Anyone who has been in my home has seen the piles of in-progress books that spread themselves across my desk, along the edges of my bookshelf, and surrounding my reading chair. My writing process is tightly wound up with my reading, and I’m continuously pulling out books to read that relate to and inform my ongoing writing projects. In addition to that, I read for the pure joy of it. So my reading lists and stacks abound and multiply: what new poetry is coming out? what books relate to my current writing project(s)? what new fiction is coming out? what book did a friend just recommend that I must read right now? what book am I most embarrassed that I haven’t yet read? what book happened to catch my eye on my last trip to the bookstore?

So to choose five from these stacks around me is a challenge, but here are the last five books that I picked up, in their ordering from the stack:

Jena Osman’s Useful Knowledge: A Genealogy of Shares

Osman has an innate and remarkable ability to take the disjunctive moves and open acceptance available in poetry and render it through archival research to create the most remarkable and informative works whose value goes beyond poetry or basic historical understanding. In this book, she tracks the ownership of shares of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia and reveals a nexus, web, and erasure of revolution, nation-building, immigration, enslavement, abolition, secession, suffrage, economic rise and fall, industry, marriage, inheritance, education, and ambition. This poetic and historical reconstruction interrogates the full spectrum of humanity and the American spirit.

First president of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia. In his eulogy, Horace Binney wrote that Tilghman was not a dramatic presence: “…the best judge for the people, is he who leaves few striking events for biography.”

But words are striking and can be strikes:

“You have been convicted after an impartial trial, of an offense of the blackest dye—

the only offense, which by the law is punished with death…

Asli Erdoğan’s The City in Crimson Cloak

The wonderfully strange and compelled character of Erdoğan’s novel made me realize what would happen if Lispector’s G.H. and the unnamed narrator of Hamsun’s Hunger were reincarnated together as a young Turkish woman in Rio de Janeiro in the 90s. A fiction within a fiction, this story multiplies and twists upon itself making reality a dream, dreams an imagined perspective, and an imagined perspective one’s haunting final thought.

She was suddenly overcome by an odd feeling, as if her own sentences had just done an about-face and had begun watching their author. She grabbed her pen and struck a big X across the page. Then she wrote a single sentence:

I write to show myself larger than I really am, because… I am so very, very small.

Dušan Šarotar’s Panorama

This strange novel blends endless fictive prose with journalistic fact with photographic documentation to produce an evocative sense of displacement, which we as readers recognize as our own ongoing state of existence. Šarotar’s work in many ways resembles and harkens back to W.G. Sebald’s own blend of fact, fiction, and image, but where Sebald’s characters often turn away from life, Šarotar’s drive straight into those prevailing headwinds.

Words were rolling like multicolored marbles, the glass eyes scurrying away, hiding beneath the table, ducking out of sight for a moment as if waiting for inspiration, then taking off again; I felt that maybe if I could freeze them, at least for a second, could read their placement in the room, I’d be able to capture the thought, the long sentence that was both hiding and revealing itself to me in seemingly random images.

Aditi Machado’s Some Beheadings

It’s hard for me to describe how excited I am about this book. Machado’s work is searing in its search and interrogation of the self, of faith, and of how these things relate to the world. Her poetry burrows within the mind and the soul and breaks open into the expansiveness of the worlds contained within. This is an important book; reading it will undoubtedly remove your head.

Felt in the mind of god is an idea.

As god I write my book of ideas.

‘When the universe thinks itself without being outside itself, we name that “thinking” God.’

When I think myself I do not disappear.

When I think my thinking my thinking disappears.

When I think myself thinking I onan.

It is the opposite of what they say:
the gods do not equal their occasions.

Kelli Anne Noftle’s Adam Cannot Be Adam

I’ve been reading this book over and over again since it’s publication earlier this year. This book pairs the schism of two different biblical stories alongside the schism of two Adams within Noftle’s own life, and her subsequent desire to bring these multiplicities into a single, focused image. When one reads Noftle’s poetry, one is allowed to share in the building of a perspective that cleaves the world, simultaneously seeing everything double and coalesce. Noftle speaks her dream-worlds into a unified manifested creation.

an apple is nothing
but a ripened ovary

all visible
left over

I wanted to make history
less about the garden

what happens after
each minor bruise

reveals a landscape
the insistence of more

what happens when
we act as if

there is no use
in a center