One lazy Sunday late in 2009, I tapped out a list of books that had resonated with me that year. It was a wonderful way to think seriously again about books I had read months prior. I wrote a few reflections about each book and then emailed the list to friends and family. And so the tradition was born.

Why thirteen? First, I just wanted to avoid the “Top 10” trope. I decided to select a dozen books instead. Then, not only was I unable to cut one more book from my list, but I also realized there was wonderfully silly alliteration to “Bodwell’s Baker’s.”  Happy Reading!        —Joshua Bodwell

+ PREVIOUS BAKER’S DOZENS 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009


 2017 BODWELL’S BAKER’S DOZEN

BeattieTHE ACCOMPLISHED GUEST
Ann Beattie
(Scribner’s, 2017)

I have been reading Ann Beattie’s restlessly curious fiction for at least half my life—and her work still continues to startle and surprise me. With each new short story, I wonder: “How the hell does Ann know what she knows?” The Accomplished Guest is Beattie’s twentieth book in forty years: eleven short story collections, eight novels, and one standalone novella. This new collection feels as urgent as ever. Two of my favorites are Maine-set stories—“The Astonished Woodchopper” and “Save a Horse Ride a Cowgirl”—that end up far from what you expect at their outsets. Beattie is also one of the great contemporary chroniclers of Key West, and “Hoodie in Xanadu” is pure Conch Republic weirdness with heart. Her eye for detail is relentless, as in my favorite story in the collection, “For the Best,” when the lead character notices a homeless man outside a New York department store surreptitiously checking his cell phone. (Once you’ve read the story, treat yourself to Beattie reading it to you on the New Yorker’s website.)

Several reviewers have suggested the stories in The Accomplished Guest are bound by the unifying themes of aging and mortality. And, sure, if you go looking, perhaps those themes are sprinkled across the collection, but why wouldn’t they be? Beattie published her first short story collection and novel in 1976. The deadpan irony so suited to the characters in that early work has evolved and deepened like the author herself who, no matter what decade she’s writing in, always succeeds at sending what Margaret Atwood once described as “a fresh bulletin from the front.” At this point in her career she could be coasting, but instead, Ann Beattie is kicking ass.


FordBETWEEN THEM: REMEMBERING MY PARENTS
Richard Ford
(Ecco, 2017)

My late teens were—amongst many other things—a period filled with fevered rushes of literary discoveries, one author or book lead me hopscotch to another author or book: Bukowski, discovered at seventeen, led me to John Fante, Knut Hamsun, and William Saroyan (not to mention every other author published, as he was, by the singular Black Sparrow Press). Raymond Carver, also discovered at seventeen, immediately filled my cup with a gaggle of authors who quickly became crucial to my reading life: Ann Beattie, Richard Ford, and Tobias Wolff.

I began with Ford’s masterpiece Rock Springs, quickly read his entire body of work, then waited with great anticipation for each new release. Ford’s quiet 1990 novel Wildlife combined with his 1997 novella collection Women with Men made me realize something I guess I already knew, which was: “Oh, I’ll read anything this man writes…I’ll read everything this man writes.”

Between Them: Remembering My Parents, Ford’s memoir of his parents, is that rarest of books: the kind you can’t help but read in a rush, though do so while relishing the knowledge you’ll soon re-read it and savor again the language, the haunted and searching prose. With his first major work of nonfiction, Ford has written one of his most tender books.


JanssonTHE SUMMER BOOK
Tove Jansson
(Schildts Förlags Ab, 1972) / (Sort of Books, 2003)

Some books are simply better because of the people who gift them to us. Such is the case with Tove Jansson’s 1972 novel The Summer Book. For nearly two decades, one of my dearest friends has been an English poet called Jonathan Ward. Over the years, we have taught and given readings together in London, traveled by rail to Dorset on poetry reading adventures, haunted pubs, house-hunted in little villages on the North Sea, swum out past the breakers and jetties in that same sea, and spent countless hours combing used bookstores.

This past summer, my little family traveled to the North Sea to spend time with Jonathan’s little family. Not long after we arrived, Jonathan brought out a stack of books he’d been gathering for me. Near the top was a U.K. edition of Jansson’s The Summer Book (which includes a lovely introduction by Esther Freud). Set on a tiny, rocky island in the Gulf of Finland, the book begins: “It was an early, very warm morning in July, and it had rained during the night. The bare granite steamed, the moss and crevices were drenched with moisture, and all the colours everywhere had deepened.” Yes.

The book brims with crystalline descriptions of nature, birds, the sea, and weather; Jansson’s language is clear and eschews romanticism. An old grandmother, her young granddaughter, Sophia and, occasionally, Sophia’s father, live in rustic summer cottage on the island. Sophia’s mother has died recently and though this is barely mentioned, her absence haunts this short novel. The relationship between eccentric grandmother and precocious granddaughter is unique and endlessly compelling: they talk, fight, play, curse, and have adventures—they are, in many ways, unmoored and out to sea.

I read most of The Summer Book while sitting on the rocky beaches of England’s North Sea. The crash and pull of the waves, the cry of sea birds, set a beautiful backdrop for this melancholic and joyous book. 


KrabbeTHE RIDER
Tim Krabbé
(Uitgeverij Bert Bakker, 1978) / (Bloomsbury, 2002)

The English medieval market town of Norwich, near the coast in East Anglia—with its massive cathedral and castle near the banks of the wending River Wensum—was the second largest city in England until the Industrial Revolution. When we visit our dear friends on England’s North Sea, as we did this past summer, we take the train from London to Norwich. I love the dense, old city.

At Norwich’s utterly charming Book Hive—the best English independent bookstore I’ve ever visited—I discovered Tim Krabbé’s cult classic The Rider. Originally published in Holland in 1978, the semi-autobiographical 150-page book recounts in gripping, minute, diary-like detail a cyclist’s experience pushing through the grueling 137-kilometer Tour de Mont Aigoual in five-hours. Surveying the crowd of spectators, Krabbé writes in the opening paragraph: “Non-racers. The emptiness of those lives shocks me.” Cycling obsessive that I am, I later rented a bike while in East Anglia and peddled around the English countryside. I thought of Krabbé’s lines: “On a bike your consciousness is small. The harder you work, the smaller it gets. Every thought that arises is immediately and utterly true, every unexpected event is something you’d known all along but had only forgotten for a moment.”

Earlier on that day I bought The Rider in Norwich, I’d walked through the city’s cathedral with my teenage daughter. We admired in the towering spire as we strolled slowly along the cool cloisters. In the cathedral’s garden, my daughter pulled a fresh fig from a laden tree, split it open as I showed her, and tasted for the first time the fresh flesh, its thin skin warm from the sun. 


MateTHE HILLS OF TUSCANY: A NEW LIFE IN AN OLD LAND
Ferenc Máté
(Albatross Publishers, 1998)

Hungarian-born, Canadian-raised author Ferenc Máté’s memoir of settling in Italy in the late 1980s with his painter wife Candace utterly charmed me during the doldrums of last winter. What better way to beat the cold, quickly darkening days than with words such as wine and cheese, olive oil and rosemary, truffle hunting and mushroom foraging?

A memoir of this kind can go wrong in countless ways, but Máté avoids most of them by deploying a winning combination of sheer reverence for Tuscany and humor (often self-effacing). Nearly the whole first half of The Hills of Tuscany is taken up with house-hunting. Eventually the couple finds just what they want (old and authentic but not in ruins) outside the medieval hilltop town of Montepulciano. The house negotiations are a hilarious Tower of Babel: Máté and his wife formulate their questions in English, then Máté asks the question in French to his Italian friend, then the Italian friend translates the question from French for the Italian real estate agent, who in turn further translates the Italian into the obscure local dialect spoken by the homeowner.

The second half of the book sees the normally nomadic Mátés settling in, making a home of their old house, spending time with their wonderful neighbors, Nonna and Paolucci, exploring the countryside, and eating and drinking, eating and drinking…and eating and drinking some more. Máté waxes rhapsodic about the roads and hills, the piazzas and alleyways, that famous Tuscan light. He balances his lyrical riffs with his naiveté and buoyant humor. And it all works.


MeloyDO NOT BECOME ALARMED
Maile Meloy
(Riverhead Books, 2017)

Maile Meloy owes me some sleep; her prose has been keeping me up late for years.

I can still recall the Saturday afternoon in 2004 when I pulled Maile Meloy’s debut story collection Half in Love from the shelf of a bookshop in southern Maine. On the book’s jacket, Geoffrey Wolff called Meloy “fearless…audacious…a wonder.” Richard Ford called her a natural who “consistently widens and extends the short story form to meet the demands of her uncommon intelligence and wit and sympathy.” In hindsight, Wolff and Ford may have actually been a bit restrained in their praise of this singular writer. I have found everything I could want in Meloy’s books: spare and meticulous realism; breathtaking restraint; a traditionalist who had perfected the trick of sounding both familiar and fresh.

For several days early this summer, Meloy’s blisteringly paced, impossible-to-put-down Do Not Become Alarmed ruined my social life and kept me up late at night. In this story of two families and one cruise from hell, everything goes wrong (again and again and again). With calm, unadorned prose, she can rattle a reader to their core. Easy answers are nonexistent in Meloy’s writing. Her character’s struggles resonate long after a story’s conclusion. Through prose that is concise, confident, and empathetic, she evokes (as David Foster Wallace once wrote) the “plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions” of life, and treats them with “reverence and conviction.”


MeyerAMERICAN RUST
Philipp Meyer
(Spiegel & Grau, 2009)

This year, I finally got around to reading Philipp Meyer’s much-heralded 2009 debut, American Rust. Unfortunately, the bleak, masculine, and chaos-filled novel that features at its core the economic demise of middle America and the tarnishing of the American Dream is a timely read for today.

Set amidst the bombed-out remains of a fictional town in Pennsylvania’s once booming steel industry, Meyer propels the plot in this novel of mistakes-made-worse-by-bad-decisions by continually shifting swiftly between several points-of-view. The trials and tribulations of unlikely high school friends Isaac English—brainy but damaged—and Billy Poe—former football star with a temper—form the spine the novel, but chapters that explore the intersecting lives of Isaac’s sister Lee, Billy’s mother Grace, and local police chief Harris give the novel a startling verisimilitude. The relentless scenes of decaying Main Streets, crumbling warehouses, rattling railways, looming foreclosures, and growing meth use are interspersed with loving, longing descriptions of the bruised but bucolic beauty of Pennsylvania’s rivers and valleys.

While there are echoes of a Huck Finn-like journey across the American landscape in American Rust, it is truly an American tragedy. Pennsylvania’s problems—and perhaps our country’s—are summed up by a character about halfway through the novel: “The real problem is that the average citizen does not have a job he can be good at…”


MitchellMcSORLEY’S WONDERFUL SALOON
Joseph Mitchell
(Duell, Sloan, & Pearce, 1943)

In East Anglian, the drive from our cottage to the seaside village of Sheringham on the Norfolk coast takes us down narrow, tree-covered, shadow-cool lanes that edge past Squirrel Woods, Baconsthorpe, and High Kelling then give way to bright roads hemmed-in by hedgerows and expansive fields beyond. When the road suddenly thins and the stonewalled streets of Weybourne slow us, we swing right onto the Coast Road and whip along, gathering speed again on the undulating road as we pass the puffing Poppy Line stream train.

Sheringham is an old fishing village where hearty, bearded men once crabbed and long-lined for cod and herring; many of them never made it back to shore. The town’s High Street has bright bunting flapping flags stretched zig-zag over the street. It is still lined with flint and mortar-faced shops: the greengrocer, fishmonger, butcher, and stationer’s, Blyth & Wright Ironmongers, est. 1897.

We park at on the promenade beside the tiny boating lake for remote control watercraft, and walk down onto the beach. Terns arch on the gusts and slam the sea for small fish. Gusts of wind gin up little white caps and crashers that slap the pebbly shore then suck back out to sea so swiftly through the deep pebbles it makes a chinkling sound like thousands of ice cubes in hundreds of tumblers of gin and tonic. We dive in and swim out past the ends of the boulder and timber groynes. We bob around out there and gaze back to shore where the handsome, five-story circa-1890 Burlington Hotel looms and appears deserted, though it isn’t.

Later, on a side street near the beach, I discover Peter’s Bookshop. A plaque near the door reads Hoe House; a printed sheet of paper taped inside the window reads: “There are at least 20,000 books in this shop.” Stepping out of the wind into the brimming, ramshackle shop, I am struck by the air’s sogginess. The aisles are narrow with bookcases to the ceiling, stacks of books overflowing from the bookcases on to the floor, and at the end of many aisles there haphazardly stacked boxes of books. It is, in other words, a kind of English heaven.

In the middle of a narrow aisle at the rear of the shop, I discover a hastily cut carpet square. There is a slight depression in the center, so I balance on one foot and gently probe the carpet with my other foot. The floorboards beneath are spongy. I take a wide, careful step as though I’m crossing a narrow stream. On a low shelf, I find a slightly moldered Penguin paperback of McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon, Joseph Mitchell’s masterwork of New York City-based narrative nonfiction. I’ve read the collection, but I am enamored of the classic Penguin design of such an American work. I immediately buy it.

Back on the pebbly Sheringham Beach, I settle in and sink into Mitchell’s vivid, propulsively-detailed essays.


OrnerAM I ALONE HERE? : NOTES ON LIVING TO READ AND READING TO LIVE  
Peter Orner
(Catapult, 2017)

I’ve been a fan of Peter Orner since reading the vivid stories in his 2001 debut collection, Esther Stories; the recently reissued edition includes a foreword by Pulitzer Prize-winner Marilynne Robinson. In Am I Alone Here?, what ostensibly begins as a collection of essays about writers and books that Orner adores quickly becomes something more, something that defies categorization, something like literary-criticism-meets-memoir.

Orner-the-reader is always present in the collection, quietly chatting with you like a pal on the next bar stool. We find him stealing moments to read whenever he can, at a traffic light, in a hospital cafeteria, amongst the clutter of a book-stuffed garaged. Rather than hide behind the distancing guise of criticism, Orner is intimate and vulnerable. Over the course of the collection, we learn that reading has, in some ways, saved Orner: when his marriage ended and his father passed away, it was an alchemy of the purposefulness fatherhood and reading that kept him grounded to earth; I can relate.

Like me, Orner is enamored of the short story and I love that he devotes more than twenty of his essays to short story writers, including Isaac Babel, Gina Berriault, A.S. John Cheever, Anton Chekhov, Andre Dubus, Bernard Malamud, Wright Morris, Frank O’Connor, Breece D’J Pancake, James Salter, William Trevor, and Eudora Welty.

Am I Alone Here? is neither simply literary criticism nor memoir—it is, by combining these two things, something better.


RobinsonTHE ORCHARD
Adele Crockett Robertson
(Henry Holt, 1995)

One rainy Sunday afternoon this past autumn, I skimmed a large thrift store’s mostly terrible used book aisle while my daughter darted around in search of ironic t-shirts and striped, too-big sweaters. I pulled down Adele Crockett Robertson’s The Orchard purely on the basis of the memoir’s title. I was immediately aware I’d stumbled on something special. In clear, vivid writing that still feels immediate today, the book traces Robertson’s single-minded struggle beginning in 1932 to save her family’s farm and apple orchard on the edge of Crane Beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts.

In the throes of the Great Depression, Radcliffe-educated Robertson left her comfortable white-collar job at the Hartford Museum to work the apple trees her recently deceased father deeply loved on the farm where she’d been born. An old growth orchard of fifty trees, Robertson notes that the taller trees were planted before the Revolutionary War. There are Baldwins, Russets, Northern Spies, but Robertson reveres the forgotten varieties such as Blue Pearmains, Winter Bananas, and Porters. With pluck, passion, and a fierce work ethic, she fends off aphids, apple maggots, and arrogant bankers. She becomes the farm’s factotum: an accomplished apple-sprayer, a stubborn beekeeper, a hesitant well-digger. Robertson’s prose is crisp and she writes beautifully of the ebb and flow of seasonal farm life beside the sea. It’s rare to find a memoir full of so much self-determination and so little self-pity.

The circumstances of The Orchard’s publication are just as wonderful as the book itself:
Robertson wrote The Orchard in a twelve-month burst in the 1950s but left it unfinished. The manuscript languished until her daughter discovered it beneath some stacks of paper and old phone books, then shepherded it to publication in 1995, more than sixty years after the events described in the book and twenty years after Robertson’s passing.


RussoTRAJECTORY
Richard Russo
(Knopf, 2017)

When I picked up Richard Russo’s newest collection of short stories, Trajectory—just the second he’s published—at a launch party for the author in Maine, I was excited to read the two stories in the collection I hadn’t read previously when they appeared as part of his stellar Interventions: A Novella & Three Stories in 2012. Trajectory includes “Voice,” which appeared as an e-only novella from Byliner in 2013 (as a print-only reader, I’d been chomping at the bit to read the long story) and “Milton and Marcus,” a new story never previously published.

These two stories are so head-shakingly good, balance narrative, detail, and dialogue with such seeming effortlessness, that I was propelled to re-read “Horseman” and “Intervention.”

Russo has long been a master of handling academia, midlife, and marriage, but with “Milton and Marcus,” he can now add Hollywood to that list. This hilarious, pitch-perfect, and ultimately heartrending story packs an unusual amount of complex humanity and life into just sixty-pages. The story features a novelist and sometimes-screenwriter’s attempt to work for legendary leading man William “Regular Bill” Nolan, a thinly disguised Robert Redford; the story also includes an affectionate cameo by a just-as- thinly-disguised Paul Newman, who Russo worked with on three films and obviously revered. But even as “Milton and Marcus” hilariously skewers Hollywood, the story’s undercurrent builds. And then the ending creeps up. “It will abruptly break your heart,” wrote Jennifer Senior in the New York Times. “That’s what Richard Russo does, without pretension or fuss, time and time again.”


ShepardTHE WORLD TO COME
Jim Shepard
(Knopf, 2017)

Jim Shepard once told the Boston Globe he writes about “catastrophe, children and adolescents, and ethical passivity.” I would add to that list “work” and “love”—in a Jim Shepard story, people always do something and people always yearn. Only two of the ten stories in Shepard’s The World to Come are set in some version of a “contemporary America” we might recognize. The rest of the collection spans the globe and time, including a nightmarish Arctic expedition with English explorers in the mid-19th-century; a lonely, yearning-filled New England farm in the 1850s; and a claustrophobic submarine in 1942.

Joseph Montgolfier is the narrator of the story “The Ocean of Air.” Montgolfier was an 18th-century French papermaker who built the earliest hot-air balloons capable of manned flight. Channeling Montgolfier’s voice, Shepard proves that what binds his far-flung stories is a deep compassion and humanity: pressured by marital problems, a pushy younger brother, and a skeptical father, Montgolfier lies awake beside his sleeping wife and thinks, “Eventually in her exhaustion and sadness she fell asleep, and I took her hand and listened to her breaths. I know now, as I knew then, that I loved my wife even before myself, which was not say I loved her enough, or that I still didn’t fail to fully credit the extent to which I carried my own domestic enemies within.”


VlautinLEAN ON PETE
Willy Vlautin
(Harper Perennial, 2010)

The opening line of Jane Smiley’s 2010 review of Willy Vlautin’s third novel for London’s Guardian newspaper is an incredibly concise summation of my own thoughts on the book: “Lean on Pete is the story of a boy and his horse, but it is never heart-warming—it ranges in tone from desperate to merely painful—and, while fascinating, it is never entertaining or redemptive.” And yet the short novel, told in first-person narration by fifteen-year-old Charley Thompson, is compulsively readable.

I’ve read all four of Vlautin’s novels now, and their cinéma-vérité quality of piling grim incident upon grim incident, painful detail upon painful detail is staggering—devastating. In Lean on Pete, Vlautin has captured Charley’s naïveté with a compelling simplicity. With his mother out of the picture and well-meaning but wayward father, Charley is left to both fend for himself at the most basic levels (like having enough food) and attempt to discern the confusing machinations of adults and the world around him. Unfortunately, the world just outside his door includes the Portland Meadows Racetrack and a horse trainer named Del, a character of such greasy and deplorable behavior he’s worthy of Dickens—speaking of classics, if there’s a touch of Huck Finn to the eventual cross-country odyssey of Charley and the horse Pete, it’s not life on the Mississippi, it’s Huck Finn with a heaping of heroin-soaked America.

Reading Lean on Pete is a bit like watching, in train-wreck-rubbernecking fashion, the implosion and explosion of an innocently ill-equipped young boy’s life. But Vlautin’s intent never feels salacious—his is a detached, journalistic-like fiction that refuses to advert its gaze from the brutality of America, even as it refuses to pass judgment on the same.

(*I also read Vlautin’s relentless Northline this year but unlike Lean on Pete, the bleakness of that novel makes it a difficult book to casually recommend to readers; it is relentless in the way I felt years ago while watching director Michael Winterbottom’s stunning 1996 film version of Hardy’s Jude the Obscure.)


2017 BONUS LISTS!

Favorite Publisher of the Year

GodineDAVID R. GODINE
I have been a fan of the Boston-based independent David R. Godine’s beautifully made books for many years. I love the press’s battle cry—Books that Matter for People Who Care—and when I see the Godine name or press mark on a book’s spine, I know it’s a title worth my time and attention both for the quality of the book-making and for the content. This year, I’ve had the great joy of working as the series editor of a three-volume collected short stories and novellas of Andre Dubus. The project prompted me to do something of a deep-dive into the storied history of Godine.

9781567925999-362x564Godine has published so many authors I adore, such as Mark Doty (his first two books!), Andre Dubus (of course), Penelope Fitzgerald, Donald Hall, David Huddle, William Kennedy, Wesley McNair, and Noel Perrin, just to name a few. And they’ve published unique titles I repeatedly return to, such as John S. Fass and the Hammer Creek Press

by Eugene M. Ettenberg and Jackson Burke, The First Flowering: Bruce Rogers at the Riverside Press 1896-1912 by Jerry Kelly, the stunning The Hand of the Small-Town Builder by W. Tad Pfeffer, and Out on the Marsh, the debut story collection by David Updike (son of John).

Back when David Godine set up a printing press with a few friends in a barn in Brookline, MA in 1970, he was a young Berlinletterpress printer with good taste and an already impressive knowledge of typography and book design. He was not, he’d tell you, a “publisher.” Yet, over the past forty-two years, Godine has built a list of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, work-in-translation, biography, photography, history of printing and graphic arts, and children’s books like no other American independent publisher. Today, the Godine list even includes not one but two recent winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: J.M.G. Le Clézio (in 2008) and Patrick Modiano (2014).

Since 2002, the avant-garde West Coast publisher Black Sparrow Press has been an imprint of Godine. Black Sparrow is another press that elicits my interest on sight. In addition to publishing new volumes by stalwarts of the press—such as Tom Clark, Robert Kelly, and Diane Wakoski—and keeping important work in print—such as Lucia BringhurstBerlin and Eileen Myles—Black Sparrow has published fantastic new titles: I’ve been particularly enamored of Eddie Chuculate’s short stories, Daniel Fuchs’s stellar Hollywood stories, and Aram Saroyan’s brilliant essays.

Recent Godine releases of particular interest include The Unfastening by Wesley McNair; The Last of the Hill Farms: Echoes of Vermont’s Past by Richard W. Brown; Palatino: The Natural History of a Typeface by Robert Bringhurst and Centaur: The Noblest Typeface by Jerry Kelly and Misha Beletsky; Fair Sun, Susan Barba’s debut poetry collection, Orion on the Dunes: A Biography of Henry Beston by Daniel Payne; and, of course, all the ever-so-English Laurie Lee books.

DRGPassionate and eclectic independent presses like David R. Godine are something of national treasures these days, and very worthy of our attention and support.

 

 

*Click HERE to see a few snapshots of books, chapbooks, and ephemera from my collection of very early offerings from the David R. Godine, including the press’s first prospectus from 1970, as well as the first full-length book Godine printed in 1966, a few years before he formally hung out his shingle as a publisher.


Best Poetry Collection of the Year

THE UNFASTENING
Wesley McNair
(David R. Godine, 2017)


Best Reissues of the Year

SO LONG: STORIES 1987-1992
Lucia Berlin
(Black Sparrow Books, 2017)

WHERE I LIVE NOW: STORIES 1993-1998
Lucia Berlin
(Black Sparrow Books, 2017)


Favorite Craft of Writing Read

THE ART OF FICTION
James Salter
(University of Virginia Press, 2017)

“Why was I writing? It was not for glory; it was not for acclaim.” —James Salter on becoming a writer.


Stellar Books On Books Reads

AVID READER
Robert Gottlieb
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016)

“…this was a milestone in my education in publishing—grasping the fact that the act of publishing is essentially the act of making public one’s own enthusiasm.” —Robert Gottlieb

THE ACCIDENTAL LIFE: An Editor’s Notes on Writing and Writers
Terry McDonell
(Knopf, 2016)

BARNEY: Grove Press and Barney Rosset, America’s Maverick Publisher and His Battle against Censorship
Michael Rosenthal
(Arcade Publishing, 2017)


Totally Nerdy Reads

WHEN PEOPLE PUBLISH: ESSAYS ON WRITERS & WRITING
Frederick Busch
(University of Iowa Press, 1986)

(ALTERNATIVE) LITERARY PUBLISHING: FIVE MODERN HISTORIES
Sally Dennison
(University of Iowa Press, 1984)


Mega Nerdy Reads

A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE BLACK SPARROW PRESS 1966-1978
Bradford Morrow & Seamus Cooney, with a Foreword by Robert Kelly
(Black Sparrow Press, 1981)

A CHECKLIST OF THE FIRST ONE HUNDRED PUBLICATIONS OF THE BLACK SPARROW PRESS
Seamus Cooney, with 30 Passing Remarks by Robert Kelly
(Black Sparrow Press, 1971)


Why Hadn’t I Read This Year’s Ago?

DREAMS FROM BUNKER HILL
John Fante
(Black Sparrow Press, 1982)


Beloved English Pamphlets Reads

ENGLAND YOUR ENGLAND
George Orwell

POLITICS AND THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
George Orwell


Hate-Read of the Year

THE STRANGER IN THE WOODS: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit
Michael Finkel
(Knopf, 2017)

This obviously hastily written book bordered at times on “Dear Diary” level fanboy writing, right from the unprovable, hyperbolic subtitle.


Begun But Abandoned, i.e. Almost Read

THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE
James Rebanks
(Flatiron Books, 2015)

When around page 50 I read the exact same paragraph I’d read twenty pages earlier but for a few shifted around words, I set this book aside.


Showed Such Great Potential

FROM HERE, YOU CAN’T SEE PARIS: Seasons of a French Village and Its Restaurant
Michael Sanders
(Harper, 2002)

A potentially phenomenal book in need of a strong editor to rein it in.


GREAT SHORT READS!
“Intervention” by Lewis Robinson (The Baffler, No. 35)
“The Floating Christmas Tree” by Frederick Busch, from When People Publish
“The Bookshop Strikes Back” by Ann Patchett
“The Gifts of Reading” by Robert MacFarlane
“Points of Intersection: A Conversation with Geoffrey & Tobias Wolff” (Zyzzyva, No. 107)

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