Poetry & Nonfiction

I've been reading memoir in verse recently. In June I read Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson and immediately after that picked up This Is the Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy, both of which were excellent.

I don't always think poetry is a great fit for nonfiction topics--poetry is often works well to distill a topic to its essence and prompt readers to see something from a fresh perspective. I don't think poetry is typically good at conveying background information and putting events in a larger context, which is often what I want from nonfiction. But in the case of memoir, poetry can get to the heart of a story and keep things moving along--because even a really interesting life surely contains plenty of mundane details that readers won't really care about.

The latest books I have from the library are not poetry, and every time I look at them, I think about how very many words are on each page. I should probably start one of those books soon, though.

What have you been reading? Have you encountered books that you thought you wouldn't like that surprised you?

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16 thoughts on “Poetry & Nonfiction”

    1. It's a creative commons photo from Flickr, and I added the photo source to the end of the post just now. I first used it last year for a book post--it seemed fitting for Pride month, and this year I figured it was practically still June.

      1. Tom Bendtsen is an artist, and former colleague of mine, who has been rearranging books for years. Looked like one of his pieces.

  1. I'm working on 2 books right now - one at home and one at work on my breaks.

    The home book is Spain, The Jews, and Franco. I saw it in a used book store in Provo about 2 months ago and didn't get it. When my wife made her monthly trip out there, I asked her to check and see if they still had it because the premise had been in my head the entire time. I have barely started it, but it should be interesting. I'm kinda into Spanish history, the Civil War in particular. If anyone wants some real bad FZ stuff, see this review on Amazon. The title, I kid you not, is "Talmudist Propaganda".

    My work book is Prague, by Arthur Phillips. It's a fictional, semi-autobiographical account of mid-20 somethings living in Budapest right after the fall of Communism. I'm "meh" on it so far, but I'll probably finish it.

    1. I also just finished up "The Elements of Eloquence", which if I read poetry, would probably help. It discusses all the rhetorical elements, from stuff I've heard of (alliteration) to stuff like aposeipesis, with examples from eveyrone from Shakespeare to Snoop.

      1. Mags, was The Elements of Eloquence an engaging read? I could certainly stand to know more about some of this stuff than I do right now.

        1. I certainly thought it was. It was broken up into 4-6 page chunks about each device. It was designed as a primer/overview just so you sorta start to see under the hood, so to speak, of the way writers make memorable things memorable.

          Definitely wasn't too in-depth or dryly academic. I'm looking forward to reading Etymologicon from him as well.

  2. I'm waiting on the library to get The Redemption of Time, a follow on to Cixin Liu's Three Body Problem trilogy. Interestingly enough, it isn't written by Liu, but is instead fan fiction that the publisher like enough to publish, with Liu's permission.

  3. Finished recently: Stegner’s Crossing to Safety and Lewis’ Moneyball (assigned by work). Despite being well familiar with Oakland’s philosophy, I’d somehow never bothered to actually read Moneyball. It remains an important book, even though Lewis’ shortcomings and — gaps (elisions?) — are obvious. Crossing to Safety was magnificent.

    I’m currently reading Dan Egan’s The Death and Life of the Great Lakes and Bill Browder’s Red Notice. The Death and Life of the Great Lakes is upsetting; it’s documenting a cluster of catastrophes simultaneously in motion. Anyone living in the Great Lakes or Mississippi River watershed absolutely should read it. I hate Browder’s book. He’s deeply unsympathetic, in part because he’s totally free of self-reflection yet prone to self-aggrandizing. He writes about women the way you probably expect a financier to write about women. He slathers Russians with stereotypes, exhibits no curiosity about their culture, and no sympathy for their historical moment. He displays no sense of guilt for his role in exploiting the economic state of Russia in the transition from a Marxist-Leninist economy to unbridled crony capitalism. He is quick to point out every oligarch’s attempt to squeeze his hedge fund out of “earnings,” but he doesn’t pause for a minute on how he essentially swindled people living hand-to mouth, with no real understanding of capitalism, out of their shares of formerly state-owned companies. It’s been quite some time since I have felt such revulsion for an “author” as I am experiencing with Browder. His criticisms of Putin have merit, but to describe the Browder as an “imperfect vessel” would gild the lily.

  4. I've gotten back to The Undoing Project . It's much better now that it is focused on their research and not their friendship.

    I just finished Dignity by Chris Arnade. He quit his Wall Street job and spent time talking to and photographing those "left behind" in the current economy. He presented it well but I don't see any obvious fixes so it was pretty depressing.

  5. I'm currently on page 953 of Against the Day - only 132 pages left! Took a brief respite with Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union - great read.

  6. My favorite poets (and my favorite poems of theirs):
    Wisława Szymborska - Interview with a Child
    Czesław Miłosz - Orpheus and Eurydice
    Gwendolyn Brooks - We Real Cool
    Edgar Allen Poe - The Raven as done on the Simpsons
    Matthew Arnold - Dover Beach
    Percy Bysshe Shelley - Ozymandias
    Robert Burns - To a Mouse...
    Yevgeny Yevtuschenko - Tsetse Nedelya
    Bob Dylan - Gotta Serve Somebody

    1. Nice to see Miłosz & Yevtushenko on a favorite poets list. I love Brooks and (especially) Szymborska, so we have some overlap; here are mine:

      Anna Akhmatova
      William Blake
      Gwendolyn Brooks
      Richard Hugo
      Yusef Komunyakaa
      Robert Lax
      Li-Young Lee
      Gary Snyder
      Wisława Szymborska

      The big names I’m hoping to read more thoroughly in the next year are Wendell Berry, Zbigniew Herbert, Denise Levertov, Philip Levine, & Tomas Tranströmer.

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