…from Delillo’s White Noise, #amreading #reading

white-noise1I’m totally surprised by Don Delillo’s White Noise. I don’t know what I expected. It’s fantastic. Here’s a small selection from early in the book:

“They had to evacuate the grade school on Tuesday. Kids were getting headaches and eye irritations, tasting metal in their mouths. A teacher rolled on the floor and spoke foreign languages. No one knew what was wrong. Investigators said it could be the ventilating system, the paint or varnish, the foam insulation, the electrical insulation, the cafeteria food, the rays emitted by micro-computers, the asbestos fireproofing, the adhesive on shipping containers, the fumes from the chlorinated pool, or perhaps something deeper, fine-grained, more closely woven into the basic state of things.”


#Reading #Novels #ShadowoftheWind

shadow-of-the-windThis long book grabbed me very slowly. I didn’t feel for many pages that I would continue reading, but after maybe 200 pages I fell under its spell. The last 150 pages are quite beautiful and surprising and fulfilling in the way that only great novels can be, full of all the joy and heartbreak one could hope for. I feel as though I ought to begin again, to see what I missed. I finished it last night at eleven and find myself this morning still in that post-reading haze, still wanting to return to the last pages, wanting to continue the transmission line between the characters and myself that Zafon created. This is the reason I read–and supposedly the reason I write–to help foster that feeling again and again. That gets lost for me sometimes as I read books that have different sorts of pleasures. The pleasures of Faulkner, for example, are not the same. When I finished Absalom, Absalom, I was not overcome with waves of chills, did not I weep for the beauty of the language nor the lives of the characters, but when I finished The Shadow the Wind, I did both of those things. I will return to read more Faulkner, or Woolf, or Joyce, or Miller, or O’Connor, because the satisfactions of a full reading life require a magnificently large palette of writers, but at the same time, I am grateful to be reminded by Zafon of the sheer joy of reading and finishing a novel with a different sort of impact, one that provides an emotional uncorking often lost  when I pursue literature for different reasons.

On reading Lydia Davis’ Almost No Memory #amreading #litchat


davisWhat in the world is Lydia Davis up to? If she were up to one thing, the thing she might be up to if she weren’t up to other things, we might know her better, or think we know her better, or not. But if she is up to other things, things of which we are unaware, then we are lost in what we believe. These things: words and not words; space and not space; what comes next and what comes not next; what comes next when we are expecting the first thing, not the second thing, and when the second thing come first; the long stories and the short stories and the stories that are not stories at all but are fiction. The stories that are not stories but are not poems are something, but that something is lost as it comes through first, or maybe second, or maybe not at all. We keep reading, trusting Lydia, or not trusting her, but allowing ourselves to be thrust into this space of not trusting and trusting at the same time. There are the stories that are longer than poems, but lyric, and some of us think of poems while reading the long stories and think of stories while we are reading the short stories which are not really stories but poems. These things: cats in jail and the men who kill them; Lord Royston and the unknown reasons for his travels and all the things that are not said in the travels and all the long and sacred moments and the majesty and the light of the land and the fury of the sea; thinking not thinking; mice; what is story and what is not story and what is the center of stories and what lies on the outskirts of stories and what we believe might be a story, or not, or a poem, or a bit of both, or of neither; a country of people who watch Othello every single night; this condition of being and not being; of our shallowness and our skins and how we are not the people we are, and do not do unto others as we would have them do to us, or we do exactly what we would have done to us, but is not what we thought it might be. What is Lydia Davis doing in these worlds that are not worlds, stories that are not stories, in language that rises and sinks and crests and pulls us along in swift currents when we do not want to be pulled along, but perhaps do, perhaps finding solace in these shifting things?

Stories that I’ll be teaching this fall #teaching #writing #shortstories

booksEach semester I teach a dozen or so stories to my fiction classes. I always keep a few of my favorites, teach them again and again. But I throw a handful of new stories in each semester. It’s a strange struggle to find stories that I love and that I think will resonate with students. Sometimes, what I think will resonate, falls flat. And often, those stories that I think will be a tough sell, really hit home. I’ve been combing through some books looking for the right stuff. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. “Going” by Amy Hempel
  2. “Boys” by Rick Moody
  3. “We Make Mud” by Peter Markus
  4. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor
  5. “Good for Your Soul” by Tim Gautreaux
  6. “Kansas” by Stephen Dobyns
  7. “North Country” by Roxanne Gay
  8. “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” by Raymond Carver
  9. “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank” by Nathan Englander
  10. “Safari” by Jennifer Egan
  11. “The City in the Light of Moths” by Tim Horvath
  12. “Murke’s Collected Silences” by Heinrich Boll
  13. “The Last Speaker of the Language” by Carol Anshaw
  14. “Means of Suppressing Demonstrations” by Shani Boianjiu
  15. “Clear Over Target, the Whole Town in Flames” by Fiona Maazel
  16. “Hot Ice” by Stuart Dybek


It took me a long time to read Peter Matthiessen’s novel Shadow Country, probably longer than it should take someone like me, someone who loves to read, loves to dig deep into a big fat book. At first, I felt sort of embarrassed that it took me so long–months really, at least three, maybe four–because a part of me just thinks I should be reading more quickly, getting to other things, moving on, leaving a wake of books fluttering behind me as I gun the engine and make my way through literature. But I guess that’s just not the reader I am. Just as I had to learn to be the writer I am (not the writer I imagine/imagined myself to be for years) and accept the writing life that is mine, I have to accept the reading life that is mine too. It wasn’t like I wasn’t reading other things while I was reading Shadow Country–stories, articles, poems, Whitman and Dickinson every morning, news, books and stories for school, student papers and exercises–my reading life is massive in many ways–and I certainly watched my fair share of television as well, which is always a reading killer. However, now that I look back at the experience, I’m glad I didn’t rush it. It’s the sort of book that needs a massive amount of space. It’s a tough, hard book. It’s a very American book. It is America–its people, its land, its racism, its landscape, its spirit of manifest destiny, its indomitable will to survive. Man, what a book. By allowing myself the time to really absorb this piece of art, I feel that I’ve been able to live it. It’s a serious book, too, but not dry and not without humor. It’s also a grim reminder of how we came to be America–by displacing and stealing and subjugating, by murderous, rapacious greed and unceasing invention and drive. By reading it slowly, I really found the voices living in my head, the people, good and bad, and I really immersed myself in the landscape of Florida. Since the book is a recreation of the life of Edgar “Bloody” Watson, it also deals with the power of the myth and how that myth is born of both truth and imagination. It took a long time, but it was a tremendously rewarding experience. Now that I’m done, I get to take part in perhaps one of my very favorite activities: picking a new book to read. The shelves are full, but I’m not going to pick right away. I chooses ’em like I reads ’em. Slow.