Usually I see them traveling north on Oracle Road here in southern Arizona, carrying heavy backpacks and wearing the essential hiking hats and boots. They look like they are on a purposeful journey. Sometimes they are on bicycles loaded with gear and sleeping rolls, pedaling uphill all the way. I have seen one quite inventive bicycle – parts welded together to make a platform for a dog who rode comfortably in style under a rigged roof which held the luggage. It provided shade for an old animal who could not be left behind. Last month it was a young man and woman pushing what looked like a garden cart loaded with their stuff. Four dogs, medium sized and extra small, looked happy to be included in the pack on a long road trip with their people. These travelers have stories to tell, I am sure, of why they left and where they hope to go. What a book it would make, contributing to the canon of the Great American Road Trip.
I will be traveling soon – back to Colorado for the summer and well into the fall. Closing down a house and deciding what you can’t live without for six months takes just about every brain cell I have. One of the first things I pack is my book bag so I know how many I can fit in and if there is a tiny little slot left for one more. This old, rectangular burlap gardening bag has served me well. When I come back to Arizona some books will be left behind and new ones will take their place. Here is a list of what I am hauling on the road this year. Are there essential books that come with you when you travel?
Ford County Stories – John Grisham, 2009. These stories take place in Ford County, MS. and should be considered part of the genre of Southern Gothic. Excellent stories which could join the company of those of Erskine Caldwell, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers and James Dickey. I have already read this book but am bringing it for my husband to enjoy.
Rainbow Pie, Joe Bageant, pub. 2010, Portobello. This is a real life memoir of “redneck America” (see above). The late author takes on a subject not written or talked about very much – the white, working poor of American.
The Swallow Anthology of New American Poets, 2009, Ohio University Press, edited by David Yezzi. I have met Mr. Yezzi who is the executive editor of New Criterion Magazine and a poet as well. I trust him.
In The Bank of Beautiful Sins, Penguin 1995 and Beautiful Country, Penguin 2010, by Robert Wrigley. I picked up these books at a bookstore going out of business; what a find. I love his poems. Check out “The Bramble” in Beautiful Sins – a walk into the woods for berries (“my back flayed like a flagellant’s”) where he discovers a gruesome scene from long ago.
My Reading Life, Pat Conroy, 2010, Talese/Doubleday. Many readers may know Conroy’s novels “The Great Santini” and “The Prince of Tides“, both made into major movies. This book is a memoir about mentorship, reading, book collecting and the influence of his mother on his becoming a great reader. He writes so well that this book is worth a re-read which is why I am bringing it.
My Wars Are Laid Away In Books – The Life of Emily Dickinson, Alfred Habegger, 2002, Modern Library. I took a literary survey course this winter and this book was recommended as one of the best biographies of the Belle of Amherst. I think it is time I read more about her.
Dickinson – Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets, Knopf, 1993. A little book, just the right size to stick in a bag for bringing along when you have to wait somewhere or spend the night in a crummy motel.
American Hybrid – A Norton Anthology of New Poetry, edited by Cole Swenson and David St. John, 2009. This book presents its poems as a synthesis of traditional and experimental styles, thus “Hybrid”. It includes biographical information on each poet.
Winter 2012 Prairie Schooner, University of Nebraska Press. Stories, poems, essays and reviews, including a portfolio of Native American poetry and prose curated by Sherman Alexie, one of my favorite writers. This book was forgotten on the bookshelf last year and I happily found it this year.
Crossing The Yard – Thirty Years As A Prison Volunteer, Richard Shelton, University of Arizona Press, 2007. I have read Richard Shelton’s “Going Back To Bisbee” and it is time for another look at his work. This memoir of a creative writing professor documents his role in starting a writing program at Florence, AZ. State Prison. Some of his students went on to become published writers.
Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet, Christian Wiman, Copper Canyon Press, 2007. This is a re-read for me since I want to absorb more carefully what he has to say in his book of memoir and essays on poetry and poets. Wiman is currently the editor of Poetry Magazine.
The Open Door – 100 Poems, 100 Years of Poetry Magazine, edited by Don Share and Christian Wiman, University of Chicago Press, 2012. Another re-read for me since you can’t read a poem just once.
The Oxford Book of American Poetry, edited by David Lehman, Oxford University Press, 2006. This is a big book at 1,085 pages and has traveled back and forth a couple of times now. I find that if I read a poet somewhere I can usually find more of his/her poems in this book. I do not have an MFA in poetry. It would be nice to have but for the time being I have taken on a course of study on my own and every good book helps.
What Light Can Do, Robert Hass, Harper Collins, 2012. Essays on art, imagination and the natural world. Hass is a poet, essayist and Pulitzer Prize winner. I picked up this book at the Singing Wind Bookshop in Benson, Arizona, a jewel in the middle of the desert.
Bookbinding – Techniques and Projects by Josep Cambras, Barrons, 2007. I studied hand stitching of books and papermaking in college and would like to tackle at least one project this year. My reverence for books extends to making them.
My book bag is full but “Cather, Stories, Poems and Other Writings” is peering down from my shelf, making me think I might be able to wedge it in. I loved Cather’s “Death Comes For The Archbishop”, “My Antonia”, “The Song of the Lark” and “O, Pioneers”. Time to revisit her, too.
- Jolts From Life: Christian Wiman Talks About ‘My Bright Abyss’ (artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com)