Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Slump Winner and a Review

As is usually the case, a dark horse winner emerged yesterday when I was trying to decide which book to read next. When I got home from work there was a package tucked neatly inside our storm door--a review copy of Elizabeth Crane's short story collection, You Must Be This Happy to Enter. Seeing as I have the attention span of a skink at the moment and very short bursts of time in which to read, I figured it might be just the thing to bust my slump. So far, so good! Between short bits of reading yesterday and a little bit today, I'm already over 50 pages in, and while Crane's writing style and subject matter are nothing short of...ummm...eccentric...I'm enjoying it. Enough to finish it this weekend, I would bet.

Thank you all for the wonderful recommendations and cheerleading so far! I'm definitely gonna read one of the books I listed after I finish the Crane. Right now I'm leaning toward 1001 Nights of Snow Fall or Kavalier and Clay. But, you all know me...I might change my mind in five minutes.

Aside from the physical act of holding and reading a book, I've also been "reading" Keith Donohue's novel, The Stolen Child, on audio to make my commute more bearable. Heather F. first recommended this book to me when she finished it, and I became increasingly intrigued when I read her interview with the author in the July issue of Estella's Revenge. (Note to Keith Donohue: Every time I try to type your name, I inevitably write "Keith Donohuge" the first time around. My compliments to you, sir.) I can't wait to go back and read the interview again, since I know I'll appreciate it much more on this side of the reading experience.

If you haven't yet heard of this book, make a note. GO BUY IT! It's a complicated story, but here's my best shot at a short blurb:

Henry Day is something of a lonesome, disconnected child--the perfect target for changelings. One day, when he runs off into the woods, he's snatched by fairy children and one of them takes his place in the human world. The real Henry Day is dubbed "Aniday" by his changeling companions and relegated to a seemingly immortal life trapped in a 7-year-old's body. Meanwhile, the new Henry Day surprises and mystifies his parents with his sudden musical abilities. The Stolen Child is made of interlocking threads of story told from the perspectives of Aniday and the new Henry.

Admittedly, I probably wouldn't have picked this book up any time soon if I hadn't found it discounted on audio when I visited Texas for Christmas. Despite Heather's glowing recommendation and her assurance that I would love it (she's always right), I haven't yet overcome fairy tale burnout from my Master's degree. Since my thesis was on comics and fairy tales, I've been detoxing since my thesis defense in June. However, finding myself out of audio books and in desperate need of entertainment on my way to/from work, I popped The Stolen Child into my car's CD player and decided to give it a go.

I would like to say I was hooked from the beginning, but it took some warming up to really become entranced by the story. Right off the bat, I knew the narrators were something special. Two men, Andy Paris and Jeff Woodman, do a fantastic job with the respective stories of Aniday and Henry. There's a boyish playfulness to their narration, and their performances drew me in despite my doubts and my usual reading moodiness. By disc three (of ten) I was completely involved, and found myself wishing to sit in my car and listen a little longer when I arrived at work or home.

Besides the glowing performance aspect, I really have to tip my hat to Keith Donohue for his masterful storytelling. The mingling of Aniday and Henry's stories is superb. Aniday's story is compelling for a number of reasons, but I really loved the description of his life in the woods among his fairy companions and the dangers and joys associated with their friendships. It was also quite interesting to experience his intellectual and emotional maturation, all the while trapped in a child's body. He grows up, so to speak, yet always stays a child. He simultaneously experiences the world as an adult but manages to hold onto a childish playfulness that most adults forget or "grow out of"--a lust for adventure, mischief, and merrymaking.

Henry Day, on the other hand, must adjust to a life among humans after centuries as a fairy child. As he grows up human, he begins to remember his first human life--before he was stolen by the changelings--all the while losing touch with his memories of the forest and his child companions.

The trickiest part of the whole business, and one of the juiciest parts of the story, is the distance that grows between the man and boy even as their lives are inextricably linked. For it is dangerous and taboo for the changeling children to have contact with the human world, and Henry Day, as he becomes increasingly human, begins to fear and suspect the worst of the changelings he glimpses in the shadows.

Keith Donohue presented his book to the publishers as a "bedtime story for adults," and I think that's a nice way of putting it. I can't say I was in the mood for fantasy when I started listening to this book (one of the reasons I was hesitant), but it doesn't feel like fantasy as one reads or listens. Donohue's descriptions are earthy and lush without being overblown. There's a glaze of the unreal to this novel, yet it was never unbelievable. At its most basic, The Stolen Child is about two men, their unique lives, and their problematic connection to one another.

I give it a rare, perfect score. 10/10. I think I just found one of the books that will show up on my 2008 Top Ten list. Not bad for a reading slump, huh?

Now I'm off to grade a class-load of papers. Pray for my soul!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Unsettled Reader

I think I'm in my very first reading slump of the new year, and it's entirely too early for that, in my opinion. After Great Expectations I expected to jump into Clown Girl, but I'm finding it tough going. Understand, it's not the book's fault...just my unpredictable mood. Last night I went trolling for books in the portion of my "to be read" pile that lives in the corner of the kitchen.* Sometimes I pick my next read very specifically, and other times I just snap up a book at random and start reading. Other times a book seems to call to me. I can hear its little squeaky voice crying out from under its compadres stacked here and there.

This time I got nothin'.

I have no idea what I want to read. The four books I snatched out of the TBR to contemplate last night (contemplate = pet for signs of good reading vibes) are Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama; 1001 Nights of Snow Fall, by Bill Willingham; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon; A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson.

I usually do well to bust a slump by reading non-fiction, and I love me some Barack Obama, so that one sounds like a good bet. On the other hand, A Walk in the Woods is humorous non-fiction, and that usually helps me along. On the other other hand, a graphic novel usually does the trick, and it's been a while since I read anything related to my beloved Fables, so 1001 Nights of Snowfall seems like a logical choice. And even though I'm out of hands, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is supposed to be GREAT fiction, and it's about comics, so I get a vicarious dose of the graphic arts in a fine novel. Hmmm. Decisions, decisions.

Or maybe I'll opt for a really short read and knock out The Bluest Eye for my Febrary Year of Reading Dangerously book.

Any recommendations? They can be related to the books I've picked or something completely different.

*Note: this picture is slightly misleading since there are a bunch of books in there that I've already read, but the other night I culled the already-reads, restacked, and reboxed some of the unreads. Yes, the boxes are full of unread books, too.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens

After 13 years, I finally revisited one of my favorite books of all time. In fact, Great Expectations is the first classic novel I ever remember reading. It was the first book we read in my freshman English class in high school, and it really made me a fan of the classics. All these years I've romanticized Estella (obviously) and thought fondly of Miss Havisham. Oddly, it is the main character, Pip, that I haven't thought much about. Instead, the details of Dickens' warped women have kept me company all these years.
One thing I realize upon re-reading is just how abridged that first copy must've been. I know we read it out of a textbook, so I can only imagine how much I missed. Maybe that's why Estella and Miss Havisham stayed strong in my mind while Pip faded into the background.
For those who haven't read it, a short blurb from the back of my Penguin Classics edition:
A terrifying encounter with an escaped convict on the Kent marshes; a summons to meet the bitter, decaying Miss Havisham and her beautiful, cold-hearted ward Estella; the sudden generosity of a mysterious benefactor--these form a series of events that changes the orphaned Pip's life forever, and he eagerly abandons his humble origins to begin a new life as a gentleman. Dickens's haunting late novel depicts Pip's education and development through adversity as he discovers the true nature of his 'great expectations.'
There's a good discussion of the book brewing over at the Year of Reading Dangerously blog, but I'll go ahead and flesh out some thoughts here before I start posting over there.
Pip is a pipsqueak. While he starts out a loving child, he quickly forsakes his family and friends when he gains a fortune from his mysterious benefactor (not a spoiler). While many were annoyed to the point of dislike with Pip, I never really felt that way. Perhaps it's Dickens's way with detail, but I always found Pip pretty human and understandable given his circumstances. He came from nothing and was suddenly faced with everything. Sounds a bit like a child star. Anyway, I always found something redeeming in him despite his gawd-awful behavior.
As for Dickens's deplorable ladies...they couldn't have been any better. My juvenile brain (combined with the film version, I suspect) clearly latched onto Estella and kept her all these years. It was with this re-reading that I discovered just how absent she is for the majority of the novel. However, I think therein lies the mystery. Because Estella is painted as iconic and enigmatic through the lens of Pip's obsession, Estella becomes a "big" character even though she is quite often only hovering in the background.
Miss Havisham, on the other hand, sprang to life for me upon this re-reading in a way she did not before. I got a much better feel for her cruelty and downright creepiness. All rot and spite, she spends her days rattling around Satis House with her cane, in a moldering wedding gown, surrounded by the vestiges of her unfulfilled marriage. I think Dickens did a great job fleshing out the crazy lady. I can't get enough of her now. If it weren't so well established, I might rename the blog. OK, maybe not, but it's a thought.
Overall, this novel is a big fat winner. It's twisted, it's nicely fleshed out, and the characters--both "bad" and good--are highly memorable.
Now I need to re-read A Tale of Two other Dickens favorite.

The Sunday Salon - Some Days Just Aren't for Reading

The Sunday

And today is one of those days. I've had the entire day off with very little responsibility that needs attending to, but I find myself unable to read much more than a chapter here or a chapter there. It's an unavoidable truth that no matter how much we may want to read, sometimes it just doesn't work out.

Today's problem is more an issue of attention span than anything. While I may be in the mood to read, whenever I begin I inevitably become sidetracked by the TV or watching the finches clustered around our bird feeder, or I start talking to B. I've knocked off a few of the remaining chapters of Great Expectations, and I'm so near the end it makes it that much more frustrating that I can't get my reading mojo going today.

But, like any good book lover, even when I can't read, I set myself to the task of amassing more books.

I've discovered a wonderful thing...a cart of free books (aptly labeled "free stuff") in the hallway of our English department right outside the elevators. You're likely to find anything from trashy romance to used textbooks to absolutely wonderfully beautiful trade paperbacks! Yeah, I stumbled upon some really good goodies.

Friday, as I was about to leave, I noticed a couple of brightly colored trade paperback gems. To my utter astonishment one of them was On Beauty, by Zadie Smith--a book I've been lusting after for some time now. I also snatched up, despite my doubts, Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you may know that I affectionately (OK, not really affectionately) refer to Foer as my literary nemesis. I tried Everything is Illuminated a couple of years ago and found it so pretentious that I tossed it (with glee) after about 29 pages. However, I'm willing to admit to my wildly vacillating reading moods and give it another shot. I'll keep you posted. I might fling it across the room again. And finally, I picked up Messiah, by Gore Vidal. I know nothing about the book, and I've never read anything by Vidal, but it was just too pretty a paperback to pass up.

Now if only I could make myself read...

Maybe tomorrow.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Della Donna!

The newest issue of Della Donna is online, and yours truly is this month's profiled "Fabulous Female." Thanks so much to April for her ongoing support of my work, and Estella's Revenge, and for just being a great friend--and for cranking out fantastic issues of Della Donna every month!

Eva's Reading Meme

It's another somewhat uninspired day in the Andi and B. household. I don't have to be at work until noon, so I'm lounging around in my jammies (see a pattern here?) eating Cheerios and watching "Once Bitten" on Encore Mystery. I haven't seen this movie in years and had forgotten just how bad it is.

Anyway, I have lots of practical things on the brain today like new car insurance coverage, picking up touch-up paint for my beloved Accord from Honda this morning on the way to work, and cleaning the house. Need to. Don't want to. I also need to get pants tailored, book myself a haircut, and I would really love to be reading.

SO, I'm going to take advantage of Eva's Reading Meme! Great questions! Thanks for coming up with them, Eva!

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews? Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See. I actually own it now after finding it on the clearance shelves at Half-Price Books on my trip to TX. It's a short novel, everyone raves about it, but it just bugs me. The title bugs me, the cover bugs me. I will read it eventually, but it might take a leap of reading faith.

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be? I'd probably bring my favorite literary villainesses to life and let them scratch each other's faces off. I'm thinking Estella from Great Expectations, Zenia from The Robber Bride, and who could be my third? Hmm, I'm drawing a blank. Maybe I'd throw in one sane character and Snow White from Bill Willingham's Fables could keep me company while Estella and Zenia kill each other.

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realise it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave? The Odyssey...again. Because I'm quite sure my lot would be to read the most boring book in the world just one more time. I've already read it three times, and I hope I never have to go back!

Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it? Mrs. Dalloway. I know SO MUCH about the plot from hearing others discuss it that I feel like I've read it.

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realise when you read a review about it/go to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book? Jane Eyre and The Age of Innocence. I haven't read the final 30 pages of either one. I really need to rectify that.

You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (if you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead of personalise the VIP) The Great Gatsby could be a nice companion for most celebs I can think of. They need a good dose of the American Dream's dark side. Maybe then they wouldn't screw their lives up quite so badly.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with? Russian. I tend to have a very hard time with Russian translations, and I can only hope the original writing is much better and more pleasant to read.

A mischievious fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick? The Lord of the Rings! I absolutely love it and need to re-read it. The sheer size has kept me from re-reading it so far, but I just know I will one day. Once a year would be heavenly.

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)? I don't know that book blogging has pushed my boundaries necessarily, but I do find an intense satisfaction in the book blogging community from being able to talk about ANY genre I might enjoy and know that there's someone out there who's lovin' it too. Whether it's an off-the-wall indie or sf or graphic novels or YA. Someone will want to talk about it.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free. I would definitely want a library of pristine trade paperbacks. They're gorgeous, they're comfortable to hold, they travel well. As for the decor, I would want a large, airy room with lots of windows. Any book lover wants floor-to-ceiling shelves with a one of those nifty sliding ladders. I would also like a large aquarium built into the wall because watching fish is incredibly relaxing. As far as seating goes, I think I'd really like an overstuffed chaise lounge that I could curl up in or stretch out in for those marathon reading days. The walls would be peppered with gorgeous art, I'd love a view of the mountains, and a maid to come in and replace all my books to their proper places.

And now, let’s say everyone has to tag four people. I tag…
Heather F.
Amanda A.

Have fun, ladies!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Screwiest Day in Recent History

Note: Careless workplace bitchery removed to preserve my livelihood, which makes this a far less entertaining post, but affords me the continued opportunity to pay my bills.

I got my second short story rejection from a swanky journal--but not-as-swanky-as-the-first journal that told me I suck. The stories, I'm woman enough to admit, need some more revision, so back to the grindstone I go. My nose may be gone by the time these stories are accepted anywhere.

I also need to finish Great Expectations. I'm really enjoying it, but I seem to need large, uninterrupted blocks of time to really get into the story. Large blocks of time are in increasingly short supply, but I think today could be the perfect reading day. I have a big squishy chair, a cold dreary day, and nothing to do until 11:00 AM tomorrow. Watch out!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Saved by the Weather

No school tomorrow!!!! Well, no classes tomorrow. Apparently the heat all over campus will be off, so faculty are expected to bundle up and attend, but students are allowed to go home. I'm saved by the weather because I was supposed to have an observation tomorrow from my department head. Whahahaha! No idea when that'll take place now, but at least it's not tomorrow. I'm all about procrastination.

I'm exhausted and without inspiration, so I leave you with a favorite quote until tomorrow:

I am afraid of writing, too, because when I write I am always moving toward the unarticulated, the dangerous, the place where the walls don't hold. I don't know what's there, but I'm pulled toward it. Is the wounded self the writing self? Is the writing self the answer to the wounded self? Perhaps that is more accurate. The wound is static, a given. The writing self is multiple and elastic, and it circles the wound. Over time, I have become more aware of the fact that I must try not to cover that speecheless, hurt core, that I must fight my dread of the mess and violence that are also there. I have to write the fear. The writing self is restless and searching, and it listens for voices. Where do they come from, these chatterers who talk to me before I fall asleep? My characters. I am making them and not making them, like people in my dreams. They discuss, fight, laugh, yell, and weep. I was very young when I first heard the story of the exorcism Jesus performs on a possessed man. When Jesus talks to the demon inside the man and asks for his name, the words he cries out both scared and thrilled me. The demon says, "My name is Legion." That is my name, too.

From A Plea for Eros: Essays, by Siri Hustvedt

I've posted this passage before, but I haven't read over it in a long time and thought about it today.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Short Story #1: The Short Story Challenge

While I did vow to read five short story collections in 2008, I also find myself dipping and diving into sundry collections and journals like Tin House. I'm slowly making my way through the "Fantastic Women" issue (volume 9, number 1), and one particularly juicy nugget has grabbed me by the nose hair thus far.

The story is simply titled, "Abroad," and it's written by Judy Budnitz. I read this story a week or so ago, and I've been thinking about it ever since, wondering exactly how I should post, how much I should say, and how to summarize such a wonderfully bizarre and affecting story. So here we go...

It's about a woman and her husband traveling abroad (betcha couldn't guess, eh?). The couple gets off their train at the wrong stop and discovers that another train won't be along for three days, so they must somehow entertain themselves in a strange country until they find their way to the proper destination. They visit a church made from bones, a cemetery, they bounce through the streets from restaurants to shops, the locals pointing them to McDonald's all the way.

In the beginning, both husband and wife refer to the locals as "they," "those people," but over the course of the story something shifts. The wife stays separate from the locals distanced by custom, culture and practice. However, her husband begins to embrace the lifestyle, the language, and eventually everything melts into a confusing blur as the wife can no longer speak to her husband or understand the native tongue he's so adept at speaking. All she can do is watch as he parties with the locals, brings them round to the hotel room, asks them to stay, and they eventually take over the wife's surroundings completely putting their clothing in the wife's suitcase, making beds on the floor, and infiltrating the couple's life completely.

Budnitz's story is surreal and poignant. A whirl of language and confusion and loss. I actually sort of felt the urge to cry at the end of the story as the wife--while quite shallow and unwilling to stretch herself culturally--is unable to reach her husband both literally and figuratively. The symbolic growing apart of this couple was just heartbreaking to me perhaps because it was compressed so deftly into three days and those days into 12 pages.

"Abroad" really is a testament to the power in a writer's pen as she so artistically expresses the distance and misunderstandings that can crop up between loved ones if someone doesn't make an over effort to communicate--"build a bridge" for lack of a better expression. I only hope I can express complicated emotions and relationships in such clever ways one day in my own writing. In the meantime, "Abroad" is a wonderful work to ponder.

Lazy Blog Days

Today is one of those emotional meltdown days when the blog ideas are plentiful, but the gumption to make them come alive is waning. So instead of being innovative, I'll treat you all to a writing meme. I found this one through Nova Ren.

What’s the last thing you wrote?

Non-fiction: A draft of an upcoming column installment for BiblioBuffet.
For myself: A draft of a short story I’ve been working on for THREE YEARS. But it’s almost done!

Was it any good?

Non-fiction: Yes. I think so. I’m pretty confident in my non-fic…it’s the fiction that frightens the ever-lovin’ poo out of me.
The story: Better than it was before!!

What’s the first thing you wrote that you still have?

Probably a book I wrote in kindergarten about a rose and a unicorn. Aptly titled, “The Rose and the Unicorn.” It was one of those hand-bound with cardboard slices and wallpaper for endpapers. I vividly remember making that book.

Write poetry?

Noo. I’ve written one poem in my life that I like. ONE.

Angsty poetry?

Not anymore. I put a stop to that when I was about 12.

Favorite genre of writing?

Hmm, toughie. I suppose my favorite to write is creative non-fiction because it comes a bit easier than fiction. Although, I do spend a great deal of time fussing and slaving over my fiction. I’m determined to become a craftswoman, damnit.

Most fun character you’ve ever created?

An adventurous young girl who thinks she has no imagination but is brilliant and likeable and funny. She’s part of my YA-novel-in-progress.

Most annoying character you’ve ever created?

A neurotic woman with attachment issues but a decidedly interesting artistic side that seeps out despite all her whining.

Best plot you’ve ever created?

A super top secret plot for a novel I haven’t written yet. The plot is golden but now I just have to get it on paper. I knew I had a winner when I told S. about it over breakfast at a conference once, and she said, “Holy shit.”

Coolest plot twist you’ve ever created?

See that part above about the unwritten novel.

How often do you get writer’s block?

I don’t so much have to deal with writer’s block in the traditional sense, but I suppose overcoming the business of my everyday life works as a sort of writer’s block of its own. I know what pays the bills, and it’s not the fun stuff yet. Maybe one day. In the meantime I pound away at the keys when I have a spare moment.

Write fan fiction?

Nooo. But if I did it would probably involve Hugh Laurie and lots of naughtiness. Hellooo, Dr. House.

Do you type or write by hand?

I type—72 words per minute! I took a typing test a while back for a library job, and I had no idea how fast I typed up to that point. I knew it was fast, but 72 wpm is as fast as my mom, and she’s FAST.

Do you save everything you write?

Yep, and quite obsessively since the great motherboard crash of 2007. That’s enough to scare the stuffing out of any writer. Thank God I got everything back…academic and creative.

Do you ever go back to an idea after you’ve abandoned it?

Oh yeah, abandonment is part of my process. I generally write a draft (of fiction), leave it for several months, come back, leave it, come back. So on and so forth. It’s exhausting and not terribly efficient, but it works for me.

What’s your favorite thing you’ve written?

It’s hard to say. The collection of short stories I’m working on now is probably what I’m most proud of fiction-wise. I would also count my Master’s thesis among my favorite writing because I think there’s a lot there that needs to be mined, expanded and shared. Some innovative ideas in the field of comics theory.

What’s everyone else’s favorite story that you’ve written?

Dunno. Ask Heather F. She’s the only one who reads all my stuff.

Do you ever show people your work?

I show Heather F. everything because she’s a fantastic reader. She makes helpful suggestions and she’s very encouraging. She makes me want to keep plugging away and working even when I'm afraid I might not have a good story in me.

Did you ever write a novel?

When I was 14 I sat down at a crap word processor (not a computer, a WORD PROCESSOR) with something like a 3”x5” screen and worked for four months and cranked out an AWFUL young adult paranormal thriller thing. But it did prove to me that I have the gumption to begin and finish and novel, and I will do it again one day for certain.

Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?

Oh yeah. See above. Not recently, though. Fourteen was many a year ago.

What’s your favorite setting for your characters?

I tend to place my characters in nebulous locations. Their worlds generally consist of houses, museums, airplanes, etc. However, in my mind, I always pick out places that are real and personal in some way. For instance, the story I’ve been writing forever that’s almost done, takes place in DFW airport because it’s the airport I’ve spent the most time in. Another story I’m working on takes place in an apartment that looks distinctively like one my aunt lived in when I was growing up. So, to make a long answer even longer…most of the locations are in Texas or NC and very specific to my experience.

How many writing projects are you working on right now?

Multiple short stories, BiblioBuffet column, Estella’s Revenge Feb. issue, and I should be doing some freelance articles, but I think I’m going to quit that job since I’m doing the college English instructor thing full time with a part-time gig (2 classes) on the side.

Do you want to write for a living?

Would LOVE TO.

Have you ever won an award for your writing?

For my academic work as a whole…not just the writing but the conferences, TA work, etc. I have my Jerry & Marilyn Morris Distinguished Master’s Student award—a university-wide honor—hanging in my office.

Ever written anything in script or play format?

Nope. Drives me crazy.

What are your five favorite words?

Off the top of my head (which means I’m leaving out many beloved words): sliver, vile, hexagonal, vivacious, illustrative.

Do you ever write based on yourself?

I tend to thread bits of my experience through my fiction, but I always try to fictionalize the “me” right on out of the work. As I revise, a character or situation tends to move further and further away from the autobiographical.

What character have you created that is most like yourself?

She doesn’t have a name. She’s just “I.”

Where do you get ideas for your characters?

Random epiphanies, mostly. I can be driving in my car and suddenly a line or scene or image will jump into my mind, and I just start building from there. Eventually the character may take on some characteristics of people I know or people I would like to know…so I invent them!

Do you ever write based on your dreams?

Almost never. However, when I was really getting in my YA novel a couple of months ago, I would wake up a time or two during the night having dreamt about the characters and really cool things that might take place. I wrote notes about those instances, and while I have yet to put them to paper, I think it’s going to work nicely.

Do you favor happy endings, sad endings, or cliff-hangers?

I, unlike most people, love ambiguous endings. Perhaps that’s because I admire a writer who can create a universe, a character, a situation and let me decide how it ends. There’s something so alluring about the ambiguous ending. While I know MANY people who chalk them up to laziness on the writer’s part, I find it extremely admirable and trusting for an author to let me have his or her ending. As a control freak, I know full well how hard it is to turn that story over for the reader to decide.

Have you ever written based on an artwork you’ve seen?

Yes. In fact, one of my latest short stories is about a specific work of art that I love. It’s called “The Beginning of the World.” It’s a marble sculpture by Constantin Brancusi, and it’s part of the permanent collection at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?

Yes. I’m a college writing teacher, and I can’t help myself! I tend to edit as I write, which slows down the process, but I would lose my mind otherwise.

Ever write anything in chatspeak (how r u?)

Do text messages count?

Entirely in L337?

Heh? I’m not as young and hip as I used to be.

Was that question appalling and unwriterly?

Mostly just confusing, which can be very writerly!

Does music help you write?

If it’s something that I’ve heard a zillion times and don’t focus too much on the lyrics. Dave Matthews Band is good, as is John Meyer, Shawn Colvin, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Vertical Horizon, Dixie Chicks, David Gray. Incidentally, these are the same artists I used to listen to when I painted. I could spend 7 hours in the studio with the same CD on repeat all day.

Quote something you’ve written. Whatever pops into your head.

“I think of how my breath would feel, covering the egg like frost, like love. If I held my face close, closed my eyes and exhaled, my breath would cling to the egg, dulling its magnificent sheen and then die away like dew on a warm window, leaving just the slightest trace of dampness behind.”

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Sunday Salon - Inaugural Post

I've been eyeing the Sunday Salon for a while now. I usually don't blog over the weekend, but I've decided this is just too much fun to pass up. The Sunday Salon is described this way:

What is the Sunday Salon? Imagine some university library's vast reading room. It's filled with people--students and faculty and strangers who've wandered in. They're seated at great oaken desks, books piled all around them, and they're all feverishly reading and jotting notes in their leather-bound journals as they go. Later they'll mill around the open dictionaries and compare their thoughts on the afternoon's literary intake....

That's what happens at the Sunday Salon, except it's all virtual. Every Sunday the bloggers participating in that week's Salon get together--at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones--and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on one another's blogs. Think of it as an informal, weekly, mini read-a-thon, an excuse to put aside one's earthly responsibilities and fall into a good book.

What's not to like about that?

So I'll begin this first post with my reading plans for the day. Since the weather is unsavory here--a balmy 38, wet, icky--it's the perfect day to curl up with a book. As you regular readers know (because I've mentioned it 87 times), I'm reading Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens for My Year of Reading Dangerously. It's slow going mostly because it takes an iota of concentration, and concentration has been in short supply as of late. Therefore, I'm keeping a steady stream of secondary reading at my side. First it was my initial book bust of 2008, The Jew of New York, by Ben Katchor. Now I'm reading my very favoritest author in the whole wide world...Paul Auster. The novel of the moment is Travels in the Scriptorium, his latest offering.

A blurb:

On the centennial year of Samuel Beckett's birth, Auster's new novel nods to the old master. We open with a man sitting in a room. The man doesn't remember his name, and a camera hidden in the ceiling takes a picture of him once a second. The man—whom the third-person narrator calls Mr. Blank—spends the single day spanned by the book being looked after, questioned and reading a fragmentary narrative written by a man named Sigmund Graf from a country called the Confederation who has been given the mission of tracking down a renegade soldier named Ernesto Land. During the course of the day, a former policeman, a doctor, two attendants and Mr. Blank's lawyer visit the room, and Mr. Blank learns he is accused of horrible crimes.

This is a slim volume, weighing in at a mere 145 pages. The nod to Beckett in the blurb above makes me a little nervous, and confirms a feeling I had by the time I reached page 9 of Travels in the Scriptorium. More absurdist fiction. I definitely need to be in the mood for the absurd. For characters that sit a lot and wonder and talk good bit of gobbledygook. Don't get me wrong, I actually do enjoy Beckett...loved Waiting for Godot...but I also realize that it takes a very well-defined mood for me to enjoy literature of the absurd. Thus the crash and subsequent burning of The Jew of New York.

So, while I love Paul Auster, I'm willing to admit that today might not be the time for this particular book. After all, as my BiblioBuffet column professes, I'm The Finicky Reader. And if the mood isn't right the reading goes south in a heartbeat.

I'll keep you posted...


A few hours later, and I've officially made the switch. Instead of Travels in the Scriptorium, I'm happily reading Monica Drake's novel, Clown Girl. Published by one of my favorite indies, Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts (publisher of one of my 2007 Top Tens, 501 Minutes to Christ), Clown Girl is probably going to make you scratch your chin when I tell you about it. I spent the better part of this post talking about how I'm not in the mood for the absurd, but now I'm blissfully chowing down on a novel that goes a little something like this:

In this darkly comic novel, Clown Girl lives in Baloneytown, a neighborhood so run down and penniless that drugs, balloon animals, and even rubber chickens contribute to the local currency. Against a backdrop of petty crime, Clown Girl struggles to find her place in the world of high art; she has dreams of greatness and calls on the masters, Charlie Chaplin, Kafka, and da Vinci for inspiration. But all is not art in her life: in an effort to support herself and her under-employed performance-artist boyfriend, she is drawn into the world of paying jobs, and finds herself unwittingly turned into a "corporate clown," trapped in a cycle of meaningless, high paid gigs which veer dangerously close, then closer to prostitution.

OK, so admittedly, it sounds absurd, but it's actually not the absurd I'm talking about in reference to Beckett and Auster. Drake's novel, thus far, crackles with a sharp wit, a humorous intensity, and it's just damn intriguing! How could I resist a novel with this first line?

Balloon Tying for Christ was the cheapest balloon manual I could find.

Oh yes. Monica Drake could be my new literary girl-crush (move over Miranda July!). The writing is great, the humor is outrageous and the story is wonderfully weird. And all seemingly "literary" at the same time. But more on that later. I feel I will need to gush about this book at length in a future post.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The First Book Bust of the New Year

Hmm, what can I say today that would improve upon the silence? Not much! I'm enjoying my last days of freedom before the Writing Center opens on Tuesday and my days grow from a T/Th 8-1:00 to a MWF 11:00-3:00 and T/Th 8:00-3:00. Still not a bad schedule, I realize, but I've been enjoying the extra time to work on my writing and read.

Speaking of reading...

Tuesday I left my copy of Great Expectations in my office, and I had absolutely no intention of going to work on Wednesday when a) I didn't have to b) it's a 40-minute drive there and back and gas prices are stupidly high. So, I just had to make arrangements for a short, temporary book to read in the between time.

I picked up Ben Katchor's much-praised graphic novel, The Jew of New York, which I chose for Dewey's Graphic Novels challenge after hearing about it in a multi-ethnic literature survey course I guest-lectured in a year or two ago. It's a short book, only 94 pages, and given my usual speed at reading graphic novels, I expected to finish it over the course of Wednesday afternoon and evening between hanging out with B. and teaching a class.

Not so much.

This graphic novel drags like no other I've ever read. Seriously, I'm amazed at how much I dislike it. Especially since Katchor, a cartoonist for the New York Times, The New Yorker, Metropolis Magazine, etc. is highly praised in every comics forum I've ever run across. The Comics Journal, various reputable 'zines, my grad school professor who works in Jewish lit and multi-ethnic studies ALL praise him like he's the high priest of innovative comics. He's a talented guy...apparently.

I am, in fact, woman enough to admit that maybe...likely...I just don't get it. Perhaps I don't know enough about Judaism to get the clever metaphors he's throwing out or something. Stacked on top of that, is my admission that I generally don't really care for absurdist literary works, and Katchor's work is highly absurd. Some of the characters include a disgraced kosher slaughterer, an importer of religious articles, a man with plans to carbonate Lake Erie, and an anonymous man in a rubber suit. At first glance, this sounds like something I would enjoy. I enjoy weird characters, but not when they just wander around, masturbate, sleep on lawns and skin beavers (hmmm, maybe I should spend more time examining the sexual implications).

The Jew of New York is essentially a series of character sketches, disjointed threads, that supposedly all come together in the end. How do I know? I consulted Google. I was so thrown by how much I dislike this book and don't get its "greatness" that I went a'Googling for nuggets to keep me going.

Until further notice, I'm going to assume that this book will come together in some thoughtful, meaningful, genius way that makes me admire it. But for now, I'm just sort of dazed.

Stay tuned...

Addendum: 10:56 A.M....

I finished it. I sort of get what Katchor was going for. It's all very weird and ironic and tongue-in-cheek, and it was just painful to read. Watch for a possible review on BiblioBuffet in the upcoming weeks as my column gets going. If I can figure out what on earth to say about it that's cohesive.

Rating: 4/10 - Ugg.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

An Exciting Turn of Events...

It's happened. I got a YES! You're wondering what the heck I'm talking about, I know, but I'm just almost too darn excited to type it.

You're looking at the newest weekly columnist for BiblioBuffet!

If you're not familiar with this most fantastic literary website, take thee tookus to it right now. It's a buffet of columns, reviews, and general bookish goodness. Their tagline: "Writing Worth Reading, Reading Worth Writing About."

I was first introduced to the Buffet when the illustrious and fantastic Lisa from Bluestalking Reader started writing her column, "Reviews and Reflections." I've been following the site since then, and I just love it. They have great stuff, and I certainly never thought I'd cut the proverbial mustard to write there. They have Publisher's Weekly contributors writing for them (in addition to about a dozen other really talented, qualified, intimidating people), for heaven's sake!

Finally, a few days ago, I had the idea; the one I thought might carry me through enough to propose a decent column and keep me in ideas for a stretch. Voila! I was right! What is that saying that's always attributed to Hemingway..."Write what you know." Well, OK, so that's a pretty widely used writing cliche, but in this particular case, it worked.

The name of my weekly column, you see, is "The Finicky Reader." Born of my tendency toward moody reading and a fascination with the details of a reading-driven life, I found I had a column on my hands. Now I'm busy planning future columns, writing ahead, getting a bio together, and all that good stuff that makes the rest of my supremely boring day pale in comparison.

The rest of my day, you see, will consist of calling around to local auto insurance providers so I can get some NC coverage, cancel the TX coverage, and finally get my NC Driver's License (yes, I'm behind on this). I also need to make some calls about the minutia of the Writing Center this semester, and tonight I get to teach a class.

Sometimes "real" life is such a drag. I'd much rather exist in writerly bliss on the computer.

Gotta run! Duty calls!

Oh, and look for a few aesthetic changes 'round here. It's beginning to look cluttered. Ugg!

Monday, January 14, 2008

New Addictions and Old Addictions

New addictions:

GroupRecipes - Heather introduced me to this delicious (har har) foodie website ages ago, but now that I have a vonderful (<--- German accent) thing called free time, I've actually begun to play with it! GroupRecipes allows users to join groups of like-minded foodies, "friend" people, share recipes, create full menus, and browse others' recipes by flavor, ingredient, etc. It's really a vast site with tons of tasty nooks and crannies to discover. I've posted four recipes, some of which you've seen here:

Artichoke Chicken Salad
Kalamata Meatballs
King Ranch Nachos
Chicken Breasts with Dried Beef

Body & Bath Cafe - This little shop, located in Myrtle Beach, SC ships its bath time treats all over. When we were in Myrtle Beach on vacation, I picked up two of the Dreamy Creamy Soap Floats, and I'm hooked. It's a mixture of shea butter and soap that creates a great lather for leg shaving and smells like candy. And it feels like a marshmallow! Well, a little tougher and harder than a regular marshmallow, but still a marshmallow!

Old Addictions:

Estella! (beware the link if you haven't read Great Expectations...maybe some spoilers!) - I still love her. I really do. For the uninitiated, Estella is not a nice girl. Her role in Great Expectations is to break our young protagonist's heart, and her aunt, the crazy, jilted Miss Havisham, taught her well. I can't (although I will try in the near future) put my finger on what exactly is so intriguing about Estella. Perhaps it's the fact that she's one of the original literary bad girls. She's enigmatic, calculating, seems pretty darn evil from the beginning. It's sort of like reading Paradise Lost and liking Satan the best of everyone. The baddies are always so much more interesting, aren't they?


I have some interesting and exciting writing prospects on the horizon. It'll take a bit for me to find out more info, but keep your fingers crossed and I hope I come back to this topic with good news in the near future.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill (no spoilers, I swear!)

My first book of the new year is quite a worthy choice! I chose to read Heart-Shaped Box to rest my brain between chunks of Great Expectations, and just as I feared, it completely took over my reading life for the better part of three days (would've been less, but I had to work, eat, and sleep).

Joe Hill's debut novel has a brilliant premise. Most appealing to those of us who enjoy the weird and macabre, perhaps. As I mentioned in another post, it's about a burned out rock star named Judas Coyne who collects all manner of gory relics: a trepanned skull, a signed confession from a witch, a well-used noose, a rather disturbing snuff film (as opposed to the happy/sunny ones). When a haunted suit shows up on an Internet auction site--not eBay, oh no--he doesn't give a second thought to plunking down $1,000 to secure his winnings. When the suite arrives in a black, heart-shaped box, Judas doesn't give it much thought. He certainly doesn't believe it's haunted...merely a good story. But all that changes in a flash when the dead man makes his presence known.

It's been a long while since I read a horror novel, but the alluring plot of this one--not to mention a rave review from Les--really didn't give me a choice. I had to get my hands on it, so I consider it VERY lucky that I ran across it on Barnes & Noble's bargain shelves! There's nothing like a good deal to sweeten a reading experience.

While I had a few tiny problems with the book which get in the way of completely effusive praise, the praise is pretty darn close to effusive. The first third of the book was ridiculously scary. Of course, I'm one of those people often more frightened by the unseen--by the possibility that something will jump out of the closet--than actually seeing something nasty and evil do the jumping. Such was the case with Heart-Shaped Box. I was scared nearly crapless by the possibility that the suit might be haunted, and even more so when Judas began to see the ghost but was unsure of its motives and ability to cause mayhem and harm.

As the book went on, and I won't give any spoilers here..I promised! As the book moved forward the ghost became more...obvious? In-your-face? Certainly more active. There was little mystery left as to his penchant for badness. He was one crazy mofo, if you will. At that point, the story became slightly less engrossing, but Hill's talent carried it through with interesting plot twists, nice character development, and an ability to tie up loose strings, even if they weren't all happy endings.

Heart-Shaped Box, despite its few flaws as I see them, is a great ride. It's interesting, original in many respects, and wonderfully atmospheric, and I would recommend it to pretty much anyone.

Anyone willing to sleep with the lights on, that is.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Another semester under way...

I survived my first day of classes! And in fact, my classes are multiplying like bunnies. I taught at 8:00 and 10:00 yesterday, and around 11:30 my department head came into the office with a serious look on his face (never a good sign) and asked if I would take an additional 12:00. While I panicked for a few minutes, wondered why I chose this damned profession, etc, there really isn't any down side to this situation as the class is a "college success" course that meets two days a week for only eight weeks. The teacher who originally had the course had everything planned to perfection and passed along her syllabus, schedule, icebreaker, assignments. In short, EVERYTHING. And the course is almost completely composed of guest speakers. So, no stress there really. The only hard part might be wrangling the 30 students in the class into behaving. We'll see.

Otherwise, all was well. There were few fires to put out, and I wore the cutest boots EVER. The balls of my feet are slightly numb now, but I have the day off today, so they should be ready for cute boots again on Thursday. (random) My office is shaping up, my classes are planned for the next five weeks (I tend to work in chunks), and my online class seems to be straightened out after a bout of technical glitches.

In other news, I'm already getting some reading in for the Short Story Challenge. Although, technically, what I'm reading now probably won't count. However, I'll probably post about one of my favorite short stories--the first short story my students are reading--"August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains," by Ray Bradbury. I'll be back with more details about this wonderful, classic short story after I re-read it today.
I'm also gonna try to finish Heart-Shaped Box. I read it pretty continuously (with breaks for meals, work, TV viewing, and talk with B.) from 4:00-9:30 last night. SO GOOD!

Monday, January 07, 2008

I'm tired already...

...and I haven't even taught a class yet.

That's right, I'm a wimp! I went in to work today at Full-Time Job (otherwise known as Far Away Community College) simply to make my nest. My office was butt ugly--an icky hospital green, bad window coverings. So I loaded up a bag with a painting, desk calendar, some office supplies, colorful folders, a Buddha candle holder, iPod docking station, etc. etc. I got into the office around 9:30 and spent the better part of the day getting things squared away--copying syllabi, making up grade sheets, getting my login and password, checked my work e-mail for the first time (upwards of 200 to go through). Around 12:30 I decided to go home and do some things there, but I ended up at Target buying more pretties and organizational stuff. Ultimately I didn't think I'd want to haul all the new goods up to the office at 7:30 tomorrow morning, so I went back to the office, did some more nesting, and finally skipped out around 2:30. All the way home I talked to some of the wonderful people from Part-Time Job (otherwise known as Really Close to Home Community College) about library tours, online enrollment, etc. etc. Once I worked my way through the traffic accident blocking my way home, picked up something for dinner, visited with B.'s parents and got myself into my comfy clothes, it was 5:30.

I'm pooped!

I know, not exactly a taxing day, but the just-before-class flurries always stress me out every semester. Tomorrow I get my new batch. I teach a technical writing class from 8:00-9:20 and a literature/research class from 10:00-11:20. Then I'm free for the day since the Writing Center doesn't open up again until the 22nd of this month. In the between time I'll be haggling with my students from online classes trying to get them squared away. Whew!

Getting everything set up and ready to roll will take a few days, but I love it! The beginning of a new semester is always exciting.

In other news, the new Estella's Revenge is online! Go check it out!

I started Joe Hill's debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box, last night and OH MY GOD. I probably WILL NOT be reading it at night when B. isn't home. It's been a very long time since I've read a horror novel. I'm sure the last one was something by Stephen King, so I suppose it's appropriate that my newest foray into the paranormal is with his son's work. For the uninitiated, the book is about a burned out rock star who collects disturbing objects like skulls, snuff films, and other nuggets of the macabre. When he buys a haunted suit on an Internet auction site--and it arrives in a black, heart-shaped box--all hell breaks loose. It's SO GOOD, but so freakin' creepy. Another reason I'm a wimp.

Off to finalize my intimidating speeches for tomorrow's classes. Gotta start 'em off right, ya know.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Short Story Reading Challenge

I love short stories, and I can't say that I've always had a great affection for them. For the longest time--as a direct result of forced reading in school I suspect--I wanted little to do with short stories in my free time. When I sat down to read and slip into another world, I yearned for a prolonged trip into an extensive literary adventure. Short stories always struck me as literary rejects...plots that failed to blossom into the end-all and be-all of readerly wonderment...the novel.

A few years ago when, as a Master's student, school took over my life completely, I found myself longing to read but wielding the attention span of a gnat. As a result, I turned to the short story with the utmost suspicion but an undeniable need to read something...anything. Once I finally dove into a collection or two, my affinity for the genre began to grow by leaps and bounds, and now I find myself a complete convert. I read short stories often and with vigor. Two wonderful short story collections, No One Belongs Here More Than You and The Secret Lives of People in Love, both made it to my Top 10 for 2007--something I never would've suspected a few years ago.

When I got wind of Kate's Short Story Reading Challenge, my ears perked up, my eyes got shifty, and I started mentally flipping through the available short story collections hiding in the corners of my "to be read" stack. Kate has laid out several options for completing the challenge, and I've decided to go with option 5:

Option 5: This is the custom option under the rubric of which you can tailor your reading list to best meet your personal reading aspirations. You might wish to craft a list that focuses on a particular place, or era, or genre. Or you might wish to include reading about short stories as well as of short stories, for example, such works as Frank O’Connor’s The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story. It’s entirely up to you.

I've decided to tackle four unread collections from my stacks, one collection that I don't own yet, but that I've had my eye on, and a smattering of selections from other sources like the "Best of" collections and literary journals like Tin House, The Golden Handcuffs Review, and Swink (all of which are on my nightstand right now). I'll deem a smattering at least 5 stories worth discussing.

Without further ado....the list of books:

1. The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter
2. I Am No One You Know, by Joyce Carol Oates
3. Little Black Book of Stories, by A.S. Byatt
4. Demonology, by Rick Moody
5. Like You'd Understand, Anyway, by Jim Shepard

I'll also toss the following collections into the ring as alternates:

20th Century Ghosts, by Joe Hill (don't own)
Close Range: Wyoming Stories, by Annie Proulx (do own)

I have to thank Kate for coming up with such a wonderful challenge. I'm SO EXCITED! I'll keep you all posted on my progress.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Armchair Traveler I Am!

I finished up my final Armchair Traveler challenge book on my vacation, and what a winner it was! Specimen Days, by Michael Cunningham, is a wonderful book! Too bad it's really difficult to explain and do it any justice whatsoever, so I'm going to take a little help from the Amazon blurb:

In each section of Michael Cunningham's bold new novel, his first since The Hours, we encounter the same group of characters: a young boy, an older man, and a young woman. "In the Machine" is a ghost story that takes place at the height of the industrial revolution, as human beings confront the alienating realities of the new machine age. "The Children's Crusade," set in the early twenty-first century, plays with the conventions of the noir thriller as it tracks the pursuit of a terrorist band that is detonating bombs, seemingly at random, around the city. The third part, "Like Beauty," evokes a New York 150 years into the future, when the city is all but overwhelmed by refugees from the first inhabited planet to be contacted by the people of Earth.

Presiding over each episode of this interrelated whole is the prophetic figure of the poet Walt Whitman, who promised his future readers, "It avails not, neither time or place ... I am with you, and know how it is." Specimen Days is a genre-bending, haunting, and transformative ode to life in our greatest city and a meditation on the direction and meaning of America's destiny. It is a work of surpassing power and beauty by one of the most original and daring writers at work today.

Yeah, that! I agree with all of it...even the effusive praise for Cunningham. It really was one of the most original books I read all year, and it never seemed forced. I was afraid it would...but it didn't.

So, with that, I wrap up the Armchair Traveler Challenge. To recap, I finished (click the link for my review)...

1. The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje (Italy)
2. Marie, Dancing, by Carolyn Meyer (Paris)
3. A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines, by Anthony Bourdain (all over)
4. The Journal of Dora Damage, by Belinda Starling (London)
5. O Pioneers!, by Willa Cather (Nebraska)
6. Specimen Days, by Michael Cunningham (New York)

Thanks so much to Lesley for a GREAT challenge! I had a wonderful time completing this one. Such a wonderful time, in fact, that it's hard to choose a favorite. If I had a gun to my head or a piece of chocolate in front of my face and was forced to pick ONE, it would probably be A Cook's Tour. Or The English Patient. No, no...O Pioneers! Bah!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

2007 Reading Year in Review...

2007, while not the best year as far as numbers go, was an exceptional year in regards to quality. For perhaps the first time ever, I had no qualms about laying aside books that didn’t particularly blow my skirt up. In the past, I’ve felt some inexplicable obligation to finish a book if I picked it up, but given the pressures of finishing my Master’s degree, moving cross country, and working three jobs, the enjoyment of reading definitely took first priority over finishing an unenjoyable book. Undoubtedly 2007’s legacy will be a year of higher quality reading than I’ve ever experienced, and I think that’s evident in the favorites I’ve chosen, and the fact that there are 14 of them! There was just no way I could keep my “bests” to 10 this year, and why should I? It’s my blog, goshdarnit! Without further ado, the list, in no particular order…

Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl
No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories, by Miranda July
The Secret Lives of People in Love: Stories, by Simon Van Booy
A Cook’s Tour, by Anthony Bourdain
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
Eclipse, by Stephenie Meyer
The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje
501 Minutes to Christ: Essays, by Poe Ballantine
The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures, by Louis Theroux
The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick
American Born Chinese, by Gene Yang
Patrimony, by Philip Roth
Specimen Days, by Michael Cunningham

Another hallmark of my reading in 2007 seems to be a willingness to step outside my former just-fiction comfort zone. While I still read far more fiction than anything else, I found myself enamored with short stories (something I’ve never experienced), and often drawn to personal essays and travel writing.

If I were handing out prizes for best books in varying genres, I would award The English Patient, my “Best of Fiction” trophy. Michael Ondaatje’s writing was just breathtaking. He wove together various storylines beautifully and created a staggering book.

The trophy for the best in short fiction is a big fat tie! Both The Secret Lives of People in Love and No One Belongs Here More Than You tickled me to no end. They couldn’t be more different. Van Booy’s collection reminded me of classic literature with a timeless feeling and some sort of old world literary charm (that’s the best way I can describe it). Miranda July, on the other hand, was no less talented but far more quirky, funny, and experimental.

The best in non-fiction is a dark horse winner: 501 Minutes to Christ, by Poe Ballantine. This independent writer, published by Hawthorne Books, reminded me of my transient relatives. Ballantine writes about his nomadic lifestyle with vigor and charm, and never failed to make me giggle, cringe, and shake my head in both admiration and shock.

My favorite new-to-me author this year is widely admired, and I’m almost sure I’m the last person on earth to read him for the first time. Thank you, David Sedaris, for making me laugh so hard I cried. Multiple times.

Other noteworthy reading experiences in 2007:

-My discovery of audio books. A long time ago I decided that I didn’t like audio books because they put me to sleep. However, a 40-minute commute changed my mind, and I’ve been listening to them for the better part of six months now. I can’t get enough!

-I discovered my admiration for independently published books. There are three in my “bests” and many more that I enjoyed this year. I look forward to reading more from Academy Chicago Publishers, Turtle Point Press, Hawthorne Books, and others in 2008.

-Estella’s Revenge! Editing the ‘zine has brought a number of new authors and publishers to my attention, and I feel sure my reading wouldn’t have been nearly as good without all the recommendations from the writers, and the authors and publishers it brought me into contact with.
Images by Freepik