Bibliomania

Books We Love and a Few Books We Don't

Lissa Richardson

Year
1. The Oval Hour: Poems by Kathleen Peirce
2. Wandering Time: Western Notebooks by Luis Alberto Urrea
3. Waiting: A Novel by Ha Jin
4. For the Relief of Unbearable Urges: Stories by Nathan Englander
5. On Beauty and Being Just by Elaine Scarry
6. Who's Irish?: Stories by Gish Jen
7. In the Gloaming: Stories by Alice Elliot Dark (Official publication date is January 2000, but it's been released, and it's good)
8. The Father of the Predicaments by Heather McHugh
9. Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine: Stories by Thom Jones
10. The Workshop: Seven Decades of the Iowa Writers Workshop edited and with a foreword by Tom Grimes

Decade
1. Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson
2. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
3. A Wild, Cold State by Debra Monroe
4. The Pugilist at Rest by Thom Jones
5. The Wild Iris by Louise Gluck
6. The World of the Ten Thousand Things: Poems 1980-1990 by Charles Wright
7. Unbabbling by Reyoung
8. Independence Day by Richard Ford
9. Open Secrets: Stories by Alice Munro
10. Small Craft Warnings: Stories by Kate Braverman

Desert Island
1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
2. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
3. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
4. Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
5. The Metamorphoses by Ovid
6. The Bible
7. The Odyssey translated by Robert Fagles
8. The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson edited by Thomas H. Johnson.
9. Popol Vuh translated by Dennis Tedlock
10. The Essential Basho translated by Sam Hamil

About the 10 books I would want with me if I were stranded on a desert island: I've always dreaded this question. It seems like there's supposed to be an immediate answer, as if there is material so close to my heart that I would take it anywhere. It's not so easy. The material I read is directly related to my life -- my environment, my struggles, my desires, my curiosity. So desert island reading has to meet two standards: 1) It must never bore me; and 2) it must enhance solitude and not make me long for the company of others. This second requirement removes most favorites from my list. For example, as much as I thrive on Adrienne Rich's poetry, her poetry is, for me, peopled and interactive. It reflects on what it means to be in the world. It is not solitary (c.f. "Yom Kippur 1984"). Bringing her work to a desert island could make me so lonely I would have to find an oven to stick my head in (Sorry. Wrong poet. Not like there's an oven on a desert island anyway.) Some might say that the act of reading transcends the social and so my concern is unnecessary. But I think reading transcends the social especially because it subverts it. The best fiction, for example, is born out of conflict. On a desert island, the reading act as we know it would be voided by the absence of the social act. I wonder how many of us would even feel the need to read if we were so deserted. The pages would get sandy, our eyes would become sunblind ... So as a result of all these considerations (and more that you don't need to hear about), my list is oddly (for me) masculine and traditional. I would want the work that lasts and lasts alone.

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