Monson’s latest book collects notes that the poet and author wrote in response not only to texts—ranging from novels to his wife’s reading log to an in-flight safety card—but to other readers’ annotations of them as well. (These notes, which the author first inserted directly into their texts, aren’t meant to be read in any particular order but are arranged alphabetically here.) The concept is promising, but Monson merely restates obvious facts of reading while luxuriating in his own quirkiness: “The margin note is a spark of snark, the reader irritated enough to inscribe the space, glyphs of the age of type, the type of age we’re in when a student asks me what font was the Declaration of Independence written in.” Yes, we know, annotations can tenuously connect us with our fellow readers. Yes, we know, books can bring us into other worlds. Yes, we know, books are magical. Can you please move along and say something—which is, after all, the act that gives books their magic? Monson, apparently, cannot. Some crisp one-liners are strewn throughout (“I hope you live in silence by choice and not default.”), but do little to alleviate this book’s merciless banality.
–Available February 17th from Graywolf Press. 160 pages. $22.00