The Imaginary City (Bazzett)

Someone once said that a good poem is like a rattlesnake. You kind of slide along for a while – a sense of beauty mixed with a sense of menace – and then there’s a rattle at the end. I think this describes Bazzett’s poems well, especially if you add in a dash of humor (see “From the Book of Time” – – – My two favorite (on my first time through – because I will go back to this all too brief collection) were “The Mirror” and “The Unknown.” Both are haunting and pitch-perfect. Bazzett is the master of the line break. His poems demand to be read out loud and several times.

Mention must also be made of the great cover photo by Alec Soth.

To purchase your copy, go to

Full disclosure: I have the honor of working with this guy!


Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (Louv)

Louv struggles to find the right note here. At first, he seems intent on providing the research to prove that nature has a positive impact on children, but there hasn’t been enough research (and I forgive him his attempt to make something worthwhile out of Howard Gardner’s work), and who is he trying to convince anyway? Anyone who picks up this book believes that something has gone seriously wrong with the way our children do and do not interact with nature. So who is his audience? There are anecdotes and examples galore, but Louv doesn’t seem at home there either. There are people and organizations doing good work, and there’s a notion of spirituality (with a lowercase ‘s’ and otherwise) that merits more than the quick nod Louv gives it. So for those of us who accept his premise – without research – then what’s this book for? Is it, perhaps, to know that all is not lost? That there is progress being made? That one does not have to go to the country to get ‘nature’? It’s hard to say. Louv is tentative everywhere – arguing for hunting and fishing in what could have been provocative ways had he chosen to stick with his line of thinking. Will I let my children out of my sight more because he shows me that the “stranger danger” piece is overstated? I doubt it.

All that said, it is an inspiring book. I should know the names of that which is in my backyard because “[g]iving a name to something is a way of knowing it” (41, emphasis mine). We need to look more carefully; attention, as the man wrote, must be paid. “We’ve been sold a bill of goods – especially parents [and educators]* – about how valuable computer-based experience is” (67). “Life is,” Louv writes, “always at the edges. Together, sit at the edge of a pond in August — don’t move; wait. . . Use all of your senses” (173-4). Seems like good advice to me.

There are certain things that defy measurement – the ability to get lost in nature may be one of them. We need to spend less time convincing ourselves and more time outside.


* – I added the bit about educators.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Fountain)

I loved Fountain’s first collection of short stories – Brief Encounters with Che Guevera – and so I was eager to dive into this one. For me, this is the book for the Iraqi war, and it joins the ranks of all-time great war stories (All Quiet on the Western Front, Slaughterhouse Five, The Things They Carried) even though it’s largely set at the Cowboys football stadium in Texas. Fountain’s writing and plotting, amazing in his stories, is both vastly different and equally impressive here.

While visiting the Cowboys’ locker room, one of the players asks Billy if he has ever killed anyone. When Billy says, yes, this exchange ensues:

“So whas it like? You know, like what it feel like?”

Billy swallows. The hard question. That’s where he bleeds, exactly. Someday he’ll have to build a church there, if he survives the war.

I had to stop, find a pencil and underline the exchange. Perfect.

And softly, subtly, Fountain brings the story to an amazing climax.

A National Book Awards finalist.

A book for the ages.

Stag’s Leap (Olds)

Now is the winter of Sharon Olds’ discontent. Then spring, then summer, then fall, then years later. The discontent? Her husband has left her. That’s what these poems are about. All of them. She even finds a way to make a poem called, “September 2001, New York City,” about her ex-husband. Don’t get me wrong. I like Olds’ precision and line breaks. She creates the small moments with extreme dexterity. The whole project just seems a wee bit self-indulgent.

The Confessor (Silva)

In my continuing quest to replace Mankell’s Wallender series, I decided (on the recommendation of a former colleague who said she stayed up all night to finish one of his newer books) to try Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series. As much as I like to read things in order, the plot of The Confessor appealed to me the most. I enjoyed its well-woven structure – the way places, people, past and future were all intertwined. Even the bad guys are cool.

My question is the same question I have about all historical fiction. Oddly enough, it’s even more difficult for me when I know a little something about the topic, in this case, the Vatican’s (non-)involvement in the Holocaust. How do I know what’s true? I trust Silva the writer. He seems to know his places, dialogue, and characterization. He’s able to provide the necessary background without too much exposition. But to what extent do the facts become subservient to the story? He’s made me want to learn more. It’s probably the only mystery that I wish came with an ‘Additional Reading Suggestions’ list.

So I’m not going to race through the series, but I’ll visit Silva and Allon from time to time when I need a well-paced, complex thriller.

The Fault in Our Stars (Green)

When a student comes bounding up to me and says, “You MUST read this book!” I generally do. In the past, this has led me to The Giver and A Prayer for Owen Meaney. (The latter led to a John Irving obsession that lasted way too long.) So I went out and bought The Fault in Our Stars. It started slowly for me, though I was aware that I was comparing it to Wonder and thinking about why books were being written about children with serious health challenges. But the characters and the book itself grew on me. The dialogue, which at first seemed precocious, became earned. I applauded Green’s handling of the trip to Amsterdam as well as the ending. There’s a lot to meditate on in here. I wonder about children reading it on their own. There are more than a few dark moments. Still, this is a good book that I’d put in the hands of any 6th – 9th grader. I’d just make sure I’d checked in with her / him about it from time to time.

Blankets (Thompson)

I am not a huge fan of graphic novels / comic books. (Does that debate really matter? Is anyone really only willing to read them if they are called ‘graphic novels’?) It took me a long while to investigate them and begin to take them more seriously. Maus helped turn the tide. But teaching Persepolis helped me appreciate the genre more. It made me look more carefully at the art and how it supports the text.

Blankets is my first non-classic graphic novel (though I bought at a comic book store). It’s intense. The religious and abusive elements (the latter is underplayed, but ominous) create a tremendous amount of tension. Thompson is an amazing artist. His images are alternatively hallucinatory and realistic. He conveys emotion – notably in Raina’s father – in a remarkably minimalist way. Some of the language – perhaps a deliberate reflection of the religious influence (is Craig somewhat indoctrinated?) – can come across as a bit stilted. I have mixed feelings about the ending – tacked on hope or honest?

I do have a bone to pick with the whole graphic novel / comic book industry. They have to find a way to make these things cheaper. $32 for what maybe took me an hour to read? It’s hard to justify that investment.