Good Books of 2017

The paper is ripped, the ribbon undone. The tree is now needles all over the floor.

It's time now to look back at what we've wrought & read. Here are some of my favorite books this year. But because I'm often late to the party, these are not necessarily books published in 2017, but books I enjoyed this year. 


A Little Life
by Hanya Yanagihara

Gripping, engaging, painfully sad. But also a real divider; half of my friends couldn't stand this novel. The others, like me, didn't want it to end. 


The Best Kind of People
by Zoe Whittall 

How often we rush to judgement, and how often we are blind to our assumptions. This novel is so well written, so taut and real. A true page-turner that will also turn you to knots. 


Make Your Home Among Strangers
by Jennine Capó Crucet 

A thoughtful novel with a "ripped from the headlines" relevance that reveals the real heart and hurt of immigration and integration. 


The Girls 
by Emma Cline

Loosely based on real life and with thrilling skill, this novel beautifully renders a tender and terrifying age. 

The Great Man
by Kate Christensen

A wonderfully sharp and observant take on art and its players, with richly complex characters. 



The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas 

Fresh, raw, real, necessary. Don't be fooled by the young adult categorization; this is a book for all ages. 



Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death
by Katy Butler 

The best description of this book is from one of my favorite authors, Abraham Verghese, who says: "A thoroughly researched and compelling mix of personal narrative and hard-nosed reporting that captures just how flawed care at the end of life has become." 



We Carry the Sky
by Mckayla Robbin

A slim volume of poems that stand strong. In spare lines, this debut poet offers unusual depth. I first found her here:


Good Books of 2016

Good Books of 2015

Good Books of 2014

Good Books of 2013

Good Books of 2012

Good Books of 2011


Your turn: What did I miss? What were your favorite books this year? 


Thankful Thursday (on Saturday) 


Because attention attracts intention, which attracts gratitude, and gratitude expands joy, it's time for Thankful Thursday.

This week I am thankful for: 

• lists — grocery, shopping, to do

• this passage, from this essay by Sarah Cords:

"To be grateful is to live a full life. It is to know worry and accept worry. It is to shore up the foundations even in the face of the weathering forces of tragedies and time."

• oatmeal

• my sick mother, refusing to use words of war:

"I'm not a survivor," she insists. "I am not battling." 

• persimmons - my favorite ugly delicious seasonal fruit 

• the words grumble and coo, not necessarily in tandem

• small things with history, like this family christmas ornament, circa 1930


It's Thankful Thursday (on Saturday, because life gets full), a weekly pause to express appreciation for people, places and more. Life expands with gratitude.  What are you thankful for today?





An ecological bridge between land and sea;

the line of debris left on the beach by high tide, usually made up of grass, kelp, crustacean shells, feathers, bits of plastic, and scraps of litter.

Everything is next to something. The grass next to sand, next to beach, next to sea.

The waves roll slow and steady, somersaults of saltwater meeting beach.

The low angle light casts long shadows.

Everything lives in the shadow of the grander thing.


I am waiting for pies to set, a phone to ring, my mother to not die, my sister to not cry. Beyond this wrackline of broken shell and damp decay, I am waiting for the next wave.


Here, once or twice or for twenty years, we cross states and days to leave dull winters, shed coats and shoes and transform into people who sun and swim. Here, we are people who laugh.

Yes, I have proof. See, here, the photo, black and white and faded with time — that's us, fresh-faced from the surf, strong and sure, smiling.


Every morning we wake and look to the flag, listless or stiff. Today it flaps both warning and invitation, an urgent red against a sky of blue.


Walking the wrackline, we spot glossy rocks, thin shells, stranded jellyfish, small sandcrabs. The water, a wave machine that never ends, softens sound and muffles our voices so that our tongues go slack with the work of language.   


On the shore between lost and found, I can't find my notebook, pages and pages of my history, my voice, my self. I panic, hunt, give up, begin again.

Wreck and re-do share the same shadow.


Once, here, we drank too much and quarreled home.


In the distance, a woman sits on the sand, where it turns from lofty to soft to firm but not yet wet. She is alone on an empty beach watching her friend — husband? lover? son? — bobbing in the waves. She wears an unnamed sadness, I imagine, like a grief she holds but cannot carry. I watch and watch, will not turn away. This is projection, of course, a misplaced empathy. But I can’t stop watching this woman who is sitting still, her back to me, living quietly contained.

I keep looking. I keep looking to really see. 


Once, a sudden storm pounded our car, a torrent of water flooded the street. We huddled inside, stunned, racked with a rumble of uncertainty we’ve yet to shake.  


Along this line, I walk for miles, each step a decision that finally brings me home.


Back at the pool and free of nature’s mess, the water is chlorine clean. Slipping in, the water amplifies my breath to truth: loud, ragged, singular. The body is weightless and floating, my face turns to a wide endless sky. My heart pumps pumps pumps, gives rise to tears, salted and soundless, the one thing that seems essential and true.




Love that line!

Past the point of desperation lies inspiration.

— Priscilla Long
The Writer's Portable Mentor:
A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life 


This book has been setting on my desk for years (yes, years!). With the dedication of a student learning anew, I recently dug in — and have felt surprisingly energized with fresh writing prompts and ideas.

I like a good prompt and often turn to books; I have no patience in waiting for the "muse" to "inspire" me. Does a plumber wait for the right pipe to magically appear, or a surgeon wait for the stars to align before he begins to cut? No, you go out and get what you need, and then stick to your schedule.  

And so, both mood and magic have been tossed aside for the more reliable forces of effort and will. I've got my very own mentor in this get-to-it book. 

What guides your writing? A person, a book, a class . . . ? 



Twist of fact and wish


Once I wrote a letter that lasted weeks. 

Once I wrote a letter that did not end.

This is the field, or a river, a wide sky expecting rain.

This is fresh paper, without blemish, without fear.

This is the letter turned to you, to god, to myself. Signed, sealed, sent to an undeliverable address. This is me hiding.  


He wrote a book of poems to his dead wife. I wondered if this was mastery or manipulation. But what poem isn't a twist of fact and wish? A rewrite of life as if facts were nails or hammers, something solid like a tool, or a fastener to truth that hangs useless until put to purpose.


Because something loosens and stirs, I keep writing, though the words make no sense, though I do not direct the message, do not even have a message. I keep the pen moving, the way my lips move in prayer, the way my mother pleads with me to keep moving, keep doing the work. 

The way even now I do not know if she said those words or I wanted her to offer the kind of encouragement we could never seem to say aloud. 


When nothing moves in me, my hand moves quickly across the page, with some sort of faith that life is more —and less — than now now now.

The here is the after, the after is here, on this page, in my hand, writing to you. 


This is why I pray with just one word, whispered, begged, again and again: please.