Tag Archives: Mary Oliver

Goodreads Good Reads — or Not

Goodreads has published its 2012 Choice Awards Winners and the news is not good.


I read the winners with mild astonishment, only because I thought Goodreads was a community of semi-voracious, sophisticated readers and the choices on this list that I am familiar with are…banal, at best. Since most of my reads during booklolly’s year-long challenge were from the library, I didn’t get to all the most current fiction but I did read a fair few of the books that made the list. Oy.

Airport paperback time. Forget language that opens your mind and lifts your spirit. Forget original plots. Forget real heroes and a pronounced aversion to wallowing in the detritus of unimaginative lives. Forget actual adventure with inherent, not manufactured, challenge. Forget books that don’t read like a PR person edited them to create artificial cliffhangers and clumsily spun conclusions. Hell-oh, trendy over literate.

I was delighted with one choice–Mary Oliver’s latest poetry collection, A Thousand Mornings. Haven’t reviewed it and I know the snobbiest, most erudite poets consider Oliver too accessible but she does numinous very very well.  So good for her.

Here’s the Goodreads list with links to the ones I read and blogged:

Winners of the Goodreads Choice Awards

Best Fiction: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling — reading this at present. Forcing myself to finish. Unappealing in every possible way. JKR is a brand now and I guess she can write whatever she likes but I probably won’t slog through any more of her stuff.  IMHO, the first few HP books were delightful fantasy that turned preachy and far less convincing as the series progressed.

Best Mystery & Thriller: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl — waaay too predictable, pop psychology, and sour, unsatisfactory ending.

Best Historical Fiction: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Best Fantasy: The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King, Jae Lee illustrator

Best Paranormal FantasyShadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Deborah Harkness — A Discovery of Witches was such a missed opportunity that I decided not to bother with sequels in this “Twilit” series.

Best Science Fiction: The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter

Best Romance: Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James

Fifty Shades of Grey — 50 Shades of Tired Twilight Fan Fiction. Didn’t earn its page length and the sex wasn’t too hot, either. Not a fan of glorifying abusive relationships. Christian Grey = day laborer and you ain’t got no story.

Best Horror: The Twelve  by Justin Cronin

Best Memoir & Autobiography: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Wild: From Lost to Found…should have stayed lost. Might have been more interesting. Nothing happens but the editors re-engineered to be repetitive, non-delivering cliff hangers. Pretty insulted and astonished that people think this is some kind of epic, life-changing adventure. Not.

Best History & Biography: Elizabeth the Queen: the Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith

Best Nonfiction: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Best Food & Cookbooks: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Forntier by Ree Drummond

Best Humor: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir  by Jenny Lawson

Best Graphic Novel & Comics: The Walking Dead, Vol 16: A Larger World by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, illustrator

Best Poetry: A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver  Mary Oliver is just great. Really.

A few of these Goodreads winners are already in TV or film production. I feel like we live in Bradbury’s F. 451 world. What a grumpy curmudgeon!


Here’s hoping the ones I haven’t read are knock-outs.


New and Selected Poems – Mary Oliver

Click to find on Amazon

It is reported that the poet Mary Oliver is seriously ill and has canceled all her appearances. The heralds of this sorry news have urged people to share via social media something about what the poems and the poet have meant to them. That sounds like code for “mortal” or “fatal” or “terminal”—why do all the ending words rhyme?

Rather than scribble unoriginal comments on a laundry line of the same thoughts over and over, better to read the quiet and the dazzling poems. New and Selected Poems (volume 1) holds bears, egrets, snows, swamps, winters and springs from 1963 through 1992. Oliver has her fervent fans—devoted to the holy gospel to be read in the pulpy guts of a freshly filleted fish and the epiphanies to be found in a host of pond lilies. She has her dismissive detractors—high-minded lovers of the lofty and the abstruse who might never have broken apart an owl pellet to let its history spill out in their hand or dared to offer a drift of sugar to a grasshopper. I’m in it for the epiphanies.

“Nature poems” sounds like the artifacts of a pastime for ladies of leisure who pen couplets in gardens. But poems rooted in nature can be muddy shards of a rough world that remind us where we come from and how we should live in this world. Oliver insists on this disorderly encounter with reality as a means of remembering what is authentic, of being mindful. In “Rice” she writes:

I don’t want you just to sit down at the table.

I don’t want you just to eat, and be content.

I want you to walk out into the fields

where the water is shining, and the rice has risen.

I want you to stand there, far from the white tablecloth.

I want you to fill your hands with the mud, like a blessing.

Of course, my favorite is the well-known “The Summer Day” with its heart-stopping last lines:

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

And, while you ponder your answer to that, contemplate the final stanzas of “When Death Comes” which is as much a game plan as a reflection:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.


When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.


I don’t want to end up simply having visited the world.

Dig into some Mary Oliver. And then get out of the house and turn your face to the wind or step out of your shoes and walk barefoot on the ground. Feast your eyes on a garden slug or a breaching whale and be as deliberate as that slug or as exhilarated as that whale. Wear some crumbs of rich dark dirt or a scatter of salt spray. Reconnect to the physical creature that you are to rediscover your soul.

New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1   Mary Oliver | Beacon Press   1992