If you have friends or family members who insist they have "no time to read," poet Tess Taylor says you should consider giving them poetry for the holidays: "We are all busy, and poetry is short," Taylor explains. "So you can actually reroute your day productively in like five minutes with something that really captures your imagination, takes you to a different place, and then allows you to return a little altered — which is I think what we all want from reading."
This year, All Things Considered is inviting writers to talk about the books they'll be gifting. Here's Taylor's list:
"Erika Meitner ... is a professor at Virginia Tech. ... This is a book that really is dealing with raising kids in difficult environments and also kind of facing down the epidemic of gun violence in this country — which makes it sound like it might be kind of a depressing book. But what really impressed me about it is how beautiful and tender it is. It's really just a live wire. She's a Jew in Appalachia raising an African-American adopted son. She is and isn't at home. She's kind of meditating on these things but she does so in this very incantatory, almost prayer-like way."
"Marcelo Hernandez Castillo's debut book ... is really about border crossing, but not necessarily in the way that you think. It sort of crosses between dreams and reality, between the real and the magical, in these kind of fabulous ways. One of the poems that I really loved was called "Immigration Interview with Don Francisco." And it has beautiful phrases like 'Please say more/ Perhaps the butterflies are mute because/ no one would believe their terrible stories.' So just when you think it's going to be about something that feels very practical and real, it wafts off into this very dreamy, lyric shape. I found it to just be beautiful and haunting — it really stuck with me all year."
"Ada Limón is quietly and deliberately assembling a really powerful body of work that I think speaks to a really wide audience. On the one hand, this is a book about trying to conceive a child and not being able to. At one point she says, 'What if, instead of carrying/ a child, I am supposed to carry grief?' But again, and again, and again, in this book she comes back to kind of a really wise position of looking for tenderness ... She's at her doctor and she thinks, 'I'm made of old stars and so's he.' Up late one night, not able to sleep, she wakes up to see that the bees are back — 'tipsy, sun drunk and heavy with the thick knitted leg warmers/of pollen.' ... I think it helps us make sense of the world, and it also helps us bear our grief a little better."
"For young and maybe even middle grade kids there's a wonderful collection [edited] by Elise Paschen called Poetry Speaks to Children and it's full of poems that are silly and have wonderful sounds in them. It has even that Shakespeare sonnet: 'Double, double toil and trouble;/ Fire burn and cauldron bubble.' It has a poem about farts in it — always a hit! ... And I think that the poems are so fun that they remind you that poems are just for being in your mouth and helping you have a little bit of joy in language."
For more reading recommendations, visit the NPR 2018 Book Concierge — more than 300 titles, hand-picked by NPR staff and book critics.
Justine Kenin and Jolie Myers produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.