Here’s some great work I have read this past season:
Detroit: An American Autopsy
Anthony Bourdain had just died and news of him was everywhere. I stumbled upon an episode of Parts Unknown set in Detroit with a Michigan journalist named Charlie LeDuff. The episode was my intro to this colorful Michigander, and I was fascinated. I liked his pointedness and sought out his writing.
I only make occasional forays into narrative nonfiction. But as my forthcoming novel, Twine is set in my home state of Michigan, and has a strong thematic element that includes the socioeconomic problems there (like Detroit: An Autopsy,) I wanted to read his thoughts.
His writing is gritty and the subject matter steadily heart-wrenching. And although we have written about slightly different Michigan subcultures, when I finished his book, I felt like I’d found someone who shared something of my history. My own paternal grandfather hails from Hamtramck, (the small, heavily Polish city surrounded by Detroit), and my maternal grandmother was born in Flint. And I believe LeDuff and I have similar French Canadian roots, so I feel reassured to know someone like him is out there, calling it like it is.
Little Fires Everywhere
It was FOMO that led me to this one. Last year at Muse and the Marketplace, Celeste Ng was a presenter, and her name was everywhere. I wanted to read how she connected with so many readers. Now I get it. Her characters, leading with their vulnerability, left me wanting to follow them all the way to the end.
There is something about Jennifer Egan’s writing that bowls me over with its virtuosity. There is how she weaves the plot so deftly, and also the sleight-of-hand she uses to divert the reader’s gaze, then wham, she drops the name Dexter Styles so that I have no choice but to gasp with pleasure like I’m in the club myself. Dang. How’d she do that?
And then there are her captivating phrases. How she nails the sentiment of being left: “She never cried. When she’d believed he was about to return, there was nothing to cry about, and when at last she’d stopped believing, it was too late. His absence had calcified.”
Or this one I just loved: “The trip to Manhattan Beach faded into the distant past like an apple core flung from a train window.
Sometimes I have to use music metaphors. So forgive me for saying this, but to me her writing sounds like she’s always playing in tune.
Willa Cather’s My Antonia left me with slow images of the plains seared on to my retina. Kindness and the yellow ochre of field grasses going on forever.
Short stories by Andre Dubus III
I just loved these stories. I think this is my favorite Dubus book to date. Although I am in the middle of “Gone So Long,” which means the verdict is out.
He lives near me, so I have had the privilege of hearing him speak several times. But I went to a “Gone So Long” reading a couple of weeks ago and was pretty thrilled to actually meet him. This reading was an event in his hometown of Haverhill, Mass. and there were many in the audience who ‘knew him when,’ so he was connecting with folks effortlessly. But it was still wonderful to see how he drew people out by asking them about their story. And he manages to be utterly engaging and charming while dropping quotes from heavies like Lao Tzu and quips from Stephen King.
Connecting with people, listening. I hope to be able to take a page or two out of his playbook when it is my turn to be up on the dais, reading my own words.
Abide With Me
Elizabeth Strout’s writing has become a bit like comfort food for me. I know I’m gonna like it, I know I’m going to come away sated. And in this instance it also left me asking what it means to have faith.
It's summer! I keep coming home from the library with more books than I can read before they are due. It's summer!
"Sisterland" by Curtis Sittenfeld, an author I've been loving.
"The Fact of a Body: a Murder and a Memoir" by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich.
I heard Alexandria speak about her book at the Newburyport Literary Festival, and was so moved by her personal story. Having just gone to her reading, I could "hear" her understated voice in my head throughout the book. Quite a contrast to the heart-wrenching subject matter. Captivating and inspiring.
Feeling omnivorous. Also read:
"The Book That Matters Most", Ann Hood
"The Gutsy Girl Handbook", Kate White (what. don't make fun of me.)
"The Lathe of Heaven" my first (but not my last!) Ursula LeGuin
"The Optimist's Daughter", Eudora Welty
"Carry the Sky", Kate Gray
"A Little Life" by Hanya Yanagihara
I was stunned by the epic length of this book, and in a twist of fate, I happened to be about to perform Mahler’s 3rd symphony, the longest symphony ever written. I really had to think hard on the topic of length (especially as I tend to be succinct in my writing,) and why we might take longer to say something. Maybe it is not length that I should have focused on, among all the other intense subjects Yanagihara delves deeply into with this work, but that’s where I was at the time.
"The Small Backs of Children"
I had been wanting to start reading Lidia Yuknovitch ever since I took one of her writing workshops at Boston’s Muse and the Marketplace 2017 conference. The workshop was great, but I was equally enthralled with her. Her thoughts on the hierarchy of time, and time not being necessarily linear really stuck with me. This book really captured those techniques that she illustrated for us in the workshop. Loved the intensity and exciting plot. More thinking for me.
I like to track my reading on www.goodreads.com
It’s a way to connect with friends who read, and get great suggestions. It is also a place that helps me when thinking of comps for my own work.
Photo by Jesika Theos