brattleboro literary festival: after

Brattleboro Literary Festival

More than 50 authors were loose on the streets of Brattleboro, Vermont, for the fun and successful Brattleboro Literary Festival! The Literary Death Match was hilarious–Adrian Todd Zuniga as host. Roxana Robinson read against Rigoberto Gonzales , while Pam Houston read … Continue reading

shakespeare days

The New York Times September 15, 2013

For a long, long time, I’ve wanted to read all of Shakespeare’s plays–all 38. In June I was re-reading one of my favorite books, The Writing Life, by Ellen Gilchrist. And in it, there’s a chapter about “The Shakespeare Group.” Ellen … Continue reading

writing by writers

writing by writers

Some of my favorite writers will be teaching workshops this coming October at Tomales Bay–Pam Houston, Ron Carlson, Antonya Nelson, Cheryl Strayed, Fenton Johnson, and Carl Phillips. Writing By Writers is hosting six workshops October 16-20, 2013 at the Marconi … 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?

watching the sea

My writing group just finished reading Colm Toibin’s collection, The Empty Family. Although some people in the group loved it, I didn’t. I’ve started giving away the books I know I won’t read again, and this one will be sent on its way–hopefully to a new reader.

Still, some of Toibin’s passages took my breath away, like this one from the title story, with its building of emotion by the use of repetition and the cadence of the words:

And all I have in the meantime is this house, this light, this freedom, and I will, if I have the courage, spend my time watching the sea, noting its changes and the sounds it makes, studying the horizon, listening to the wind or relishing the calm when there is no wind.

And from the same story:

It came to me then that the sea is not a pattern, it is a struggle.

I’ve come back to this line several times–the ocean as a struggle.

***Actually, if anyone would like me to send the copy (a hardback with my marginalia in pencil) his or her way, just leave word in the comments before I head to the post office on Monday, and I’ll email for your address.

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.