Plenty of reading was done around the ol' Emerging Writers Network in 2017. I'm positive I read more poetry last year than in any year of my slightly over a half-century of existence--Tommye Blount's chapbook, Joanna C. Valente's re-published Marys of the Sea and various new works of hers throughout the year in journals, Robert Fanning's fantastic Our Sudden Museum, and the chapbooks from Akashic's New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (NNE). All were great and have me leaning more toward reading new poems when stumbling across them as opposed to leaning toward avoiding poetry.
Authors by novelists that were new to me were read--Sonora by Hannah Lillith Assadi comes to mind first, as does Stephen Mack Jones with what I truly hope is the first in a new Detroit based mystery series. Some novels that were published in previous years that I finally brought to the table--Mark Doten's The Infernal, re-discovering the novels of Timothy Schaffert and finishing up the Unbridled Books portion of his backlist (three that I'd not gotten around to before). Reading new works from those that I was anxiously awaiting like Amelia Gray, Lindsay Hunter, Percival Everett, Holly Goddard Jones and especially David Abrams.
I finally picked up the first Tod Goldberg "Gangster" book so I could have it read before his new one hit stores. Then I read the galley of that and now cannot wait for the third in the trilogy to find its way to my mailbox. There was also the third great museum chapbook by A. Kendra Greene that was absolutely fabulous and I can't wait to read more of her work as well.
I read way more graphic novels and memoirs than in the past, with a good portion of them, like The Ladies-in-Waiting, and the first two The Future of the Arab memoirs having been translated. But also those like the memoirs of Mimi Pond, the fantastic Hostage by Ed Delisle, and multiple by Jeff Lemire. And more comic book series than ever in my life as favorite prose writers like Ben Percy and Scott Snyder are penning Green Arrow and Batman and other series and a plethora of comics penned by women--Bitch Planet, Animosity, Monstress, Clean Room, and that list goes on as well.
I cannot fathom a guess as to the number of individual short stories I read in 2017. I know I picked up 100 of the collections published and read at least one story from every collection that came in the door. Not to mention those I was still trying to catch up on from 2016 and earlier, and new stories in journals, etc. If there is a story that stands out in my mind it's Carmen Machado's "Especially Heinous," with a small section written for every episode of Law & Order: SVU--it started off fairly straightforwardly and then I noticed some oddities and then BAM--she'd turned the characters from the television show into her creatures of her own making and it just kept getting stranger and stranger while somehow making more and more sense. It's a story I've thought of many, many times since finishing it months ago.
And of course, I have had the pleasure of reading so many Dzanc related works--those published last year, some that are coming out in the next few months and I'm thrilled about all of them and can't wait to share some of the future titles with you as they hit stores.
A few things stand just a bit higher in my mind, and mainly memory, than the rest. Some of the above I may have had to resort to notes--and it's with great happiness that I'm reminded of the things I've read--but these others I'm about to talk about need no prodding to remember them, no quick searching of notes to remember what it was about them that is stamped in bold letters into my reading mind. I don't think I want to rank these at all--just note that they are going to be the five things that I absolutely know that in ten years if you ask me about them, I will know exactly what you're talking about, won't need to pull a copy off the shelf, will remember reading them, how I felt, how much I thought about them, etc. I will list them in the order that I read them throughout the year:
Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke -- an incredible graphic memoir that I started talking about back in 2016 actually when I received the galley but I probably have read it half a dozen times since, continuing to enjoy it, to search through the various panels for things I've missed on earlier reads. It's a title where I think everything works on it's own--writing, drawing, ideas--and is even better together.
The Grip of It by Jac Jemc -- her second novel and it's freaking creepy. I think it's the second to last book that I gave my dad a copy of to read that I know he read and we talked about it afterward and that's all he said for the first five or ten minutes we were talking. CREEPY. But it's so much more than that. It used the tropes of horror or at least the haunted house aspect of that genre and spins them around, and then spins them around again, and every time you start to feel comfortable she does something else to keep you off balance and not in some trickster fashion, just with damn good writing. It's a book I'd hope to never stumble upon a The Making Of scenario showing the sticky notes on the wall--I don't think I'd be able to make any sense out of them if I did.
Various by Colin Fleming -- I read a lot of Colin's work throughout 2017--fiction, stories, the first 85% or so of a novel-in-progress and while I dug all of those quite a bit, it's his non-fiction that I'm going to remember the most--which, if you've read the fiction, says a lot. The number of topics that if you toss them at him he could riff on, and do so with precision, with knowledge, making sense, making powerful arguments, upon is ridiculous--and it turns out that many of them are things I'm interested in as well--hockey, music, books, movies, some television--and then take each of those categories and chop them into dozens and dozens of offshoot categories. During that last quarter of the year, I always had a few books with me--I also always had printouts of something this guy had appear online somewhere, or in a magazine, or journal. With stories in the latest Post Road, Boulevard, Glimmer Train and one coming in Harper's later this spring, plus a new collection coming out soon as well, AND a non-fiction work around next Christmas, you have ZERO excuses to not google this man's work and enjoy it as much as I've been.
Inside My Pencil by Peter Markus -- yes, a Dzanc title, and as much as I love the writing, it's not why this one hits this slight elevation. This is a teacher's memoir. I've known Peter now for a little over a decade now and consider him a friend. He's also one of my favorite writers. He's a great husband, and dad and all around good guy. And what he does on a daily basis is go into various Detroit schools and Mr. Pete, as he's know there, gets kids to dream, to open up, to experience, to believe in magic, to maybe disappear from things, or rather, allow some things to disappear, even if only for the hour or two he's there, but more likely even in bits and pieces after he's gone. I read the opening essay to this book years ago and it's stuck with me since the day I did. This is a great book by an incredible guy doing absolutely an absolutely wonderful thing with his life.
And lastly, even though I've been reading some of the works all year long (and longer really). However, I also read all of the poems in Christina Kallery's manuscript (as well as some that didn't quite make this particular cut) right up until, and on, December 31. Of the works I read in 2017, her poems were the last, and it was intentional. Her work allows in longing and regret, but ultimately I see it as hopeful, as something believing that continued plugging along, doing things your way, pushing forward, is going to ultimately lead to something good. And much as I simply enjoy them straight up as fantastic poems, I wanted to head into 2018 thinking this way as well.
All in all a great year of reading.