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My Favorite Poetry Books of the Past Year and a Half

If you have a poetry lover in your family or circle of friends — or if you're a fan yourself — many, many excellent poetry books have been published over the past 18 months or so. Here are a few standouts.

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Many years ago, the legendary Lawrence Ferlinghetti conquered my heart with his book A Coney Island of the Mind. For those few who may not know, Ferlinghetti is the founder of City Lights Books and City Lights Publishers, a staunch defender of the First Amendment, and an all-around gadfly and embodiment of humane values in our quickly degenerating society. It's funny: he's 93 now, and one might, in all good faith, lower one's expectations regarding the quality of his work. That would be a mistake, however, as his latest book, Time of Useful Consciousness, is hands down the best book I've read this year.

It's painful to be concise when someone receives so much from something they've read. I felt that way with Patti Smith's Just Kids and her subsequent book of poems, Woolgathering, and this new book ...


Villainless

I love a good villain. I mean, Maleficent is my favorite Disney character, so I appreciate how truly amazing a well-done villain can be. I even have moods where I want nothing more than a two-dimensional, mustache-twirling, melodramatic villain to add a dose of over-the-top crazy to my reading. But here's the thing: not every book needs a villain. And, in particular, not every romance book needs a villain. Let's face it: feelings are messy, and relationships are hard enough without always having to contend with a creepy cousin who wants to steal your inheritance, or a shady man of business who is embezzling from your company, or a deranged ex who wants to kill you and/or your new lover. Sometimes an external villain is just too much and feels like a shortcut around the hero and heroine dealing with the real obstacles to their Happily Ever Afters.

Recently, though, I was fortunate enough to read two lovely novels that don't play up external villains but instead focus on the hero and heroine working through their own, internal obstacles on the road to love.

The Importance of Being ...


Two Books, Two Perspectives on Spirituality

Well, the season's upon us, and I feel compelled to write about two of my favorite religious books of the last year. They are two deceptively small titles published by one of my all-time favorite presses, New Directions. The books are collections of related work by that 20th-century religious titan, the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. The first is On Eastern Meditation; the second, On Christian Contemplation. Needless to say, they're published in uniform editions with French flaps and are nothing less than exquisite — just like anything you see from New Directions. Of course, there's nothing really new in these little books, outside of the editors' introductions, but the way they've been assembled and presented offers up a challenge and a source of solace and inspiration to seekers of whatever flavor.

The introductory material in each book is fabulous: learned, astute, and informative. On Eastern Meditation is edited by Bonnie Thurston, a founding member and past president of the Thomas Merton Society, and On Christian Contemplation is edited by Dr. Paul M. Pearson, the director and archivist at Bellarmine University's Thomas Merton Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Continue »


Powells.com Guest Bloggers of 2012

Here at Powells.com, in addition to exclusive interviews, original essays, and Q&As, we feature a wide selection of guest blogs from noteworthy authors. Each week, a new author contributes to our blog for five days straight, revealing everything from their thoughts on the writing process to details about their favorite neighborhood cat. We're constantly amazed at what comes out of these series, and we consider ourselves incredibly lucky to be able to host so many brilliant authors in one place.

As the year comes to a close, we thought we'd give a rundown of all our guest bloggers for 2012 in case you missed — or want to revisit — any of their posts.

Adam Johnson (January 9 - 13)
Books | Guest Blogs
Adam Johnson, a former Wallace Stegner Fellow, teaches creative writing at Stanford University. His previous work includes a short-story collection, Emporium, and the novel Parasites Like Us. His second novel, The Orphan Master's Son, is an epic tale that charts a young man's undercover journey in the world's most mysterious dictatorship: North Korea.

Exclusive to Powells.com: Johnson ...


Smitten Kitchen’s Savory Pot Pies

Editor's Note: While we were thinking about Thanksgiving, we couldn't think of a more beloved authority than Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, whose new cookbook, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, is one of the titles we chose for our Holiday Gift Guide. Deb shared with us the following recipe, one of her favorites. Bon appétit!

Over the years, we've had a lot of dinner parties. I've made mussels and fries and red pepper soup; I've made meatballs and spaghetti repeatedly; brisket and noodles were on repeat until I got the kinks ironed out of the recipe in this chapter, and there was this one time when I decided to make nothing but delicate flatbreads for dinner. It was a terrible idea. Don't do this unless you want to spend three days making doughs and mincing vegetables, only to have everyone leave hungry.

I'm pretty sure if you asked my friends what the very best thing I've ever served them was, they'd still go on about chicken pot pies I made from an Ina Garten recipe all those years ago. People, it turns out, go berserk for comfort ...


A Love Deferred

Let me be perfectly honest: I'm not a terribly religious person, nor did I, in the years I was growing up, ever have a parish priest who was hot enough to be crush-worthy. So I'm not sure what sparked my love for historical romances featuring vicars as heroes. But give me a vicar (or a virgin or, best of all, a virgin vicar) for a hero, and I get all swoony even before I begin reading. Add in a former courtesan who has the gall not to feel ashamed of her past, a village full of judgmental gossips, and a gaggle of besotted young ladies, and what you would seem to have is the recipe for a comedic romp or even a farce.

What you have, instead, is A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long. Although this book has its moments of levity, what it's truly full of are pages and pages of unfulfilled longing. It's the kind of longing that is all furtive glances and "accidental" brushes of hands and that I, as a reader, felt all the way down to my toes. It had ...


Art Forgery as Novel Inspiration

It was just a bit after midnight on March 18, 1990, and the city of Boston hadn't even begun to recover from a raucous St. Patrick's Day celebration, when two men, dressed as police officers, bound and gagged two guards at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. They spent 81 minutes ripping paintings from their frames, then threw them into their rusty Datsun hatchback and drove away with 13 pieces of art today worth over $500 million. The heist remains the largest art theft in history.

The cache included priceless masterpieces such as Rembrandt's The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Manet's Chez Tortoni and Vermeer's The Concert. Despite thousands of hours of police work, a lapsed statute of limitations, and a $5 million reward, none of the art has ever been recovered.

As a longtime Boston resident, the heist always fascinated me, and I wondered how I might write a novel about it. So I began spinning "what ifs." What if one of those priceless paintings wasn't priceless at all? What if Rembrandt didn't paint Storm of Galilee? What if some unknown artist did instead? Would the painting ...


The Pop-Culture Romance

Why is it that if I read one romance novel with a particular theme, I seem to read several all at once? It's happened with fairy tales and with spies being held prisoner by the French, and now it's also happened with pop-culture references. Two authors whose work I've really enjoyed in the past have dipped their buckets into the world of 20th-century pop culture for the foundations of their most recent novels.

First, there is Jeannie Lin's My Fair Concubine. As you can probably tell from the title, Ms. Lin got her inspiration from My Fair Lady. But she only borrowed the most basic plotline: a young man from a good family must turn a girl of a much-lower social class into a "princess" in a very narrow window of time. Of course, in My Fair Concubine, over the course of this transformation, our hero, Fei Long, falls for our heroine, Yan Ling.

The major conflicts at the heart of the novel — the enormous debt left by Fei Long's father at his death, and the problem of how Fei Long and Yan Ling can be ...


Four Poetry Books You Can’t Live Without

It's been a while since I've had the pleasure — or the time — to write for the Powell's blog, so I thought I'd dip my toe into something I really love: a roundup of a few of the best poetry books I've read in the last year. This list, of course, is by no means exhaustive, and I'm sure that every reader will come up with a whole slew of different titles. If you know a book or an author I missed, by all means, let me know — I'll be eternally grateful.

Okay, here we go...

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The first book on my list came out at the end of last year and immediately stole my heart. You may know it already, but if you don't, you should definitely, by hook or by crook, pick it up. It is Patti Smith's Woolgathering (New Directions), a slim little volume that flawlessly weaves her melodic, hypnotic voice into a mesmerizing memoir.

Originally published as one of the legendary Hanuman Books (a series of tiny little books, mostly written by Beats and their hangers-on, that was inexpensively published ...


Falling for Another Fairy-Tale Romance

Gack! Another fairy-tale-themed romance. It really wasn't my intention to go back to this particular well, but I thought this book was so lovely that I almost felt like I had no choice but to share my affection for it with you.

Eloisa James is one of my must-read authors, and in The Ugly Duchess, she combines two of my favorite tropes: friends turned lovers and a story borrowed from a fairy tale. In this case, it's Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling (surprise!). Before you go all history police, Ms. James herself is aware of the anachronism inherent in basing a novel spanning the years 1809–1816 on a fairy tale first published in 1843 and acknowledges it clearly in the afterword. (And, really, isn't "The Ugly Duckling" just a Cinderella story with feathers?) The fairy tale is just a framework, anyway — a dressmaker's dummy around which to shape the fabric of the tale.

And, oh, what a tale it is.

Theodora and James have been friends for years. When James proposes, he does it in such a way that Theo is convinced he ...


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