Today’s guest post comes from Loren Kleinman – a prize-winning poet with New Jersey roots. In addition to having published anthology of poems, she’s also a noted columnist and interviewer and several of her interviews have appeared in USA Today and the Huffington Post.
Loren was also gracious enough to host yours truly as the first interview subject on her newest website. While she will be on my podcast in the fall to discuss her new book, I thought it would be fun to have her jot down a few thoughts for my blog and offer up a few leads for those among you that might be looking for the next book that you absolutely, positively, have to have on your shelf.
Loren, the floor is yours…
My Top Five Books (with a bullet*)
Asking me what my top ten favorite books are and why, is like asking me if like chocolate or sex more. Not an easy question to answer. And there are times when I like one more than the other. (Sex versus chocolate, I mean.) But when it comes to books, I find myself gnawing on a few at a time. (Some more than others; some less than others.) Some books I want to read all at once, and some books I pick at the lines, cut them from the pages, and tape them up on the wall in my mind.
I’ve narrowed it down though. And even though it hurts to leave some writers out (Dostoevsky, Proust, Bly, Blake, Woolf, Dickinson…I could keep listing) we have to get on with the show. So here are my top five books: The ones I love. The ones that made me laugh. The ones that made me cry. And the ones that gave me unquestionable line envy.
Here we go.
If I were hand gliding, scared shitless of the fall, I’d keep this book close to my chest. Wright is a master at writing about the fall and with total compassion he shows us how to live again (or at least gives us a head start). His poems are transformative, seamless. “If I’m walking the streets/overwhelmed with this love for the living,” it would be because I’m reading Wright. If you’re writing about “bad things” or exploring the vastness of the human condition, read this book. Despite the “bad things” that life sometimes breeds, he reminds us it’s always “possible to live.” And that’s a good thing.
An imagist associated with the likes of Ezra Pound, H.D. (AKA Hilda Doolittle) creates a new kind of text, a “personal bible” if you will. Written during World War II, Aliki Barnstone says H.D. asks readers to “venerate both her voice and the figure of Woman as poet, mystical seer, and god” (VIII). I always feel a part of the “voyagers, discoverers/of the not known” when I read this book. She takes the reader to Egypt and ancient London and then introduces us to the woman gods like Aphrodite and Venus. She’s like a feminist time machine. Safety not guaranteed, and “different from the pillar-of-fire/that comes after…”
The poems are raw and often heart breaking, but also address a sense of peace, which make her work so accessible. What I love: Plath’s writing has the ability to always seem contemporary, fresh. She’s a poet to read and read again. You must read again and again.
Do I really need to tell you why this is a top fiver? OK. OK. Stop yelling. Would it help if I said you’re “the light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta…” Ahem. Excuse me. I get carried away. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” read no further, Nabokov is the father of literary word play. Exhibit one: Chapter 1, third paragraph reads, “You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.” Nabokov’s first person narrator Humbert Humbert is so enchanting that you often forget he was a criminal. (Interesting fact: Nabokov was an avid chess player, and often considered to be a master at solving chess problems. His love for chess showed up in his writing, often treating the progression of his chapters as moves on a chess board.)
A tie at #5 (for different reasons): Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman & Three Days by Charlie Smith
I love Goldman for his story, Smith for his language, and both because they represent love and loss and loving again (maybe).
“Love is a religion. You can only believe it when you experienced it,” wrote Goldman, author of Say Her Name. He wrote the book after his wife Aura died in a swimming accident. He blamed himself for her death, but rather than emotionally drowning he wrote Say Her Name instead. The book pays homage to healing through acts of love and remembrance. He reinforces Wright’s hope for humanity in that it’s “possible to live,” even after tragedy.
“If you left me, I would fade out like a dying Indian tribe. I’d disappear like the ivory-billed woodpecker. They’d see me, near the end, standing down on Calle Cinquo wearing one of your nightgowns, explaining things to the traffic” (Smith). Ah…Charlie Smith. If you ever wanted to disappear into the folds of the pages, in between the lines of text, then read Smith. If you ever wanted to feel total prose envy, read Smith. Or just read him because reading about star-crossed lovers is always a sad, and yet, exhilarating experience.
And now, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, on to what’s really important: What are your favorite books/authors?
* High Fidelity (the movie) reference. I also listed a link to the book.