Early in Arundhati Roy’s novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, one practitioner of herbal remedies “believed that poetry could cure, or at least go a long way towards curing, almost every ailment. He would prescribe poems to his patients the way other hakims prescribed medicine.” Later, one woman — Tilo — tells her lover, “Let’s read a poem before we sleep.”
I’ve inconsistently adopted Tilo’s habit of reading a little bit of poetry before bed or sometimes at other times. So where does a decided non-expert find great poetry?
I identified ten lists of the best poetry collections published in 2017. Between them, they recommend a whopping — not a word I’ve read in many poems — 110 collections. But just 10 collections are recommended on at least 3 lists. So here they are, the “top 10” poetry collections from 2017. You can find the full list of 100 collections here. May your soul be either soothed or agitated as you read, depending on the collection!
1. Don’t Call Us Dead, by Danez Smith (recommended on 5 lists)
2. Whereas, by Layli Long Soldier (4 lists)
And the remaining 8 of the top 10 are all tied for third, recommended on 3 lists each.
3.1 Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965-2016, by Frank Bidart
3.2 When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, by Chen Chen
3.3. My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter, by Aja Monet
3.4. Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, by Mary Oliver
3.5. Nature Poem, by Tommy Pico
3.6. Good Bones, by Maggie Smith
3.7. Afterland, by Mai Der Vang
3.8. Phrasis, by Wendy Xu
Have you read any of these? Or others? What do you think?
July included a lot of family vacation, which — for me — translates to wonderful memories but less reading time. So it’s a short list for July!
The Goldilocks Challenge: Right-Fit Evidence for the Social Sector, by Mary Kay Gugerty and Dean Karlan — With an increasing emphasis on measuring the impact of non-profits and other pro-social organizations, simple monitoring can get neglected. Yet monitoring systems are fundamental to every organization, for understanding whether they’re delivering the services they intend to deliver. Gugerty and Karlan offer a set of clear principles for monitoring systems that aren’t too burdensome nor too slight, but just right. I wrote a fuller review at the Development Impact blog.
The Regional Office Is Under Attack, by Manuel Gonzales — There’s a team of women assassins. And they’re going up against another team of women assassins (the titular “regional office”), one of whom has a robot arm. There are references to the actual mission of the regional office — say, suppressing “a den of werewolves, or a nest of vampires” or battling someone’s “dead wife from the bowels of hell” or a “demon horde” — but the whole novel revolves around one assassin on each side and their stories. It’s lots of fun, full of pop-culture references (She had “one real option — to ‘Die Hard’ it John McClane style”) and life wisdom (“She’d rather they’d just given her her job to do and not this management position because what a pain in the ass managing people was turning out to be”). I found the pacing imperfect, but I had a great time. NY Times review by Kelly Braffet: “it’s rollicking good fun on the surface, action-packed and shiny in all the right places; underneath that surface, though, it’s thoughtful and well considered.”
When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead — This is one of those books that is technically science fiction, but you wouldn’t know it until you’re well into the book. It opens like a 1970s family drama revolving around Miranda, a sixth-grader, and her single mom. Then anonymous notes start appearing with strange requests. It’s all mysterious, maybe even a little bit eerie, but it all comes together in grand fashion. I listened to the audiobook in the car with my whole family, and once we got going, we couldn’t stop. NY Times review by Monica Edinger: “Smart and mesmerizing.”
Incidentally, the children’s classic A Wrinkle in Time plays a role in both The Regional Office and When You Reach Me, although unfortunately not in The Goldilocks Challenge. (Come on, Gugerty and Karlan!)
I read and listen to a fair number of books. Yesterday I received this query.
I tend to remember little of what I read. That’s why I write it all down. In the words of Henry Jones, Sr., “I wrote them down…so that I wouldn’t *have* to remember.”
I have two strategies for remembering. First, I take notes. I use the note-taking and note-managing app Evernote. For each new book I read, I create a new note. As I listen to an audiobook or read a print book, I pause and make a note of a line or passage that I find particularly insightful. If it’s an audiobook, I’ll use the Amazon “Look Inside” feature to search for the exact wording. At the end of reading the book, I have a list of the lines and insights I learned from. I’ll often label them with a topic. Evernote has a good search function, so it’s relatively easy for me to find those lines later, even if I don’t remember what book it was from.
Second, I try to write a short review of each book. Nowadays I post those here on this blog. The micro-review allows me to crystallize my main takeaways and whether I’d recommend the book to others.
What do you do to remember what you’ve learned from books?
There is an alternative to Twitter, Facebook and all those indignant op-eds that we use to confirm the superiority of our beliefs. It’s a flexible, troll-free, hacker-resistant platform on which complex social and moral questions can be carefully explored. It simultaneously engages our empathy and models the action of empathy for us. It’s called a novel.