All of the ick finally got me this week. I rarely get out and about with people. I tend to hang with my dogs. They make better company. But there was a small oddities show happening nearby, so I braved being social. Came home with a cool ass pigeon foot and the ick.
When I feel bad, I read. But I don’t read new books. I don’t reach for my TBR pile either. I go back to what I call my comfort books. It’s a stack that has grown slowly through the years and is a mix of short story collections and poetry. Now, I will come right out and tell you that I am not much of a poetry person. And yet I will then tell you all about my favorite poets. Go figure.
Fanny Says by Nickole Brown
I’ve always thought of poetry as intimidating, so I think I’ve always said it wasn’t my thing. I attended a weekend workshop series and met Nickole Brown. She was the keynote for the event. After hearing her read her work, I had to get my hands on some. I bought a copy of Fanny Says that night, and I read it all before finally going to sleep.
Fanny Says is a love song to her late grandmother, and it’s packed with heartache, love, laughter, and a lot of dirty parts. Her words delve into the complex place that is my home—the South. They dive into poverty, racism, domestic violence, and struggle. It’s poetry that reads like a diary. This book changes me each time I read it.
Strangers to Temptation by Scott Gould
I am a sucker for a short story collection. I love that I can read a complete story before bed. Either my husband or I one had an ass of health problems from 2010 to early 2018. I spent a lot of time in hospitals, which meant I always had a book close by. This collection was published by Hub City Press, located in Spartanburg, S.C. It’s my hometown. I had wandered in there to treat myself and came away with this collection.
Gould paints a picture of the Black River in lowcountry South Carolina during the 1970s. There are thirteen stories linked by the common voice of a young man coming-of-age in the religious and racist south. He peppers his stories with those characters that make grit writing so rich. You’ll meet a Vietnam vet father with half a stomach, a best friend with a fake eyeball, and a worn-out mother attempting to heal the world.
Jaws of Life by Laura Leigh Morris
Morris is an assistant professor at Furman University, which is just down the road from me. I had decided to go hear the dark, grit writer, Meagan Lucas, read from her new collection, and Morris was the host. The bookstore had Jaws of Life on the table with Meagan’s book, so I picked it up as well. What a decision that was.
Her tales are set in the hills of West Virginia. A cast of characters link many of these stories. The collection touches on complex concerns of the community—poverty, mental illness, drug abuse, job loss—and how the people of this region face these every day. Morris reminds me that people aren’t paper dolls. We don’t just have two sides. Her characters are rich and flawed and will remind you of people you love. Also, always go to the reading. I would have missed out on this gem.
Here in the Dark by Meagan Lucas
I’ve already said that I was going to Meagan’s reading. I knew her first as the editor for the literary magazine Reckon Review, and then I heard about her new collection that was coming out. Here in the Dark is full of characters that rarely get a neat resolution to their problems.
This collection explores some of the same issues in some of the same regions yet they are from the female experience of lawlessness. Her characters rough edges will snag you and drag you along through their stories. But in the end, there is always a vulnerability. I found myself nodding along and thinking, “Well, I would vote not guilty if there was a jury.” I ended up giving everyone a copy of this book for the holidays. Don’t sleep on this one.
So, here I sit. Still sick. Husband still sick. But I have my comfort books, and I’m sure I’ll be adding more to the stack this year. Probably add some more pigeon toes too. Stay healthy out there. Take care of each other.
KATY GOFORTH is a writer and editor for a national engineering and surveying organization and a fiction editor for Identity Theory. Her writing has appeared in Brevity, Reckon Review, Cowboy Jamboree, Salvation South, and elsewhere. She has a prose collection forthcoming with Belle Point Press (2025). You can find her on X at MarchingFourth and katygoforth.com.