• One Minnesota Writer

Notes from My Own Book Stacks

Cold weather and more time indoors means we're all probably reading more books right now. Right? My own taste is eclectic. My latest list of books read illustrates that nicely.

I'll start with the book I finished yesterday. A few weeks ago on this site, I listed John Biscello's new book of poetry, Moonglow on Mercy Street (CSF Publishing, 2020) in my New Book News feature. I finally cracked this book open - or, rather, pulled up a file on my computer - and settled in to read some poetry by a poet new to me. These poems are not my usual fare, but that didn't stop me from reading the entire book.

The poems are divided into three sections. The first section opens with "Floodlights" and I took its first lines ( We / are the keepers of the sacred fire, / the shapeshifters / and purveyors of starstuff undivided-- ) as the opening invitation to poets everywhere. The poem I was most drawn to in this section was a very simple one: "Red Balloon."

A red balloon
says so much about the sky,
and the weightless wonder of children,
when desire, bated aloft by the sun,
gives free-spirited chase
to the play of light
on basking reams
of nimbus and lore.

That small poem, with its spare bit of delight, felt like it fit this holiday season in mood in spite of its hint of summer fun. Another piece that drew me in was, "Thirteen Ways of Visioning a Crow", stanza XI:

Crows and chimps are considered equals in terms of relative intelligence, yet only one of them can fly into the air to shit on the head of someone upon whom they have been patiently waiting to exact calculated vengeance.

I love crows. This image of them made me laugh. Many of the other pieces in this first section were drenched in a romantic veil and those who love that feel might be drawn to these poems. The second section offered a series of poems on a theme titled, "Interior Lighting for Lost Cinema, or, Women Modeling Fragments of Alleged Reality," followed by several pieces with quotes from assorted writers at the beginning. Anais Nin, Voltaire, Fernando Pessoa, and others make an appearance. The third section of the book offers up, "The Last Days of Jack Kerouac, a film-poem." Here we have ample proof that John Biscello is also a playwright and mixing things up in a poetry collection can be fun.

If you are interested in Biscello's work, you can find out more HERE.

I also just finished reading Ordinary Grace, a novel by William Kent Krueger (Atria Paperback, 2013). I loved this story, set in small-town Minnesota during the summer of 1961 when the narrator was 13. The narrator, Frank, tells of his family - minister father, unhappy mother, musically-gifted 18-year-old sister, and perceptive 11-year-old brother - as they are forever changed by the events of their small town over the course of just a few months. There are lessons about loss, faith, choices, prejudice, and how we eventually do the right thing woven in this deftly told story. Since this book has been out for several years already, you may have read it, but if you haven't, go buy a copy. Krueger is a magnificent writer whose characters are drawn with love and generosity. I was familiar with his Cork O'Connor mystery series, and was delighted to find out that he has other stories that are equally, if not more, compelling.

And I read - finally - The Testaments, Margaret Atwood's sequel to The Handmaid's Tale. There are several different narrators in the book, all with pieces of a larger story that is so chilling in its description of women being forced into a lesser existence. Most people by now have heard about these books and how Atwood based events in them on things that actually happened somewhere in the world. That's the piece that bothers me after reading both books. These books are the story of Gilead, a place that could so easily come about if we don't guard our civil liberties, our democracy (well, what's left of it), and our access to education, and continue to work on making our world a more just and equal place. Whew. I might need to find some lighter reading for over the holidays.

I have no shortage of books lined up and waiting for me to settle in with their stories. This is one of the best ways to spend time in the winter: a mug of tea, a warm blanket, a whiff of a new book just opened.

Here's to good stories everywhere.

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