Bestiary: Poems

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A Year in Reading: Jamel Brinkley

2017 has been another year of transition for me. After living in Madison, Wisc., for only a year, I moved out to California. It’s been strange and a little unsettling to move farther and farther away from my family and friends in New York. I’ve also felt anxious because teaching duties in Madison and Iowa City, a fairly demanding new job I’ve taken on to pay the bills, and edits for my forthcoming debut story collection have kept me from writing any new fiction. And then, of course, there’s been the nightmarish daily assault of Donald Trump, white supremacy, toxic masculinity, gun violence… The list goes on.

Thank goodness for independent bookstores! A Room of One’s Own, Skylight Books, Eso Won Books, and The Last Bookstore helped new cities feel more like home. Greenlight Bookstore and Prairie Lights Books have been priority stops whenever I dipped back to Brooklyn or Iowa City. Thank goodness for books. Here are some that have ushered me through a challenging year:

A People on the Cover by Glenn Ligon

The Mountain by Paul Yoon

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

In the Wake: On Blackness and Being by Christina Sharpe

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

The Origin of Others by Toni Morrison

A Life of Adventure and Delight by Akhil Sharma

Simulacra by Airea D. Matthews

The King Is Always Above the People by Daniel Alarcón

The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

WHEREAS by Layli Long Soldier

Portrait of the Alcoholic by Kaveh Akbar

New People by Danzy Senna

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li

Ordinary Beast by Nicole Sealey

Somebody with a Little Hammer by Mary Gaitskill

House of Lords and Commons by Ishion Hutchinson

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

Afterland by Mai Der Vang

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

The Hidden Machinery: Essays on Writing by Margot Livesey

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

Unaccompanied by Javier Zamora

Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke

Bestiary by Donika Kelly

Like a Beggar by Ellen Bass

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Play Dead by francine j. harris

Insurrections by Rion Amilcar Scott

More from A Year in Reading 2017

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Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

A Year in Reading: Aimee Nezhukumatathil

2016 was a year of great joy and promise dotted with the specter and the results of the most poisonous news cycle in my entire memory. My family and I moved to Oxford, Miss., so I could begin my appointment as the Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. With that came the gift of time to write and read in a town so steeped in an almost mythic love for writing and literature — so that, in times of despair, I often felt buoyed by books.

This year also marked the first time in more than a decade where I lived in the same town as an independent bookstore — the mighty and marvelous Square Books (and Square Books Jr. for kids) — and never before have I been so perfectly happy to make my wallet just a bit lighter these days. Here then, is a sampling of the books I turned to and marveled over, often in more than one read-through, and thoroughly dog-eared to bits:

The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham

Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future by Lauren Redniss

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

A Bestiary by Lily Hoang

The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood by Belle Boggs

Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writing Life by Kim Addonizio

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Bestiary by Donika Kelly

Four Reincarnations by Max Ritvo

The Halo by C. Dale Young

Brooklyn Antediluvian by Patrick Rosal

Look by Solmaz Sharif

Third Voice by Ruth Ellen Kocher

No More Milk by Karen Craigo

ShallCross by C.D. Wright

Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair

Ropes by Derrick Harriell

Eternity & Oranges by Christopher Bakken

Field Guide to the End of the World by Jeannine Hall Gailey

Chord by Rick Barot

play dead by francine j. harris

The Ladder by Alan Michael Parker

The Bees Make Money in the Lion by Lo Kwa Mei-en

The Crown Ain’t Worth Much by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres edited by Marcela Sulak and Jacqueline Kolosov

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

And finally, very much in the spirit of how I gifted Matt de la Peña’s Last Stop on Market Street for its music and ebullient spirit to every parent I knew with young children, my favorite picture book of the year (resoundingly endorsed by my six- and nine-year-old boys): We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen. You will simply, never forget this wily pair of turtles. I promise you. The sparse storyline and hilariously evocative illustrations showcase more empathy and kindness in a few pages than many grown-ups have these days. The sheer beauty of this picture book will leave you clutching your heart.

More from A Year in Reading 2016

Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now.

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

A Year in Reading: Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

I open every year by rereading Their Eyes Were Watching God. There’s something about it that pulls me back, eagerly, to the work. Like many people I know, I open most years hopeful and willing to be seduced by possibility. So much of that book reminds me that the brightness of a welcoming new year is brief, that there is certainly a darkness that we’ll have to survive again.
It is so easy to be hopeful in the daytime when you can see the things you wish on. But it was night, it stayed night. Night was striding across nothingness with the whole round world in his hands.
My first book, a book of poems, was released this summer. I’m sure that for some people who do this, it means that they spent a lot of the year agonizing over their own work. I did, but I also hit a point where I didn’t want to look at poems anymore. At least not my own. I fell in love with the poems of my peers: Solmaz Sharif’s Look, Donika Kelly’s Bestiary, Morgan Parker’s There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, Khadijah Queen’s Fearful Beloved. There’s something really refreshing about diving into brilliant poems after spending months picking your own poems apart. The stakes are low, and you can allow yourself to sit back and be overwhelmed. Another poetry book I deeply loved this year is Tyehimba Jess’s Olio. Jess is a historian, truly. The book is filled with brilliant black folklore, all centering on the redemption of ragtime performer Scott Joplin. I had fun reading the book, sure, but I was also reminded of why I found myself to poems in the first place: endless possibility.

I’m a music writer who loves reading about music. I keep a copy of Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic with me at all times, sometimes reading bits of it out loud to any willing audiences, in the backseats of cars, around dinner tables. There’s an open letter to Sufjan Stevens in the book, and I am always overwhelmed by it. Bob Mehr’s Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements was really exciting for me. I’m always interested in new stories behind the bands I love, and The Replacements are so incredibly fascinating in that way. There’s always so much more to them than I expect, at every turn. I maybe love Bruce Springsteen too much to indulge in the sprawl of his memoir, though I purchased it in good faith. After a chapter or two, I realized that maybe the book was written to get folks to fall in love with him, and I’m already there.

I was lucky enough to have Angela Flournoy read at my book release party in New York this summer, which pulled me back to a second reading of The Turner House. After that, I was forced to ask myself why I don’t treat myself to new fiction, instead of falling back into the same handful of fiction books I love. I did a panel on politics with Kaitlyn Greenidge, and purchased her book We Love You, Charlie Freeman, thinking that I’d get to it sometime in the winter. But I started it the next day, and finished it within 48 hours. It reminded me of how fiction can slowly and gently surprise, unlike poems, which sometimes have to reveal the surprise early in the work. I won’t spoil anything about Greenidge’s book, but the ending was so perfect, I read over it twice. Brit Bennett’s The Mothers is one of those rare things that is actually as good as everyone says it is.

I’m on the road a lot these days, more than I’d like. I’m in small plane seats and in quiet hotel rooms and in corner booths at coffee shops in cities where I know no one. It’s not ideal, but this was the year that I truly felt like I lived the motto of “read more than you write.” I’m hoping 2017 will leave me just as lucky.

More from A Year in Reading 2016

Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now.

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

2016 National Book Award Longlists Unveiled

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Book award season enters high gear as the National Book Award finalists have been released in a series of four longlists consisting of ten books apiece. Five finalists in each category will be announced on October 13, and winners will be announced in New York City on November 16.

The fiction list seems well balanced but also includes many familiar names. Alongside highly touted books by Colson Whitehead and Garth Greenwell are critical darlings like Lydia Millet and Karan Mahajan. It’s a great time to be a reader.

You read about nearly all of the books on the Fiction longlist here first, of course, as they appeared in our indispensable first-half and second-half previews.

Here’s a list of the finalists in all four categories with bonus links and excerpts where available:

Fiction:

The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder (“Men in Tights Crammed into Confined Spaces“)
What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell (“ISO the Next Great Gay Novel“)
Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett (A Most Anticipated book)
News of the World by Paulette Jiles (excerpt (pdf))
The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan (I Want Complete Freedom When I Write: The Millions Interviews Karan Mahajan)
The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie (excerpt)
Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet (Lydia Millet, writing at The Millions)
Miss Jane by Brad Watson (Brad Watson’s Year in Reading)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (“Scars That Never Fade“)
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (A Most Anticipated book)

Nonfiction:

America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History by Andrew J. Bacevich (excerpt)
The Firebrand and the First Lady, Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Struggle for Social Justice by Patricia Bell-Scott (excerpt)
Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck by Adam Cohen (interview)
Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild (Most Anticipated)
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi (excerpt)
Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Year in Reading)
Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil (Most Anticipated)
The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America by Andrés Reséndez (excerpt)
The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition by Manisha Sinha (interview)
Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy by Heather Ann Thompson (Most Anticipated)

Poetry:

The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky
Collected Poems 1974–2004 by Rita Dove (Race and American Poetry: Dove v. Vendler)
Archeophonics by Peter Gizzi (Peter Gizzi on J.H. Prynne)
The Selected Poems of Donald Hall by Donald Hall (Sonya Chung on Donald Hall)
The Abridged History of Rainfall by Jay Hopler (poem)
Bestiary by Donika Kelly (poem)
World of Made and Unmade by Jane Mead
Look by Solmaz Sharif (the title poem)
Blackacre by Monica Youn (Siobhan Phillips on Monica Youn)
Blue Laws by Kevin Young (poem)

Young People’s Literature:

Booked by Kwame Alexander (excerpt)
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (Susan Orlean on Kate DiCamillo)
March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (our review of Book One in the series)
When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin (excerpt)
When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore (excerpt)
Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina (excerpt(pdf))
Pax by Sara Pennypacker and Jon Klassen
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson (excerpt)
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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