I conducted an interview with Jac Jemc, the other of My Only Wife. Read it! You will learn things and be happy!

Reading Is The Thing

My good friend and writing partner in crime, Taylor Breslin (and awesome blogger), inspired me to do this post, which combines two things I am immensely passionate about: books and organized lists. There’s something about putting books into lists that speaks to my brain in more ways than one.

I’m only really taking 3 real classes in my final semester of undergraduate education: a composition class based on sentence structure and grammar; Victorian Literature; and my Senior Seminar in Literature, which focuses on playwright August Wilson. The reading lists here are not as extensive as others in my past college courses, but it is still an interesting and different list of books from things I would normally pick up on my own. Among essays and poetry by various Victorian authors, I will also be reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. My Senior Seminar requires me to read the entire ten-play collection of Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle. I’m pretty excited about those plays, not only because I’ve spent the last four years living in Pittsburgh but also because each play takes place in a different decade. I love when writers tackle different time periods in one cohesive work, and attempt to make all of the pieces fit together.

I also made a personal reading list of books I would like to read in 2012. A few ended up overlapping with the works on the syllabi for my classes, so I’ll be killing two birds with one stone and also learning things! Yay! So here’s my personal list, and, as always, I would love suggestions for additions:

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (first finished); Ayiti by Roxane Gay; I Know Some Things (anthology edited by Lorrie Moore); Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (reread); Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live; The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey; The Arrivals by Meg Mitchell Moore; The Astral by Kate Christensen; State of Wonder by Ann Patchett; Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans; Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore (reread); Swamplandia! by Karen Russell; Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Persuasion by Jane Austen; A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens; Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor; Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison; A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore (reread); Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction by Charles Baxter (need to read for my position as a TA in an intro fiction class); Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting; East of Eden by John Steinbeck

I would love to be able to finish the majority of this list by May, so that I can add some new books for summer. Books have been one of the only constants in my life, and when I think about it, that’s kind of strange, because each book is different in its own way and rereading a book always gives be a new perspective on the story. Change. Huh.

"So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone."

Roald Dahl, Matilda (via prettybooks)

I’ve never read Roald Dahl’s Matilda (yeah, yeah, I know), but I’ve seen the movie at least thirty times. I love it. It’s wonderful. I have nothing else to say except that this quote makes me happy and up until I was, like, eleven, I was convinced Ms. Trunchbull was a man.

The Problem With Everything

There was news a few days ago that one of the local school districts in my hometown is going to begin “flagging” books on high school reading lists that have been challenged in the past. These books range from The Great Gatsby to To Kill a Mockingbird; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I really have to hand it to the school board - rather than expanding their students’ minds with the words of authors who see the world in new and challenging ways, the adults who know so much better are making sure parents are aware of the differences of opinion appearing in these books, and how detrimental that can be to the development of a young mind. Bravo.

I think what appalls me most about this is that it is a thin veil for censorship. While not outrightly banning these books from classroom reading lists, the school board nonetheless evokes a response that there is something “wrong” or “suggestive” about these titles. Personally, I think “suggestive” is one of the most complimentary terms that can be applied to a writers’ work. Some of the best, most life-changing novels I have ever read contain so-called “suggestive” content: the magical world created by J.K. Rowling for Harry to save from the clutches of evil; ZZ Packer’s completely eye-opening stories of what life is like for a young, black male or female; ANYTHING Lorrie Moore has written concerning cancer, how men treat women, how women treat men, having babies, September 11th, and growing up in this shit-crazy world; Sylvia Plath’s internal views of a depressed and suicidal mind; and just to name a few more - J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, and Nick Flynn’s The Ticking is the Bomb. Some of those aren’t even on required reading lists for high schools, but it makes me so incredibly sad that a school - a place where learning and expanding and growing should be openly ENCOURAGED - can easily place a mark beside the title of a book and say, “hey, watch out; this book could change your life.”

Suggestive is a beautiful word - it means just what it says. It suggests a new view of the world, one that we were not familiar with before. Parents should most definitely be concerned with what their kids are reading, but not because it is suggestive of something explicit; they should be concerned if it isn’t suggestive of anything new.

Reading is freeing, in more ways than one. To limit its scope is to limit everything.

I’m working as an intern at the Lancaster Literary Guild this summer. It’s a little non-profit organization on North Lime Street in downtown Lancaster, which is a really pretty, tree-lined street away from all the hectic traffic of Prince and Queen. I work in a room that’s bordered by shelves covered in books. Yesterday, I took a break and was looking at all of the titles, marveling at how one person can amass such a collection of novels, anthologies, literary journals, biographies, essay collections, etc. etc. etc. I have a pretty decent-sized collection myself, but this one just feels kind of…magical, as lame as that sounds. On one of the middle shelves, wedged between a collection of Lydia Davis stories and a biography of Lyndon Johnson, are four Atlantic Monthly’s from the late 1930s. I just love the look of them, sitting there, their orange bindings flaking off onto the floor. It’s a really neat space, and it feels so full of…words. I’m not making any money, but I find myself looking forward going into work every day. It feels like a peek into the kind of life I want to live -

No money in sight, surrounded by books and words.

Tags: books lit

Read This Book If You Want To Live

No but seriously, read this book.

I was first introduced to ZZ Packer in my advanced fiction workshop this past semester through her story, “Dayward,” which was published in the New Yorker's “20 Under 40” issue. That issue is always considered by most writers to be, if nothing less delicate, bullshit. After reading Packer's story, I began to see why many talented and never-before-recognized-in-quite-so-prestigious-a-way writers believe this to be so; my class hated this story, and while I liked parts of it, it did not come close to the feelings of awe I had developed for other stories we had previously read, such as Andre Dubus's “The Fat Girl,” Ray Carver's “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” and Antonya's Nelson's “Naked Ladies.” “Dayward” focuses on two slaves (a young brother and sister) running away from their plantation. That's it. It's a strange choice for the New Yorker, especially in order to launch a writer whose work is anything but this deceptively straightforward.

I just finished Packer’s debut story collection, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere. It blew me away. These eight stories have such power, because of the simplicity that Packer manages with an eye for the most miniscule of detail and the most subtle of character traits. The first story that really smacked me across the face with it’s apparently straight-forward, no-nonsense approach, was “Our Lady of Peace,” which follows a young-ish woman as she attempts to teach at an inner city school. The title story, “Speaking in Tongues,” and “Doris Is Coming” were equally as mind-blowing, but it was “The Ant of the Self” that really took my breath away. Just the sheer concept (a high school student reluctantly drives his fuck-up of a father to D.C. so that he can sell illegally-procured tropical birds to attendees of the march of the Nation of Islam) is incredible conceptual-wise, but the ending - oh, Jesus Christ that ending - made me want to bang my head against the wall in writerly jealousy because it is So. Effing. Good. I won’t give it away here (BECAUSE IT’S THAT EFFING GOOD), but just trust me when I say that ZZ Packer is worth more than the New Yorker would have you believe.

Now, seriously - go read this book. You’ll die of literary starvation otherwise. 

"Listen Francie," she says, slow as speech therapy. "Let’s go out and get a big beer."

I just re-read Lorrie Moore’s “How to Become a Writer” for the third time. That shit makes me happy to be alive - alive and absolutely, completely in love with reading and words and trying to make those words be something beautiful…aka trying to be a writer. That’s why I love this story - just through this girl’s complete obsession with creating an effective story, I feel I know her more than any other character I have ever followed through a plot (and according to her, anyway, “Plots are for dead people.”). Moore’s style is so self-deprecating, so funny, so real; some see it as excessively descriptive and lacking in a clear narrative direction. But you know what? You don’t need direction to cause a reaction. And my reaction is reading this story over and over and over. And over.

 

This is astounding. I came across it yesterday on PANK magazine’s website and was absolutely floored. At first, I loved it; then I hated it; then I loved it again; and then I was just in shock that this even exists. It’s wonderful. I want to read Lidia Yuknavitch’s story collection, Real to Reel, but because of the area I’m in it’s very difficult to find not well-known writers’ work.

I’ve already finished six books so far this summer; my goal is at least twenty before I go back to school and judging by my wishlist on Amazon and the list hanging above my desk, I will not have a problem reaching that goal.

"Laura wasn’t unattractive, she knew, but hers was a subtler kind: unplucked eyebrows and sensible footwear."

Emma Straub’s story “Puttanesca,” in her collection Other People We Married.

That’s one of the best character descriptions I’ve read in a while. Nothing says exotic beauty like crazy eyebrows and clogs.

Tags: writing books lit