business and well-deserving of his 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature.
[b:Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Bookmarked|34381187|Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Bookmarked|Brian Evenson|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1512187183s/34381187.jpg|55469573]
by Brian Evenson is a multi-faceted memoir and critical review focusing on the work of Raymond Carver as well as the writing career of the author [a:Brian Evenson|48355|Brian Evenson|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1237495626p2/48355.jpg]. This engaging work highlights the parallels and genesis devolved within both their somewhat parallel literary relationship with the infamous editor Gordon Lish. Evenson details similar editing practices in his own personal relationship with the editor Lish. To Evenson’s credit he admits to sometimes happily, and at times reluctantly, accepting a Lish revision, but he also had the courage to resist him. Carver did not exhibit the same courage in confronting the great Lish until Carver was already famous. [a:Raymond Carver|7363|Raymond Carver|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1201118985p2/7363.jpg] holds his own personal place setting strapped into the yoke and hardware of sin of their collaborative endeavor. And as much as I love and admire the fiction of Raymond Carver, he was not exactly honest in his portrayal of what really did occur. This book chronicles a most fascinating piece of literary history.
In [b:I Married You for Happiness|10898878|I Married You for Happiness|Lily Tuck|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1328824056s/10898878.jpg|15814817] by Lily Tuck, Nina’s husband Phillip is dead. By holding his gradually cooling hand, Nina, for one entire night, remembers the defining moments of their long life together as husband and wife. Private intimacies, dark secrets, and overwhelming joys. How to connect with someone, even after living forty years with them? All are individuals. Best we can hope for are momentary connections. Memories. Challenges. Threats to what we deem secure. Imagine spending the entire night alone with your dead spouse. Touching, but more importantly, something she needs for closure. And for those contiguous moments she remains too shocked to grieve. Lily Tuck in 2017 has twice bought me all out with her sophisticated prose.
I finished this five-star year with Joan Richardson in [b:How to Live, What to Do: Thirteen Ways of Looking at Wallace Stevens|36376800|How to Live, What to Do Thirteen Ways of Looking at Wallace Stevens|Joan Richardson|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1510180358s/36376800.jpg|58064492] which produced for us a most distinctive and valuable tool in order to help us view the world through the eyes of [a:Wallace Stevens|42920|Wallace Stevens|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1208891582p2/42920.jpg]. And in essence, Stevens provides us new glasses in which we may see for ourselves the possibilities that will always exist if we maintain the courage to keep looking. Richardson provides an advanced course a scholar might take in discovering an even better way into the mind and work of Wallace Stevens. But this is not the book to initially begin with. Too much would be lost on the unspoiled and uninitiated among us. Instead, the greater primer would be to simply read Wallace Stevens. And if his poems resound, or connect to you in any way, further study may be warranted and result in your seeking out this book. Stevens’s poems are exercises in meditation, designed to loosen inherited, outworn habits of thought inappropriate to honoring the life of all things on the planet of which we are a part…
To all my friends, please enjoy a happy and safe holiday.