2020 Reading Year in Review

A few years ago I began keeping a list of all the books I read in a given year. My hope was that I would do more reading for pleasure.

Reading. You know, that thing I’ve been doing since I was four, that activity which makes me happier than most other things, that reason (probably) I became a writer in the first place? Good grief, I love books so much.

But I was at a point in my life where I wasn’t doing a lot of reading for pleasure. I was reading a lot of students’ papers to grade them. (Spoiler alert: that is often not the same thing, even when I do enjoy reading some of those papers.) I was reading a lot of emails. (There was little to no pleasure in that.) I was reading for utility and purpose and requirement and work, but I was not taking time to read for fun. That had a very adverse effect on my entire life.

Being a list maker by nature, I thought if I kept a list of books I read, at the end of the year I would see that I’d done more reading than I thought I had, and it would boost my mood. Deciding to do this is one of the better choices I’ve made.

That first year I logged probably a dozen books, and my reading diet was very focused on fantasy, which is one of the main genres I write in. In the years since, as I continue keeping my list, the number of books I read in a year has steadily increased, and so has my reading diet. I try to read much more widely now, which has been very good for me, too.

2020 was, as you know, a challenging year. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, we opened the door to let the old year out and the new year in. (This is an old tradition.) We actually opened multiple doors. We thought about opening the windows and taking off the roof too, but it was pretty freaking cold outside. Still, I commanded the old year to “get the hell out,” and Fabulous Offspring #1 actually grabbed a broom and swept our entry hall onto the front porch to really make sure 2020 took a hike. (We are nothing if not committed to our metaphors.)

During the pandemic, particularly in the spring and early summer, I saw a lot of people online lamenting about not being able to sustain enough focus even to read. I felt that. It hit me, too. But then — even though doing actual creative work, such as writing, and actual teaching work, such as grading papers, felt nigh impossible for a while — I did manage to get back into reading. For fun. For stress relief. For calming my mind before bed. This even helped me start writing again.

And wow, did I read a lot.

This is not nearly all the books I read this year. Some were on my Kindle. Some are up in Fabulous Offspring #1’s room, and I don’t have time to find them. Some are at school in my classroom, some went through my Little Free Library, and some have been lent out to other friends.

This year I enjoyed my way through a whopping 41 books, possibly the most I’ve ever accomplished in my adult life, and definitely the most in a single year since I began teaching. So without further ado, here is my list — with some caveats:
* This year, I am including titles that I re-read. I didn’t use to but think it has value now. However, if I read a book on here more than once this year (and that did happen in at least a couple of cases), I am listing it just the once.
* I am not listing any books I began but did not finish.
* This list also does not include manuscripts I’ve read but which are not yet published. There were several of those (because critique groups, yo).

Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Circe by Madeline Miller
Limit Theory by Ronald E. Holtman
Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon
Courtship and Curses by Marissa Doyle
Slippery Creatures by KJ Charles
Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Anderson
Teach Me by Olivia Dade
Charles Bewitched by Marissa Doyle
Office Hours by Katrina Jackson
Blaze by Christa Tomlinson
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
40-Love by Olivia Dade
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch
Royally Bad by Nora Flite
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
F in Exams: Pop Quiz by Richard Benson
The Kontrabida by Mia Alvar
Catacombs by Jason Zencka
The Rogue King by Abigail Owen
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Blood King by Abigail Owen
Once Two Sisters by Sarah Warburton
Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer
On the Edge by Brittney Sahin
Your Book, Your Brand by Dana Kaye
Story Genius by Lisa Cron
White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
Sweetest in the Gale: A Marysburg Story Collection by Olivia Dade
Feng Shaun (Wallace and Grommet)
Dog Songs by Mary Oliver
Wow, No Thank You. by Samantha Irby
All Together by Brill Harper
World’s End by Clare Beams
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
The Evil Garden by Edward Gorey
The Duke and I by Julia Quinn

If you would like a review of any of these books, please tell me in the comments, and I’ll do my best for you! Similarly, last year it was requested that I rank the romance titles I’d read by heat level, so if you want those for this year as well, I’m happy to do it. Just drop me a note in the comments.

Relief Efforts for Beirut

Many of you know I am of racially mixed heritage. Some of you know that I am half-Arab. In fact, I am Lebanese. My father’s entire family is Lebanese, in every direction and all the way back. So the news this week has been troubling.

In an effort to help with relief efforts in Beirut after the massive explosion there this week, I will be donating proceeds from sales of my books and poetry art cards to the Lebanese Red Cross, which is the largest national humanitarian organization in Lebanon, according to their website. They provide most of the ambulance services in the country and have been setting up first aid and triage stations as well as temporary shelter for the victims of the blast. (For other helpful places you can donate to help relief efforts, click here.)

So how to participate in my fundraiser? Go to my brother’s online shop, Ella’s Apothecary. There you will find my books and poetry art cards for sale (along with a bunch of other really excellent things my brother makes). For every copy of Finis., The Sharp Edges of Water, The Milk of Female Kindness, and my poetry art cards you buy there — from now through this Sunday, August 9th — I will donate proceeds to the Lebanese Red Cross. Feel free to spread the word on this, too.

Here are a few examples of some of the poetry art cards. All thirteen designs are listed at Ella’s Apothecary in more detail.

Thank you so much for helping out with these relief efforts. Stay safe.

Poem-A-Day: Rukmini Kalamangalam

And so we come to the end of April, and thus the end of National Poetry Month 2020 and this series for another eleven months. It has been a wonderful series this year, and I’m so grateful to all of the poets who participated by letting me share their work on my blog. If you’re just coming to the series, I hope you’ll click through the past posts and have fun reading the poems.

There’s a note toward the end of each post this time around about participating in a cento together. Although there weren’t a lot of contributions at the end of the first post this year, there were some really good ones. Thank you to all who posted there!

I’m still interested in doing a cento, though, so I want to open things up a bit. Cooperative art is super important right now, so I’m inviting anyone who is interested to select lines from any and all of the poems in the series this year to create a found poem. Look back at the first post in this year’s series for more details on how. Then send me your cento to forest [dot] of [dot] diamonds [at] gmail [dot] com with “cento” in the subject line, and I’ll post them here.

Tonight’s oh-so-relatable poem is by another Mutabilis Press poet, Rukmini Kalamangalam. Do enjoy.

And thank you again for tuning in to this year’s series. Monday Earworms will resume next week, so you can look forward to that — as well as some very exciting new book news! in the near future.

Until then, be well. Stay safe at home as much as you can. Let’s beat this virus. Best.



it annoys me when people say they hate
and their lips curl like
if there’s no plot there’s no point 
their eyes resembling
the Fishbowl i broke in the third grade
when it was winter
and i shivered through time out while the kids turned red
playing soccer on the field
it annoys me that they will read these words
without wondering which way
my breath left my lungs
whether it
wisped in a twisted waltz
tumbled out of my mouth,
wild and heavy
they’ll say it doesn’t matter
what color my jacket was
or who scored the last goal
just that
i killed the Fish
and i sat on the curb of a playground for five extra minutes

Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!


Rukmini Kalamangalam is a first-gen page and performance poet from Houston, Texas. She is a current sophomore at Emory University. In 2018, she was named Youth Poet Laureate of the Southwest as well as Houston Youth Poet Laureate. Her poem “After Harvey” was set to music by the Houston Grand Opera. She has been published by Jet Fuel Review, Blue Marble Review, Da Camera Museum, GASHER, and SAND Literary Journal, among others.

Poem-A-Day: Stephanie Pilar

We had some interesting weather in Houston in the wee hours of this morning. A hundreds-of-miles-long squall line of impressive thunderstorms stretching from west of Austin to east of New Orleans tore through the region, the thunder and lightning interrupting our sleep. Even after all the hurricanes I’ve lived through, and there have been some doozies, I admit I still like thunderstorms at night when I’m sleeping and my whole family is home and safe. This morning we awoke to an area-wide internet outage that lasted for many nerve-wracking hours, but others in our city fared far worse by losing all power.

My relationship with the weather is complicated. I was terrified of storms when I was a child; I stopped having anxiety attacks over them literally in ninth grade. I remember the exact moment of it: I was sitting in my French class on the second floor of the school building, facing the windows. The view was normally filtered through the green foliage of the trees in the courtyard below us, but that day was a thunderstorm day, and everything past the window blinds was wet and dark and eerie. I said to myself, You’re in high school now. It’s time to grow up. It’s just rain.

I cannot explain the mechanics of how that miracle occurred.

So now I try not to get worked up about storms, and on the menu of things I could panic about, somehow these have mostly fallen off. I’m not going to question it; I’m just grateful and hope it lasts.

Tonight, I hope you’ll enjoy this poem by Mutabilis Press poet Stephanie Pilar. It touches on some of the bonkers contradictions of Houston’s rich and weird culture.


Hurricane Years Are Snow Years

My overgrown oak,
she hides the world from me.
She has sucked up all the hurricane.
Now she houses birds, all the birds.

Winter has hard killed so much of the bayou.

The neighbors say that this is what happens,
a hurricane later brings snow,
and that this was foretold, it has happened before,
hurricane years are snow years.

I never know where science is in all this.
The bayou is filled with magic and superstition
and God and Fox News.

“Have a blessed day,” they say.
I say it right back.

Does it matter what you believe?
Or does it matter what everyone else believes?

Even the most materialistic says,
not just that the hurricane foretold snow
but the solar eclipse may have set things in motion,
or at least been a sign of what had already been set in motion.

The universe shifts gears uncomfortably, we feel the grinding.

Are the gods angry? Or just laughing?

The sky is framed by branches more beautiful
than any sculpture in a museum.

We walk the installation of our streets.

Every tree reveals its nest.

Sea mists and mockingbirds.
Gray and white and silver and still.

So still.




Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!


Stephanie Pilar first visited Big Bend National Park in 2010 and had the good fortune of moving to Friendswood, Texas, in 2011. Before that, her adventures in Texas included a childhood road-trip from Colorado to Guatemala, during which time she saw her first roadrunner and giant cacti while listening to her stepdad yodel, “I’m A Long Tall Texan,” as he pretended to drive the long, straight roads with his eyes closed. She would always “Remember the Alamo.” And the Riverwalk. And the silence. And all the stars…

Poem-A-Day: Susan Scheid

This is the week during lockdown when I find myself celebrating every little sliver of good news as if I had won the lottery. Not the big megamillions, but at least a pretty good scratch-off ticket. I’m trying to curb the impulse to share with most people any good news because I’m sure that gets annoying. (I’m told it doesn’t, but something possibly cracked inside of me isn’t sure it’s safe to believe that.) Regardless, I’m saving up some good stuff for my next newsletter, but I’ll mention it on the blog here too after Poem-A-Day exeunts for another eleven months.

Tonight on the blog we have this lovely poem by Mutabilis Press poet Susan Scheid that also celebrates something arguably beyond its worth — but the poem, on the other hand, is certainly worth your enjoyment.


Praise Song for Ants

Praise the tiny black ants.
Praise their resilience
to be knocked down, drowned out,
killed, trampled, worn to nothing
and then to bloom again.
Praise the ants who insist on finding a way inside
through hairline crack or gaping crevice. Praise their
strength, their fortitude in finding
that last crumb of bread or the sticky
syrup of fruit juice on the floor. Praise
their skill at moving every part and parcel
of a nest when a pitchfork upends them
in spring. Praise the teamwork of
carrying six times their weight over
and over again while seeking shelter.
Praise their ability to disappear and
reappear so quickly. Praise their queen
in her fertility and the workers in
their loyalty. Praise their multitudes, their pathways,
their ant mounds, their single-mindedness.
Praise their force of nature for showing
me time and again how little
of this world belongs to me.


Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!


Susan Scheid lives in Washington, DC, but has strong ties to Texas. Susan’s husband of 27 years was raised in Arlington, Texas, and went to school in Austin, where extended family currently lives. She has worked for 27 years at a high profile law firm based in Houston. Susan is the author of After Enchantment. Her poetry has appeared in Truth to Power, Beltway Quarterly, Little Patuxent Review, The Sligo Journal, Silver Birch Press, Tidal Basin Review, the chapbook anthology Poetic Art, and other journals. Susan serves on the Board of Directors for Split This Rock.

Poem-A-Day: Rumi

I’ve posted here before meditations from Mala of the Heart. In this time when so many people’s priorities and lifestyles are recalibrating, I happened upon this fragment from Rumi which I hadn’t seen in a while. It seems fitting.


If you want money more than anything,
you’ll be bought and sold.
If you have a greed for food,
you’ll be a loaf of bread.
This is a subtle truth:
whatever you love, you are.



Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!


Rumi (Jalāludin Muhammad Rumi) — 1207-1273, Persia (Afghanistan) — was born in Balkh on the eastern edge of the Persian Empire and at age eight settled in Turkey with his family, where Rumi eventually succeeded his father as head of a dervish school. At age thirty-seven Rumi met the whirling dervish Shams-e Tabrīzī, whose divine presence awakened Rumi’s own love for the divine. Rumi thus abandoned his scholarly position and began writing poetry, using metaphors to express his experience of mystical union and his intense longing and search for the divine. Rumi reached across cultural and social boundaries, and it is said that his funeral was attended by Persians, Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Greeks.

Biographical information respectfully quoted from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt.

Poem-A-Day: Anne McCrady

I was reminded recently of paper maps.

The first time I drove across the country by myself — well, in my own car with no other passengers, even though I was caravanning with a friend from college, but that’s a crazy story for another day — I was driving from Houston to Austin to Schulenberg (where I would meet up with that friend) to Los Angeles. Even though the directions were simple (get on I-10 West and go until you reach the ocean), I still made excellent use of a AAA map that I marked up with a ball-point pen and a hi-liter when dust storms forced us off the interstate in New Mexico and we had to wend our way through back roads, mountain passes, and reservation lands until we could find our way back to the 10 in Phoenix.

I love maps, a little. They give me a sense of agency that using a nav system in my car or on my phone will never offer, but can only take away.

Please enjoy this poem by Mutabilis Press poet Anne McCrady.



Once omnipresent,
mashed in bottom drawers
crammed into shelves,
stashed in the back
of glove compartments,
they waited patient as saints
for our supplications.
Geographic Gideons,
in answer to our confusion,
they offered gentle guidance,
when foolish misdirection
sent us searching the horizon
for wisdom, for the way.
Folded and refolded,
highlighted and penciled
with X’s of we are here
amid red-lettered scripture
and black-gridded gospel,
they plotted our progress, A2 to J7.
Like stained glass images,
some were water-colored topos
to illuminate our path forward.
Others, shiny park folders
of forest greens and rocky browns,
noted scenic visions not to be missed.
A few—coastal nautical guides—
flagged routes right through blue oceans.
The most beautiful maps curved
in lines of latitude and longitude,
spinning as a spherical model
of planet Earth—globes of painted paper
wrapped around a hollow ball set on an axle
so that, when spun, continents flew past
and seas swirled, blurring the boundaries
between friends and enemies…like the one
I have kept from my father’s study,
along with a note scribbled on a napkin
in his script, directions to a daughter
for how to always find the way home.


Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!


Anne McCrady is a poet, speaker, and peace advocate whose award-winning writing appears in her poetry collections and in dozens of literary journals, newspapers, arts magazines, and American and international anthologies. Her work has been included in civic and religious programs and performed at universities as art song and libretto. She has editorial, review, and critique publication credits and is a frequent contest judge, workshop presenter, and conference guest. McCrady is a Poetry Society of Texas councilor and the 2018 Austin Poets International Poet Laureate. She lives in Tyler, Texas.

Poem-A-Day: Nikki Loftin

Today we have another Mutabilis Press poet, Nikki Loftin. The story in her wonderful poem “Fireflies” reminds me a little bit of an Ani diFranco song. How well we can relate to this idea, that layered into a girl’s childhood is going to be longing, ambition, ingenuity, and the subtextual threat of a previous century’s notions about gender.



I didn’t know how to shine
on my own back then:
drab, tangled,
brown as a berry,
stiff Tuffskin jeans all that kept me
from a boy’s bike-skinned knees.
How do you do that—
I asked the golden Jennifer Brown,
goddess of the home-perm, owner of
a genuine lava lamp,
her sweaty, glimmering skin
in the August heat
the closest thing to glamour I’d ever seen.
—how do you shine?
Like this: She caught
one struggling firefly
between thumb and finger
smeared it down her bare arm.
Running, she lit up the night
and I understood:
poor girls had to steal shine,
had to take it
from the air around us,
press it into our skin
and run fast, faster, across the
summer lawns, in between
the whooping boys
the beer-drinking men
shine fast as we could
without getting caught.


Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!


Nikki Loftin writes novels and poems in the Texas Hill Country, surrounded by dogs, goats, chickens, and rambunctious boys. Loftin’s novels for young readers include the award-winning Nightingale’s Nest and Wish Girl (Penguin Random House).

Poem-A-Day: D E Zuccone

Tonight we find another Mutabilis Press poet, D E Zuccone. His poem feels as surreal and vivid as an episode of The Magicians watched out of order or a psychedelic painting erring in the time of the Dutch Masters or a day spent watching people on Zoom and listening to Agent Orange on the radio. All of those things make an individual sort of sense, but put them together and you’re not sure what day it is.


Megabus Ode

Let’s begin by refusing to write rumble, slowly lumbering,
staggering on as if a bus is a fairy tale monster. My canvas
carry-on is designed to pack blank metaphors. See, a turquoise
shirt stretched too taut over a pale stomach. A parking lot
with a contrived house, barely big enough for some lucky dog
to get to fall sleep under a tent construed from an abandoned
stroller top and plastic drop cloths, all tied to a stolen Kroger cart.
We know, we know, but we don’t want to see. Three doors open
at once. MEGABUS, bus of buses, a word cobbled of half-words.
One hundred-fifteen numbered seats. I have reserved 5A directly
above the driver. Above me my personal shade for vision’s rest,
or I can choose to blink and squint into the interstate of a western
sunset. So many cars hurt me to keep in mind each one is driven,
by another tired soul just as lost as mine, not a caduceus writhing
over concrete, or a crimson river weeping memory, not five days
of a washing week without even an apology to take home. I have
a paper bag of tea cakes on my lap riding and 114 sporadic corpses
coughing and mumbling behind me—the single direction I can’t see.
Fleeting past polo stables, an empty field mowed, rolled in evening
gold—the way the rich imagine they would make the world if we would
sell it to them. The Mason Jar and Spec’s Liquor Warehouse parking
lots crowd as the nearby office garage barriers rise and drop. Friday
turns violet, Megabus and I pass a used Cadillac lot, Teacher Heaven,
Earthman Funeral Home, its windows generously dark to our speeding
invisibility. The passenger beside me pulls off a gray cotton sweater.
On his shoulder he has tattooed a hooded Chartreuse devil proffering
a red noose or a rose from a swirling of an Oriental cloud. A kettle of
vultures drift above The First Baptist sign The Price of Forgiveness
Let’s end by refusing to declare anything like “I’m here.” or “I arrive.”

Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!


D E Zuccone has published poems in Borderlands, Water Stone, International Review of Poetry, Southern Indiana Review, Schuylkill Review, Hurricane Review, Big River, Apalachee Review, Deep Water Literary Review, and Garden Box. His work has been in anthologies of Round Top, Taos Artists, Words & Art, and Big Poetry Review. He maintains a sporadic blog of essays and reviews at DomZuccone.WordPress.com. He has been a featured reader in Houston, Taos, Los Angeles, as well as a frequent, grateful guest of Archway Gallery. He is a graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Poem-A-Day: William Shakespeare

This week is Shakespeare’s death anniversary, which falls on his presumed birth anniversary. I always like to post something from his works in honor of that. This year, though, I just couldn’t decide on something. Maybe I’m all Shakespeared out? I just finished teaching both Othello (to my sophomores) and Macbeth (to my seniors), so maybe it has something to do with that.

So instead, I’m going to post a line from Hamlet that just won’t leave me right now:

“Madness in great ones must not
unwatched go.”

This is from early in Act III. Claudius says it as part of his justification for spying on (and, let’s be honest, plotting against) Hamlet, but of course one could also possibly suggest an argument that this is ironic coming from a king who murdered his brother and married that brother’s wife in order to gain the throne (and get the girl, and thereby shunt his nephew-turned-stepson out of his rightful place on the throne). One might argue that Claudius is a little mad, too.

Let’s take this further, though. Let’s find the relevance from this quote into our own current (sur)reality. “Great ones” is a relative term. So is “madness.” But I would argue that it’s never a good idea to take one’s eye off people in power.

Don’t necessarily take their advice. (PSA: Do NOT inject disinfectant into yourself, even if you are sick, because it will probably kill you. Also, don’t even try to inject yourself with sunlight. Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin with this nonsense.)


There’s a fine line between unwatched and unwatchable. Look alive, campers.

If you’d like to see more of my National Poetry Month posts featuring The Bard, click here:  2014, 2017, 2018, 2019.

In other news, what is your favorite passage from Shakespeare? Share it in the comments below!


Go to this month’s first Poem-A-Day to learn how to participate in a game as part of this year’s series. You can have just a little involvement or go all the way and write a cento. I hope you’ll join in!


Click through the links above for the Shakespeare posts from 2018 and 2019 for some biographical information and images of him. I’ll warn you that the bios get more irreverent as time goes on. Cheers!