"A girl from Pittsburgh was a good thing, like an anchor. Every homesick traveler should have one."

Kelly Link, “Survivor’s Ball, Or, The Donner Party”

This is the most perfect line I’ve read in a while; but then again, I’m quite biased when it comes to Pittsburgh.

Hello. It is November 1st. Soon, we will no longer have to hear about the election. It is now appropriate weather for boots and tights and scarves and sweaters. And thanks to the peer pressure push of NaNoWriMo, I am taking the 12 pages of the novel I started back in August and turning it into a full novel by November 30th. I am putting it here so that I can’t back out or procrastinate or cry that it’s too hard and I’m too busy, because life is short and we should do what we want to do in the time that we have. The idea actually comes from a short story I wrote my junior year of college, about two college roommates. It was rejected by every magazine I sent it to until finally I woke up and realized, “Hey, this story is too big for fifteen pages. MAYBE IT SHOULD BE LONGER.” So anyway, I now have 17 pages of a once-short-story-now-novel-in-the-making that will be complete (and terrible and I will not be able to look at it for probably like 6 months) in 29 days. This is what I will look like by month’s end:

Happy November!

"At Vassar, when I used to beat out Deb Devlin for the lead role in plays semester after semester, I heard that she’d tell people I was her nemesis, and I’d think, Don’t flatter yourself. Now that 15 years have passed, I’m an H.R. manager in Tampa, and she’s the star of that ABC drama about sexy dermatologists, I announce to anyone at any opportunity: “You know Deb Devlin? She was my college nemesis!” She’s not even that famous, but I can’t help myself."

http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2012/08/27/magazine/summer-fiction-series-11.html

I want to be Curtis Sittenfeld when I grow up.

"He carved the coat off the dead winter lamb, wiped her blood on his pants to keep a grip, circling first the hooves and cutting straight up each leg, then punching the skin loose from muscle and bone.
He tied the skin with twine over the body of the orphaned lamb so the grieving ewe would know the scent and let the orphaned lamb nurse.
Or so he said.
This was seduction. This was the story he told, of all the farm-boy stories he might have told; he chose the one where brutality saves a life. He wanted me to feel, when he fitted his body over mine, that this was how I would go on—this was how I would be known."

— Amy Hempel, “The Orphan Lamb”

Tags: Amy Hempel Lit

"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.