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My Year in Reading – 2018

December 28, 2018

gus readingAt the end of every year I like to flip through my journals and see how it all went down. As someone who chronically struggles to feel she is doing “enough,” having a journal is helpful in seeing concrete proof that despite all my momentary amnesia to the fact, I am always working and actively living.

One of the things that I discovered looking back at my journals of 2018 is that I had I really GOOD year of reading. I read A LOT–and so much of it was GOOD.  I will be posting about my favorite comics that were published in 2018 elsewhere (stay tuned), but I thought I’d list some of my favorite reads (no matter the pub date) of 2018. Please note that I am not linking these reads to an on-line purchasing venue (ie Amazon). If you feel so moved, please go find them at your local bookstore or library!


Winter Morning Walks: 100 Postcards to Jim Harrison – Ted Kooser

I cannot remember how I discovered the poet Ted Kooser (I think it was through a talk given by the poet Naomi Shihab Nye), but his writing and poetry meant a lot to me this year. In 1998 Kooser was diagnosed with cancer and was advised by his doctor to avoid sunlight during his treatments. He began going for walks every morning before dawn, which brought on sudden, short poems he would send on postcards to his friend the writer Jim Harrison. Daily, brief observations that make your heart explode.

31 Letters and 13 Dreams by Richard Hugo

I can’t believe I had never heard of the late, great Richard Hugo before discovering him through Ted Kooser’s book on poetry, The Poetry Home Repair Manual. His poetry and prose, dealing with memory and place have become deeply important to me. His work reminds me a lot of Anne Sexton, though his subjects and language are all his own. Like Sexton, his language is catchy and he makes it look easy. Also like Sexton, his cries from the heart are clearly meant as a way to connect and to understand.

Headwaters by Ellen Bryant Voigt

I discovered her through The New Yorker Poetry Podcast when Kaveh Akbar read her fantastic poem, “Groundhog.” Her command of language and rhythm is staggering and inspirational.

Glass, Irony & God by Anne Carson

My boss at the bookstore, Heidi recommended this volume as a way to start reading the incomparable Anne Carson and it blew me away. Her poem “The Glass Essay” may be one of the most important pieces of writing I’ve discovered in a long time.

Comics (not published in 2018, but read this year)

House of Sugar – Rebecca Kraatz

Snaps – Rebecca Kraatz

I discovered Rebecca Kraatz through a collection of essays on teaching poetry to young people, The Open Door, and was immediately curious. She makes comics that are short and based in “real life,” but end with a twist of surrealism. It’s effective and thrilling. After I read House of Sugar, I wrote her a fan letter and she sent me Snaps, her one “graphic novel,” a collection of stories based on a scrapbook of photos she found at a flea market. Once again, I became entranced by her magical realism and quiet brilliance.

The Best American Comics 2007, edited by Chris Ware. 

I’m in the process of trying to read every volume of this series. I am not a giant fan of Ware’s work (it’s brilliant, but too cold for me), but his taste and sensibility on comics is right on the money for me. If you want to see my highly specific and narrow desires for comics, get his edited volume of the Best American. I swooned over the whole thing and discovered the work of Dan Zettwoch and David Heatly, who both influenced my comics this year.

Red Bird, vol. 1,2, & 4Dan Zettwoch 

Genius illustrator and lover of place and birds. I bought everything he has in print this year. My favorites are his minis – which are tiny, underpriced works of art. INCREDIBLE!

Walt & Skeezix, Vols. 1 & 2  by Frank King, edited by Chris Ware

Sundays with Walt & Skeezix by Frank King, edited by Chris Ware (jaw droopingly great)

Whenever I get dulled to comics (it happens sometimes–there’s only just so much you can read all the time), I find reading old comics really nourishing. They remind me of the basic efforts in comics: you alone at a desk talking in boxes. The masters are masters for a reason! I knew eventually, I would read Frank King’s Gasoline Alley comics–but it always seemed so daunting. Here is a series that ran in its original form EVERY DAY for 40 years–with the characters aging in real time. We see Skeezix arrive as a newborn on the doorstep of bachelor Walt Wallet and watch him grow in real time into a man. It’s daunting to say the least–but the minute I started I was DEEPLY IN LOVE.  There are artists you love and then there are artists that feel like FAMILY. King feels like family. I began to look at domestic, small observational story telling in a whole new light. It can’t be overstated how beautiful and moving as a written work this is. I’m currently reading Vol. 3, but the first 2 volumes blew me away. Cartooning and writing at its finest.

Prose & Fiction

The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard – edited by Ron Padgett

Brainard is more well known as a designer and artist, but he was also a great, casual writer of autobiographical prose. My boss at the bookstore, Michael, recommended him and his piece “I Remember.” Man, was he right! “I Remember” should be taught in every beginning writing course there is! It has a lot in common with Lynda Barry’s “images,” which are nouns that trigger memories and can evoke a feeling of mutual remembering between the author and reader. Maybe one of my favorite things I’ve read this year.

Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977–2002 by David Sedaris

I got burned out on David Sedaris awhile back after reading book after book for 6 years, so I haven’t read a book of his in 10 years. Diaries always fascinate me (gee, I wonder why?) and I had heard from various sources that these diaries were good. Finally, in a reading lull, I picked up a copy and was immediately smitten. As diaries, they might be some of my favorites I’ve ever read. Refreshingly observational based (as opposed to emotional), every entry is a reminder of why he is so good at what he does. He watches the world and records the dark absurdity around him. Very inspirational for writing.

Local Wonders: A Year in the Bohemian Alps – Ted Kooser

An essay like journal through the seasons in Kooser’s home in Nebraska. This is a beautiful book of place, both inward and outward. It describes landscapes, towns, history and memories with loving attention. I’d say he was the EB White of Nebraska, but he’s too busy being the Ted Kooser of Nebraska. I was so sad when it was over I turned to the first page and began reading it all over again.

Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing – Richard Hugo

I love this tiny, but mighty book because it is 100% Hugo: sentimental, passionate, and filled with astounding writing. His essay about traveling back to the Italian town he was stationed in World War II, “Ci Vediamo” might be one of my favorite essays ever written.

Ragtime – EL Doctrow

I used to read fiction all the time, but got burned out on it while living in New York City. My impression was that while I read a lot of good stuff, none of it was GREAT. I got bored, especially by the writer & story that began to feel rote: A white college educated New Yorker who is trying to FIGURE IT OUT.  Seriously, how many novels/movies/TV shows do we NEED from this perspective??  Totally randomly, I decided to pick up a novel that I had in my personal library, but never read: Ragtime by EL Doctrow. I know, it’s a classic, but like with comics, sometimes reading a classic novel is a perfect way to clean your reading pallet off and make it SING once again. Loved this book!

There, There – Tommy Orange

It took me awhile to get into this book–it feels like a collection of short stories at first, but then you get into it…and you GET IT. It’s beautiful, hard, and NEW. As a person from the Bay Area where this material takes place, it was powerful and fascinating to read about that area from a completely different perspective. It made me see it anew.


  1. Jennifer Parsons permalink
    December 28, 2018 7:39 pm

    Morning, Summer! Just read your post about 2018 reading. Thank you! I learned a lot about writings I would never have seen. I will go to Chaucer’s to pick one up (not sure which one). Jenny

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. griffin333 permalink
    December 31, 2018 11:54 pm

    Thanks for sharing your reading list and your passions. Have a very happy new year 2019.

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