1. A Place to Stand, by Jimmy Santiago Baca.
The poet’s autobiography, gritty and spiritual both. Especially moving to me was his account of his years in solitary confinement in a high security prison—in that confining space he found a much larger space within, and saved himself by learning the art and craft of writing poetry.
2. Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert: My Life among the Navaho People, by Erica M. Elliott.
Elliott’s memoir of her time among the Navaho, first as a school teacher and then later as a doctor, employs a spare and direct prose that allows the complexity of her cultural encounters to shine through.
3. The Walk, by William deBuys.
Another memoir! I’m still reading this. The author recounts the stages of his daily walk through his small farm nestled among hills in northern New Mexico. The gorgeous prose inspires reflection, and after a week I’ve just barely cracked page 30. No need to rush, when the writing is this good.
4. The Memory Police, by Yoko Ogawa.
In the haunting future Ogawa imagines, a cruel authoritarian State, without giving a reason, periodically censors things—calendars, photographs, flowers, even birds. Even something as trivial as toast. All examples must either be destroyed or turned in to the Memory Police. Once this is done, people forget they ever existed. Slowly, the world trudges toward extinction.
5. Poems New and Collected, by Wistawa Szymborska.
I keep coming back to this book by the Nobel laureate, for a kind of mental rejuvenation. She finds a way in her accessible and exacting poetry to burrow into subjects such as miracles, the sky, hatred, and love at first sight in such a way that you see the world anew.