What We’re Reading, Winter 2022

Here’s what some of SHARK REEF’s editors have been enjoying in recent weeks.

Managing Editor Stephanie Barbé Hammer
I am reading and loving two incredible poetry collections and a gorgeous novel. The Store-House of Wonder and Astonishment by Sherry Mossafer Rind (Pleasure Boat Studio, 2021) uses the persona poem to explore natural history from a multitude of points of view, ranging from Aristotle on the disappearance of birds to Father Acosta on the qualities of dung. Carolyne Wright’s memoir in verse, Masquerade, (Lost Horse Press 2021) uses poetic forms to recount a passionate and troubled inter-racial affair between poets that begins in Provincetown and blossoms in New Orleans. And Ryka Aoki’s Light From Uncommon Stars (Tor 2021) is a bildungsroman in the shape of a contemporary fairytale that delights with its combination of wonder, humor and a celebration of music and food.


Publisher Iris Graville
Essays, essays, and a novel set in a bookstore. I’ve just started These Precious Days (HarperCollins 2021) by Ann Patchett and was delighted to see it includes “Three Fathers,” which I’d read in The New Yorker, about, well, her father and her two stepfathers (all of whom attended her sister’s wedding). Having just taken up knitting again, I’m looking forward to “How Knitting Saved My Life. Twice.” Tarn Wilson’s In Praise of Inadequate Gifts: A Memoir in Essays (Wandering Aengus Press, 2021) grabbed me immediately with the hybrid form of the first piece, “The History of My Teeth.” Finally, Louise Erdrich’s new novel, The Sentence (HarperCollins, 2021), though fiction, is set in a bookstore in Minneapolis (much like her Birchbark Books) owned by a character named Louise!


Poetry Co-Editor Richard Widerkehr
In the first year of our pandemic, I distracted myself with Sherlock Holmes stories. In the past year I’ve enjoyed three witty novels about human foibles by Anne Tyler, thrillers by C.J Box about a Wyoming game warden, and I’ve reread books of poems I enjoy: Patricia Hooper’s Wild Persistence, Joe Stroud’s Of This World, Gary Copeland Lilley’s Alpha Zulu, Merwin’s Garden Time, Barbara Bloom’s Pulling Down The Heavens, and our own Linda Conroy’s Ordinary Signs.

In the December 20 New Yorker, I liked a 14-line poem about aging and faith by Henri Cole, “Winter Solstice,” which ends like this:

“For now
I regard a conference of stars, with fast-moving clouds.
Sometimes, my dreams are like explosion pits,
with scary lava. Yet the Earth remains constant,
tilting away from the sun and back,
like a robin to a bare branch.
Be somebody with a body, the stars command.
Don’t be a nobody. I know them by heart,
as they sink and as they rise.”


Poetry Co-Editor Linda Conroy
Historical fiction is not my favorite genre and I rarely read best-sellers, but I recently finished Lauren Groff’s Matrix, (Riverhead Books, 2021) the story of a woman who becomes a prioress of an English abbey in the 12th century. I was so entranced with the writing that I didn’t mind whether I finished the story as long as I could enjoy the captivating descriptions. Eric Maisel’s Unleashing the Artist Within (Ixia Press, 2020) is another powerful read. Unlike many books that aim to improve our writing skills, this one offers simple ways to keep life calm and drama free in order to leave our best energy for writing. I like that!


Non-Fiction Editor Elder Zamora
For the last eighteen months or so most of my reading has revolved around class material: Textbooks, research papers, articles. It’s been a demanding schedule. One of the last books I read purely for me was John Brantingham’s wonderful collection The Green of Sunset, published by Moon Tide Press. It wasn’t the first time I read this collection, but I keep coming back to it in moments of emotional turmoil and stress. It’s been a rough year for me, a year of healing and mourning, but also of growth. Brantingham’s prose not only captures the delicate nature of the human spirit, it also wraps it with wonderful observational humor and wit, creating an experience that nourishes the soul, even after multiple reads.


Editor Emerita Lorna Reese
Last winter I recommended The Watchman by Louise Erdrich; this year I’m enamored of Erdrich’s newest book, The Sentence, which explores the impact of the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd and is set in the author’s own Minneapolis bookstore, Birchbark Books. The book’s protagonist is an indigenous ex-con employee who LOVES books and her family. And… the bookshop is haunted. I just finished Dana Spiotta’s acclaimed novel, Wayward, and agree with George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo) who calls it “an urgent, deeply moving, wholly-original novel by one of the most wildly talented writers in America.” It’s a stunning novel about “aging, the female body, female difficulty—female complexity—in the age of Trump.”

I also adore reading literary fiction by Kate Atkinson, Elizabeth Strout, Tana French, Amor Towles, and others of that ilk, along with Martha Grimes’s Richard Jury mysteries, and I just discovered Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May mysteries.

In non-fiction, I feasted on Joy Harjo’s memoir, Poet Warrior and a recently gifted new poetry book, Conflict Resolutions for Holy Beings, also by Harjo. I’m looking forward to reading SR publisher Iris Graville’s new book of essays about the Salish Sea, Writer in a Life Vest, coming out in March from Homebound Publications.


Social Media Coordinator Shari Lane
Upon being asked to share up to three books for the “What we’re reading” section, I immediately started scheming how to cheat. Three books! There is something seriously wrong if there are fewer than a dozen partially-finished books on my nightstand, by the bathtub, and next to my favorite (dilapidated but oh so comfortable) chair. So here’s my best shot at sticking to the rules. Sort of.

FICTION I loved the lyrical, disturbing, and strangely timeless magical realism of The Rain Heron, by award-winning Australian author Robbie Arnott. Also, Irish author Claire Keegan’s novella Small Things Like These is a simple fable that says so much, with so few words, it’s astounding. I also love a fast-paced mystery, and enjoyed the collaboration between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny in State of Terror, a page-turner but also a damning exploration of the divisions in our nation and our world (with a little romance, deep friendships, and tested integrity sprinkled in, true to Penny’s style).
I’m going to push my luck and claim the above list counts as “one,” so without further ado, here’s what I’m reading in . . .

NON-FICTION Always late to the game on what’s new, I am just now reading Glennon Doyle’s Untamed. There is much to ponder here, especially for me as the mother of a young woman who is just starting her own family. And then, because I can’t help myself, here’s my contribution in . . .

POETRY I confess I don’t turn to poetry as often as I’d like, but I can’t put down Amanda Gorman’s new chapbook Call Us What We Carry. Over and over, Gorman reminds us why we write:

This book is a message in a bottle.
. . . A repository,
. . . & the poet, the preserver
Of ghosts & gains,
Our demons & dreams,
Our haunts & hopes.
Here’s to the preservation
Of a light so terrible.

Excerpt, Ship’s Manifest