1. Shock by Shock by Dean Young Last year, reading Bender really started me on my contemporary poetry kick. Since then, my taste in the genre has been expanded ten fold, but my love for Dean Young remains. His most recent work, Shock by Shock, feels almost playful as it discusses the most massive of themes such as morality and the purpose of life. Each poem stands alone, striking an entirely new mood and asking an even more surprising question of the reader. I would suggest starting with Bender, but this book is an excellent companion.
2. Ars Botanica: A Field Guide to Loss by Tim Taranto This little book was a Christmas gift from Elle, arriving just in time for a road trip when I was in Iowa. Reading about grief can be hard, too personal or maybe too lofty in other cases. This book strikes a good balance of readability. That being said, it still felt deeply honest. Accompanied by illustrations, a connection to Iowa and Brooklyn, and a beautiful cover, this book was a devastating, yet compelling read.
3. Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong Easily my favorite read of 2018, Night Sky With Exit Wounds is the kind of book you wonder how you made it this far without reading. Copper Canyon Press always puts out excellent, interesting poetry, so seeing their logo on the spine encouraged me to pick this up. There are no boundaries when it comes to the themes in this book-family overlaps with war which overlaps with romance which is somehow at the same time heartbreak. Before the poetry starts, the simple, "The landscape crossed out with a pen reappears here," by Bei Dao appears on a blank page. And the book did feel like a reappearance; a memory and a gift.
4. Take Nothing With You by Sarah V. Schweig Lydia and I wandered into Dragonfly Books whilst on our Decorah adventure. Browsing poetry is sort of my default in new, independent bookstores. The striking cover of Schweig's first collection caught my eye. "Brighton Beach" and "The Lovers" were two of my favorites. Her poems placed much of their weight on Brooklyn, on the vulnerability of both walking and taking the subway, and the way weather interrupts everything in New York. The perfect debut, this book left me craving more of her wit and smart observations.
5. I'll Have What She's Having by Erin Carlson It's hardly news that I'm a Nora Ephron lover. You've Got Mail is one of my favorite movies, the Upper West Side is a beloved neighborhood of mine (I lived there for a month!) and her essays were really revolutionary when they were written. This book isn't chock full of moving prose or even new information, but something about being able to read through the processes that were her iconic films was really gratifying. It makes a great gift for a friend with an equal Ephron obsession, but mostly just put me in the mood for a movie marathon and a re-read of I Feel Bad About My Neck.