I’m quite sure that if I lived when Gertrude Stein did, I would have not enjoyed her person—the pronouncements, the relentless self-promotion, the blatant self-absorption (“I am a genius”). If I lived in her time I probably, like so many else then, would not have enjoyed her writing either—the repetitions, the lack of story, the blatant self-absorption (“I am I because my little dog knows me”)....more
Posts Tagged: the last book i loved
Little bits of The Unnamed are stuck in my head. A man clinging to a telephone pole in a flood. A daughter and her father on a bench in Tompkins Square Park. A sense of loss. A sense of isolation....more
Ernest Hemingway purportedly said of Dawn Powell that she was his “favorite living writer.” Powell’s reputation has dwindled since then, and so I picked up A Time to Be Born in an effort to read more women writers—especially once-famous, forgotten ones....more
The first time I read Allison Benis White’s Small Porcelain Head, I was screening manuscripts for a book prize on my honeymoon. Admittedly, it’s an odd way to celebrate nuptials, but I thought I might read some of the manuscripts during afternoons on the beach....more
The front cover of the last book I loved bears neither gold seals nor laurels to rest on. If you’re looking for flashy art direction, keep moving. Here, there’s just a shadowy still life photo (inventory: one open notebook, one glass ashtray, one bowl, two pens, many loose leaves of paper)...more
As a fiction writer, I sometimes get jealous of the storytelling freedom in comics.
With prose writing, everyone seems determined to fit stories into predefined boxes. A work must be “literary” or it must be “genre,” it must be “science fiction” or it must be “fantasy,” it must be “serious” or it must be “comedy,” etc....more
I am a voyeur to the core. Keep your house lit at night and I will peer in to see how you spend your time alone, or what colors you’ve painted your walls. Invite me in and I will pick through your bookshelves and look at all your family photos on the mantle while you make me a drink. Ask me to stay and I will rummage through your things for what you’ve been hiding in those closets of yours. Write me a book with characters who are so real and precisely drawn that I can feel their warmth in the seat next to me, and I will sign out of Facebook and devour it....more
Three years ago, I bought Rebecca Solnit’s essay collection, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics, on a lark.
At that time I was beginning to write, trying to find my voice. Three years before that, I had moved from the Midwest to Colorado with the boy I would much later marry....more
The problem with writing about Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is that I can’t discuss the plot. A blend of science fiction and literary narrative, the novel hinges on a secret, a secret so all-encompassing and imposing, so carefully revealed, that if I were to divulge it, I would ruin the book.
That being said, here’s what I can tell you…...more
What would the man who said, “I’d rather be a lightning rod than a seismograph,” think about becoming a museum piece?
The quote, by Ken Kesey, appears in the first chapter of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe’s chronicle of Kesey and his cohorts’ legendary Day-Glo bus journey across America and the widespread explorations of inner space that followed....more
I am here to do two things: scream the praises of James Salter, and throw a few questions about his place in the larger scope of literature into the mix. How did I make it through a college lit class that taught authors from the second half of the twentieth century and never hear of James Salter?...more
I wanted a genre book. You know, just a quick zip through something exciting, and heavy on plot and action—maybe not so deep with all that poeticism and character development stuff.
My first mistake was picking a book by one of those respected genre writers....more
Every high school has a kid like Erik. He’s sharp, dark, and charming. Add in the fact that he has his own car and impeccable taste in Scandinavian metal, and who better to befriend during the darkest years of your life? Even if he seems a little unhinged, or if his customized tabletop war game, complete with rules that revolve around slaying the entire town, maybe comes off as being too realistic, he’s still a good kid....more
I am as guilty as any other reader I know of opening or hijacking conversations with some derivation of, “You know what you should read?” I can’t help myself; I read something I loved, and I want to share. There is also an unfortunate correlation between how transformative the reading experience was and how vigorously I talk about it, meaning that I am at my most obnoxious when I have read something I love....more
For years when I was young I would crouch beneath the dinner table to watch my parents drink after-dinner coffee and wine with an ever-changing group of scientists—a tall man from Colombia whose mustache is even more impressive than my father’s, a shy Chinese man who twice brought me folded paper fans, a thin young woman from India with acetic hair who rarely speaks, but whose murmured jokes can pitch the group into laughter....more
Truman Capote famously said that what Jack Kerouac did wasn’t writing, but typing. I take just as much offense today to this slander as I did ten years ago as an undergraduate when first hearing it quoted by an English professor....more
I had read the book months ago. And then, standing in front of Edward Hopper’s “The House by the Railroad” at the Museum of Modern Art, I found myself trying to explain to a tango-friend from South Africa why this painting—one she wanted to walk past without more than a cursory glance—was important....more
I was ten years old when 1999 became 2000. My knowledge of the Y2K problem was vague; I could only glean a nebulous mood of panic from overheard newscasts and conversations between adults. My own parents did not seem worried. We went to New Year’s Eve festivities at a family friend’s house....more
Based on the true story of an English midland town in the year 1666 that quarantined itself to sweat out the bubonic plague, Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague reminds me of the private school campus where I live with my family in the suburbs of Baltimore, the year 2012....more
It’s easy to write off one author based on a best-seller. Call it jealousy, call it high-end literary disdain, call it whatever you want, but it’s easy to give in to the impulse to distrust something once it’s become popular. This indeed was my reaction to the author Elizabeth Gilbert, who I (as many others) first encountered by way of her memoir-cum-chick-lit classic Eat, Pray, Love....more
In the mid-1980s, I fled Ronald Reagan’s America for the jungles of Costa Rica. Before leaving–forever, I thought–I shipped two boxes of paperbacks to the tropics. I would soon read every book from those boxes plus anything else I could grab in hopes of explaining a world gone mad....more
I was told this as though it is impossible for mature adults to be vulnerable....more
The moment when a new book is begun it is a moment that vibrates, as potential energy (a writer’s wisdom distilled into a completed work, printed, bound, placed in your hands), converted slowly into kinetic energy (second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day) with each turn of the page....more
For an Irish person, that’s a weighty question to consider. I guess that in some other incarnation of myself I might have found the glistening cobblestones of Montmartre immeasurably romantic but with my fiancé away on tour and being (scarcely) self-employed, the dampness weighed down heavily on my mood, pushing me into a period of semi-hibernation....more
One of the first things that became apparent while reading Yvonne Vera’s The Stone Virgins was a gentle spiraling, a contracting of the scope of the novel, from the streets of Bulawayo to the small village of Kezi via the local gathering place Thandabantu; from Thenjiwe and her unnamed lover to her sister Nonceba; contracting into a pinpoint during the murder of Thenjiwe and the rape and mutilation of Nonceba....more
Have you ever read a book about a sensational event that isn’t sensational itself? That manages to transcend the shocking element to reveal a much more interesting and nuanced story, which then helps you begin to comprehend, even if not accept, the things that happen in extraordinary circumstances?...more