exit flurry

I no longer work for my bookstore (though I’ll still call it mine) and in the weeks before I left I wrote a whole bunch of staff recommendations. I didn’t manage to post them promptly here, but the books are still good so it doesn’t really matter that I am—and am going to continue to be—tardy. Here’s one to start with (consider it proof that I read something other than poetry and fiction). This is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year, and as a colleague of mine once wrote in a recommendation of a very different book, “it is worth your money and your time.”  

“I want to write about the two things that have frightened me most in life…” 

Kristen Iversen’s Full Body Burden expertly and unflinchingly does exactly this, combining her memories of growing up in the shadow of a darkly charismatic, alcoholic father with her decades-long investigation of radioactive waste and contamination from the government’s secret nuclear manufacturing facility at Rocky Flats, minutes from Iversen’s childhood home. 

Iversen understands that the stories which begin with “I shouldn’t be telling you this,” are not only the most electrifying, but often the ones most in need of being heard. To that end, this book is an investigation of silence: of its mechanisms and motivations, the choices which support or expose it, and of the consequences of leaving silence to seethe. Full Body Burden is one of the most brilliantly compelling, gutsy works of narrative nonfiction I’ve ever read.

The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel

I’ve written a few more staff recommendations over the past couple of weeks. Here’s one of them, for Amy Hempel’s collected stories.

When I fall in love with a book, I’m overwhelmed by the need to read it aloud to people. The better the writing, the wider the circle I want to read it to, and Amy Hempel’s stories are so good that if someone loaned me a stadium, I’d take them to the masses.

Then again, I’m not sure these weird, elegant, breathtaking stories are really meant for the megaphone. They’re the stuff of conversation, built of things you accidentally overhear and then can’t get out of your head. Reading them I felt like an eavesdropper, maybe the luckiest eavesdropper in the world.

Just try reading ‘Why I’m Here,’ ‘Nashville Gone to Ashes’ or the one-sentence ‘Memoir,’ and tell me you don’t feel the need to tap someone on the shoulder and say ‘Hey, listen to this…’

Some poetry, some poetic prose…

I’ve been on a bit of a staff recommendation binge. I guess I’ve just been reading things I really think other people should read. Other people including you.

Here are the most recent ones:

Words for Empty and Words for Full by Bob Hicok

I can’t really claim responsibility for this recommendation. I want to, because I love this book, but I can’t. I’ve been polling customers about their favorite contemporary poets and I’d never heard of Bob Hicok before someone recommended him to me a few weeks ago.

I’m a bit giddy about this guy’s poems. I haven’t fallen this hard for a poet since I met e.e. cummings in 9th grade. Not that Hicok and cummings have too much in common – – it’s just they give me the same kind of feeling. A take-out-all-his-books-from-the-library, I-hope-he’s-written-a-poem-about-everything kind of feeling.

It’s a good feeling. I recommend it (and this book) to you.

Winter Morning Walks: 100 Postcards to Jim Harrison by Ted Kooser

When Ted Kooser was recovering from cancer, his doctor told him to stay out of the sun. He walked every morning before dawn, and then wrote a poem about each walk, put them down on postcards and mailed them off to his friend, the writer Jim Harrison.

This book is 100 of those poems, organized chronologically. Reading through them is like traveling through the darkest months of the year with someone so warm and observant that you don’t remember to miss the sun. Kooser writes the kind of poems that revel in the ordinary as extraordinary, a feat he accomplishes quietly and simply, just through the elegance of his descriptions and the beauty of his metaphors.

I cannot think of a better book to carry around with you for a winter’s worth of walks.

420 Characters by Lou BeachThis might be the world’s easiest book to recommend. Here goes: Pick up the book. Open to any page. Read the story. Pick a new page. Read another story.

My work is done here.

Or it would be, if you were in the store.

But you aren’t. So – I’ll turn to a page for you

(it’s the first one I read):

THE ELEVATOR IS BROKEN. I lug a bag of groceries up the metal stairs to the eighth floor. Half-way there the soggy bottom of the bag breaks, releases a fusillade of cat food cans that go clanking and bouncing below. I sigh and sit, feel as empty as the bag. I stare at the white curdles of cottage cheese from the burst container, now on my shoes, and think this is what angel vomit must look like.

And here’s one more:

“LET ME IN!” The failed artist from around the corner, 6 ft. 4 in. of canned ham, and his wee wife, 5 ft. 1, a regular pill bug, was banging on my door. A bird had just shit on his head, an avian comment on his life. Drug-riddled and depressed, he was making lots of money in the video game industry, “What should I do?” he asked. I thought he should shoot himself, but didn’t say so. I handed him towel.

So many good books!