Each year I read more books than I can possibly review — here are 5 of the finest and most memorable of that bunch. They are worth your money, your time, and your attention.
Charles of the Desert: A Life in Verse by William Woolfitt. A book of poems that fictionalizes the life of Trappist monk Charles de Foucauld. Beautiful verse, full of pieces like “The Pangs of Wanting:” “I deliver my body to the church, / though I cannot imagine what penance might relieve / these pangs of wanting.” Later: “I take first communion…My tongue licks up the bread: a whisper / of paper on my teeth…His torn body in my stomach, / his blood in my spit, I almost vomit; I almost sing.” More collections about God like this one would be very welcomed.
The Givenness of Things: Essays by Marilynne Robinson. Robinson is the type of writer who makes me want to slow down, sit down, and calm down. A taste of Robinson’s Calvinism with a side of subordinate clauses does good for my Catholic sense (which is superstitious and supernatural). She makes me think. And realize my inadequacies: “We can never know what it is we only think we know, or what we know truly, intuitively, and cannot prove. Our circumstance is itself a very profound mystery.”
The Multitude by Hannah Faith Notess. For fans of the mystical and mysterious. A little Emily Dickinson, some Denise Levertov, and a touch of Anne Sexton. Loved poems like “Philippians:” “I used to forget my Greek New Testament on purpose, / so the future seminarians would share with me. / They smelled like sweat and prayer / and oatmeal cookies, and trying too hard / to get God to love them.” A gifted poet delivers lines like these: “How many times / has the thing I wanted stayed hidden from me, / obscured by my longing?”
The People of the Broken Neck by Silas Dent Zobal. A searing debut novel: terse sentences juxtaposed with ambiguous, surreal descriptions of violence and the after-effects of trauma. The story of Iraq veteran Dominick Clarke Sawyer, a former Army Ranger whose “deep mysterious ache of love for [his children] hurt like something huge he’d swallowed.” Hallucinating and harried, he is being hunted by an FBI agent — first in central Pennsylvania, and then on the road. A literary thriller somewhere between Phil Klay and Dennis Lehane.
Bringing Back the Bones: New and Selected Poems by Gary Fincke. My mentor at Susquehanna University, but someone whose work I would have flocked toward anyway. Poems like “The Sorrows” capture atmospheric moments of lament: Sunday afternoons, women stay in the kitchen where they “sighed and rustled” while listing their sorrows and respective cures — worlds away from the men in the “lamp-lit living room,” who listened still, “nodding at the nostrums offered by the tongues / of the unseen / As if the sorrows were soothed by the lost dialect / of the soul / Which whispered to the enormous ache of the imminent.” A handful of these poems break me, including “Specificity,” an elegy for the poet Len Roberts, that ends after a memorial service:
I sit with my wife
who orders a glass of Chambord
for a small, expensive pleasure
in a well-decorated room,
the possibility of happiness
surprising us in the way
hummingbirds do, stuck in the air,
just now, outside this window,
attracted to the joy of sweetness
despite the clear foreshadowing
of their tiny, sprinting hearts.
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