Laurie Kutchins’ Confessions on Reading & Lists

My confession is this: it’s easy for me to keep a reading list, easy to suggest lots of titles to Orion‘s readership, easy for me to feel passionate about whatever titles/authors/subjects/genres find their way onto the list. It is easy for the list to change, to ever-change; easy for the list to grow longer, always longer; it never shrinks.

My confession is this: it is easy for me to list, but not to read my list. How rarely I fully immerse in one book at a time, or in a whole book over time in such a way that I feel I’ve done it right, in such a way that the author’s breath and experience become part of mine. I love it when a book changes the way I breathe! I love it when a book makes me disappear, when a book says, or gestures with its pagey fingers, “come hither” and I go wherever it beckons me to go. But I am a slow reader, and this slows me down in everything I do, even in getting this list to Orion. If I cannot hear the book’s words being uttered aloud between my two ears, if I cannot feel-hear the orb of each sentence, so much of the book’s world is lost to me. I’m so terribly slow in a world that loves speed. I read slowly, and thus reading lists — especially the long ones! — intimidate me even as I gravitate to them. And I confess, probably an offshoot of being slow, I am a dabbler. I read a bit of this, a bit of that, not unlike how I travel, always meaning to come back to that stonecrop poem on the prairie of Jim Galvin’s beautiful kicking poems, or that Garcia Lorca essay, Play and Theory of the Duende where he is describing the lived experience of, rather than the idea of, duende.

So here is not a reading list, but a sloppy video camera panorama — a glimpse (in no particular order), a hodgepodge of the stacks, clutters, chaos of books that currently surround me, and are calling me hither, as I hereby vow to become a better reader, to commit more time, to read faster and longer, to become more organized, more methodical, to remember more; as I promise to complete one list and start another, as I resolve to read all the books scattered in my nooks and crannies, or at least the promise of a title or a first line: (as Rilke’s Book of Hours drifts up from my bedside pile and I open to a blue feather I’ve tucked there and find myself reading both German and English translation ‘If I had grown up in a land where days/ were free from care and hours were delicate…’):

The Fortieth Day, Kazim Ali.
What the Living Do; The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, Marie Howe.
Muscular Music; Wind in a Box, Terrance Hayes.
A Private History of Awe, Scott Russell Sanders.
The Necessary Angel (very tattered, yellowed, with a bookmark of a skeleton reading a big book from Paperback Traffic, Polk Street, San Francisco), Wallace Stevens.
The Rain in the Trees, and anything W.S. Merwin.
The Blue Plateau: a Landscape Memoir, Mark Tredinnick.
The Glance, Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks, his great Introduction called “A Soul-Friendship”) Also Open Secret: Versions of Rumi, John Moyne and Coleman Barks.
The Healing Art: A Doctor’s Black Bag of Poetry, Rafael Campo.
The Moonlit Pond: Korean Classical Poems in Chinese, translated and introduced by Sung-Il Lee (opened to page 46, I keep coming back to this first line “Driven out of the court to become a sorrowful bird…” written by “Deposed King Tanjong 1441-1457”).
The Lessons of St. Francis, John Michael Talbot with Steve Rabey.
Figure Studies and Pinion: an Elegy, Claudia Emerson.
Decade of the Wolf: Returning the Wild to Yellowstone, Gary Ferguson and Douglas Smith (I did read this whole book and re-read the portrait chapters which inspired me to write a series of wolf portrait poems in their voices).
Paradox & Healing: Medicine, Mythology & Transformation, Michael Greenwood and Peter Nunn.
Memory for Forgetfulness, Mahmoud Darwish.
Carpathia, Cecilia Woloch.
What’s Happening to My Body?: The Book for Girls, Lynda Madaras (My daughter is almost twelve — this book is hers, but I’m reading it too — these books have changed so much since I was 12!).
Sing Down the Moon, Scott O’Dell (also hers, but beautiful!).
Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross — new translation and introduction by Mirabai Starr.
Holy Bible (the copy my 91-year-old friend Osie loaned me — her book so studied and lived by her that there is a path her thumb has worn down the center where she has thumbed for daily passages.)
Winter World: the Ingenuity of Animal Survival, Bernd Heinrich.


  1. Thank you Laurie for your reading list and your confessions regarding the manner in which you meander through the material. I do so understand your method and means. And I love your list of material. The Lorca discussion of Duende did change my life last year. Nothing is worth reading further unless it changes my life in some way–unless it gives me a new way of seeing. And your daughter books–I know well. What a gift to share the reading with her in this fast paced world of instantaneous and abbreviated language. All my best.

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