four things

four hooks

Some of you will remember my September 28th post entitled three things. Well, there’s more. Sometimes I choose a book knowing it will have to do with a certain subject. Usually the choice of my next book has more to do … Continue reading

who’s counting

I count how many books I read in a year, but I think I forgot to do that for 2010. So I just did: 50 books. About average for me.

Then I counted the number for 201134 books. Way down. I was afraid of this. Since starting to work for The Writing Life section of Hunger Mountain, I have tremendously less time to read.

As they say on the news, let me break it down for you:

Of those 34, 6 were rereads and 4 were debuts.

Of those 34,

    • 20 novels
    • 3 books on the craft of writing
    • 3 books of stories
    • 3 books of essays
    • 2 books of poetry
    • 2 books of nonfiction
    • 1 memoir

Anybody else count?

piling

I have a basket where I pile things that need to be done–bills, invitations, bank statements, receipts, hotel and airline confirmations, soccer schedules. Generally, the plan is that I go through it once a week. Well, there was Christmas, then Vermont, then a big writing project, then guests…. Yesterday I began to sort, and I’m still not to the bottom of the stack.

And this is just my non-writing pile.

But I have to say, I do love piling. Do you?

reading 11.19.11

Although I note here what I intend to read and why I chose it, at the moment, here’s what I’m actually reading:

1 – The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. I bought this hardback book because I’ve become fascinated by process–the process of writing in particular. I’m on page xxiv. “The global skill of drawing a perceived object, person, landscape…requires only five basic component skills, no more…They are perceptual skills.”

One: the perception of edges. Two: the perception of spaces. Three: the perception of relationships. Four: the perception of lights and shadows. Five: the perception of the whole, or gestalt.

2 – Raw Silk by Janet Burroway, published in 1976. Already read this hardback twice–in 1990 and 1998. It’s a classic–a novel about a marriage falling apart. I’m on page 56.

I don’t run everywhere as I used to, and Oliver’s humor is not so fresh. But I thought that was age, and age doesn’t trouble me overmuch. I know that we’ve chosen compromises, but no choice has seemed to lead inevitably to another. I thought we could go this direction but keep our essential selves intact, and turn off any side road that took our fancy.

3 – Torch by Cheryl Strayed was recommended by a friend. Now I recommend this debut novel. I’m on page 207 of 311.  Cheryl has a new book coming out in March (Wild) and will be writing about How She Spends Her Days in January.

She ached. As if her spine were a zipper and someone had come up behind her and unzipped it and pushed his hands into her organs and squeezed, as if they were butter or dough, or grapes to be smashed for wine. At other times it was something sharp like diamonds or shards of glass engraving her bones. Teresa explained these sensations to the doctor–the zipper, the grapes, the diamonds, and the glass–while he sat on his little stool with wheels and wrote in a notebook.

4 - The Best American Short Stories 2011. I wasn’t going to buy this, but after reading Claire Guyton’s review (in a series on each story in this volume), I ordered it. Am not disappointed. Have read the first story, reading the second as soon as I finish this post. From “Ceiling” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

Was he unhappy? It was not that he was unhappy, he told himself, it was simply that he had been long enough in his new life that he had begun to think of alternative lives, people he might have become, and doors he had not opened.

5 – An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski was recommended by Connie May Fowler at the last residency as a good book to read when preparing to give a lecture or a reading, both of which I’ll be doing at this upcoming residency. I’m on page 62 of 336.

There is a good side to this period of waiting. It drives you into such a state that all you can do is to long for your turn to get through with the thing that you are afraid of.

6 – So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell. See what I’m reading now. I’m on page 52, just about to begin Chapter 5. Solidly good.

What we, or at any rate what I, refer to confidently as memory–meaning a moment, a scene, a fact that has been subjected to a fixative and thereby rescued from oblivion–is really a form of storytelling that goes on continually in the mind and often changes with the telling. Too many conflicting emotional interests are involved for life ever to be wholly acceptable, and possibly it is the work of the storyteller to rearrange things so that they conform to this end. In any case, in talking about the past we lie with every breath we draw.

7 – Best Words, Best Order by Stephen Dobyns was recommended by several different people at the last residency. And it is lovely. I’ve read the first two chapters–the second one on metaphor is itself worth the price and space of the book (and it includes a right brain-left brain discussion). Theoretically on poetry but every bit as useful so far to a prose writer.

Obscurity must be a tool. It works to force the reader to ask questions that will direct him to an understanding…Any question that does not increase our understanding detracts from it.

Suggestion won’t work until the reader has enough information to brood about. The poem works when the reader can contemplate the relationship between its parts.

8 – The Empty Family by Colm Toibin. Hardback. It’s the November choice for my writing group. Very soothing writing. On the third story of nine. From “Silence,”

…no matter how much they talked of love or faithfulness or the unity of man and wife, no one would ever realize how apart people were in these hours, how deeply and singly themselves, how thoughts came that could never be shared or whispered or made known in any way. This was marriage, she thought, and it was her job to be calm about it. There were times when the grim, dull truth of it made her smile.

I don’t always read this many books at one time because all this unfinished-ness can get to me. But there is so much out there–I sometimes wonder how I can do anything other than read. The question of how we end up reading what we do in our lives is one I will return to.

I give, from 10-29-09

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I wanted to do a post today. Usually I post much earlier. This is my fourth try.

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Each time--writing about a book, about my writing process (ok, obsessed), and even about a single picture I had taken on Tuesday--I was not happy with what I was doing.

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I kept wanting to include not one but three pictures. Just a minute ago, I interrupted my last attempt to post so I could accompany my 16-year-old to the door. He was leaving for a late basketball practice.

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As I shut the door, I saw the last light of day caught in this dogwood tree. And I thought, I give, as I went in search of my camera.

rearranging

I’ve been sitting too much–novel, lecture, mfa, Contrary, Hunger Mountain, facebook, email, bills, purchases, photos… I noticed that my running injury from last December got worse, not when I ran but, when I sat for 10 hours.

I’d been looking online (sitting) for one of those mobile computer stands that doctors use but wasn’t persuaded that was exactly right. Then about a month ago Robin Oliveira posted a photo on FB of her new TreadDesk. And I knew immediately that was the solution. I called, and Jerry helped me choose the right desk.

I am, at this very moment, walking on a treadmill as I type.

As a child, I was fired by two different piano teachers–I could never get the hang of each hand doing something different.

But I can walk and type and I love it.

In order to move the desk into my study, I had to slide baby towers of books spawned from my bookshelf tower and haul a bunch of other stuff–including my old desk–out of my study. I took advantage of the opportunity to clean shelves and windowsills, to blow away dust from journals and books, to go through stacks, and weed. I was a little surprised to see what was still on some of my shelves.

This desk is bigger than my old desk and without drawers so I’m having to do some rearranging. All around me chaos reigns. Photos of the desk coming as soon as everything finds a place.

await your reply 5: parceling out your life

And you wipe the snow out of your hair and get back into your car and drive off toward an accumulation of the usual daily stuff–there is dinner to be made and laundry to be done and helping the kids with their homework and watching television on the couch with the dog resting her muzzle in your lap and a phone call you owe to your sister in Wisconsin and getting ready for bed, brushing and flossing and a few different pills that help to regulate your blood pressure and thyroid and a facial scrub that you apply and all the rituals that are–you are increasingly aware–units of measurement by which you are parceling out your life. (92)

This passage from Dan Chaon’s 2009 novel, Await Your Reply, reminds me of so many things:

Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”  

  Mark Strand’s “The Continuous Life”: Say there will always be cooking and cleaning to do,/That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;”

the Zen saying: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

Michael Cunningham’s The Hours: “Laura reads the moment as it passes.  Here it is, she thinks; there it goes.  The page is about to turn.”

that surely there is more than this

and just as surely, no there’s not.

What are the units of measurement by which you are parceling out your life?

await your reply

~last in a series
~cross-posted at Contrary Blog

await your reply 2: nods

In the surprisingly interesting Reader’s Guide at the back of Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply, Chaon writes:

As a writer, I feel like I’m always in conversation with the books that I’ve read.

Yiyun Li, the author of The Vagrants, feels the same way: “I believe a writer writes to talk to his/her masters and literary heroes.” About William Trevor, she wrote:

I write stories to talk to his stories. And a story can talk to another story in many ways–a line, a character, a few details, or sometimes it is the mood of the story, the pacing and the music of the story…”

I found two of these nods by Chaon as I was reading Await Your Reply. When I found two, I got such a warm feeling inside. Here they are:

On page 81: “She might’ve been a good mother, Miles thought, if their father had lived.” >>>Flannery O’Connor, from “A Good Man is Hard to Find:” She would of been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” [Here's a very cool link to Flannery O'Connor reading "A Good Man is Hard to Find" at Vanderbilt University in 1959--amazing]

On page 203: “Your jitters are starting to rub off on me. I’ve got the fucking fantods, man.” >>>David Foster Wallace throughout Infinite Jest.

A lovely practice.

~2nd in a series
~cross-posted at Contrary Blog

VCFA visuals #1: exhausted

the contents of my suitcase

Yesterday, I drove from Montpelier to Boston, flew from Boston to Atlanta, drove from Atlanta to Columbus, where I pulled into the driveway about 6:15 last night.

I had big plans for today, but I’m just drifting from one thing to another, not getting anything done.

11 days at VCFA, and now a series of photo posts to unwind myself, to spit me out into the world again.

things we think with

Sherry Turkle asked scientists, humanists, artists, and designers to “trace the power of objects in their lives, objects that connect them to ideas and people.” In Evocative Objects: Things We Think With, published in 2007, you’ll find thirty-four essays on objects such as a rolling pin, a yellow raincoat, an axe head, a suitcase, a stuffed bunny, an apple.

In “Knots,” Carol Strohecker writes, “I understand being pulled; it is something that I know.”

In “The Archive,” Susan Yee writes about studying Le Corbusier’s drawings and how fortunate she feels to belong to a generation that has both created drawings on paper and on the computer. Drawings now, she writes, “are born digital. They will never be touched.”

Turkle divides the essays into six categories: objects of design and play, objects of discipline and desire, objects of history and exchange, objects of transition and passage, objects of mourning and memory, and objects of meditation and new vision.

My favorite essay was “Death-Defying Superheroes,” written by Henry Jenkins and placed by Turkle in the section on Objects of Mourning and Memory. Jenkins had read comics since grade school but became attached to them the week his mother died.

Retreating from the emotional drama that surrounded me, I found myself staring into the panic-stricken eyes of a young Bruce Wayne, kneeling over the newly murdered bodies of his parents. I had visited that moment many times before, but this time, our common plight touched me deeply.

Over the years, as he ages, the comics remain the same.

As such, they help me to reflect on the differences between who I am now and who I was when I first read them.

As Turkle writes in her introduction to the essays, “We think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with.”

~cross-posted at The Contrary Blog

roswell reads

Roswell, Georgia, a small city rich in history on the north side of Atlanta, chose Robin Oliveira’s first novel, My Name is Mary Sutter, as their Sixth Annual Roswell Reads Selection. At a reception for Robin Friday night, which included delicious gluten-free cupcakes and lots of conversation about reading, committee members told me they had wanted to choose a book by a woman and also one that touched on the Civil War, this year being the 150th anniversary of its beginning.

The read began in February and all sort of events took place around it, including civil war reenactments, “Follow Your Dream” photography contests, and weekend discussions. Previous selections included Kim Edwards’ The Memory Keeper’s Daughter and Terry Kay’s The Valley of Light.

The Archibald Smith Plantation, the location of the reception, was built around 1845 and is in wonderful condition, the rooms filled with Civil War trunks, slave-made baskets, corn-husk dolls, and two of the first TVs. And more… Apparently there is some value in never getting rid of anything. When the last of the family members died, the house was bequeathed to the housekeeper, Mamie Cotton, who lived in it until she died. True to the period, I had to go outside to the bathroom.

At her talk at a Literary Luncheon on Saturday to over a hundred people, Robin received a standing ovation.

Schenectady County, New York, also chose Robin’s book for their community read, which takes place in April. Robin will speak there on April 9th.