Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Writer's Reading List

What are you reading? I frequently ask people this question. So? Yep, give. You. And not only do I want to know what you are reading but why you are reading it and what the book is about and if you like what you are reading or not. I want to know the author and the genre and if it has a lot of pages or not so many. And if it's a series and who told you to read it. I'm making up for the time I won't be able to read everything that's ever been written. I wasted too many good years not reading, and I need details. So, give.

I lament that I'm a slow reader. I've always been and practice hasn't helped. I tend to read several books at once, which also doesn't help my progress, but I need to read for many reasons, for enjoyment, research and craft. It all adds up to slow going.

Here's my reading list as it awaits on my bedside table.

Not pictured, Twenty Years After. This is the Alexandre Dumas story of what happens to the Musketeers, you guessed it, 20 years after the end of the first story. It is not as good as its predecessor. But I'm reading it to inform the stories I'm writing, which complete storylines within the context of Dumas's world. I'll have to admit, I take my liberties.

Also, I will soon start reading the latest translation of The Three Musketeers by Richard Pevear, published in 2006. I've heard it is excellent. Someday, I might try my own spin on the novel, but it won't be a translation because I don't know any French. It'll have to be a retelling, and not of the YA variety.

When all the hype about the J.D. Salinger book came out recently, I pulled out a book of his short stories and read the one called For Esme -- With Love and Squalor. Excellent. Thank you to the lender.

I just bought The Black Count by Tom Reiss, which is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. It is the story of the father of Alexandre Dumas (do you understand why I get eye rolls from my family when I mention The Three Musketeers?).

A dear college friend of mine, who has begun to write (I take a little credit for inspiring her), sent me a copy of Naked, Drunk, and Writing by Adair Lara. This promises to be a hoot-and-a-half, though I wonder if encouraging me to drink more, get naked more and write more is a prudent suggestion.

At a yard sales we organized this summer, I met an inspirational writer, Jennifer Powers, who lives in Portland. She came to our sale and bought a big Teddy bear. She also happens to be the author of Oh, Shi*f*t! How to Change Your Life with a Little F'in Shift. I need more than a little f'ing one, but don't tell anyone. Her book is funny.

Another friend, who I credit with reviving my love of fiction, handed me a copy of Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, which also won a Pulitzer. And underneath that gem is Cheryl Strayed's Wild, a borrowed copy from a writer friend here. I have a book by said friend to read after Wild along with essays by writers in The Writer's Notebook II from Portland's Tin House Books. I picked it up at the Willamette Writer's conference.

Last but not least, I infrequently flip through a copy of No Fear Shakespeare, of the sonnets with notes to understand them.

Those are within arm's reach at night. What's on your reading radar?


  1. I'll play!

    Troubadour by Alfred Kreymborg--an autobiography which shifts from the first person narration to third person, from "I" to "Krimmie" at a point when Kreymborg seems to become aware of his "persona." This is a man likely only known now to English professors or perhaps students of the Moderns--such as Carlos Williams and Pound and Mina Loy. Kreymborg was a musician/composer who became a poet. But what makes reading about his life is that it intersects with the "in the streets" lives of so many of the poets and artists of the period. Kreymborg published, as the founder of Others (a poetry journal)--all the names we see as canonical--Williams, Stevens, Marianne Moore, Pound, Sandburg, but so many others too (like Maxwell Bodenheim, whose life is an extremely sad and frustrating one--ending in his murder on skid row in NYC)--This is Greenwich Village!

    I also just finished reading his survey of American Poetry--Our Singing Strength. I actually read most it of though not in order. The chapter on Eliot is quite interesting and he really takes Williams to task for being so defensive in his prose (and for messing up his poetic work by being so confrontational with critics).

    This brings me to a point that I think worth making in this space. I really get a kick out of reading the journals of this period--they can be downloaded at The Modernist Journals Project--because this is the period when the icons, the giants, were living as people, just people, writing and trying to be published, and getting published only because it was the period when these poets needed to start their own journals in order to get their own work and their friends into print. This is when Poetry, Harriet Monroe's little magazine out of Chicago, started--Wyndham Lewis's Blast, Margaret Anderson's Little Review (serious attitude). What you will read is poetry by folks that were not painted gold by Academia but damn it, there are good poems in there! What you will discover is flesh and blood, not the frozen canonical "moderns"--you will hear them fight and be defensive--and what's best--you'll read things that are sheer crap from our great writers. People, just people, writing poetry and writing about poetry, and writing about each other, and sometimes really hating each other.

    This is to say nothing of the painters of the period: Marcel Duchamp, Marsden Hartley, Charles Demuth.

    I'm also listening to Walden again--I know that no one really reads (finishes, reads thoroughly) our great books--but there is no one who is a better writer in America's history. Often Thoreau's "tone" gets in the way for many--an attitude that they feel "condemns" their own lives (and it does, it does), but what he condemns is our sheer complacence and acquiescence to our social habituations--we are so mindless of our daily living that we do not deserve to consider ourselves much more than animals (if even that, as we are lower than beasts in our actions). The book is about attention. What is more necessary for a writer? For living awake?

    1. An impressive list of books. Those insider looks on writers' lives are fascinating. Makes us remember they wore pants, too. And did all manner of combustible acts.

  2. from a fellow Portland Blogger-

    1. Bill, beautiful quilt work. Thanks for the mention, too. Come back anytime!

  3. I know this post if a few days past, but I just found it via the Portland Blogger post feed. I always love getting a peek at someone else's reading list! I loved both A Visit From the Goon Squad and Wild, both for different reasons. I'll have to check out the others on your list!

    1. If you have a chance, go see Cheryl Strayed when she reads next in Portland. It's great to live in a place with cool intellectuals. Thanks for stopping and commenting! I may be in need of a graphic artist soon...


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