2011 was a good year for many reasons, one being that my kids have reached an age that allows me to read more books, and not just poetry books.
Don't get me wrong, I love poetry books, but I do love non-fiction too, along with the occasional novel.
The non-poetry books I read with gusto and glee in 2011 include:
Mary Karr's Lit
Could not put it down. Sightseeing and AWP-ing in DC, I would pull it out and read a few pages every free chance I got. Riveting, harrowing, extremely well written.
Jim Harrison's True North
An epic coming-of-age tale in the great American tradition of Wallace Stegner and related he-men-folk with heart and soul. Memorable characters, expansive scenery, and lots of philosophical musings to keep you chewing.
Laura Redniss's Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fall-Out
I heard a review of this book on NPR in late 2010 and ran out and bought this; I've read it three times this year. Gorgeously luminous (literally and figuratively!). It's history; it's science; it's the heartbreaking romantic tale of two amazingly talented and productive individuals. Redniss deserves the National Book Award for this one (it's been nominated!).
Fritjof Capra's The Science of Leonardo: Inside the Mind of the Great Genius of the Renaissance
This book is worth it just for Leonardo's drawings, but I found the text fascinating as well -- learned a whole lot about Da Vinci's working habits, projects, set-backs, obsessions, and, of course, his genius.
Nick Flynn's Another Bullshit Night in Suck City
I've already raved about this book here -- I am so glad I had a chance to read it before it becomes a major motion picture in 2013.
Eula Biss's Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays
Biss drew me with the first page of the first essay. These essays force the reader to think hard about racism in America, past and present. I posted a review of this book here a few month's ago. Can't recommend it highly enough.
Joan Didion's Blue Nights
I've been a Didion devotee since 1979. Reading Didion is like visiting with someone I've known and loved since high school -- comforting, reassuring, right. This book is beyond page-turner; I read it with my eyes wide-open, forgetting to blink. "When we talk about mortality we are talking about our children." Indeed.
On My Wish List:
Eavan Boland's A Journey with Two Maps.
I was slow to warm up to Boland's work, but in the last year or so I've become a huge fan. She gets to this place in her best poems where she's almost speaking in tongues, comprehensible, but in fractured bits of image and pure emotion. Example, from her poem "Pomegranates":
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift. The legend will be hers as well as mine. She will enter it. As I have. She will wake up. She will hold the papery flushed skin in her hand. And to her lips. I will say nothing.
Stephen Greenblatt's Swerve: How the World Became Modern
I read an excerpt of this book in The New Yorker last summer, and I was blown away. Lucretius for the masses -- what could be better?