Book review: The Jubilee by John Blase

Too often unfairly marginalized to the periphery of the publishing world, poets are the ones–more than any other writers–who give life to words and consequently, meaning to life.

This, and the fact that April is National Poetry Month, is why I’m posting about a new book of poetry by my friend, John Blase (pronounced blaZe, no matter how many times auto-correct tries to put emphasis on the “e” and make it sound French).

First off, go buy this book.

Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0692858644/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_mnu4ybH1PNMDG

I’ll wait.

Got it?

Good. 

Because within the cover you’ll find one of the most poignant and real, heartbreaking and long-suffering collections of poems around.

Even if you don’t think you like poetry, I guarantee you’ll find a clump of words that will bring your heart to its knees. Like these, for instance:

“I want to live in a world of cashmere

and cleavage coupled with lonely churches beside

old cemeteries overgrown with moss.”

Who writes stuff like that anymore?

John Blase does.

He’s a man who uses words to wrestle with God and all the sense and nonsense of Him.

In his book, you’ll find words that make you blush.

You’ll find words that make you cry.

You’ll find plain-speak and Shakespeare, reverence in irreverence, Heaven in a man’s worship of the curve of a woman’s hip, hope in the heartbreak of a child growing up, reason for the unreasonable pain in life.

He’s a good man, John Blase.

His words are even better.

Buy this collection, if only to thank him for his courage, persistence, doubts, and gift, and that he so freely shares it all with us.

And be sure to click here to visit his website, too, for more good words. Goodness knows we need them these days.

It’s hard to be somebody. A poem and a prayer for rights.

it’s hard to be somebody

who believes. This day and age, especially 

the broken and inconvenient lives, like faith,

are trampled. Waste

cans line the streets and overflow, meaningless

now. The fuschia rage wins.

Or so it seems. 

Nobody is somebody, after all

when the battle is unseen. Glory,

Glory hallelujah.

His truth is marching on. So let’s be quick

to forgive. And pray

for the right to overcome.

Books I read in 2016, and my top five favorites of the year.

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The good news about 2016 is I read more than I thought I did.

The bad news is I never feel like I’ve read enough.

To close out the year, I thought it’d be fun to share with you all the books I read in 2016, including my top five favorites of the bunch.

(NOTE: I don’t count in this list the book of Wendell Berry poetry, or the short story collections of Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, Edith Pearlman and Ann Patchett which I keep on my nightstand at all times.)

If you want to peruse most all of the books I’ve read and my to-read pile, click here to visit and connect with me over at my Goodreads site. I’d love to talk books with you over there.

This year I joined a book club for the very first time, and thanks to them I read a lot more suspense and thrillers than usual. And thanks to my teenagers’ school reading assignments, I read a few classics I would not have otherwise. Some of them I liked, others I did not, but I definitely learned something either personally or about writing better from all of them.

Without further ado, my top five books of 2016 are:

25893709My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout.

Strout is one of my all-time favorite writers, and this novel did not disappoint. Her language is simple yet exquisite. Her structure is bare and yet every word bursts with meaning. Her characters invoke nearly every emotion and yet, without a hint of melodrama. Her prose amazes me.

168646Slaughterhouse 5, by Kurt Vonnegut.

This is the first Vonnegut I’ve read. I know, shameful, right? But you have to understand, I live in Indiana and Vonnegut is all anyone in writing circles here ever talks about. I did not want to like Vonnegut. And yet, the characters got under my skin and into my bones, and I cannot forget them. For me, that is one of the truest measures of a great book. *sigh* And so it goes.

13330761The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller.

A post-apocalyptic book without being overly theatrical. What’s not to like about a man and a dog and love in the middle of hopelessness? I might be partial because I live with four men and three dogs. But still, the story is thoughtful and introspective, and once again, memorable.

27161156Hillbilly Elegy: Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance.

One of the few non-fiction books I read, it’s also one of the best. J.D. Vance defied all odds and achieved an Ivy League education despite his sometimes abusive upbringing in a family (like so many) forced to move from their beloved Appalachia to Ohio to find work. If you want to know what the rust belt, red state phenomenon is all about–and even if you don’t–this is a moving and eye-opening read. Vance succeeds in writing a powerful memoir without being political, leaving readers to make their own conclusions about the plight of the disenfranchised in America.

12527Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard.

This book is a gift to the soul. First published in 1974, I would call it contemporary transcendentalist in flavor, and poetic in its prose. Dillard writes about both the microscopic and awesome, sometimes beautiful and sometimes disgusting, details of nature–plants, insects, animals, weather, and more–through a year’s worth of seasons at her home in Virginia. At once a prayer and a meditation, this book was precisely the salve my worn out writer’s heart needed this year.

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Honorable mentions go to Johnny Cash’s book of previously unknown poems (because JOHNNY CASH), and Greg Schwipps’ What This River Keeps. Winner of the 2010 Indiana Author’s Award a fellow DePauw alumni (and now professor there), I admit I was a bit partial to the story going in. At the same time, I’m a picky reader and this story did not disappoint. In fact, he wrote the story I wanted to write, which is fine because I could not have done it half as well. It’s the story of what happens when a reservoir is built, when a river is dammed up, when a place is flooded, and what remains–literally and figuratively–in the hearts of a small Indiana town. Raw and real, with prose that meanders and pulls with the same grace as a river, Schwipps belongs in the same category as writers like Kent Haruf and Wallace Stegner.


Below is my entire 2016 reading list.

Do any of these surprise you?

Have you read any of them?

If so, did you like or dislike?

And finally, take a second and let us know in the comments what YOU read in 2016 and your favorites of the past year!

  1. Sleep Tight, by Rachel Abbott
  2. Delivered, by Michelle Thorne
  3. Revealing You, by Michelle Thorne
  4. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
  5. My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout
  6. Before I Go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson
  7. Silent Sister, by Diane Chamberlain
  8. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
  9. In the Bedroom: Seven Stories, by Andre Dubus
  10. And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
  11. The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller
  12. Listen Here: Women Writing in Appalachia, by Sandra L. Ballard, Patricia L. Hudson
  13. Above the Waterfall, by Ron Rash
  14. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, by Katarina Bivald
  15. Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes
  16. Land of Silence, by Tessa Afshar
  17. Adopted for Life, by Russell D. Moore
  18. Sweet Mercy, by Ann Tatlock
  19. Backseat Saints, by Joshilyn Jackson
  20. Redemption Road, by John Hart
  21. Coal River, by Ellen Marie Wiseman
  22. There Will Be Stars, Billy Coffey
  23. He Knows Your Name, by Linda Znachko
  24. A Prayer Journal, by Flannery O’Connor
  25. The Feathered Bone, by Julie Cantrell
  26. Mr. Splitfoot, by Samantha Hunt
  27. The Nest, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
  28. Need You Now, by Beth Wiseman
  29. Amy Snow, by Tracy Rees
  30. Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf
  31. Hillbilly Elegy: Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance
  32. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard
  33. What this River Keeps, by Greg Schwipps
  34. The Magnolia Story, by Chip and Joanna Gaines
  35. Johnny Cash Forever Words: The Unknown Poems, by Johnny Cash
  36. Flyover Nation, by Dana Loesch
  37. Ruined, by Ruth Everhart
  38. Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, by A. Scott Berg

May our bookshelves be full and our obsession with good stories never cease.

Happy reading in 2017, friends!