My Father Was a Toltec: and Selected Poems

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A Year in Reading: Octavio Solis

These are the books I have been reading since the year 2018 began. Seven novels, five books of poetry, three short fiction collections, three nonfiction, one art book.

1. Let It Be a Dark Roux: New and Selected Poems by Sheryl St. Germain

Sheryl’s a body poet, embracing her own first, then the world’s, with all the complicated feelings of love and loss that must come with it.

 

2. The Given World by Marian Palaia

A novel about a young woman who ventures into postwar Vietnam in search of her lost brother and her own innocence. Lyric moments that leave one breathless.

 

3. Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir by Jean Guerrero

A terrific page-turner of a memoir, part gothic mystery, part parapsychological trek in which the author comes to terms with her father’s special madness.

 

4. The Animals by Christian Kiefer 

A masterful novel about a man trying to rebuild his life taking care of lame and wounded animals in a wildlife sanctuary.

 

5. There There by Tommy Orange 

A superb new work that upends everything we ever thought about the Native experience in this country. Fierce, volatile, building on the memory of massacres past and present.

 

6. I’m Not Missing by Carrie Fountain

If this is a “young adult” novel, then I’m young all over again, getting caught up in this New Mexico story of a young high school girl trying to cope with her friend’s sudden disappearance.

 

7. Twenty-One by Katherine Swett

How does one write so truthfully of a woman’s pain at losing her daughter? Like this. A moving cycle of the sparest poems about hurt and loss.

 

8. MyOTHER TONGUE by Rosa Alcalá

Tremendous collection of new verse in which the poet navigates the shoals of grief and love as she loses her mother even as she herself gives birth to her daughter. The lyric umbilicus threading through three lives is beautifully explored.

9. Doc/Undoc: Documentado/Undocumented Ars Shamánica Performática

MacArthur Genius Guillermo Gómez-Peña and award-winning book artist Felicia Rice create a multi-media border-crossing hybrid: the book as performance art.

 

10. The Immigrant’s Refrigerator by Elena Georgiou

A stirring collection of stories about the immigrant experience, spanning nationalities, cultures, genders, and sexual preferences.

 

11. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I realized late that I’d seen the film adaptation of this heartbreaking story, and still I got caught up in these young peoples’ tragic utilitarian lives.

 

12. Meatballs for the People by Gary Soto

Odd little maxim, homilies and saws from one of my favorite poets. Quirky and comical at times, but always wise.

 

13. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

A ripping historical account of one of the most heinous and almost completely forgotten series of murders in American history.

 

14. Spy of the First Person by Sam Shepard

A spare how-to manual on witnessing your own slow death. Sam’s final elegiac musings on a world that is slipping away.

 

15. The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson

Denis’ final collection of stories. ‘Nuff said!

 

16. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Required reading for anyone maneuvering through our dangerous world today. Mr. Coates’ open letter to his son is a brutal assessment of American racial politics. Wise, beautiful and powerful.

 

17. My Father Was a Toltec and Selected Poems by Ana Castillo

Ana Castillo’s proto-feminist poetry collection from 1988 resonates even more strongly today.

 

18. Edgar and Lucy by Victor Lodato

A thoroughly engaging novel about a young boy who finds magic and fellowship in the company of a mysterious stranger.

 

19. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

I lived in England during the late 70’s, which is roughly when this novel takes place. Utterly recognizable working-class neighborhood undergoes a crisis when a house fire results in a death and only young Grace is willing to piece together the clues.

More from A Year in Reading 2018

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