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As a Christmas present, my wife bought me two custom-made suits. On the inside lining near the pocket, I had the option to have sown in a quote or any other words I wanted. I chose a quote by Mary Oliver:

I couldn't fit the whole quote which is:

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

(You can read the full poem here.)

With word of Mary Oliver's passing, I am deeply saddened and feel like the world has lost something very special. Her wisdom, insight, and deep love for the world will be missed.
BowlawayBowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A beautifully written novel about an American family living through the beginning of the twentieth century and how their lives center around a candlepin bowling alley and the town around it. A deft mixture of humor, sharp storytelling, compelling characters, and sad truths. Highly recommended.

[I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher.]

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Be WithBe With by Forrest Gander

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An emotionally hefty and intellectually stirring work of challenging poetry. In particular, the poem "Ruth," about the poet caring for his mother as she deals with Alzheimer's, is resonant. Other poems in the collection are not as emotional, but intellectual and stirring. Highly recommended.

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Space OperaSpace Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Valente channels the ghost of Douglas Adams for this enjoyable romp through the space-time continuum in which an intergalactic singing contest determines the fate of humanity. The story here is really more of an excuse for an elaborate and sometimes funny world-building exercise involving a lot of strange concepts and aliens and a lot of tangents. Clearly, she had fun writing it, but with so many tangents and concepts the flow and the story get a bit lost and muddled. Enjoyable but not great.

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Rules of SummerRules of Summer by Shaun Tan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Artist Shaun Tan has a wonderful way of instilling the absurd and the surreal into situations that look like our lives with beautiful, wit, and wonder. This children's book takes on the "what I did on my summer vacation" essay with a list of rules. A delightful book for kids and adults.

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Cape Verdean BluesCape Verdean Blues by Shauna Barbosa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Smart poetry about a young woman discovering herself through life and her relationships. In the process, she explores her experience as a Cape Verdean American and her femininity. A strong debut collection.

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Jan. 3rd, 2019

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common ReaderEx Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A lovely collection of short essays about the love of books and language. Beautifully written, smart, funny and full of sesquipedalian.

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Unreconciled: Poems 1991–2013Unreconciled: Poems 1991–2013 by Michel Houellebecq

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I appreciate Houellebecq's writing. particularly his novels, but his cynicism and existential angst , I think, are poorly suited to poetry. The book includes both the English translation and the original French so readers can compare. I found it interesting and insightful, particularly for Houellebecq fans, but not especially easy or poetic.

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American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our TimeAmerican Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time by Tracy K. Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

U.S. Poet Laureate edits this collection of contemporary poems that show the diversity, history, and challenges of American life. Like any anthology, some of the selections are stronger than others but this can serve as an introduction to many contemporary poets. I enjoyed some new names as well as a familiar ones.

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January 2019



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