Post #101: This is Hardly Worthy of a Post, But…

Things You Should Be Reading

onion newsI couldn’t resist sharing this recent article from The Onion about the secret to being a writer. “Written” by Joyce Carol Oates, it’s entitled, “If You Wish to be a Writer, Have Sex With Someone Who Works in Publishing.”

The Onion is a national treasure that packs just about more laughs per square inch than any other source I know. Here’s a few more personal favorites:

1. Shaq Misses Entire Second Half With Pulled Pork Sandwich

2. Search for Self Called Off After 38 Years

3. CIA Realizes it’s been Using Black Highlighters All These Years

4. NASCAR Cancels Remainder of Season Following David Foster Wallace’s Death

Have any favorites? Share!

Post #100: Steinbeck Saw All

Things You Should Be Reading

east-of-edenI’m reading Steinbeck’s East of Eden for the first time. It’s really great, by the way. And though he’s not normally a writer, like, say, Ray Bradbury, that makes you think he had the power to predict the future, or whose writing was even meant to evoke or imagine the future, a passage I read earlier felt so modern, so of our time, that I went back and read it several times, then decided I had to share it with you.

Keep in mind this a guy writing in the mid 20th century about events that take place in the early 20th century.

The scene in question transpires at a train station, mid day, where Adam Trask, along with his son Cal and his house man Lee, await the return of Cal’s twin brother Aron home from college.

“Train schedules are a matter of pride and of apprehension to nearly everyone. When, far up the track, the block signal snapped from red to green and the long, stabbing probe of the headlight sheered the bend and blared on the station, men looked at their watches and said, ‘on time.’

“There was pride in it, and relief too. The split second has been growing more and more important to us. And as human activities become more and more intermeshed and integrated, the split tenth of a second will emerge, and then a new name must be made for the split one hundredth, until one day, although I don’t believe it, we’ll say, ‘oh, the hell with it. What’s wrong with an hour?’ But isn’t it silly, this preoccupation with small time units. One thing late or early can disrupt everything around it, and the disturbance runs outward in bands like the waves from a dropped stone in a quiet pool.”

In addition to being a writer of uncommon grace and insight into the human experience, it seems that Steinbeck also knew that someday we’d be annoyed at our smartphones for taking three seconds instead of two seconds to load information we used to wait half a day for without blinking an eye.

By the way, if you haven’t read East of Eden, do so. Like me you’ll wonder what the hell took you so long.

PS…I have to add a totally random aside. Today I was getting my oil changed and a woman in the waiting room who was big time squirrely because her car was taking so long saw me reading this book and told me that she’d written a memoir about her time living in Indonesia and one of the rejected titles was Least of Eden. Ha. Another was The Bali Jar. Double ha.

Post #99: Being Dad

Things You Should Be Reading, Tributes

sociallogo-kidsvtsquareI have an essay in the new issue of Kid’s Vermont, a monthly foray into the world of what to do with your kid if you’re a Vermont parent. For their Dad Issue, they asked me to contribute to their “Use Your Words” feature, a monthly personal essay, on a topic related to parenting. I ended up writing an essay about my dad, who was, is, and always will be the most important man in my life. I know that’s not an original thing to say–Dads loom large, after all–but writing this piece was a reminder of just how grand and essential a figure my dad has been for me. Check out the essay here.

I would be remiss not to express gratitude to the editors at Kids Vermont, Carolyn Fox and Cathy Resmer, for helping see this piece through. There was quite a lot of back and forth on this one, and I’m grateful for their help and guidance.

Post #97: Who Has Time for Stars?

New Writing, Things You Should Be Reading

I have a new short story that’s part of the May/June issue of Fogged Clarity. FC is great and I’m thrilled to be included. They publish fiction, poetry, reviews, and music! I’m listening to “Mountain Sounds,” the album in the new issue, right now and it’s fantastic. I want to also give some love to my dear friends Kara, Stephanie, and Angela who looked at early drafts of this story and helped nudge it along.

Have a peek at the story. Think you’ll like it. http://foggedclarity.com/2013/05/who-has-time-for-stars/

That’s all for today friends.

 

Post #96: I Notice You, Tom

Things You Should Be Reading, Things you should be watching

200px-Gatsby_1925_jacketFew books live in my nervous system the way The Great Gatsby does. Having loved and taught the book for many years, it occupies a hallowed space, an untouchable cloud of perfection in my soul. Though I re-read it every year, along with my students, it’s the only book I can think of (another one that comes close is Of Mice and Men; perhaps Invisible Man as well) whose freshness only grows, as if your experience with the novel is happening in reverse. Somehow the more I read Gatsby, the more I haven’t read it. The newer it feels.  

If you’re wondering, I’m not really here to write about the new film. Not broadly, anyway. A lot of ink is being spilled about it at the moment (on places like…The Internet) and I just don’t trust myself to add anything that would seem fresh, except to say it’s excellent and worth two and a half hours in the dark wearing a weird pair of glasses. It’s visually sumptuous, acted with immense care and skill, and with the exception of an added frame story for why Nick is telling the story (he’s cracked up and telling it first to a shrink in an asylum and then as “novel” therapy), quite true to the book, both the final draft and earlier iterations of the same story that F. Scott Fitzgerald worked on for years before the final manuscript was accepted. Next time I see Baz Lurhmann, I’ll slap him on the book for trying to do justice to Fitzgerald’s characters. 

movies-great-gatsby-joel-edgerton-tom-buchananI’d like to focus at the moment on The Great Gatsby‘s most misunderstood and under appreciated character, that great galoot Tom Buchanan. A couple of things got me thinking about Tom. One was Joel Edgerton’s fantastic portrayal of Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann’s just released 3D triumph. Edgerton’s performance is a marvel, though in the shadows of Leo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan, and Tobey Maguire’s quiet and dopey Nick Carraway, not to mention Lurhmann’s star power as a director and the natural hype that stems from adapting the great American novel, Edgerton’s performance is one you’re pretty much guaranteed not to hear much about. But that’s too bad. Because though DiCaprio is stunning and probably worthy of the Oscar nod he’ll likely earn for his work as Gatsby, Edgerton’s Tom Buchanan is the performance that’s still on mind the next day. The other thing that put TB on my brain (sorry…I can see that abbreviation is not going to work) was an article in The Daily Beast that discusses the nearly century long discussion about Tom’s far more famous and thought about wife, Daisy Buchanan. I highly recommend Katie Baker’s article, which you can read here, that takes on the deep and consistent maligning Daisy has experienced by the critical establishment over the years. It tries to contextualize Daisy’s behavior/character and the accompanying commentary and does so rather brilliantly. 

One can’t really defend Tom Buchanan all that well. You’ve got to hand it to Fitzgerald for writing a basically indefensible human. But what I’ve always felt compelled to defend is not Tom himself, but to defend him against both Nick’s, and most readers, defense of and love affair with one James Gatz, turned Jay Gatsby,who is often read as Tom’s foil and masculine opposite. The softer side of man. The soft treatment Gatsby gets in the novel, and from many readers, has always bothered me a little. Partially because it’s different from how I see Gatsby (otherwise known as the right way), and partially because I think it’s different from how Fitzgerald saw Gatsby. In a novel so brisk, it’s easy to miss how complex and nuanced Fitzgerald’s characters really are.

Given what we know, at best, Jay Gatsby is a liar and a criminal. Though we never know the exact source of his riches, they almost certainly come from a host of illegal activity that everyone except Tom ignores and, in keeping with the loose morals of the age, seem entirely unconcerned with. But Gatsby’s character has such a strong pull on our romantic tendencies that we are endlessly drawn back to his inherit gorgeousness, as experienced by Nick Caraway. Gatsby’s got love in his heart and we love him for that. It seems that if a man is doing it for love, it doesn’t really matter what he does.

Ironically, it’s Nick’s fault that we idolize Gatsby at Tom’s expense. Because our story teller is so enamored by one and so repulsed by the other, we feel dirty feeling sympathy for Tom and are, in some ways, denied the chance. Mostly (no coincidence in a novel about class) it’s because Nick’s upbringing is closer to Gatsby’s than to Tom’s that Nick is so taken with Gatsby. (And because Nick may want to sleep with Gatsby but never says so.) Tom represents an honest expression of what Gatsby so badly and nakedly wants but will never have, that for many the only way to deal with Tom is to hate him and cast him aside. 

And, to be fair with those who will likely disagree with my assessment, Tom Buchanan doesn’t deserve much better. He’s an entitled jock douche bag who cheats on his wife, beats his mistress, hates blacks, is snide and crass, and in a round about sort of way, has Gatsby killed to get him out Daisy’s way. So why defend him? Because Gatsby isn’t much better. In fact, I’d argue that Gatsby’s capacity for self-delusion and manipulation of virtually everyone around him are perhaps the novel’s most grotesque, and most enduringly sad, characteristics. It’s only because Tom is the one who’s there to call Gatsby on his bull shit that we hate him so much. The confrontation scene at The Plaza on the hottest day of summer, by the way, is Edgerton’s best moment in Luhmann’s film. Gatsby and Daisy truly love each other and we want love to happen and so when Tom shits on it, then plays the class card to humiliate and enrage Gatsby and direct his wife back home, his tactics are so brazen, so practiced and predictably classist that we can’t get over it. It’s deeply ironic that in a book full of liars, Tom is perhaps the most honest of the bunch, and it’s his capacity for truth telling that wins him Daisy back. 

Fitzgerald wanted to make it hard on us, but I think, at least for most people, he failed. I’ve taught the book for years and class after class of junior readers loathes and despises Tom so much it’s become an annual Buchanan hate fest. Fitzgerald didn’t want us to like him, but I’m sure he wanted us to feel conflicted about out hate. To question its fairness. To wonder about Tom’s worth as a man compared to Gatsby’s, not solely at the expense of it. That’s why he makes Gatsby so cold and uncaring about Myrtle’s death. That’s why, you see, he gives Tom the scene in Wilson’s garage. Tom sees Myrtle’s body lying upon the table and he’s genuinely heartbroken by her loss. He begins to shake. To lose control. And a man who we’d never believe even knew how to cry fights back tears and seeds of rage sprout from his pain that eventually lead to Gatsby’s death and Wilson’s suicide. I don’t know if Gatsby has a scene that unguarded in the whole novel. 

 

 

 

Post #88: The Next Big Thing

Things You Should Be Reading

The Next Big Thing is a self-interview project where writers with projects in the works or books coming out answer ten questions about what they’re working on, then tag other writers. I’m thrilled to be participating. Many hugs and hurrahs to my dear friend, and fellow Bread Loaf alum, Kara Waite, for tagging me. Read Kara’s interview here!

Now…here goes.

What is the working title of your book?

Izzy’s Intervention.

Where did the idea come from?

Honestly, the confluence of inspirations and false starts has put the multiple entry points (re: ideas) into a blender and pressed “Pulse.”

But since that’s a lame answer. Here. This sticks out.

After my grandfather died, they divided up his stuff. I got a pocket watch, and a few articles of clothing. Though I wasn’t in the room, the image of my father and his sisters going through their own dead father’s possessions has stuck around, even haunted me a bit, as have those few treasures I inherited. In my novel, the protagonist is the eldest of three children, and his deceased father’s belongings have been collecting dust in his basement for three years.

What genre does your book fall under?

Literary Fiction

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m seeking representation, so hopefully, eventually, the latter.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I could see a late 90’s Ethan Hawke playing Izzy. Or maybe a long haired, + 30 pounds Paul Rudd.

Julian, the protagonist, I could see being played by someone handsome but kind of non-descript. Peter Krause maybe.

Darcy, their sister, is Gwyneth Paltrow all the way.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

How do you stage an intervention for someone when you could use one yourself?

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I write quick, so, like, six or eight months. But the rewrites? Whole different story.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve always been fascinated by stories with compressed time frames. Wonder Boys. Saturday. Mrs. Dalloway. Ulysses. Izzy’s takes place over a single weekend and I liked the challenge of drumming up enough conflict to sustain a narrative over a short time span. The movie The Big Chill was hugely instrumental, too, and the theme of a collection of people coming together in the wake of death was pinched from Kasdan’s movie.

Beyond that, I also wanted to see if I could find homes for a number of themes I’m interested in: interracial marriage, African refugees living in Vermont, and famous fathers.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Here’s a few…

There’s a lot of booze and pot (and sex) in the book, but it’s really a story about two brothers affected in very different ways by their father’s suicide. One has gone internal and remained stoic, hiding his growing list of problems. The other has turned to drugs and is coming unraveled in a very visible way. Though the novel is centered around a family coming together to rescue one of them, in truth, they both need to be saved.

It’s a novel I intended to be thoughtful, funny, and fast paced. The kind of book you might get carried away by and read in a single sitting.

Throughout the book, the protagonist carries around a perhaps magical squash ball that used to belong to his father and goes by the name Othello’s Testicle.

And here’s a final tidbit that you totally don’t need to know: in the novel, the deceased father was a famous fantasy author, and the series of books he’s famous for are books I actually wrote in my twenties when I thought I wanted to write fantasy.

Thanks for reading!

I’m tagging these fantastic writers:

Alan Stewart Carl–My great friend and former Bread Loaf & AWP Boston roommate. Alan is a phenomenal writer, has published a heap of short fiction, and is about to start seeking representation for his debut novel.

Mary Albee–Mary is a dear friend and poet from Burlington, Vermont. Mary recently released her debut collection of poems, Bewildered Obsequies.

Ron Dionne–Ron is a fellow NY Pitch and Shop alum who last year published his debut novel, Sad Jingo. It’s available on Amazon! I thought it was boss, and so will you.

Post #86: Kindling Quarterly

Parenting, Things You Should Be Reading

kindling-quarterly-issue1-preview-1As a father of two young boys (4 1/2 year old Felix and 2 1/2 year old Leo) I pay a lot more attention than I used to to how fathers are portrayed in our culture. And, for the most part, at least from where I’m sitting, the portrayals suck and are a pantheon of one note men who don’t know how to behave and who are basically grown up children masquerading as men who think that farting is high humor and scoff at vacuums and toilet brushes. These are your Tim from Home Improvement kind of guys. These are the guys in Old School and The 50 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up and on the sitcom Guys with Kids. Guys whose naiveté and reliance on masculine puffery/buffoonery and female intuition is supposed to be cute. On occasion, you see far more nuanced and life like fathers, but most that I bump into fit the mold described above. Men who need women to remind them about really complex and hard to figure out stuff like, you know, cleaning windows and making a roast chicken, morality and table manners. Not that all stereotypes are unfounded and unfunny. Some ring true some of the time. There’s pervasive truths about gender that do truly seem to trump interpretation. But I work hard to deliberately smear and ignore gender lines in my own home. And I like cleaning and cooking. I pay actual attention to my children and care a great deal about how they see me. I want to define manhood and fatherhood on my own terms. I don’t want my sons to feel burdened by gender-centric expectations and images the culture feeds them about what boys and men are supposed to be like, especially when the bulk of those portrayals are so embarrassing and limited. And straight. And white.

Enter Kindling Quarterly, a new magazine published by a pair of fathers, David Michael Perez and August Heffner, who seem fed up with the same thing that I am. The newly launched magazine is an exploration of fatherhood and features articles, photos, fashion, recipes, and a host of other content. Full disclosure here that I haven’t read the magazine yet and am not purporting here to review its content. But I heard about it and was intrigued enough to do a little digging. Have a look at the website and read a little about it. It sure sounds cool and looks nice, even if the photo spreads and design are a little hipster looking for my taste. In fact, the whole thing looks like it might be taking itself a little too seriously. But maybe that’s what’s needed. In the “About” section of Kindling Quarterly’s website, they state, “men who are active caregivers are not a novelty and we do not depict them as such” and that’s a sentiment that rings awfully true in these ears. I’m going to pick up the first issue soon and let you know if it justifies it’s hefty $12 price tag.

Until then, The New York Times City Room Blog wrote a pretty decent feature on the magazine. Read it here.

Post #81: Pride and…?

Things You Should Be Reading

prideandprejudice2This week marks the bi-centennial (that’s 200 years to you and me, Russ) of the publication of Jane Austen’s celebrated masterwork Pride and Prejudice. P & P is an acknowledged classic, beloved by generation after generation of readers enraptured by Austen’s memorable portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s complicated but ultimately triumphant romance.

I guess.

I’ve never read it. It’s up there with a host of other classics I’ve somehow managed to avoid. It’s a long and distinguished list, I assure you.

But in P & P‘s case, I aim to amend my omission. After all, two hundred years is an awfully long time for a book to be kicking around the culture and it must still be popular for damn good reasons. Like most people, I’m often up half the night wondering…what’s so great about P & P? What makes it worthy of all the attention and acclaim? Is it the love story? The satirical portrayal of Victorian gender roles and social schema? The audacious beauty of Austen’s prose? The sexy girls on the cover? So, on behalf of everyone who’s ever meant to read the novel but hasn’t found or taken the time, I’m going to read it and write about my experience.

Stay tuned.

(Care to join me?)

Post #78: New Acquisitions

Book Reviews, Things You Should Be Reading

I need more books in my house like I need a hole in the head, but somehow or another I found my way to the bookstore yesterday and picked up a couple new acquisitions. There’s just nothing like a new book, is there? The smell. The crisp, unbroken spine. The promise of what’s inside that you haven’t yet discovered. The buzz never fails.

And, yet, my house is full of books I haven’t read. There’s dozens. And I’m not talking clunker hand-me-downs or boxes of thrift store throw aways. I’m talking about never read, bookstore fresh books that I bought and never picked up because I bought other new books before I could read them. Which brings me back to the hole in the head.

French philosopher Jacques Lacan wrote about Objet Petit a (object little a, for those non-francophiles), which he described as the object of unattainable desire. It’s like this. It is not the objects you acquire, or the thing itself, whatever it may be (new tits, a car, leather gloves, earrings, paperbacks, lamps etc), it is the desire to acquire that we over and over again trick ourselves into believing will be satisfied and quieted by said acquisitions. Except it isn’t. We’ve all felt this desire and we will all feel it again. Every time I buy new books I am compelled not just by the desire to read and to experience stories I’ve not yet experienced–it’s not just an adventurer’s buoyant gusto at work–but also a small but persistent voice inside my brain (let’s call him The Idiot) that tells me I’ll be happier if I get stuff that I don’t already possess. The name works because it’s idiotic behavior. Picture me. Or picture you. You stand there, whatever it is you don’t need tucked under your arm, or in a basket, staring around the store, beating yourself up for spending money you don’t have on stuff you don’t need. You put the things back. You pick them back up. You walk over there. You come back. You scan the wall. You put the things back. You pick them back up. And do so until you either buy them or leave empty handed and say to yourself, “I should have just bought them.” Either way, the feeling persists. Soon after the purchase, be it days, or even hours, the desire is back and must again be quelled. The Idiot is not easily satiated or mollified. He is an Idiot of massive appetite with a great big fork and knife. And my Idiot is most often hungry for pages with writing on them.

Anyway, so I bought a couple of new books, okay? And, so sue me, they were both hardcovers. And aside form that Lacan interlude, and some lingering guilt, I’m genuinely excited about them.

every-love-storyI’ve already started Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max. It’s sad and kind of wonderful so far. Even if there’s something porn like and oddly voyeuristic in reading about a person who you know was mentally ill and committed suicide. Still, who doesn’t like porn? But I’m fascinated by Wallace and his life and work and though I’ve put it off, I was going to work my way around to this one eventually.

 

9780812993806_custom-f9472c743ae546a0b19bf6a1c8ce3a89971d1a83-s6-c10And  now waiting in the wings is George Saunder’s new story collection Tenth of December. I love Saunders. Have you read him? If not, do yourself a big one and get on it. His collection of essays The Braindead Megaphone is a personal favorite and I’m looking forward to reading more of his fiction. If I haven’t gotten bogged down in a pile of new books by the time I remember I even bought it, I’ll let you know how it is.

 

 

Post #71: My Ideal Bookshelf

Things You Should Be Reading

Of her website and small business, My Ideal Bookshelf, painter Jane Mount says “I paint portraits of people through the spines of their favorite books: the ones that changed your life, that defined who you are, that you read again and again.” It’s a very cool concept that started (and still functions) as a commission based on-line project wherein Mount solicits commissions in the form of book lists (and pictures of your favorite versions) and for a (somewhat reasonable) fee will portraitize you or your loved one through the spines of your favorite books. The endeavor has been so popular that Mount, along with writer/editor Thessaly La Force (who writes small narratives for each book list based on interviews with the contributors), is about to publish a book length version of My Ideal Bookshelf which highlights the book lists of an insanely cool list of contributors ranging from David Chang to Dave Eggers, from Tony Hawk to Chuck Klosterman. I friggin love this idea–am half thinking of shelling out the three hundred bucks it would cost for a basic Mount commission–and of course, it gets my mind churning about my own Ideal Bookshelf. If I had to pare it down to the spines of a few old favorites, what would they be?

What would yours be? Please share.

 

Here’s a rough crack at titles I’d include. It’s fickle and blowing in the wind, of course, but this is pretty close. Forgive the length of this list. I tried for a top ten, I really did. Had to settle for twenty and even that was painful.

In no particular order.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, by David Foster Wallace–Completely re-invented the English language for me, as well as broadened, and clarified, the full possibilities of what non-fiction could be.

 

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabakov–This book sent me reeling. Embarrassed me. Thrilled me. Made me want to write. What a horrible, beautiful work of art. Its stylistic achievements have to be some of the finest in all of world literature.

 

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger–A book not so much for teens, but for adults who remember being a teen, and I’m fine with that. I fell in love with this book when I started teaching it and I continue to do annual battle with a fresh batch of 11th graders who think it’s basically a book length excuse to whine.

Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon–With the exception of the overly long Sabbath scene, one of the most hilarious, joyful, and memorable books ever written. Its characters have become old friends of mine. Pure reading bliss.

 

The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, by Langston Hughes–Lovely, lovely Langston. His poetry pulses with palpable, unapologetic emotion. It’s musical. It’s elegiac. It’s of a time and place, yet somehow timeless. I’m convinced we’ll be reading Hughes on Mars.

 

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald–Contains the most beautiful sentences ever written. Sentences so ravishing that you often forget what the hell is happening, sometimes you even stop caring. I had to read Gatsby five or six times just to keep myself from getting too distracted by the beauty.

The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss–Fell for this book reading it over and over again to my son Felix. I later started using it in lessons on Allegory with my high school students. A sad, beautiful, and almost too true book. I ache each time I read it.

 

A Catskill Eagle, by Robert B. Parker–Parker, for me, was the grand wizard of the hard boiled detective. I grew up devouring Spenser books and his use of dialogue is on par with the all time greats. In my view, a way under appreciated stylist.

 

Jazz in the Bittersweet Blues of Life, by Wynton Marsalis and Carl Vigeland–A great, and largely unknown, on the road book that follows Marsalis and his great septet around the country in the late nineties. A portrait of a working jazz band, told by both Marsalis and Vigeland in tandem narratives. What it’s like to live jazz.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn–The greatest 2/3 of a novel ever written by an American. But the ending? Jeez. I read this in high school like everyone else. It was then assigned no less than three times in college. Now I teach it and re-read it every year and it changes every time. Growing more potent, more flawed, more urgent with each fresh pass.

The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein–A book I grew up reading. I used to think it was about one thing and, like a lot of books you go back to throughout your life, it turned out to be about something else. It broke my heart and I loved it. It’s a shared favorite of my wife’s as well, and a copy of it was the first present she ever bought me. Sigh.

The Green Mile, by Stephen King–The culmination of all King’s gifts rolled into one perfect, magical package. If you only know the film version, you owe it to yourself to read this book. Forgive him the obvious Jesus allegory; he does it on purpose. If you’ve ever wondered why the world adores King so much, look no further.

Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison–One of the greatest of all American novels and a long time personal favorite. I discovered this book while minoring in Afro-American literature in college. It lifted my brain out of my body, rearranged the parts, and put it back in. I’ve  read it more times than just about any book I own.

Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose–I stumbled upon this book by accident and it totally blew my mind. It’s my favorite book about writing. I’ve bought three separate copies and lovingly annotated each. It urged me to slow down while I read, reminded me that everything I need to know about writing is right there in the books and writers I love.

The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien–An absolutely mind-blowing reading experience. Illustrates more clealry than any other book why we tell stories. Made me rethink what books could and should be.

 

A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway–I studied abroad in Paris in college, right around the same time I was becoming obsessed with Hemingway. This book found me right when I needed it to. Unforgettable reflections written towards the end of Papa’s life, published posthumously.

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker–Such an elegant and powerful book, told in a bold epistolary style that, as a writer, I’m in awe of. It contains some of the fiercest and most fully realized female characters ever set to paper. Celie, Shug, Sofia. My my.

 

Sailing Around the Room Alone, by Billy Collins–A few years ago, Billy Collins’s poetry really turned a light on for me. I can’t quite explain it, but I can’t get enough of his work. Funny. Sad. Insightful. Compulsively readable (now when’s the last time you heard poetry described like that?)

The New York Trilogy, by Paul Auster–Weird, beautiful, creepy. This book starts wonderfully and kind of devolves into chaos and nothingness, but it’s a thrilling ride unlike anything you’ve ever read. A nice Auster primer, too, and if you read it, I guarantee you’ll be hooked.

 

The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri–Another book I discovered for the purpose of teaching it and have slowly fallen in love with and consider an indispensable work.  It’s an American story, about an immigrant family from India. What’s more American than that? Lahiri is a treasure.