Category Archives: Reading

Review: An Atlas of the Difficult World

An Atlas of the Difficult World
An Atlas of the Difficult World by Adrienne Rich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An Atlas of the Difficult World delivers, as Rich’s collections always do. Reading her work must be ennobling; It feels as though it must. Even though so much here eluded me in the moment (i.e. I didn’t “understand”)–it is the lines that strike an immediate chord, then the reflection on the work as a whole that allow me to say I understood and was moved. To me, this collection seems to be a case for art, though it is difficult and there is so much suffering already. Art is better than memory for remembering. One line that cut right through: “because no one understood all picnics are eaten on the grave?”

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want to read 2016

What I Read In 2015/Want To Read in 2016

I’ve been keeping track of what I’ve been reading since 2009 here on this blog. My goal for 2015 was to read 50 books. I came pretty close at 42, which is 8 more books than I read in 2014 and 22 more books than I read in 2013. During our hot, dry summer, I read a few books while walking here and there and really love to read that way. It’s different than reading on the treadmill (which I hate), so it’s not just about moving while reading, though I do think that is a part of the romance for me. Sometimes when I sit and read, my body gets antsy and I close the book to get up and move around. When I walk and read, I can read for longer stretches of time than when sitting still. And I can still take notes while I read. I only need to pause and make a note in the margin before moving on. Theoretically I could do this on the treadmill in any weather, but the treadmill is sooo boring to me and that boredom seeps into my reading. I’m not going to post a list of the particular titles I plan to read in 2016, though I will post a picture of some I have lined up by my desk that I’m interested in reading. I’d like to read a variety of books from different genres and stay open to new books too. I’d like to read a couple of books with Chris and all the books my book group chooses. I’d like to write down all the found sentences I mark when I read this time and look back at them at the end of the year. I always mark them by writing a heart in the margin, but I don’t consistently go back to pull them out later. I want to read more attentively when I’m at home, for longer stretches without checking my phone or getting up to put a load of laundry in. I’d like to spend at least one full hour a few times a week just reading without distractions.  Below is a list of the books I read in 2015 (the first five I absolutely loved, and I can’t wait to see The Brothers K at Book-It in May) and a picture of some I have queued up for 2016.

 

How about you? What did you read? Why? What will you read in 2016? How will you read?

 

  1. The Brothers K/ David James Duncan (novel)
  2. My Year of Meats/ Ruth Ozeki (novel)
  3. Through the Second Skin/ Derek Sheffield (poetry)
  4. Time and Materials/ Robert Hass (poetry)
  5. Song of Solomon/ Toni Morrison (novel)
  6. Fun Home/ Alison Bechdel (graphic novel)
  7. Glitter and Glue/ Kelly Corrigan (memoir)
  8. Ice Haven/ Daniel Clowes (graphic novel)
  9. The Interestings/ Meg Wolizer (novel)
  10. The Blue Flower/ Penelope Fitzgerald (novel)
  11. 10:04/ Ben Lerner (novel)
  12. Queenpin/ Meg Abbot (novel)
  13. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man/ James Joyce (novel)
  14. The Awakening/ Kate Chopin (novel)
  15. The Best American Poetry of 2009 (poetry)
  16. How to Meditate/ Pema Chodron (non-fiction)
  17. The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo (ALSO LOVED! Non-fiction)
  18. Praise/ Robert Hass (poetry)
  19. Maus/ Art Spiegelman (graphic novel)
  20. The Uninvited Guests/ Sadie Jones (novel)
  21. Persepolis 2 (graphic novel)
  22. The Round House/ Louise Erdrich (novel)
  23. Far From the Madding Crowd/ Thomas Hardy (novel)
  24. Making Shapely Fiction/ Jerome Stern (non-fiction)
  25. The Kundalini Yoga Experience/ Dharma Singh Khalsa (non-fiction)
  26. Between You & Me/ Mary Norris (memoir)
  27. Vox/ Nicholson Baker (novel)
  28. The Laughing Monsters/ Denis Johnson (novel)
  29. Slaugherhouse-Five/ Kurt Vonnegut (novel)
  30. My Brilliant Friend/ Elena Ferrante (novel)
  31. Paper Towns/ John Green (novel)
  32. Holy the Firm/ Annie Dillard (Creative Non-Fiction)
  33. Poser/ Claire Dederer (memoir)
  34. The Magician’s Feastletters/ Diane Wakowski (poetry)
  35. The Wisdom of Insecurtiy/ Alan Watts (non-fiction)
  36. Food Matter/ Mark Bittman (non-fiction)
  37. In the Woods/ Tana French (novel)
  38. The Likeness/ Tana French (novel)
  39. And When She Was Good/ Laura Lippman (novel)
  40. Brave Enough/ Cheryl Strayed (non-fiction)
  41. Merry Christmas, Baby/ Donna Kaufman (fiction)
  42. How to Relax/ Thich Nhat Hanh (non-fiction)
books for 2016

Want To Read 2016

 

 

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A New Year! Some reflections, plus what I read in 2014.

This past year I submitted my portfolio for National Board Certification, got married, and taught summer school for the first time. Somehow, I still managed to read WAY more books than I did last year. I’d love some suggestions from you for what to read in 2015 and by the end of this week I’m going to compile a list of 15 must-reads for the year, leaving plenty of room for new possibilities to open along the way. Tell me–what should be on my must-read list? What have you read recently that you are dying to talk to someone else about because it was just that freaking good?
When I read I have to take notes, it’s a compulsion. I also love collecting sentences that strike me as particularly well-rendered and I publish them here from time to time as “found sentences”. I’m reading more and more books on a device these days, which is probably good since I really don’t have that much book shelve space left.
I’m not making any resolutions this year or any grand intentions for change. I’m happy with who I am now. I want to read a lot, write often, take walks and hikes in nature, sit and breathe, write letters, and remain open to new adventures. Just like I’m doing now.

What I Read in 2014:

1. I finished Ulysses!!! It took me years and Chris and I read the entire thing out loud together. <3
2. By Blood by Ellen Ullman –Unusual in a good way.
3. The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus
4. The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hahn
5. The Tenth of December by George Saunders — Awestruck!
6. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern — Loved!
7. Quiet by Susan Cain
8. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
9. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
10. On Writing by Eudora Welty
11. The Best American Poetry of 2009
12. Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III
13. Divergent by Veronica Roth
14. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
15. The Fine Print of Self Publishing by Mark Levine
16. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
17. Her Best Kept Secret by Gabrielle Glasser — Loved!
18. How To Start A Home-Based Editorial Business by Barbara Fuller
19. How The Brain Learns to Read by David Sousa
20. The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
21. Teaching With Poverty In Mind by Eric Jensen
22. Google Apps Meet Common Core by Michael Graham
23. Brain Rules by John Medina
24. Tibetan Peach Pie by Tom Robbins
25. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
26. Mating by Norman Rush
27. Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon (Loved! Can’t wait to see the movie.)
28. Being Perfect by Anna Quindlen
29. Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
30. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (Loved!)
31. The Wife by Meg Wolitzer
32. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (Loved!)
33. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
34. Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (Loved!)

 

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Understanding Comics Review

Understanding Comics: The Invisible ArtUnderstanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud

I picked this book up so that I might feel better equipped to teach a graphic novel this spring. In terms of illuminating the craft behind comics, this book definitely delivered. I have a vocabulary of the craft I didn’t have before. Additionally, this book provides a thoughtful reflection on art and the creation of art that resonated with me as a fiction writer. Part glossary, part textbook, but really more essay that explores perception, creation, and the question of why we work so hard to communicate through art.

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What I learned from binging…

 

When I read I almost always pick up something longer. I subscribe to magazines and journals but rarely read them. I have read plenty of short stories and essays, but I read them here and there, one at a time. I re-read the ones I really love, because I tend to find a way to feed them to my students.

A dear writer-friend gifted me with a subscription to One Story a while back and though I wanted to read them, the pile just grew higher and higher over the past two years.

Nothing like spending twenty three days as the passenger in a car to encourage binge reading. And did I binge!

I didn’t read only short stories, but I did read a lot of them. I read the sixteen One Stories that had piled up and I read half of the Best American Short Stories of 2011.

I expected to pick up nuances of structure and style. That’s what I keep a pencil handy for when I read. It’s what I didn’t expect that I want to talk about here.

Empowered

I read over twenty different stories in the span of a few weeks. You don’t get that scope of style and structure and voice when reading books. Especially if you read as slow and careful as I do. What happened from reading that range of stories? From seeing how many ways there are to approach any tale?

I feel empowered to write what I want to write. All those rules about showing versus telling and adverbs and scene versus summary are scaffolds put in place for novice writers, like the five paragraph essay, and the more I think about these rules and structures, the more I wonder if in the end teaching them does more harm than good.

There are no rules in writing fiction. There is only the story. You’ve got to tell it however you can and probably not everyone will love the way you tell it.

Humbled

A short story is somewhere between a poem and a novel in density of language, often leaning more toward the poetic. So much has to be accomplished in so short a span of pages that every word truly does count.  There were sentences in those stories that I wanted to eat slowly with a knife and fork, bite by bite, licking my lips in between.

I noticed them more than I do when I read longer works and have to worry about enduring hundreds of pages, tracking a longer sequence of events.

Binging on short stories reminded me how important slow writing and editing are, how patient we must be to produce our best work.

Awed

I love writing short stories and short pieces and responses to prompts and I am reminded through my binging how it feeds my writing overall. Even if they are never used. They are practice for the mind, like running is for the body.

 

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Tell me the stories that have left you burning for days.

At first, I couldn’t manage more than a poem, but the poems came so fast I carried a notebook with me everywhere. I wrote my first short story when I was eighteen on a manual type writer bought at Clevinger’s Thrift Shop downtown Aberdeen. Coincidence that I had just finished Still Life With Woodpecker?

So much time has passed since then. I’ve written three first drafts of novels, started a couple more. And yet, here I am, cozying up to the short story again.

What do you think is the essential difference between the a novel and a story? What are your favorite stories?

A short list of stories that have truly moved me?

The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin

Happy Endings by Margaret Atwood

The Swimmer by John Chever

Corporal and 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 by Richard Brautigan

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been by Joyce Carol Oates

Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger

To Build A Fire by Jack London

Tell me the stories that have left you burning for days. Those are the ones I want to read.

 

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Making time to read what’s offered unsolicited…

I know it is hard enough to make a dent in the stacks of books and periodicals in your own mental queue. Add to that the book or two you are reading for school, work, or your book club and the one you’re reading more for self-improvement than pleasure. You also have at least a few periodical subscriptions piling up and you really ought to read more poetry, don’t you think?

I’m with you.

Today, though, I made an exception. A colleague of mine waltzed into my classroom carrying a two foot pile of fresh copies for his students. When I realized that the reason the whole pile nearly tipped over onto my floor was that he had printed something else–something extra–for me.

I had plenty more pressing duties today, but somehow, in between this and that, I managed to read the four NY Times articles this friend had offered unsolicited. He did not say why he printed them for me. I suppose because I am an English teacher and they were all about sentences, fiction, and books.

I read them all and enjoyed them all for their thought-provoking ideas and found among them four of five lines to use in class or just to underline and write a heart next to (what I do when I really like a sentence).

Here are the articles this history teacher who totally didn’t have the time to think of what I might read and enjoy but did anyway passed on to me:

“The Sentence As A Miniature Narrative” by Constance Hale

“My Life’s Sentences” by Jhumpa Lahiri

“Your Brain On Fiction” by Annie Murphy Paul

“The Way We Read Now” by Dwight Garner

 

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Peter Selgin’s "Rigging the Ship Called Fiction"

I’ve had my share of struggles with point of view, tending toward being non-committal about it. This is something I’m actively working on improving now. So, besides just the practice and the writing and re-writing, I read this article called “Rigging the Ship Called Fiction by Peter Selgin. Here’s an excerpt:
“Point of view is a mindset; not just a way of seeing, but a complete set of interpretive criteria–a sensibility through which readers experience a fictional world: i.e., through which things are seen, felt, tasted, smelled, and (potentially) weighed and judged and put into personal or historical context and/or perspective. This mindset stems from character. And by “character” here I mean either a member of the work’s fictional cast, or that of an omniscient yet invisible host or narrator, or–and at the very least–the character of the author who selects and orchestrates the details with which we, his readers, are presented. And even the most objective, camera-like point of view requires a rigorous selection process. Call it viewpoint by by omission, if you like, but it’s still viewpoint, and it still requires the exercise of judgment and judgement exercised in the absence of character is folly.”

 

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Short Stories

Like many writers, my first completed works of fiction were short stories. Immediately upon finishing my first short story, I fell in love with the form. Why? Because it allowed me in one sitting to express something vital that needed expressing–in the case of my first story, something about finding purpose in life. It was like a poem, only not a poem, different, more story, while still leaving much for the reader’s mind to ponder. For many years, I wrote only short stories and poetry, knowing that some day I wanted to write something longer, but that for now, I had some vital ideas that I needed to get out, in one sitting. I’m really stretching the truth when I say “in one sitting”. Though the initial story usually comes that way, I’ve been tinkering with one story in particular for fifteen years and others for varying lengths of time. I have a collection of thirteen stories now that I am editing and compiling into a yet unnamed collection (though I have a few possibilities).
I did eventually try my hand at “novels” and that seems to be where I spend a lot of my writing time now.
For the next month or two I’ll be focusing on this story collection, sidetracking to other projects only when I need a diversion, so I’ll probably blog some about the project. I’m also finally going to finish the book The Art of the Short Story, which I’ve read about half of so far.
Last night I tinkered around with what the order of the stories should be and came up with the concept for an opening story. It will be good to “finish” the collection. Though all the stories are fictional, they’re all quite a bit closer to my own experiences as woman and as a human being than the longer works of fiction I have in the works. I feel like I’m tying it all up, you know, so I can put it away and get on to other things for good.

 

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I Google Myself, Therefore I Am" by Frank Bures; March/April; Poets and Writers Magazine

“Deep down, I know that googling myself is a pointless, vain, embarassing and existentially bankrupt exercise. Yet, I can’t help it.” Read it!

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