LJ Best Books 2016

A jury of our peers discussed, debated, disagreed, and finally declared LJ’s annual Top Ten Best Books of the year, selected by our editors, as well as Top Five lists for genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles. VISIT THE WEBSITE

Key Poets To Discover and Rediscover, Including Juan Felipe Herrera | Poetry Previews, Fall 2015

Equi, Elaine. Sentences and Rain. Coffee House. Oct. 2015. 100p. ISBN 9781566894210. pap. $16.95. POETRY
Sharp-eyed, witty, and ever able to nail the mood or idea in distilled language—“A slight implies/ equiif not an insult/ (real or imagined)/ at least something/ unpleasant—/a slight cold,/ a slight headache”—Equi here ranges across the contemporary landscape, from clones to Led Zeppelin. From a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist.

Gonzalez, Ray. Beautiful Wall. BOA. Sept. 2015. 120p. ISBN 9781938160837. pap. $16. POETRY
Poet, essayist, and founder of the poetry journal LUNA, Gonzalez was awarded the 2002 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southwest Border Regional Library Association, which certainly demonstrates his influence. This latest collection, set in the sun-scorched desert region, perches on the wall between Gonzalez’s Mexican heritage and American upbringing and investigates all that entails.

Harjo, Joy. Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems. Norton. Sept. 2015. 144p. ISBN 9780393248500. $26.95. POETRY
A member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation, William Carlos Williams Award winner Harjo opens her new volume in a dark hotel room, then walks the Trail of Tears from a bend in the Tallapoosa River to the banks of the Arkansas. Sorrow gives way to song—stomp dance songs, blues, and jazz ballads—which is hardly surprising, as Harjo is a performer as well as a writer.

Harrison, Jim. Dead Man’s Float. Copper Canyon. Sept. 2015. 156p. ISBN 9781556594458. $23. POETRY
Forthright and unaffected, even brash, Harrison always scoops us straight into the world whether deadmansfloathe’s writing fiction or nonfiction. This new collection takes its cue from a technique swimmers use to conserve energy in deep water, and Harrison goes in deep, acknowledging our frailness even as he seamlessly connects with a world that moves from water to air to the sky beyond.

Herrera, Juan Felipe. Notes on the Assemblage. City Lights. Sept. 2015. 168p. ISBN 9780872866973. pap. $16.95. POETRY
Just named the 21st Poet Laureate of the United States—the first Latino to receive this honor—the multi-award-winning Herrera is the son of Mexican immigrants and grew up in the migrant fields of California, then attended UCLA and Stanford University before receiving an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. As such, he has a lifetime of insight to impart about living across cultures, which you can expect him to present in the pointed, gorgeously visceral language for which he is known.

Hoagland, Tony. Application for Release from the Dream: Poems. Graywolf. Sept. 2015. 96p. ISBN 9781555977184. pap. $16. POETRY
Hoagland, a National Book Award finalist, here considers the essential human condition: are we guilty or innocent, free or shackled, shattered or whole? That might sound ponderous, but consider the following lines to realize how down to earth Hoagland is as a writer: “The parade for the slain police office/ goes past the bakery// and the smell of fresh bread/ makes the mourners salivate against their will.”

Knox, Caroline. To Drink Boiled Snow. Wave. Sept. 2015. 96p. ISBN 9781940696119. $20. POETRY
“To drink boiled snow is good science,” says Knox in the opening poem of her new volume, which ranges widely from scientific and philosophical meditation to the joys of pottery and Woods Hole. The New Yorker notes, “She is often obscure, but her allusions are as much a sign of camaraderie as of scholarly pretension, her poems a pert crystallization impossible in more narrative poetry,” and this collection feels like her most accessible yet.

Komunyakaa, Yusef. The Emperor of Water Clocks: Poems. Farrar. Oct. 2015. 128p. ISBN 9780374147839. $23. POETRY
A court jester and Napoleon, Ulysses’s half-brother and an ordinary man: Pulitzer Prize winner Komunyakaa shows us many personas here as he examines how we battle our impulses, the powers ranged against us, and the pull of the past. Yet as one speaker says as he scatters “a limonfew red anemones/ & a sheaf of wheat” on Mahmoud Darwish’s grave, “I’d rather die a poet/ than a warrior.”

Limón, Ada. Bright Dead Things: Poems. Milkweed. Sept. 2015. 128p. ISBN 9781571314710. pap. $16. POETRY
This volume opens with the Pushcart Prize winner “How To Triumph Like a Girl” (“Don’t you want to tug my shirt and see/ the huge beating genius machine/ that thinks, no, it knows,/ it’s going to come in first”), and the collection that unfolds demonstrates the same joy, bravado, and sheer push. Growing older, losing a parent, still passionate—where does that leave Limón? “I am beautiful. I am full of love. I am dying.”

Oliver, Mary. Felicity: Poems. Penguin Pr. Oct. 2015. 96p. ISBN 9781594206764. $24.95. POETRY
A Pulitzer Prize winner called “far and away, this country’s best selling poet” by Dwight Garner of the New York Times, Oliver always writes gorgeously about the natural world. Here, however, she looks inward to consider what it means to love fiercely. Her Dog Songs, first published in 2013 and collecting poems she’s written featuring our four-footed friends of the canine persuasion, appears in paperback this fall in an illustrated edition (ISBN 9780143125839. $16).

Pastan Linda. Insomnia: Poems. Norton. Oct. 2015. 96p. ISBN 9780393247183. $25.95. POETRY
Pastan won the Ruth Lilly Prize for lifetime achievement back in 2003, and she’s still going strong. Here, as only a dark-night attack of insomnia will allow, she reflects on love lost and gained, children making their way through life, and the ever-beckoning beauties of the world.

Phillips, Carl. Reconnaissance: Poems. Farrar. Sept. 2015. 64p. ISBN 9780374248284. $23. POETRY
Phillips, who has always wrestled gracefully with human longing, confronted solitude in his most phillipscarlrecent collection, Silverchest, an LJ Best Poetry Book. Now he confronts a world that’s constantly redefining itself, faster and faster, a world where the truth can’t be neatly pinned. Never mind that “There’s a trembling inside the both of us, there’s a trembling, inside us both,” these are still finally poems alight with hope.

Reddy, Nancy. Double Jinx: Poems. Milkweed. Sept. 2015. 96p. ISBN 9781571314772. pap. $16. POETRY
To track the tumultuous move from adolescence to adult, with a particular focus on young women, this first collection revisits Cinderella post-prince and features both Grey’s Anatomy (“Could she/ be pink inside like that? No decent girl/ would go around the world like that, uncooked”) and Nancy Drew (“She a foxtrot. She’s a jinx and you can’t speak. …Or she’s the real Nancy and you’re a costume party”). Winner of the National Poetry Series competition.

Revell, Donald. Drought-Adapted Vine. Alice James. Sept. 2015. 100p. ISBN 9781938584138. pap. $15.95. POETRY
Lenore Marshall Prize Revell has a rigorous yet tender way of imparting his search for the divine, particularly within the beauties of the seen world, so that his poems surely transcend inspirational or pastoral lyrics. Here he accepts peaceably what we know and what we can’t: “Hence and farewell valediction: ‘life’s journey.’/ It makes no sense.”

Ryan, Kay. Erratic Facts. Grove. Oct. 2015. 128p. ISBN 978-0802124050. $24. POETRY
A Pulitzer Prize winner, MacArthur Fellow, and former U.S. Poet Laureate (for two terms), Ryan vapuses spare language, mordant wit, and rebellious spirit to discuss the big issues—existence, consciousness, love, and loss—while bringing us straight into the everyday. This latest collection crowns a 20-plus-year career.

Vap, Sarah. Viability. Penguin. Sept. 2015. 176p. ISBN 9780143128281. $22; ebk. ISBN 9780698407350. POETRY
Vap is an up-and-comer who wins honors relentlessly; 2006’s Dummy Fire received the Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize, and Arco Iris was an LJ 2012 Best Poetry pick (“[Her] long-lined, liquid, pithily delivered poetry takes us on a real journey….Astonishing”). This sixth book, winner of the National Poetry Series competition, boldly and originally offers prose poems on economic and biological viability.

Wolff, Rebecca. One Morning? Wave. Sept. 2015. 176p. ISBN 9781940696133. pap. $18. POETRY
Wolff, who started out big with a National Poetry Series win for her first collection, Manderley, shockand won the Barnard Women Poets Prize for her second, The King, uses spare, twisting language in this fourth collection, which is deeply, reflectively personal yet sharply aware of the world. “But nothing can distract me, really, tall glass/ fuzzy rabbit/ work habit/ creature comfort/ all that is available// and all that is real.”

Young, Dean. Shock by Shock. Copper Canyon. Sept. 2015. 120p. ISBN 9781556594311. $23. POETRY
As indicated by the poem “How I Got Through My Last Days on the Transplant List,” Young, a finalist for the Pulitzer and Griffin prizes, isn’t dealing here with everyday upsets. With his new heart in place, he offers a sometimes blackly witty look at human stupidities and reminds us what’s there that’s good.

 

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Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.