Letter to the New Owners

 

Look, it’s my fault, I think.

I must have forgotten to mention the trees. Surely, if you’d known, they’d still be standing.

That little aspen grove in the corner of the yard? They were babies, not higher than my knee, when we moved in 16 years ago. Eight or 10 of them, connected in ways we may never understand. We watched them grow and struggle and grow and then finally thrive. They were a few feet taller than me when we packed the moving truck. They had survived a blizzard that dumped 9 feet of heavy snow on top of them, a storm of a century that broke the branches of our sturdiest pines. They survived several summers when no rain came until early September, when their stressed leaves turned not bright gold but a mustard brown, and fell to the ground in the slightest breeze. But they survived. Provided cool shade from a burning high-altitude sun, allowing ferns and mushrooms to grow in the patches of earth between them. Until now.

And that one thick lodgepole pine by the deck. For 16 years, that tree held the wooden birdfeeder my father built for me with his own hands, and that my husband hung snugly against the trunk, so tight no 120 mph wind in the dead of February winter could send it flying through the woods. I lost my dad two years ago, but I still had that weathered birdfeeder. That he made me. In that tree. Birds of all shapes and sizes ate from that feeder year-round. Chickadees, woodpeckers, pine grosbeaks, bluebirds, gray jays, nuthatches, dippers, pine siskins, crows and the incomparable stellar’s jays, with their breathtakingly rich blue-sky wings and screechy call. Red-tailed hawks sat in that tree waiting for a rosy finch lunch, and once, a golden eagle rested there. Right there. My kid learned about birds from watching that tree. He knew the call of a chickadee before he knew any kind of rhyming song. I wrote and edited novels next to it, listening to the noisy chipper games of squirrels and chipmunks.

You see, these trees were quite possibly some of the most spiritual things I’ve ever accepted into my over-cynical mind. If there was a god of some kind, a power in the universe working beyond our control, I figured it must reside in the bark of those trees.

But now. Well.

So for future reference, here are a few other things to note.

The woodstove in the great room is your lifeline. Don’t treat it like an appliance, something that can be replaced easily. It will heat the whole cabin on a 50-below zero night with 60 mph winds howling outside, when there is no way a propane furnace could keep up with that kind of cold. Not all woodstoves pack that kind of punch. But our little one can. And did for 16 years. If you treat it well, it will protect you from the kind of cold you can die from.

Also, there’s a little piece of skinny, floor-to-ceiling wood that frames the closet in the extra bedroom. It has tiny marks and dates, indicating how our son grew, from when he could first stand with his head proudly flush against the wall, his chin a little raised. He’d let me mark his height there, in his room, and spin around to see just how much he’d grown since the last mark was made. We marked his last height the week before we moved. He’s 10. And I know those are our marks, not yours. And yet, they belong to that cabin in a way you don’t yet.

Let’s also talk about the creek behind the house. A selling point for our cabin, no doubt. But there’s a responsibility that comes with that. Stupid people sometimes come up to the mountains and dump their crap back there, near the creek. Don’t ask me why. And the winds, so fierce in the winter, blow things all around on the mountain, too, and a lot if can end up in the creek. So, you’ll have to stay on top of the trash in the spring and early summer. If you want the moose and bears to still visit for fresh drinking water, and the trout to still swim through it during snow melt-off. And that way, if you take care of it, you can sit by it in the summer evenings, listening to the still and then the rush and the flow, and know that it’s not polluted with beer cans and Styrofoam and parts of an old mattress, but quite likely renewing a whole ecosystem downstream. And maybe a part of yourself, too.

There is so much more to say. The little blue spruce that is about 4 feet tall along the rock walkway? I planted that our first year in the cabin. We were broke, but it was on a clearance shelf at Home Depot for $3. I bought it and planted it and cared for it like a child during the years when I suffered miscarriages and the emotional and physical pain of infertility. I couldn’t make a baby, but I could water that tree. After his adoption, my son and I hung Christmas lights on that tree many years. No tree was ever more wanted.

Oh, and the front of the house next to the large boulders? There’s a perfectly sunny spot there in the winter where you’ll want to stack your firewood. Trust me, we tried a lot of stacking locations over the years. But the important thing to remember is that you have to move that wood by middle of May, if there is any left over, because if the ground is allowed to feel the sun, it will eventually spring forth a mountain wildflower garden in late June. Purple fireweed will bloom, and wild roses, and yarrow and sunflowers, and pink clover, and even a few yellow wallflowers, and they’ll change your life every time you see them in the morning light.

The back deck. Where to begin? My son gardened with me on that deck, rode his Big Wheel on that deck. Learned to shovel snow on that deck. Took naps on summer afternoons on that deck. Had picnics on that deck. Laid, wrapped in blankets, on chilly August nights watching meteors showers on that deck. My husband perfected his barbecue techniques on that deck, with his old-school charcoal grill. We’ve listened to music on that deck as a family, made s’mores together around the firepit, wrote songs together, sang Rocky Mountain High together at midnight on that deck, ate lazy summer meals on that deck with good friends and family. A family of raccoons lived under that deck one winter. This year, it was rabbits. Lots of rabbits that our golden retriever mixes would visit 10 times a day. We have had bears on that deck. Red and black foxes that look into the sliding glass door at dinnertime. We made our most important decisions on that deck.

I could go on, but why? Why. We chose to leave. Life moves on. Things change. The raw, unbridled, sometimes-harsh life at the top of a mountain was exactly what I needed when I moved to Colorado from Texas so many years ago. I wanted to be tested. I wanted to heal whatever was broken. I wanted that log cabin and piece of land at 10,500 feet above sea level, with its surrounding snow-capped peaks, to save me, and it did. Again and again and again. I didn’t want to leave that cabin, or my mountain. But I had to, and now. It’s not mine anymore.

You are the stewards.

Please handle with care.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Poetry: A Different Seed

texas-bluebonnets-081

 Photo by Texas Parks & Wildlife

So … I’m knee-deep in poetry right now, still.  And I feel almost guilty. I have so many people waiting on my next novel, but I’ve set it aside (again). I’m drawn to poetry and I’m gonna ride this pony til she stops.

Here’s one of my latest that I worked on in a recent Lighthouse Writers workshop. I can’t seem to get the line spacing right on this blog, but it’s close.

Let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!

 

A Different Seed

I was born in fields of bluebonnets,

ink-well-sapphire             dense petals spiked in sun-blind white

short-lived in the Texas spring —

each dew-soaked stem

flattened just yesterday

by the sharp nose of the coyote

the hoof-step of the Hereford

hiding the hiss and slither of the rattler —

always bouncing back

seemingly singular,

good for early-morning picking

before the heat sets in.

 

Yet by high noon

it’s never easy

to detach a wilted loner

from the rest      held together by a nest of roots

entrenched in the holy dirt

of Saint Sam Houston

el malvado Santa Anna

battle-blood of the Alamo

sweet bread of the German siedler

rusted barbed-wire of fences

oily cotton boll of the farmer

weather-worn skull of a fire-ant-stricken calf

my grandfather would’ve tried to save.

 

And even though Lady Bird’s highways are lined with them —

musky-sweet flowers,

family ties,

good intentions —

 

not every seed will grow

where planted.

 

Is it easily spread on the wind?

Can it tolerate full sun?

 

And what happens

when

the parched and crisp soil

becomes suddenly drenched,

clay-like —

unable to breathe?

My Kid Has Lost His Mother to a Sleep Number Bed

First, the history: I have slept on the floors of friends’ apartments where smells of cats past were strikingly fresh. I have slept on hotel room floors (I’m gagging thinking about it now) and pull-out couches (those springs can hurt like a mother dog) and non-pull-out-couches (there’s a joke in there somewhere) and even, once, a blow-up pool raft (tequila helped). I have slept on the cold, hard, bumpy ground in Yellowstone National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park and a few hundred other campsites from Central Texas to Montana. And for the last nearly 20 years, in my own home, I’ve slept on a mattress that was so old and misshapen that it required special gymnast moves just to get out of it in the mornings. True story. But I didn’t really mind all that much. Gymnast moves keep you young.

But then I hit the mid-40s. And my body became sore from things like, say, unpacking groceries.

I started to make those legit moaning sounds when I would get up from sitting on the floor after playing Hot Wheels with the kid for a long time. I began to hear unnatural creaking sounds in joint areas where I’m pretty sure there should be cartilage. And then, after 14 years of manual snow removal without one injury to my name, I hurt my lower back tossing a big shovel-full of heavy snow over our deck railing. As in, “ummm … holy hell, I may not be able to walk now, or ever again” kind of hurt. And then, several days later, during an epic snowball fight (turns out I could walk again – hallelujah!), I landed smack-dab on my hip, on a bank of concrete-ice.

Suddenly, what I slept on kind of mattered.

And suddenly, the evil advertising gods told me that Sleep Number was having a sale.

And then, I found myself strolling unknowingly into a Sleep Number store to test out their product and witness my body’s pressure points with their whole heat-sensor technology thing.

I was a goner once that remote hit 55.

I’m still a little worried about what that salesman was thinking when I let out a When Harry Met Sally-kind of reaction. (You know the scene.)

Granted, in the week between purchase and delivery, I mourned the impending loss of my dilapidated BeautyRest. After all, I brought my baby home to that bed, and we did the whole family bed thing until he was 4 years old, like the good hippies we aspired to be. I’ve snuggled with hoodlum puppies and held aging, sick old dogs next to me in that bed. My husband and I have had some pretty fun times in that bed (reading and talking and laughing, of course! What were you thinking?). I wrote a lot of my second novel propped up in that bed, writing by the light of the laptop. That bed has spent many a night dragged in front of the woodstove in our log-cabin great room when the power went out for days and we needed to sleep near the flickering warmth. And that bed was where I spent a lot of time last year recovering from some seriously bad flu/pneumonia/liver and kidney failure juju. That bed served me well.

But now, the Sleep Number P5 has entered my life.

I have changed.

I used to make the family pancakes or migas or biscuits and gravy on the weekends. Now, the kiddo’s eating cold cereal and, most probably, Cheetos. I don’t really know because I’m still in bed.

I used to lay down with him in his bed as he fell asleep each evening. Now, I tend to just yell “good night!” from the comfort of my Sleep Number.

I used to get up early to take the dogs for sunrise walks. Now they’re constantly giving me these accusatory looks, as if they are puppy-mill-level neglected.

I used to read in the great room, near my family as they did other things. Now, they can usually find me curled into that P5 like a kangaroo baby in a mama’s pouch.

My husband and I actually joke that we may never, errrr, talk and laugh in bed again because once you sink into the glory of this new mattress, you don’t really want to move unless the house is on fire or something.

In fact, when the dogs go bark-shit crazy (I’m trademarking that phrase) at 3 a.m., instead of going to reassure them and get them settled down to avert internal damage to our home, we nudge each other, then ignore each other, and then simply hope they don’t tear down the back door to get to the mountain lion before morning.

I’m sure one day I’ll reclaim the life I was once led. My son will get his mother back. My dogs will get another sunrise walk.

Until then, I plan to celebrate a lower back that doesn’t ache, a once-injured hip that feels young again, and the fact that I no longer need professional climbing gear to remove myself from the prone position each day.

P.S. Sleep Number didn’t pay me jack-anything for writing this. Which only proves I’m not smart enough to figure out how to ask them. #blogfail #bigmoneyfail

 

This is a Sleep Number bed. It is not my Sleep Number bed because taking a picture of my bed would be weird.

This is a Sleep Number bed. It is not my Sleep Number bed because taking a picture of my bed would be weird.

Top Blog Posts for 2014

Happy New Year imageWow — 2014 flew the hell by, didn’t it? It was a crazy year for me in many ways … nearly died after New Year’s from complications from the H1N1 flu. Took me until April to really recover and be able to feel healthy and hike short distances again. Then we moved from our comfortable foothills experiment back to the top of a mountain in June, and I’ve been soaking that up ever since. In July, I took the kiddo on our first mom-son fishing trip. The school year started in August, and that’s been a rollercoaster ride, and not a fun one. I have to say that I’m looking forward to a smoother ride in 2015. And I hope the same for each of you!

In the meantime, here are the top posts from this blog in 2014 (based on unique views):

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Is Forever Ruined

I Am Tired of Apologizing for My Dogs

How Do You Define Home?

7 Things People Don’t Tell You About Pneumonia

Perfect Soup Recipe for a Snowy Night

Why Thanksgiving Is the Best Holiday of the Year, or Why Thanksgiving Is the Sh*t

A Million Ways to Die in Texas

My Dear Moms of Adopted Children remains the number-one post of all time for my blog, still generating the most views of all posts, even in 2014, at nearly 80,000 over 12 months.

And the top search phrases folks used to find my blog this year (these always make me laugh) are: texas, colorado life, kathy lynn harris,  cool whip,  what are texas men like,  is dr pepper bad for you

 Happy New Year, Everyone!

Thank you for reading my work, and for sharing it with friends and family this past year and always.

Above image credit: http://www.minutemanpressnewengland.com/2012/12/happy/

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Is Forever Ruined

rudolph the red-nosed reindeerWhen the holidays roll around, our family usually sets aside time to watch the old favorite, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. And this year was its 50th anniversary, so, yeah, it was on the DVR. And we were ready with fresh-baked cookies and popcorn, the Christmas tree lights on, and a roaring fire in the woodstove. As traditional as it gets.

Unfortunately, this mama was stressed the hell out that night. Life hadn’t been easy that week. So I had, shall we say, a couple of glasses of wine prior to Rudolph. Yes, let’s go with a couple.

And as it turns out, a wine buzz and 1964 claymation do not a good combination make.

In a mere 40 minutes, it seems I pointed out everything that’s completely wrong about the show. As in pausing it and rewinding and pausing and pointing it out again and again. And laughing hysterically.

Yep, I have pretty much ruined the show for my kid and all future generations of his kids.

But at least he was laughing along with me. He even took pictures of the screen.

Here are a few of the highlights of our analysis.

claymation snowmanFirst, the Snowman narrator plays a banjo. And while that is hilarious on its own perhaps, because real-life snowmen don’t have fingers and such, what’s really funny is that the song he plays the banjo to is Silver and Gold. There is no banjo music in Silver and Gold. Piano yes. Cello maybe. No banjo. Also, he has a porn mustache going on. (No, I did not teach my kid what a porn mustache is. Not this time. That can wait til he’s 9.)

Secondly, Santa is a serious asshat throughout the whole movie. He doesn’t like the song the elves sing for him. He tells Donner he should be ashamed of Rudolph and his nose. He’s a total steaming pile of turd to Mrs. Claus. And he looks like he’s been on the Paleo diet during most of the movie.

santa claymationFurthermore, if you look closely, Santa only has three fingers and a thumb. No lie. Where is the other finger? Did he use it during a period of road rage when sky traffic got bad one night? And then did he get into a bar fight where someone taught him a lesson? It could happen. I bet a lot of guys who dress up like Santa and go to bars get beat up.

Yukon Cornelius, who was my first boyfriend really, turns out to be a problem. You see, this is a kids’ movie, right? Even in the 1960s, he really shouldn’t have been packing visible heat in a children’s holiday special. But yep, right there in his holster is a big ol’ shiny gun. The Moms Demand Action and gun violence activist in me was quite disturbed by this. He had a gun. A gun not used for hunting. In a children’s Christmas program. And we wonder what’s wrong with the world.

My testosterone-laden family members, however, were more concerned about the fact that he had a gun with him and yet never tried to use it to defend himself and his friends from the Abominable Snowman monster dude.

Also, he had a flask. And I’m pretty sure he didn’t have apple juice in there.

photo 2Yukon’s team of dogs also poses an issue. Early on, he has them and is mushing them and all, while being chased by the Abominable Snowman monster. But then all of a sudden, Yukon, Rudolph and Hermie are on an iceberg floating away from the monster. And no dogs. They were obviously left behind at a kill-shelter or they were eaten by the monster. I cried a little. But then they suddenly reappeared later. Where were they during the adventure on the Island of Misfit Toys? Did someone give them food and water? Also, amidst the Saint Bernards and Huskies, one of the dogs is a bona fide Poodle.

Yukon's poodleHermie may or may not be gay. Which is absolutely fine. Love who you love! But did they use “dentist” as a code word for “gay” back in the 60s? I need to look that up.

Also, Bostonians take a hit in this move. Because one of the mean-ass little bastard reindeers who is so clearly bullying poor Rudolph had a distinct Boston accent. Was that necessary? I guess I should be grateful they didn’t make him a Texan. Although now that I think about it, Hermie had a bit of a drawl.

Sexism was alive and well in the special, too. Donner has a name but his wife doesn’t. She’s only Mrs. Donner. And when Donner, Mrs. Donner and Clarice are out looking for Rudolph and can’t find him, Donner decides the best thing to do at that point is to “just get the women home.” Oh yeah, Donner? Like we’re so frail and useless? Well, I hope Mrs. Donner burned her bra in 1972 and found fame and fortune (without you) at Disneyland where she currently surfs the waves, reads Chaucer on the beach, owns a high-rise luxury condo, and goes out at night with J-Lo and a number of nice bucks who know how to treat a lady. And I hope you waste away alone in that little cave of yours or that Yukon mistakes you for supper. (Too harsh?)

I also have a little bit of a problem with the way the Abominable Snowman was tricked into coming out of his cave, with Hermie pretending to be a pig and “oinking” to get his attention. Yukon says if there is something any snowmonster can’t turn down, it’s a fresh side of pork. But I’m pretty sure there are no pigs, domesticated or wild, in the North Pole region. I googled it.

I’m just saying that I could handle the whole reindeer born with a glowing nose and an island of misfit toys and a flying sleigh better if there had been some fact-checking going on in other areas of the plot.

Finally, the movie ends with Santa flying off into the sky with his reindeer pulling his sleigh and Rudolph leading the way. It’s a touching scene, really. Until you realize that the sky is beautifully clear without a cloud in sight. So that kind of blows the whole a-blizzard-is-the-reason-why-Rudolph-was-needed story climax. That’s just lazy writing, people.

santaNext up, look out Charlie Brown.

Colorado Aspens: Just One Reason Why I Love Early Fall in the Rockies

colorado aspens in the fall

Even when I lived in South Texas, fall was my favorite time of year. Because despite the fact that you couldn’t really wear a sweater of any kind until December (if at all), there was the excitement of Friday Night Lights and Saturday afternoon Texas Aggie football, the first cold front of the season, pumpkins for carving, my mom’s chili, and the chance that she might bake one of her world-renowned apple or peach pies.

But here in the high Rockies, fall is even better. There’s a briskness to the air that can’t really be described, only felt — even when the sky is a bright blue and a cloud is nowhere to be found. Bear sightings increase because they are in heavy foraging mode to prepare for hibernation. There is nearly always the scent of wood-burning stoves in the evenings. The foxes and coyotes begin to get their thicker coats. The birds are gorging on my sunflower seeds. And the squirrels and chipmunks are climbing the lodgepole pines, picking out the centers of pine cones and tossing the cones down to the ground in what sometimes feels like a battle zone in the forest.

And, of course, the aspens turn the most saturated, breathtaking colors of red and gold. Our fall colors don’t last nearly as long as they do in the East, but while they’re here, they are brilliant.

Here are a few shots from around the neighborhood right now. And the leaves aren’t even at their fall peak yet!

(And yes, I know it’s not officially fall yet until September 22. But don’t tell that to the bears.)

fall in colorado - aspen trees

aspen and pine trees in coloradofall in colorado mountains

colorado aspen leaves

10 Books That Impacted Me

An author friend, Lauren Clark, challenged me to quickly come up with 10 books that impacted my life. Definitely not an easy task, but I took a shot at it. (Lauren has a new book out, too [Pie Girls]. If you like southern fiction full of sassy, smart women, you should check it out!)

Meanwhile, here’s my list. I really need about 200 more spaces to work with here, folks.

1. Little House in the Big Woods – Laura Ingalls Wilder

2. Birds of America – Lorrie Moore

3. Waltzing the Cat – Pam Houston

4. Larry McMurtry – The Last Picture Show

5. Annie Proulx – Close Range

6. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

7. The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

8. White Oleander by Janet Fitch

9. Beloved – Toni Morrison

10. Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell

Now, I’d love to hear your lists in the comments! Then I’ll psychoanalyze you. (Kidding. Mostly.)

Also, I am already revising my list in my head … Stegner, Steinbeck, McCarthy, Salinger, Lopez, Smiley, Conrad, Lamott … oh and The Solace of Open Spaces (G. Ehrlich) …and so many poets like Mary Oliver …heck, even Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew books … I’ll stop now.

Glimpses of a Colorado Life … on One Summer Evening

I live in Colorado. On a mountain. In a forest. Winters are harsh and beautiful here. But summer? Summer is every word I can’t seem to find … and every cliche (paradise, bliss) that I try not to use. It’s 70 degrees, blue skies, and a light breeze that rustles the aspen leaves around you. It’s brief afternoon rain, cold as ice on your skin, as storms move over the Divide. It’s wildflowers thick as blankets. It’s the call of a Stellar Jay. The howl of a coyote. The sunlight streaming through tall pines.

It’s abundance. And yet, it’s more.

This evening, as we do most days, my husband and son and I took the dogs for a long walk around the neighborhood. I tried to capture some of the beauty and magic around us in the following photos. I don’t think a lens can capture what it feels like, but perhaps it can at least capture a little of what we see.

photo (2)

photo (20)

photo (10)photo (18)photo (16)photo (19)

photo (14)

photo (7)

 

 

 

Recycling

We’re moving again, back to our home at the top of a mountain in Colorado, after two years in the Denver foothills. It’s been a short experiment, and there have been some good things about it. But mostly, I can’t wait to get back home to my cabin.

With this move, though, I’m dedicated to a minimalistic approach to what we bring with us. I want a fresh start in my old home, and I want to leave behind things that are dragging me down, and ones that no longer serve a purpose in my life.

Jeans from 2008 that don’t fit anymore? Donated. A desk that I never actually use for writing at? Gone. Bowls that are chipped and stained and oh by the way I didn’t really like to begin with? Off to Goodwill.

I also just sold an antique hutch I bought right after a life-changing breakup. It had been a project that took me several weekends to finish back then, nearly 20 years ago. I remember working on it in the Texas summer heat, sweat dripping into my eyes. It had kept my mind off how badly I was falling apart inside, and it gave me something to put all of that hurt into. And it gave me a sense of pride that I could tackle refinishing the piece on my own, without him. I brought the hutch with me when I moved to Colorado — just me and my dogs — partly because I needed a reminder almost every day that I was strong and capable.

But I have other reminders of that now. I don’t need the hutch anymore. And it doesn’t need me.

I also took a huge step and recycled about 30 years’ worth of my feelings and thoughts (and bad poetry). I started journaling when I was in 3rd grade and stopped only during the college years. (Possibly due to not wanting any evidence to exist of what may or may not have happened at the Dixie Chicken in College Station, Texas.)

Recently, I flipped through all those journals, one by one. I could feel the pain dripping from the pages of my adolescent and teen years, when I felt so alone and so terribly ugly. And I caught my breath reading through the years of clinical depression, the years of fighting unexplained infertility, the years of losing my grandparents and saying good riddance to friends I thought would never let me down.

I suppose I’d held onto these journals, thinking they would inspire my writing at some point, thinking they might hold important insights some day. But all they are now are reminders of darkness when all I want to feel is light. So I ripped them into millions of pieces and threw them into the recycling bins.

I did choose to keep a few journals … the ones documenting my decision to move to Colorado, the ones reminding me how and why I fell in love, against my strongest judgment (I wasn’t interested in marriage!), with my husband. And the ones filled with the limitless joy and amazement when our son came into our lives.

It feels good to let go. It feels really, really good.

My Favorite Reads of 2013

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Before pneumonia took me down in December, I would consider 2013 a banner reading year for me. Mostly because, perhaps unfortunately, I wasn’t writing much fiction myself. Which is just fine. Because sometimes writers need to spend a long time soaking up the words others have written to get back to the reason we write in the first place.

I didn’t keep track, but I’m sure I read at least 100 books — some fiction, some nonfiction. And here are five of my favorites.

1. Tenth of December by George Saunders. This collection of short stories is literary perfection. Every word, every phrase, every sentence, every character, and every story seems to have meaning far beyond the first that comes to mind. It’s definitely a thinker’s story collection and not for anyone who wants a light, airy read. It’s honest and brutal and moving, and it’s one of those books that stays with you long after you’ve read it. It’s oh so good. It’s one I will buy in hardcover after having read it twice on my Kindle. This should be required reading for all writers of fiction. Maybe all writers in general. Maybe all readers.

2. Great Colorado Bear Stories by Laura Pritchett. I’ve been a fan of Laura’s since her first collection of short stories, Hell’s Bottom, Colorado. And I’m also very interested in bears, since I have lived among them in the Colorado mountains for 12 years now. But I think anyone who is curious about wildlife, and the interaction between humans and wildlife, will enjoy it. The book is full of nonfiction research and first-hand accounts of bear encounters. It’s written in a way that engages and makes what could be a dry topic instead a book I couldn’t put down. If you like Craig Childs’ work, you’ll enjoy this book.

3. Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III. Another fiction collection, this one touted as “four not-quite-novella-length stories.” I absolutely loved these stories, all of them about relationships and people who are on the cusp of something. The stories hurl you into the characters’ minds so completely that you truly care about them, even with all their flaws, and, in comparison to Saunders’ work, you don’t even think about the words or language used. You just HAVE to know what happens to these people. (However, the writing is near brilliant, too.) I’d love to see any of these stories made into a full novel. If you liked House of Sand and Fog by Dubus, you’ll enjoy this collection.

4. Judging a Book by Its Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere by Lauren Leto. This was a fun, nonfiction keeper. It’s from the woman who cofounded the humor blog, Texts From Last Night, while she was in law school. But the book grew out of her other blog (no longer up, I don’t think) called Book Porn. This book is hilarious, particularly for college English majors and all-around book nerds like me. Here’s how the publisher described it, and I agree: “… [It’s] like a literary Sh*t My Dad Says—an unrelentingly witty and delightfully irreverent guide to the intricate world of passionate literary debate, at once skewering and celebrating great writers, from Dostoevsky to Ayn Rand to Jonathan Franzen, and all the people who read them.”

5. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh. Another blogger turned book-writer, Brosh got her book deal based on her blog, Hyperbole and a Half. So be sure to check out the blog to see if you can handle her type of writing, which is a hybrid form of words and illustrations and more words. But mostly, it’s hilarious. And insightful. And true. Not just to her life, but probably to your own. My favorite chapters were the ones where she delves into the minds of her dogs (so funny!) and the ones where she describes depression for those who have never experienced it (spot on.)

What was your favorite read of 2013?