Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2015, pt. 28: Sofia Samatar

The Pleasures of Reading in 2015
by Sofia Samatar

The books I loved most this year work in a shifting space located somewhere between memoir, poetry, and theory. Ladan Osman’s poetry collection The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony, winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize, bears witness to small moments: a mother buying sugar, a child playing with a doll, a Muslim family receiving free Christmas presents from the Salvation Army. If we can point to the larger significance of these moments—war, poverty, immigration, girlhood, loss—it’s not because they’ve stopped being small, and that’s what I love about this collection: its commitment to lesser things. This commitment is expressed through a constant questioning that refuses grand statements. “Here, I attend to my book of questions,” the poet writes. Her voice won’t step away from itself in the name of any kind of essentialism, it refuses all the pieties, the pressure to perform some version of black female heroism, it refuses, it remains defiantly small, and it’s absolutely vital. “It’s me who’s getting ugly.” “I just need to ventilate.” “Yes, I have been disgusting so much.”

Bhanu Kapil’s Ban en Banlieue is, you could say, another poetic immigrant memoir, or you could say a meditation on impossible bodies, or you could say a book of spells, an engine, or a fire. It’s overwhelming. I still have trouble talking about this book, even though I did so for three days as part of an online roundtable. Bhanu Kapil has spent years writing about these unnatural or denaturalized bodies—immigrant, monster, schizophrenic, wolf—and Ban is in many ways a distillation of that work. “A book of time, for time and because of it,” she writes. “A book for recovery from an illness.” “A book as much poetry as it is a forbidden or unfunded area of research.” Forbidden, unfunded, dazzling.

Bhanu also keeps an incredible blog. In trying to describe this blog and Keguro Macharia’s—another favorite—I used the expression “life-thinking.” Afterward I discovered the term “autotheory,” a word for writing that integrates autobiography and social criticism, which
is maybe what I mean here. Anyway, I loved Suzanne Scanlon’s Her 37th Year: An Index, an alphabetical compilation of life, literature, feminism, and film: its brief, cross-referenced entries are both mysterious and precise. A whole world shimmers here. Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women is another book that received the high compliment being carried around in my backpack for months after I’d read it: it’s sharp and unflinching and political and Kansas and motherhood and illness and apartments and TV, and you should read the excerpt that made me know I had to have it. Paul B. Preciado’s Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era, translated by Bruce Benderson, is another book that blew me away: it’s both a fierce work of criticism examining the links between the pharmaceutical and pornography industries, and a memoir of Preciado’s use of testosterone every day for one year. Finally, I have to mention Black Quantum Futurism: Theory and Practice (Volume One), edited by Rasheedah Phillips, a collection of essays on time, space, hip-hop, postmodernism, the imagination, and the future.

Sofia Samatar is the author of the novel A Stranger in Olondria, winner of the William L. Crawford Award, the British Fantasy Award, and the World Fantasy Award. She is also a Hugo and Nebula Award finalist and the recipient of the 2014 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her new novel The Winged Histories is forthcoming from Small Beer Press in 2016.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2015, part 27: Arrate Hidalgo

Picture of Arrate
I've sat down to write this a few times now, and I've given up every time — I'm currently spending the holidays with my family in my aunt's loud, entertaining house, where every night the women (that's most of us) sit around the TV and watch and comment on an average of six films until the small hours, snacking on leftovers and a couple of holiday/birthday cakes. (Celebrations tend to cluster in my family.)

Now that we just finished all three Lord of the Rings films, with the extra labor of walking my mother through them ("Whose father is that?", "But wasn't that guy dead", "This Frodo is a pain in the ass"), I've decided that it's time to recommend all of you some culture. Here's a list of things I've enjoyed this year, in no particular order.


Cover image of Diez variaciones sobre el amor
Diez variaciones sobre el amor (“Ten Variations on Love”), Teresa P. Mira de Echeverría
I first encountered Teresa's complex, poetic science fiction in the Spanish-language sf anthology Terra Nova vol. 1, with her long short story "Memory," of which a translation into English by Lawrence Schimel has been recently re-published by Upper Rubber Boots.
This new collection (unfortunately only available in Spanish —  for now!) is a multi-faceted, monumental journey across the many shapes of love (of yourself, your lover(s), your clone, your family) across times, realities, and entire universes. Teresa is incredibly precise; she builds worlds out of delicate, playful language and synesthesia. Her stories portray and celebrate structures of loving and living that defy the rules of heteronormativity, respectability, possibility. From a time-traveling art historian who falls in love with a young woman accused of being a witch in the middle of a France devastated by the Plague; to the stormy relationship between two clones who are in love despite prohibitions and violence; to the journey of two brothers following a robotic spider in the completion of a prophecy that echoes indigenous Río de la Plata traditions, the book digs deep into the many meanings and personifications of love.

Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work, Melissa Gira Grant
Much has been said about this short book. I picked it up because, for a while, I had been very confused by the mainstream feminist take on sex work, which I never felt made me any less ignorant about the subject. Melissa Gira Grant offers a thorough and informative introduction to issues around sex work and a brilliant analysis of the different processes and structures of “protection” and punishment that systematically deny sex workers the right to define their struggle in their own terms.

Alucinadas (Spanish Women of Wonder), Various Authors, Cristina Jurado and Leticia Lara (eds.)
This I also read in Spanish. HOWEVER, the anthology just managed to secure crowdfunding for its edition in English! Watch out, folks: Alucinadas is the first ever anthology of sf women writers in Spanish and it features a wide variety of genres, from space opera to steampunk to a generous number of stories that defy labelling, by both award-winning and less recognized authors from Latin America and Spain, including Lola Robles, Sofía Rhei, Marian Womack, and the legendary Angélica Gorodischer.


Album cover of So The Flies Don't Come
I’ve decided it’s probably a better idea if I just leave links to some music I’ve enjoyed, rather than describing it. Good luck!


My parents have eaten artichokes in front of me my entire life. But I always refused to eat them until I recently discovered the loveliness of marinated artichoke hearts, and the fun of dipping the leaves of a fresh boiled artichoke, one by one, core first, in olive oil and vinegar. But then, I will love anything sufficiently smothered in vinegar.

Film poster for AdvantageousFILMS

Under the skin, Jonathan Glazer
I intend to watch this film again, now that I’ve read the Wikipedia page for it. Scarlett Johansson plays an extraterrestrial who, disguised as a young woman, drives around Scotland and lures men into her beautifully alien lair.

Advantageous, Jennifer Phang
A stark yet heartfelt tale of a mother and daughter navigating an economic reality in which "hand to mouth" takes a whole new meaning that feels strangely around the corner. The premise features a megacorp offering the service to transfer their clients' consciousness into a new, younger, healthier body.

This year has been big in work-related reading for me, and I must say that, busy as it has been, I feel really good about it. I wish you all a happy 2016 full of satisfying, challenging, inspiring, good things.


Arrate Hidalgo is Associate Editor at Aqueduct Press. She is also an English to Spanish translator and amateur singer. She will be very excited if you visit her brand-new website,

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2015, part 26:: Cynthia Ward

2015 in Review: Adventure Genres and Others
by Cynthia Ward

"Is Everyone in This Movie Gay Except James Bond?" (Film and Television)

I finally watched some James Bond movies that weren't the execrable Moonraker, which I saw upon its release in 1979.  It inspired decades of Bond avoidance.  But some months ago, Joe and I watched the Sean Connery Bond movies from the 1960s.  They are uneven, but can be entertaining when you're not being subject to racism (say, Connery in brownface), or noting that Bond's interactions with Miss Moneypenny might flirt with workplace harassment, or observing the creepiness of his interludes with some of the other women characters (No.  Don't.  Oh, James, when will I see you again?).  They're the answer to the question "Is Mad Men an accurate reflection of the early-1960s white Western male mindset?"

Surely the most quoted Bond movie is Goldfinger (1964), with its witty dialogue and largely coherent plot.  However, the sexuality comes off nowadays as distinctly odd.  While viewing Goldfinger, I asked Joe:  "Is everyone in this movie gay except James Bond?"  By the end, you can argue at least one other character is straight (at least, that's the only way I can make sense of Pussy Galore's eventual behavior).  At any rate, I expect my interpretation of the sexuality bears little resemblance to the creators' intentions.

Goldfinger would have been our pick for best James Bond movie, but a fellow heathen told us the best is actually Skyfall, starring Daniel Craig.  We were dubious, since we'd found his Bond movie Quantum of Solace brutally unwatchable or unwatchably brutal (take your pick).  But Skyfall takes the James Bond universe seriously, and in doing so creates a seriously good movie, with a distinctly cyberpunk feel.  The writers even devise a vaguely reasonable reason for Bond and Moneypenny's flirtatious relationship.  Afterward, when you think about the plot, you start saying "wait a minute" about various aspects; but when you're watching, the movie's got hold of you as ruthlessly as a science fiction novel with great world-building.

Star Trek Into Darkness doesn't get nearly so firm a grip on its viewers, so I spent much of my viewing time wondering.  I wondered why a character named Khan was an Anglo-Saxon Englishman.  I wondered why "primitive" people are disrespected as superstitious savages where a technologically advanced religious people would be respected.  I wondered why sprinkling a few nonwhite characters on the plot is supposed to represent diversity.  I wondered why the plot didn't make sense.  And I wondered why the movie focused on raising the low maturity level of Kirk, when Spock's emotional thawing was not only the more compelling plot strand, but directly related to a major character's death.

It's typical for Western production companies to make movies about how an issue involving an oppressed group affects the oppressors--and, sure enough, you find a Great White Savior character in 12 Years a Slave (drawn from history, according to Slate: (  Also, slavery was often worse than the horrors portrayed in this movie, but if you've got a trigger, it will be triggered by this movie.  If these facts don't keep you away, 12 Years a Slave is tremendous, and very nearly unbearable in its witness to nightmarish history.  It's astonishing the Academy awarded it any of the Oscars it deserved (it won three and was nominated for nine []).
Another excellent movie which is very nearly unbearable in its retelling of a true story--the 2008 death by cop of Oscar Grant III (powerfully portrayed by Michael B. Jordan)--is Fruitvale Station.  It follows a day in the life of a young man on the eve of a new year, a good man who's made some unwise decisions but has decided to turn things around.  He's ready to drive to San Francisco with his girlfriend (played by the terrific Melonie Diaz) and getting ready to propose, but a last-minute decision changes everything.  I wouldn't say this movie hits as many triggers as 12 Years a Slave.  But it will make you want to scream with frustration and rage.

Turning to lighter movies, The Lunch Box first came to my attention when it controversially wasn't submitted by India for consideration for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.  Watching The Lunch Box revealed the merits of the controversy.  It's the fictional story of how a misdelivered lunchbox brings together an unhappy young wife and mother and an unhappy older widower in Mumbai.  The characters don't meet in the film, and the ending is open.  I have my opinion of what happens next, but I leave it to you to decide for yourself when you see this delicate, wise, and wonderful film.

Belle is a biographical film about Dido Elizabeth Belle (, the mixed-race natural daughter of an English admiral, raised by the family of the Lord Chief Justice who would issue the two rulings that ended slavery in England.  His role in history is a powerful part of the movie, but the focus remains on the title character.  However, the presence of a romantic triangle involving the adult Dido makes the film feel a little schematic, at least when viewed shortly after The Lunch Box.  However, Belle is a strong film, with a fine script and excellent acting, particularly by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, the actress who portrays the title lead, and the romantic triangle beats many I've seen over the years:  it presents Dido with two genuinely compelling choices.

A more recent film based on British history is Suffragette, which explores the violent struggle for the women's vote, and reverts to the baseless idea that everyone in historical England was white (  Also, if you think you'll see a lot of Meryl Streep as the firebrand political activist Emmeline Pankhurst, you'll be disappointed.  In many ways, though, Suffragette is an excellent movie.  And, while the main character is fictional, the most shocking scene in the movie happened, and can be witnessed in a newsreel if you're able to bear watching the awful death of a real person (

In a fictional post-WWII Britain and Japan, the great Sir Ian McKellen turns in one of his finest performances with his portrayal of Mr Holmes, in which the great detective faces the loss of his intellectual gifts to encroaching dementia.  While his last case intercuts with scenes of his present-day (i.e., 1947) existence, this is a character study, not a mystery movie.  If you go in expecting to see a crime unraveled, you'll likely be displeased.  Go in braced for another all-white historical piece and you might be pleasantly surprised.

If you're champing at the metaphorical bit for the minimalist and sexist treatment of women, might I recommend the first two movies in the Back to the Future trilogy, which celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year?  Good way to ruin the fun twists on time travel.  Back to the Future III goes a fair way toward redeeming things, thanks to Christopher Lloyd's excellent portrayal of the "mad" scientist's late-in-life discovery of love with an Old West schoolmarm, whom Mary Steenburgen gives more believability and charm than the creators probably had in mind.

Turning to television, Joe and I watched the Syfy channel's three-episode adaptation of the late Sir Arthur C. Clarke's influential SF novel, Childhood's End.  As I last read the book in fall 1980, I remembered it poorly, and thought the Syfy miniseries must be taking enormous liberties.  Then I re-read the novel, and was reminded that parapsychology used to get a lot more "play" in hard science fiction than you'll see in 21st Century SF.  It seems the mainstream/mundane American viewing public is ready for 1950s SF prose, an advance from the 1920s-1940s level of SF in Star Wars and much other modern cinematic and televised SF.

The miniseries is generally faithful to the 1953 novel, including retention of the most important scientist character, a middle-class, mixed-race man.  However, there are a few significant--and disappointing--divergences.  Overtly religious characters and concerns are introduced.  A middle-class family origin for a scientist of color is apparently considered too implausible for an American audience, so Euro-African Jan Rodricks becomes Milo Rodricks, lone child of a single, drug-addicted, African-American mother.  The climax strips Milo of the scientific mindset and emotional control of Jan.  And the miniseries obscures the fate and logic of the posthuman children.  These alterations hamper comprehension of the climax and change the meaning of the conclusion, abandoning Clarke's secularism and acceptance of the reality of change with a presumably Christian terror of the implications of godlessness.

It is true there's a void at the heart of atheism.  However, the miniseries is false to the way many atheists process and understand the impermanence of life, the human race, and our planet--a viewpoint successfully portrayed in Clarke's novel.  As my partner observed, the novel is about childhood's end, while the miniseries is about childhood's end.  The horrified twist at the show's conclusion is deeply disappointing.  Still, the differences between the endings has made for some fascinating conversations between my atheist retired Christian minister boyfriend and my atheist self.

"The Sweet Tang of Rape" (Prose)

The James Bond movies lead me to sample some of the late British author Ian Fleming's original novels, published in the 1950s-1960s.  The prose is lean and usually compelling.  The oft-annoying names for female characters held across both media.  Elsewhere, I found significant differences between the film and prose Bonds (FB and PB).  The Connery FB is a quick-quipping womanizer so lacking in fear as to suggest pathology.  PB is a humorless serial monogamist hardly unfamiliar with fear.  And the rapey subtext of the Connery FB's "flirting" is text in the novels.  Consider PB's thoughts about the first "Bond girl," Vesper Lynd:  "he knew that she was profoundly, excitingly sensual, but that the conquest of her body, because of the central privacy in her, would each time have the sweet tang of rape" (Casino Royale, p. 156, AmazonEncore Kindle Edition).  Wonder no more about mid-century male behavior in Mad Men.

I have no doubt Fleming's influence has spread widely through English language adventure-suspense fiction, and I'd be unsurprised to learn it influenced the late American author John D. MacDonald, creator of the Florida-based "salvage consultant," Travis McGee, who has PB's penchant for a new woman with every novel.  I hadn't read a McGee book since the '80s, but, encountering an affordable eBook edition of The Lonely Silver Rain, a title I hadn't previously read, I gave it a go.  Like many another male-penned mystery novel of my acquaintance, it has a spare, tough, compelling prose reminiscent of Fleming or Hemingway.  Its drug-smuggler-double-dealing plot is convoluted enough that I frankly cannot determine if it's logical.  But there's a surprising theme of loss, aging, and the foreclosing of possibilities that nonetheless opens out movingly.

Speaking of the late literary luminary Ernest Hemingway, I finally read his unfinished, posthumously published novel The Garden of Eden, about which I'd heard rumors since it was released in the 1980s.  I didn't quite the rumors of gender role reversals and gender dysphoria, but they're true.  The novel also features androgyny, bisexuality, infidelity, and strong language.  I imagine the novel would have been intensely shocking if it had been released in the reputed time period of its composition (1940s-1950s).  Less surprising, given the author and time period, is the linking of the gender concerns to the wife's mental deterioration, and the portrayal of her increasingly severe mental illness as significant because affects the husband.  Overall, though, it's a strong novel; it's a probable source of insight (via metafictional interludes) into Hemingway's writing process; and it ends at a reasonable stopping point despite being incomplete.

The British Yoruba author Tade Thompson was previously known to me as a creator of speculative fiction, so I was rather surprised to discover this excellent writer's intriguingly titled debut novel, Making Wolf, is non-spec mystery/suspense.  Set in the fictional West African nation of Alcacia, this is a novel well aware of the Bond mythos, and there's a moment where I thought Bond's path was the one the plot would take.  Then Thompson smashed that notion to smithereens, and kept smashing.  I was not only surprised repeatedly, I was made very aware that my ignorance of what goes on in parts of humanity's home continent was by choice.  Brutal, unsparing, brilliant.  Find Thompson's work and read it.

Turning to mystery/suspense-tinged spec-fic, Coming Home is the latest Alex Benedict novel from the American science fiction veteran, Jack McDevitt.  In the far future, Benedict has an occupation that would raise eyebrows in many eras:  he's a dealer in antiquities.  This time out, his vocation takes him and his official pilot and unofficial gal Friday, Chase Kolpath, to an Earth much altered since our era.  What is not so altered is the cultural milieu of star-spanning humanity, a culture which in many ways would feel familiar, even comfy, to a mid-century Anglo-American.  While the text asserts a diverse future, the names, descriptions, and behaviors generally tend toward a straight Euro default.  Awareness of this will crystallize, for those who haven't already marked it, by the married lesbian trio found on an isolated asteroid.  This seems to symbolize an inability to envision diversity with intersectionality.  The novel's scientific dilemma (a ship gone astray in transluminal travel), the leads, and other aspects of the novel I quite enjoyed, and I hope for a more overtly blended future in subsequent Benedict/Kolpath outings.

One flat-out spec-fic novel I read in 2015 was Lagoon by the multi-award-winning writer Nnedi Okorafor.  It's a good ol'-fashioned multi-PoV first contact novel, with magic-realist touches and aliens who want to be taken to the leaders of Nigeria, not the USA or UK.  The tension didn't quite build for me and the pidgin dialogue sections gave me some tough sledding, but this is an intriguing, cliché-smashing, and wide-ranging examination of the alien invasion "trope."

Also in the spec-fic realm, I read the Mexican-Canadian author Silvia Moreno-Garcia's first novel, Signal to Noise, whose cover evokes the pleasure of the mixtape, where a vinyl long-player would have been more literal.  On the symbolic level, however, the cassette tape is accurate.  Set in 1980s Mexico City, this novel, poised at the ambiguous intersection of fantasy, magic realism, and fabulism, successfully recreates the pleasure and promise of 1980s (and some earlier) music, and also the new pleasures and pains that trip us up on our paths to adulthood.  The mix of elements and genres put me in mind of the classic years of the 1980s-born black and white comic book Love & Rockets, by Los Bros Hernandez, though I don't see that L&R is an influence.  Another recommended debut novel.

Over the last year or so I've read the complete Sherlock Holmes stories from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which are quite engrossing, challenging, and varied.  They're deserving of their classic status, though the disappearance of racial sensitivity later in the series is saddening, if not wholly surprising.  I expanded my reading in Holmesian detective fiction to pastiches, and encountered Detective Crown Investigator Abigail Irene Garrett in Elizabeth Bear's fine alt.history fantasy story, "The Body of the Nation.  Investigator Garrett inspired me to check out Bear's other influence, Randall Garrett's occult detective Lord Darcy, and so far I've read "The Eyes Have It," an ingenious story.  I intend to revisit both authors' alternate histories.

Currently I'm reading my friend and Clarion West classmate friend Amy Wolf's debut novel, The Misses Bronte's Establishment, an alternate history of Emily, Ann, Charlotte, and Branwell, told from the viewpoint of the young, impertinent, learning-averse attendee of the sisters' private school--an establishment which never had a student in our timeline.  It's a fun romp which signals some indications of wish fulfillment, and I daresay strict or literalist Bronte fans are not the target audience.  Following its conclusion I shall be reading Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany, a festschrift anthology edited by publisher Bill Campbell and my friend and Clarion West classmate Nisi Shawl.  And in Spring 2016 I look forward to the fantasy novel The Seer from my friend and Clarion West classmate Sonia Orin Lyris.

For The Cascadia Subduction Zone I've most recently reviewed Ernest Hogan's excellent, art-themed, reissued debut novel, Cortez on Jupiter (1990), and the terrific graphic novels Red Sonja: Volume 1: Queen of the Plagues from writer Gail Simone and artist Walter Geovanni and Supreme: Blue Rose from writer Warren Ellis and artist Tula Lotay.   I read a few other graphic novels, as well.  One is Suffrajitsu: Mrs. Pankhurst's Amazons, an adventurous, steampunk-tinged alternate history of the British women's rights movement that is perhaps less alternate than you might expect, if you're unfamiliar with the movement.  Suffrajitsu is a little more aware of movement diversity than the movie Suffragette; on the down side, nearly every woman in the graphic novel's large female cast has the same face, which makes it tough to keep them sorted.

I haven't yet seen the movie Guardians of the Galaxy, but I read the graphic novel Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume. 1: Cosmic Avengers.  Writer Brian Michael Bendis is always worth reading, and GotG:CA is fun (except for the annoying, inexplicable raccoon), but upon finishing the GN, I concluded there's not a costumed male Marvel Comics characters left who isn't a wisecracking smartass.  And I'm sorry about that, because I remember when team leader Star-Lord was a solo spacefaring superhero-analog who didn't fulfill the wiseass stereotype.  His original, black-and-white adventures from the Bronze Age of the 1970s have now been collected in Star-Lord: Guardian of the Galaxy.  For reasons unknown (nostalgia? cheap appeal to hetero boys?), the GN is adorned with a silly, offputting '70s cover with underdressed, ankle-clinging cheesecake.  Despite this, I'm in the process of revisiting the stories, and so far I'm finding many pleasant surprises, and also a surprising number of things I remember, including several individual panels.  Once I conclude this GN, I'll be reading Marvel's controversially gender-flipped Thor: Volume 1: The Goddess of Thunder.  I hope it will be as strong as Marvel's controversial, ethnicity-changing, Hugo Award winning graphic novel, Ms. Marvel: Volume 1: No Normal.

Cynthia Ward ( lives in the Los Angeles area. She has published stories in Asimov's Science Fiction, Weird Tales, Altered States, and other anthologies and magazines. Her stories "Norms" and "#rising" made the Tangent Online Recommended Reading List for 2011 and 2014. Cynthia is the editor of the diversity-themed fiction anthologies Lost Trails: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West Volumes One and Two (WolfSinger Publications). With Nisi Shawl, she coauthored the diversity fiction-writing handbook Writing the Other: A Practical Approach (Aqueduct Press).

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2015: pt. 25: Jean LeBlanc

The Pleasures of Reading in 2015
by Jean LeBlanc

I teach at least five courses each semester at a small but vibrant community college. This cuts into my reading time, as you can imagine. Still, I keep a book or two under my pillow, for those few minutes each evening I can keep my eyes open, or for one o'clock a.m. when a school dream chases all hope of sleep away. Even now, mid-December, my stack of books slated for summer reading is taking over a corner of my bedroom. My reading time is precious to me, and I appreciate books that make me feel I am in the presence of brilliance. Several books from this past year stand out in my mind...

1.  I began the year with an old favorite, Doris Kearns Goodwin's No Ordinary Time. I was inspired to reread this after viewing Ken Burns's documentary about the Roosevelt dynasty.

2 and 3. I spent my spring break with two more perennial favorites, Jane Austen's Persuasion and E.M. Forster's A Room with a View. I want to live in these worlds!

4. Summer! And a new release from David McCullough. This book quickly became my new favorite non-fiction read: The Wright Brothers. What an American story; what odd but loveable characters. And what a revelation: Orville and Wilbur's sister Katherine, their support at home but also a woman ahead of her own time. This book was so thrilling, I read it a second time within a month of finishing it in May.

5.  I don't usually read mystery novels, but a friend of mine, Richard Goffman, has penned two that are set on the Jersey Shore, peopled with all sorts of interesting characters. The protagonist is a high school English teacher who doesn't mean to get himself sucked into all this drama, but there he is, at the center of it all. Richard's second book, Laid So Low, was one of my favorites this year. His day job (teaching, of course) means all his fans are waiting (im)patiently for Mr. Bachman mystery number three...

6 and 7.  And of course, poetry. This is my craft, so I try to read a book of poetry a month. The two that stand out from this past year are Scott Metz's lakes & now wolves, a book of haiku so delicate, so haunting, so deep, I can't believe even as I'm looking at the book that it is comprised of ordinary words. It's some new kind of language, these poems by Scott Metz. David Huddle's new volume of poetry, Dream Sender, has also joined other books by this poet on my "favorites" shelf.

There were other wonderful books this past year, of course. I am sure I will look back at this list and think, "Why didn't I include...?" Time to go grade a few research papers, prepare for my spring courses...and maybe glimpse at a page or two of my current favorite book that shows me again what it's like to have all this brilliance right at my fingertips.

Happy reading!

Jean LeBlanc is an assistant professor of English in Newton, New Jersey. She is the author of numerous books, including At Any Moment, The Haiku Aesthetic: Short Form Poetry as a Study in Craft, Where We Go: haiku and tanka sequences and other concise imaginings, Skating in Concord, and The Stream Singing Your Name: Tanka & Sijo.Aqueduct Press published her poetry collection A Field Guide to the Spirits earlier this year.