Sunday Morning Muse with an Embarrassment of Novel Riches

In past decades, let’s say my pre-teen years through my forties, I often read more than 50 novels in a year. Then, in my fifties I started reading poetry in earnest.  A poetry lover since childhood, I was less likely to buy books of poetry than to buy novels; less likely to read all the way through a book of poetry than a novel; less likely to have poetry friends to talk with about the poetry I was reading. Then, I started writing poems myself. Now I spend most of my reading time with books of poetry.

But now I have an embarrassment of riches of novels! Three books that I’ve been on a waiting list for at my local library all came to me this week. These are:

The Overstory by Richard Powers- (502 pages!!) 
which was just shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje (285 pages) 
whose The English Patient was a Man Booker winner

There There, by Tommy Orange (304 pages) 
whose short story in the New Yorker inspired me to write a poem, 
but that’s another story.


Can I read three novels in three weeks? In particular the upcoming three weeks? I have my doubts. I’ll probably reorder The Overstory and read the other two. But I’ll keep you posted.

As an aside, I read more slowly than I used to and this means that, though I spend about the same amount of time reading as I used to (given the vagaries of other obligations, for example, work, running a press, writing, volunteering) but digest fewer words. This is partly due to changes in vision which are common at my age, partly due to the slowing-down effect that reading poetry has on its readers, partly due to the distracting effect of screen reading and social media, but in some part, I’m not sure why my appetite is so much less voracious for novels than it used to be. When it comes to novels, I buy few, but often pick up 1/2 dozen at a time from the library. Why? Because these days, I have a new novel reading habit: I often start novels but don’t finish them. In fact, I often go 30-50 pages in and decide “no, I don’t want to read this.” Let’s just call it, “time is running out” for anything that doesn’t enlighten me or bring me pleasure.


In other news, in poetry, the current pile on my nightstand includes:

Unforgetting, Christine Potter (Kelsay Books, 2018)

Prairie Fever, Mary Biddinger (Steel Toe Books, 2007)

Hapax, A.E Stallings (TriQuarterly Books, 2006)

What the Living Do, Marie Howe (W.W. Norton & Co, 1998)

As If, Anna Meister (Glass Chapbook Series, 2018)

Let’s just note, for what it’s worth, the novels are all by men, the poetry, all by women.

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3 Responses to Sunday Morning Muse with an Embarrassment of Novel Riches

  1. Dinah Dietrich says:

    RISA. I RECENTLY TOOK AN INTEREST IN YOUR ABSORBING BLOG. READING HAS ALSO BEEN A CONSTANT PRESENCE IN MY LIFE, AND SO HAS WRITING. SO DID I READ IT RIGHT THAT YOU DID NOT START WRITING POEMS TILL LATER IN LIFE? AND, DID YOU WRITE OTHER THINGS BEFORE THAT? Also, note that reading poetry is a more dense experience than reading novels. I mean, you can and should cram a lot into a small space in a poem. I too have turned to reading and studying poetry more and more now.

  2. Chris Potter says:

    Good Lord, I’m in the pile with Marie Howe? What The Living Do is an astonishing book. I keep it on the bookshelf right behind my computer. You will LOVE it.
    I wish I had more time to read. I’ve been writing at a fierce pace lately. I wish I could go away to a place like Hedgebrook and just read for three weeks. Except I’d probably sneak in writing on the sly. Love from me and my constant companion in writing, Bella Cat.

  3. Terri says:

    Risa, I read ‘What The Living Do’ a few weeks ago. It reads almost like a novel that you don’t want to put down, so I didn’t put it down until it was done. Now I will go back and *really* read it.

    I love your blog.

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