Amy Glynn’s poems and essays appear widely in journals and anthologies including The Best American Poetry. Her poetry collection A Modern Herbal was published by Measure Press in November 2013. You can learn more about Amy on her Facebook page and Twitter @amyalysaglynn.
First of all, there are too many, the literary equivalent of a binge eating disorder, indicative of a kind of insatiable Need To Know. It’s an anxiety thing and I flip from one to another restlessly, probably not absorbing half of what I read as I bounce from idea to idea. I know what I am looking for is connection. Which is everywhere anyway. But since I don’t sleep much lately, I should probably restrict myself to one bedside book at a time. I mean, no wonder I can’t shut it off. That said, this is, seriously, what’s staring at me when I go to bed at night right now.
1) The Bhagavad Gita (two translations, Georg Feuerstein’s and Charles Martin’s). I am trying to understand dharma—specifically, how to be sure you understand what yours is in the absence of a blue-skinned deity laying it out for you like a map. The answer has to do with intuition, even though in this text it appears to have a lot to do with rules and following them.
2) Quantum Physics for Poets, by Leon M. Lederman and Christopher T. Hill. Intuition’s rules are—not lax, but mutable. We used to think physics was immutable. Now we know the outcome of an experiment can be altered by attention versus inattention and—even bigger wow—intention versus non-intention. You mean… we really do make our own realities?
3) Hallucinations, by Oliver Sacks. Any questions?
4) The One-Strand River, poems by Richard Kenney. I’ve said it before: I believe Kenney is one of the absolute smartest and most gifted poets alive and writing in English. I love this book, and I pick it up any time I need to regain the belief that there are still secrets and mysteries language can illuminate.
5) The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, 1922 edition illustrated by Henry Keen. I am not a bibliophile in the sense of compulsively collecting things because they are rare or old or signed or special editions. I care about what is on the pages. There are three exceptions to this in my entire library, and this is one of them. I fell in love with Oscar Wilde as a 13-year-old high school freshman, and this edition is even prettier than its title character.
6) Ginkgo, by Peter Crane. There is always at least one botany, ethnobotany or natural history book on the table and currently it’s this study of one of the oldest and weirdest trees on earth. My own first book of poems, A Modern Herbal, was meant to include a poem about the ginkgo—I couldn’t make it come together. Too complicated. I’m still trying to get it, for a subsequent book.
7) The Book Of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images. This Taschen archive of symbology is a gorgeous, ultra-rich volume to be digested in tiny servings unless you want to end up very dyspeptic. Open it at random and read whatever paragraph your eyes fall on and I defy you not to find something you can use in a poem or story.
8) Transcendental Wordplay, by Michael West. I initially got this as research reading for a paper I’m (slowly) working on, but it goes far beyond that, of course. Transcendentalism, Romanticism, and word-twisting are all preoccupations of mine. I’m only a quarter of the way through it but the minute I can dispatch the ginkgo thing and the Gita, Mr. West will have my full and undivided attention.
9) We are All Zimbabweans Now, by James Kilgore. In high school and into college my dad had this oddball friend who didn’t get on well with most people—just kind of a square peg. His name was Jim Kilgore. They came of age in the bubbling cauldron of social unrest that was 1960s San Francisco. My dad went to SF State and then law school. Jim rose to fame as a member of the notorious Symbionese Liberation Army and, after driving the getaway car in the fatal 1974 Hibernia Bank robbery, as a member of that exclusive club known as the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Jim was found in Cape Town, South Africa in 2002—he’d lived and worked there and in Zimbabwe as a teacher and researcher under an assumed name. He wrote this book, a political thriller, in prison after pleading guilty to explosives charges. He was released in May 2009, the last captured SLA fugitive to be released from prison. I’m just dying to know what the heck he wrote.
10) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling. Perhaps the most revealing selection when you realize I have read it so many times I can practically recite it, plus it’s a children’s book, plus in all honesty it’s horribly edited. Yet I put off finishing the half-finished or unopened books above in order to read it again, and yes, I still tear up when Severus Snape dies: make fun of me for this and I will clock you with Item Seven above, and that thing could concuss an elk. But that’s the thing about anxiety. Sometimes you have to have somewhere to go where you know the good guys are going to win.
Do you have a go-to guilty secret read that you turn to for reassurance?