I’m out and about tonight–in Atlanta, Decatur more specifically–for a Q & A and reading by Sheri Joseph to celebrate the release of her new novel, Where You Can Find Me. The event was sponsored by the Georgia Center for … Continue reading
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
Well there’s a big question… And I belong to a big family–this month we have four weddings–a godson, two nieces, and a son–and Christmas. Still I want to take time out to begin (yes I just mean begin) again to … Continue reading
The Round House by Louise Erdrich A friend gave me her ARC of the book, which I added to my stack + the book won the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction + I wanted a big, thick novel to … Continue reading
1 On Monday night I finished Dawn Tripp’s wonderful novel, Game of Secrets, and wasn’t ready to start a new book or go to sleep. Mindless TV seemed the solution, and I found The Kennedys (some sort of mini-series) on Netflix. … Continue reading
I bought May Sarton’s THE EDUCATION OF HARRIET HATFIELD at Black Sheep Books in Montpelier, VT. I chose this book because I love May Sarton’s writing but had never read any of her fiction. Writing this post, I discovered that this volunteer-run community … Continue reading
I am reading again, really reading–as in one book after the other. Novels that have been waiting in my stack for years. And I am creating spaces in my tower of books. If you read my last post, you know … Continue reading
I am reading, reading, reading. Finished a book last night and, with no had-to-reads awaiting, I chose four, thick paperbacks (all given to me by friends) from my to-be-read stack. Two I discarded easily based on subject matter–generally not interested … Continue reading
I’ve been doing too much, or trying to do too much. Contrary, Hunger Mountain, Catching Days, writing group, writing, family, life, read… Wait a minute. I haven’t been reading all that much. I used to read every evening–from after supper … Continue reading
About ten years ago, during the keynote lunch at the San Diego State Writers’ Conference, we were supposed to sit at the table whose center placard best described what we wrote. The choices were Memoir, Sci-Fi, Thrillers, Mysteries, Literary Fiction, Historical … Continue reading
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?
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.
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.
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 adore this portrait of May Sarton. I used it in a blog post on August 8, 2009. I also used some of the same quotes, but I had a very different reaction to them two years ago.
There is nothing to be done but go ahead with life moment by moment and hour by hour–put out birdseed, tidy the rooms, try to create order and peace around me even if I cannot achieve it inside me.
As the last days of summer float by, I feel like I’m swimming upstream against them, periodically climbing onto the river bank to put out the next fire. I don’t really think that’s what May Sarton meant by going “ahead with life moment by moment.” And, unfortunately, I’m not even in the same universe with putting out birdseed and tidying rooms. How can I have so much to do?
I’ve been printing blank weekly calendars from the internet and making lists, thinking about the best way to shape the mornings, afternoons, and evenings. On one of my lists from yesterday was “schedule time for reading.” You’ve got to be kidding, I say to my list. It’s come to this?
“That was what I was after–a daily rhythm, a kind of fugue of poetry, gardening, sleeping and waking in the house.”
I like fugue for its sense of interweaving of parts, for its writerly rhythm.
But at the moment I’m not sure fugue is going to get it done. In fact, what I need is a general to command the troops, to whip all these to-dos into shape. And less sleep. Maybe if I get up an hour earlier…
How about the rest of you–how are your summers going?
“When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out.”
Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird
I read it in school. I read it again in June of 2006. I’ve listened to it on CD read by Sissy Spacek.
Sissy Spacek is Scout.
I cannot recommend the CD highly enough. In fact, I often sit in my car listening, even after arriving at my destination. It is that good. Listening to it makes me want to read the book all over again.
Perfect for summer. Perfect for car trips. Or for any kind of trip. Perfect.
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.
Although I cannot read a book without a pencil or a pen in my hand, I cringe at the thought of folding down a page. So when I read, in addition to something to write with, I must have something to mark my spot with. I prefer an actual bookmark, but also use postcards, envelopes, or a folded review. My collection of bookmarks lives in a pottery vase on my side table, where I can easily pluck one out.
I love this column at Bibliobuffet: ”On Marking Books.” In late September, Lauren Roberts, the editor at Bibliobuffet, wrote about a bookmarks festival and that she was giving away bookmarks! All you had to do was email. So I did and that photo is a sampling of what fell out of my envelope. She might still have some left…Her recent essay is on a cheese-y bookmark. Ha! Take a look at it.
Here are close-ups of some of the bookmarks Lauren sent me:
But wait, there’s more…
I include a photo of one of my bookmarks with each month on the updates page.
Do you have a favorite bookmark or a favorite way to mark your spot?
In The New York Times “Sunday Book Review,” with a very cool cover by Maira Kalman, James Collins wrote the essay at the back, “The Plot Escapes Me,” on whether there’s a point to reading books when we can’t remember what’s in them. Although I do have difficulty remembering what I read, I admit this is a question I’ve never asked myself.
He consulted Maryanne Wolf, a professor of child development at Tufts University and the author of “Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain“(which I just ordered).
I recommend the essay, but we’re all busy. In what I consider to be the bottom line, Ms. Wolf said:
I totally believe that you are a different person for having read that book…I say that as a neuroscientist and an old literature major.
It is in some way working on you even though you aren’t thinking about it.
It’s there…You are the sum of it all.
I wanted to spread the good news. Keep reading.