2021 Reading Year in Review

Here we are on the last day of 2021, and I’m confident I won’t finish by tonight the book I’m currently in the middle of reading, so I’ll just go ahead and do my 2021 Reading Year in Review post now. In case you haven’t seen these posts in the past when I’ve done them and would like more context for why I write them, please click here for 2019 and here for 2020.

The short version is that I’m happiest when I’m reading a lot for fun. Not just reading student papers (which I can enjoy but which is work), not just reading emails or social media posts (rarely fun, and usually decidedly worse), not just reading my critique partners’ manuscripts (can be enjoyable but definitely uses a different part of my reading brain). Reading for pleasure is actually one of the few activities that I can reliably depend on for a dopamine hit. I love reading when I’m reading something good.

So in an effort to read fun books more, and in an effort to broaden my reading diet, I started several years ago keeping a list of the books I read each year. The listmaking accomplished both of these goals really well. I will admit, though, my pleasure reading quota this year was not quite as many books as I would have liked, nor were the titles on it as broadly varied as I typically strive for. Part of this was because of the overwhelm of my job, which was really something else entirely this year — so I read fewer books overall — and part of it was my apparent need for predictably happy endings in the stories I was reading — so I read more category romance. I also started writing (actually drafting, not just making notes and transcribing random scenes from my imagination) a romance this year, too, so that influenced my choices somewhat. Finally, I took some poetry classes over the summer and am working on another poetry collection; the beneficial effect this had on my reading list was to add more poetry titles.

It’s useful to note that on my list, I will include books I reread, but if I read them more than once in a single year (which happens occasionally, particularly when I’m studying a text), I will list them only once. Books I read but which are not yet published will not be listed here, nor will I list books which I started but did not finish (or do not intend to finish). You might notice that some of these titles are part of one series or another and when I enjoy a series, I tend to keep reading it, even if I don’t typically binge all of the books one right after another. 

So without further explanation, here is my 2021 Reading Year in Review. (I’ll do a little more category analysis after the list.)

Here are some of the books I read. Obviously not pictured are ones on my Kindle or laptop (which ended up being a lot this year), ones that are at school (campus is closed), ones which have gone through my Little Free Library, and ones which I’ve lent out to friends or family members.

All At Once by Brill Harper
Any Rogue Will Do by Bethany Bennett
The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn
An Offer from a Gentleman by Julia Quinn
Meaty by Samantha Irby
Beneath the Keep by Erika Johansen
The Millionaire Booklet by Grant Cardone
Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
You Can Do Anything, Magic Skeleton! by Chuck Wending
The New Yorker Book of Lawyer Cartoons by The New Yorker
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade
Steering the Craft by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Sugared Game by KJ Charles
The Warrior King by Abigail Owens
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Ten More Poems by James Hoff
Lullaby by Christine Hume
Almost Perfect Forms by Michael Stewart
City: Bolshevik Super-Poem in Five Cantos by Manual Maples Arce
Men to Avoid in Art and Life by Nicole Tersigni
Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
You Can Never Tell by Sarah Warburton
The Cure for Writer’s Block by Andrew Mayne
Funny Business by Kayley Loring
Witch Please by Ann Aguirre
Their Nerd by Allyson Lindt
If She Says Yes by Tasha L. Harrison
Before We Disappear by Shaun David Hutchinson
Dearly by Margaret Atwood
All Together by Brill Harper
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
The Old Cities by Marcel Brouwers
Blame It on the Mistletoe by Beth Garrod

So now for a little light category analysis — and please note that a few of these titles actually fit comfortably in more than one category.

There are 34 books on this list. I mostly read narrative fiction this year, which is typical for me as it is my favorite thing to read, by far. But I also read other genres:
* non-fiction — 7 titles
* poetry — 6 titles
* plays — 1 title
* humor — 4 titles
* graphic forms — 3 titles

Most of what I read is typically considered adult fiction, but I do also like YA. In the YA category, I read 3 titles this year: Cinderella Is Dead, Before We Disappear, and Blame It on the Mistletoe. And while the three YA titles I read this year might also be marketed as YA romance, I’m not including them as category romance because I think the other important plot elements (and in fact, their entire overarching narratives) really do bear more of the weight in those stories.

And that’s it, my reading list for 2021! I had a generally good year for reading, not gonna lie. Watch in the coming days for a post on this year’s romance titles ranked by heat level, which is something a few of you excellent blog readers requested a couple of years ago and which has been a hit every time I’ve done it.

So…what on this list is interesting to you? Have you read any of these titles, and if so, what did you think? Would you like a review of any of these books? Let me know in the comments.

SONIC CHIHUAHUA at the Turn of the Year

As of today, the December issue of the SONIC CHIHUAHUA is ready to go out the door and to a mailbox (or eagerly awaiting open hand) near you!

So how are things going, eight issues in, with my little zine?

Well, frankly, WELL.

I will be the first to admit that restarting this zine after a twenty-nine-year hiatus was an impulsive lark. It was a decision that I made quickly, even if the seeds of that decision had been planted and quietly sprouting for a couple of years or so. And for the first couple of issues this spring, I was very much feeling my way (again) around the mechanics and logistics of putting a project like this together.

Every month. With paper and black pens and scissors and an adhesive roller.

The first issue ended up being almost twice as long as I’d intended, but it was a good length and is one I’ve stuck with. Figuring out the layout of the zine and the formatting of the content that was printed involved a fair bit of trial-and-error, but I got there. During our pandemically deprived social life, the Sonic Chihuahua became my new Friday night jam, and I loved it.

And even better was the reaction I enjoyed from nearly everyone I sent it to: excitement, enthusiasm, eager support, encouragement. Even, occasionally, someone giving me money for it! (Though financial contributions have always been optional.) There were even a couple of months when the income earned from the zine surpassed the royalties earned on my books!

And the zine grew. Oh wow, did it grow. The distribution, which wasn’t small to begin with, is half again larger than it was when it started, and now I have regular contributors sending me wonderful content to include. I’m loving that!

Without putting too fine a point on it, the Sonic Chihuahua has been, for me, exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. And I’ve heard from several readers that it has been what they needed, too, and this also makes me quite happy.

In November, Han and I went to Zine Fest Houston. I’d never attended before and was thrilled that Sonic Chihuahua got in. The event itself was excellent — it was a gorgeous day with perfect weather, the fest was in an open-air warehouse space that caters to arts events, the organizers were totally on the ball, and the crowds were big enough for Han and me to be busy all afternoon but not so thick that we felt unsafe. (And yes, we wore masks.) It was a delightfully good day, and we got to browse around and see dozens of other zinesters and their work. I learned a lot.

  1. For one thing, our little zine was well-received. That’s always nice.
  2. For another thing, there’s a whole bunch of incredible indie and self-publishing and artwork happening out there, and it’s well worth checking out.
  3. And finally, our production schedule is way aggressive! 

Putting an issue out there once a month, turns out, is rather more frequent than most zinesters are doing. (In fact, we encountered maybe none who were, besides us.) Add to that the increasing costs to produce the paper zine, and the fact that a few of my readers have told me they don’t always finish reading it before the next issue comes (there’s a LOT in each one, y0), and the other fact that I would really like to finish at least one of the novels I’m currently writing… 

You can see where this is going, can’t you? I’ve decided that in 2022, volume 3 of the Sonic Chihuahua will come out every other month instead of every month. I’ve also standardized subscription rates — for those who wish to pay for it — and even added a limited digital option (by subscription only). All of this feels like the right direction to go in, for various reasons which are boring but which I’m happy to expound upon if people want me to. (Leave your questions in the comments, if you have them.)

You’ll see the same awesome content as before. You’ll just have more time to enjoy it before the next issue comes out. Also look for more art in the zine, starting with December’s issue this week.

So on balance, I would say the zine has been a highly worthwhile project for me personally and highly appreciated by those who read it, and therefore I will keep making it. Woot! Thank you to everyone who has subscribed and/or read and/or shared photos of the zine on their social media. I appreciate all of this more than you know!

Do You Know What Doesn’t Suffer From Supply-Chain Problems?

Happy Small Business Saturday!

I hope you’ve had a lovely Thanksgiving (for those of you celebrating it) or else just a very nice week. Here in the US we have launched ourselves full-force into the holiday season, and the day after Black Friday is Small Business Saturday, a day designated to encourage and buy from small businesses in an effort to shop local and indie. And something useful to remember is that authoring is a business, and therefore every author is a small business owner. (That includes me!)

I have several items that might be of interest to you and yours:

  • My books include Finis. and Homecoming in the Animal Affinities series (urban fantasy), and The Sharp Edges of Water (poetry). I also currently have the international anthology The Milk of Female Kindness–An Anthology of Honest Motherhood available; I was one of the lead contributors on that project, which includes fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and art.
FINIS. (Book 1) – $5.99
HOMECOMING (Book 2) – $5.99
THE SHARP EDGES OF WATER – $13.00
(not pictured: THE MILK OF FEMALE KINDNESS – $15.00)

 

  • I have my zine, Sonic Chihuahua, issues 1-7 in stock. (Click on this link to see what’s in each issue.) These are $3 each and include poetry, essays, fiction, art, recipes, interviews, and fun-and-games. Rejoice in the 90stalgia that is this fabulous and popular zine!
Click on the link above to see the Table of Contents for each issue!

 

  • Poetry art cards, which include my handmade designs and often my poetry on them, are blank on the inside and — with your thoughtful note written in — make lovely gifts in themselves, suitable for framing. Click here to see all 19 designs in more detail. Cards are $8 each.
Click on the link in the description to see the individual cards.

 

You can order all of these items from me directly. You can also see all of these, plus my handmade jewelry and decorated blank journals, at the Sawyer Yards Market on December 11th.

Although you can buy my books Finis., Homecoming, and The Sharp Edges of Water in bookstores — and I hope you will! — you can also buy them directly from me. Just leave a note in the comments about it, and I’ll be in touch with you, or else email me (forest [dot] of [dot] diamonds [at] gmail [dot] com), and I’ll put your items in the mail to you right away. (I recommend you order from me before December 12th for the best chance of receiving your package in time for Christmas, if that’s what you’re aiming for.) Shipping costs will be as low as I can make them.

Of course you can also get my books from Amazon and Bookshop and other big online retailers. If you’d like to get them from local and indie bookstores — and I encourage you to do so! — I know they’re currently on the shelves at Blue Willow Bookshop (Houston) and The Twig Bookshop (San Antonio). And any bookstore can order it from Ingram if they don’t currently have any copies left in stock. (Interesting note about Amazon: they currently have Finis. and Homecoming on sale, though I don’t know how long that promotion will go for.)

So that’s it! I hope you’ll support your local and indie shops and authors and makers, not just now at the holiday season but all year round. Happy holidays to you! And thank you for your support.

The SONIC CHIHUAHUA: Volume 2, Issues 1-7

Many of you know that after a 29-year hiatus, I restarted my zine, the SONIC CHIHUAHUA, this spring. It has been one of the best decisions I made this year! I’m pleased to report the zine is thriving and growing far beyond my expectations, and that it feeds a part of my creative spirit I wasn’t aware I needed to be fed. It will continue.

For those of you who are not yet subscribers, here is a preview (i.e. a look at the Table of Contents) for each of the issues that has come out this year.

VOLUME 2, ISSUE 1: * Why “SONIC CHIHUAHUA”? What Does That Even Mean??? * The Year of Living Pandemically * apple pie (seriously!) * convo with author Sarah Warburton * a Top 5 List not to be missed! * poetry and art

 

 

VOLUME 2, ISSUE 2:
* A Graduation Message: The Fundamental Lies of Our Culture
* Chocolate Disaster Cake (seriously!)
* convo with Jamie Portwood of Writespace (wide-ranging, and it gets DEEP, yo)
* a Top 5 List not to be missed!
* poetry and art

 

VOLUME 2, ISSUE 3:
* Vacationing in Purgatory: The Spice Lady of Maine
* fiction and bingo
* rainbow trout (seriously!)
* convo with author Adam Holt
* a Top 5 List not to be missed!
* poetry and art

 

VOLUME 2, ISSUE 4:
* The Twi-Moms’ Lament
* yet more fiction
* chocolate chip cookies (seriously!)
* convo with Vali Reinhardt (frontwoman of Black Market Tragedy)
* a Top 5 List not to be missed!
* poetry and art

 

VOLUME 2, ISSUE 5:
* an essay about the day this country shifted
* kittens and fiction
* pasta sauce (seriously!)
* convo with Sean Fitzpatrick (executive director of The Jung Center)
* a Top 5 List not to be missed!
* poetry and art

 

VOLUME 2, ISSUE 6:
* Embracing My Inner Goth (part 1)
* NeriSiren’s Coffee Grotto
* zeitunes (seriously!)
* convo with renaissance woman Christa Forster
* a Top 5 List not to be missed!
* poetry and art

 

VOLUME 2, ISSUE 7:
* Embracing My Inner Goth (part 2)
* NeriSiren’s Coffee Grotto
* turkey (seriously!)
* convo with Aaron Herrick
* a Top 5 List not to be missed!
* poetry, fiction, and art

Witchy Weekends: Holiday Decor

Welcome to October and the return of Witchy Weekends! Thank you to everyone who voted in the poll last month to help me curate this year’s series. Turns out the votes were all over the place! So a seasonal smorgasbord it is…

This weekend I’m posting a book spine poem I created while I was decorating my house for Hallowe’en. So far only the library is done — okay, mostly done — but I will get to the outside of the house in the very near future; I just want the heavy rains to be finished for a while first. (I also have a mountain of papers to grade and report card comments to write this week, so…)

One of my favorite things about book spine poetry is that it illustrates the versatility and importance of punctuation. (Yes, I’m a grammar geek.) Similarly to grammar, punctuation is architecture: it gives our sentences structure. Book spine poems are just a bunch of seemingly unrelated or random words — until you add punctuation in there and create a story.

Enjoy!

The tale of Murasaki:
Cleopatra’s daughter,
witches of east end,
the lust lizard of Melancholy Cove,
tea,
Arabian nights.
Spoiler alert:
any rogue will do.
And for a bonus, here’s the rest of this year’s mantel.

Poem-A-Day 2021, Day 30: Sean Nevin

This is the last day of April, and thus we come to the end of another National Poetry Month. I hope you have enjoyed this year’s Poem-A-Day series at least as much as I’ve enjoyed curating and sharing it with you all. If you’ve missed any of the poems, just click through the previous post breadcrumbs at the bottom of each page to see them all. It was, if I do say so myself, an excellent collection again this year.

Tonight we end this series with “Hinged Double Sonnet for the Luna Moths” by Sean Nevin, a poem from an anthology of poetry about mermaids, although this poem really only tangentially refers to mermaids in particular. Yet I think the careful reader will notice in here themes that we commonly associate with mermaids, or sirens at least.

I love this poem in part because its vivid imagery reminds me of going to the Moss Wood Retreat in Maine. On Penobscot Bay in June, I have to wear a jacket and scarf and socks on the screened-in porch all day; the colors of the landscape are fluid, deep, and rich; mosquitos and spiders and — yes — moths look over my shoulder as I write. I could sit there and drink tea and write poetry and stories for a week and never look up to see how many days had passed, and when I’m there, that’s generally what I do. What, if not that, is one true type of love?

Hinged Double Sonnet for the Luna Moths

—Norton Island, Maine

For ten days now, two luna moths remain
silk-winged and lavish as a double broach
pinned beneath the porch light of my cabin.
Two of them, patinaed that sea-glass green
of copper weather vanes nosing the wind,
the sun-lit green of rockweed, the lichen’s
green scabbing-over of the bouldered shore,
the plush green peat that carpets the island,
that hushes, sinks then holds a boot print
for days, and the sapling-green of new pines
sprouting through it. The miraculous green
origami of their wings—false eyed, doomed
and sensual as the mermaid’s long green fins:
a green siren calling from the moonlight.

A green siren calling from the moonlight,
from the sweet gum leaves and paper birches
that shed, like tiny white decrees, scrolled bark.
They emerge from cocoons like greased hinges,
all pheromone and wing, instinct and flutter.
They rise, hardwired, driven, through the creaking
pine branches tufted with beard moss and fog.
Two luna moths flitting like exotic birds
toward only each other and light, in these
their final few days, they mate, then starving
they wait, inches apart, on my cabin wall
to die, to share fully each pure and burning
moment. They are, like desire itself, born
without mouths. What, if not this, is love?

***

Sean Nevin is the author of Oblivio Gate (Southern Illinois University Press 2008) and A House That Falls (Slapering Hol Press). His honors include a Literature Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry, and two fellowships from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. His poetry has appeared in numerous journals and he has served as Associate Professor and director of the MFA Program in Poetry at Drew University and Arizona State University.     

Poem-A-Day 2021, Day 29: Carolyne Wright

Here is another poem I had the good fortune to encounter during last year’s Poetry Super Highway contest. “KZ” by Carolyne Wright doesn’t need very much introduction from me; you will see its list of accolades beneath the poem itself.

But I do want to comment on its form, a sestina, one of my favorites to work with. The interlocking rotation of six key words at the ends of the lines offers the poet the opportunity to circle an idea, to bring it back around and around. In this way, in this poem, we remember the Holocaust, genocide, a looping cycle of circumstances and consequences, a history that we must always hold at bay.

KZ

                        “Arbeit Macht Frei
                                    —Motto over the entrance
                                    of every Nazi concentration camp

We walk in under the empty tower, snow
falling on barbed-wire nets where the bodies
of suicides hung for days.  We follow signs
to the treeless square, where the scythe blade, hunger,
had its orders, and some lasted hours in the cold
when all-night roll calls were as long as winter.

We’ve come here deliberately in winter,
field stubble black against the glare of snow.
Our faces go colorless in wind, cold
the final sentence of their bodies
whose only identity by then was hunger.
The old gate with its hated grillework sign

walled off, we take snapshots to sign
and send home, to show we’ve done right by winter.
We’ve eaten nothing, to stand inside their hunger.
We count, recount crimes committed in snow—
those who sheltered their dying fellows’ bodies
from the work details, the transport trains, the cold.

Before the afternoon is gone, the cold
goes deep, troops into surrendered land.  Signs
direct us to one final site, where bodies
slid into brick-kiln furnaces all winter
or piled on iron stretchers in the snow
like a plague year’s random harvest.  What hunger

can we claim?  Those who had no rest from hunger
stepped into the ovens, knowing already the cold
at the heart of the flame.  They made no peace with snow.
For them no quiet midnight sign
from on high — what pilgrims seek at the bottom of winter —
only the ebbing measure of their lives.  Their bodies

are shadows now, ashing the footprints of everybody
who walks here, ciphers carrying the place of hunger
for us, who journey so easily in winter.
Who is made free by the merciless work of cold?
What we repeat when we can’t read the signs—
the story of our own tracks breaking off in snow.

Snow has covered the final account of their bodies
but we must learn the signs:  they hungered,
they were cold, and in Dachau it was always winter.

This poem has been recognized by the following:
* Lucille Medwick Memorial Award, Poetry Society of America (selected by Michael Harper)
* Honorable Mention, The Pushcart Prize XV: Best of the Small Presses, 1990.
* Originally published in Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust, ed. Charles Adés Fishman. Texas Tech U Press, 1991; second edition, Time Being Books, 2007.
* From Seasons of Mangoes and Brainfire, (Eastern Washington U Press / Lynx House Books, © 2000, 2005 by Carolyne Wright). Blue Lynx Prize; Oklahoma Book Award in Poetry; American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation.
* Reprinted in I Go to the Ruined Place: Contemporary Poems in Defense of Global Human Rights, ed. Melissa Kwasny and M. L. Smoker.  Lost Horse Press, 2009. * Published in This Dream the World: New & Selected Poems (Lost Horse Press, 2017).
* © 2017 by Carolyne Wright.
* Airlie Single Poem Prize, Airlie Press, 2019.

***

photo credit: Erik Rucker

Carolyne Wright’s latest book is This Dream the World: New & Selected Poems (Lost Horse Press, 2017), whose title poem received a Pushcart Prize and appeared in The Best American Poetry 2009. A Seattle native who has lived and taught all over the country, and on fellowships in Chile, Brazil, India and Bangladesh, she has 16 earlier books and anthologies of poetry, essays, and translation. A Contributing Editor for the Pushcart Prizes, Carolyne has received NEA and 4Culture grants, and a Fulbright Scholar Award will take her back to Bahia, Brazil after the CoVid-19 pandemic.  https://carolynewright.wordpress.com

Poem-A-Day 2021, Day 28: Patricia McMahon

Tonight’s poem comes from the wonderful Patricia McMahon, who — among other things — is the director of the Moss Wood Retreats, a writing experience in Maine that I have been to twice and dearly loved both times. You can read about those experiences here and here, if you like. (Fair warning, that second like contains a poem I wrote the last time I was there.)

This poem of hers, “The Last Time. One Sixty Seven, Seventh Street,” reminds me that nothing is permanent and ghosts are everywhere. And that’s okay, too, because it is a gift, not to be taken for granted, to feel the full range of emotions. I love the vivid descriptions here, how they carry the reader through this tiny landscape, pinging us from loss to joy to nostalgia to reminiscence and back through that catalogue again.

The Last Time. One Sixty Seven, Seventh Street.

The white gate no longer swings open,
the hinge rusted, the bushes, once small
and filled with bees to run from, screaming
for fun, are grown too tall, too wild for this small
space. A narrow concrete path leads around
back where the sapling is a great tree taking
most of the yard over now. But the green pitcher
is still moist on the outside on this summer’s
night, iced tea filled with fresh lemons. Mint
as well, when she grew it by the tulips on the
other side of the house. She wrapped them in
wet paper, carried to the kitchen. The mint is no
longer there. Not a tulip in sight. Still, the pitcher
will hold a handprint on this evening. Peach cobbler
would have been there.  Pastel pajamas for
the three girls on hot nights.  Seersucker. Lying
in the bedroom across the hall from the one with
a big dresser. And big shoes in front.  A big man.
Her side table piled with books. Over here
a silver brush and mirror, a cut glass perfume
bottle.  Jesus gazes down from one wall to his
mother Mary on the other side, while my father,
who has left the everyday behind, has slipped out
of time, stares across the room where my young
mother’s ghost combs her hair with the long handled
brush. The children are nowhere to be found.

***

Patricia McMahon writes poetry for adults and literature for children (patriciamcmahonbooks.com). The author of fourteen books, a graduate of The Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, Patricia has worked in publishing, as a bookseller, and is Past President of the Foundation for Children’s Books. The founder and director of The Moss Wood Retreats, each June finds her organizing writing retreats in the loveliest spot on the coast of Maine (mosswoodretreats.com). A committed traveler, she has lived on four continents; currently, Houston, Texas is home. 

The Mutable Hour Poetry Reading Series

Mutabilis Press, a publisher of poetry whose board I currently sit on, has recently begun a reading series called The Mutable Hour. Our first reading on April 1st was wonderful! Our second one, this coming Thursday, April 29th, has another excellent line-up! This is a free event happening on Zoom, so you may attend from anywhere that has an internet connection. (And I know you do if you’re reading this post…)

The reading will start at 7:00 p.m. central time and go for about an hour. As I said, it’s free, but you do have to register to get the Zoom information to get into the reading. Go to The Mutable Hour’s Facebook page to get the link to get into the reading. If you have trouble getting the link (although I don’t anticipate that you will) let me know before 6:30 p.m. central time this Thursday.

I hope to see you there!