Loud Memories of a Quiet Life

My good friend Tom Molanphy has a new book out! I’m delighted for Tom, who is one of the most hard-working writers I know (you know how we all say we’re going to send out twenty stories/poems/essays a month? Tom actually does). I’ve read one or two of the stories in the book, which is called Loud Memories of a Quiet Life. Great title, right? Great stories, too–about quietude and life as a male cheerleader. Readers, you should buy this book.

The publisher is a small SF- and NY-based press called Outpost19, which, I notice now, is also the publisher for my pal Charles McLeod. You can purchase Tom’s book on Amazon, through Outpost 19, and at Powells.com.

Read Tom’s story “The Line at Sister Mary’s Water Fountain” (under an older title) here. And watch a very cool trailer for his book:

Tom will be reading this Saturday afternoon, June 30, at 3:00 p.m. at Cafe Royale in San Francisco. Should be a great event!

Jonathan Franzen Hits the Burbs

My friend A. invited me to see Jonathan Franzen give a lecture last night. A lovely glass of pinot at a wine bar beforehand lubricated the evening, and the theater was packed. Jonathan Franzen is a writer whose work I both admire and find puzzling. I read The Corrections years ago and page-turned it (I’m coining a new verb, “to page-turn,” as in, to devour a book or read it very quickly. What do you think?). At the same time, I didn’t really like any of the characters–they were funny, sad, complex, and brilliantly done, but also icky–and that left me feeling hollow afterwards. I thought Freedom was much more successful, because I page-turned it but also felt connected, emotionally, to the characters. In particular, I liked one named Walter, who is painted as a wacky and extreme environmentalist (he stoops to murder–there’s a teaser!). I don’t always broadcast my desperation about the state of our planet, but I’m a bit like Walter: I get sort of crazy and extreme about saving threatened species (sharks was my last project). So in part because of Walter’s humanness, I thought Freedom was a better novel.

Wikipedia via Google Images

In person, Franzen was a bit like his novels, which is to say he started out kind of stiff, brilliant and entertaining but also, well, hard to connect to emotionally, and then all of a sudden he warmed up and became very human. His talk was definitely craft-based, and I felt for the non-writers in the audience. But I wished I’d brought my notebook so I could take notes. Some points I remember: “Your greatest loyalty has to be to yourself and your writing” and “don’t be arrogant: your friends and family are not sitting around worrying what you think of them all the time” (on the subject of whether you might alienate, say, your brother, if you write a character who too closely resembles him–stop worrying, says Franzen). He also had some very interesting things to say about using autobiography as a jumping-off point for fiction. This was of particular interest to me since I’m working on a short story based on real-life events (and there happens to be a character who might just be based heavily on my own older brother).

I used to go see literary events all the time. In grad school I went to two readings a week; a year or two later, I got to go free to all the Literary Arts events taking place in Portland, Oregon. I’m lucky to have seen some great writers read and lecture over the years. But lately, because I have a little one, I don’t get to nearly as many events. So last night was a real treat. Thank you, A.!

One last thing: Franzen mentioned, twice, a novel called The Man Who Loved Children, by Christina Stead. I’m adding it to my summer reading list.

Happy reading, everyone,

Summer Reading

I keep stumbling upon “summer reading lists,” and my brain conjures visions of swimsuit-clad ladies on the beach, reading romance novels while their children play in the sand. I intend to do some of that myself, this summer (romance, that is), so I thought I’d throw up a post about ten things that are on my nightstand and my mental to-read list. If I accomplish all of this by September it will be a miracle.

1. A stack of New Yorkers. Can anyone keep up? I have about three articles to finish in the May 14 issue before I turn to the Sci-Fi issue, before I tackle the one that came last week, before the one that inevitably arrives today or tomorrow. To say I’m “in the weeds” would be an understatement. Assuming I get caught up, I’ll turn to…

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2. Look At Me, by Jennifer Egan. I got this out of the library on the advice of my friend Katie Williams, after we discussed Egan’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel A Visit from the Goon Squad. I liked Goon Squad, but I found it a little hard to connect with at times. Katie suggested Look At Me.

3. The Passage, by Justin Cronin. Vampires? I know very little about it, but it’s on the list.

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4. Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. I’m so excited to read this memoir–about a woman who hikes the PCT–that I may cave and purchase the $25 hardcover. At the moment I’m about 400th on the waiting list at the library, however.

5. All the Pretty Horses and, if I love it, the rest of the Border Trilogy, by Cormac McCarthy. My brother gave me this book for Christmas, perhaps in repayment for my recommending to him McCarthy’s The Road, which, he says, “f-ed him up.” Me too, brother, me too. I approach McCarthy with caution and excitement–in my limited experience, he’s a brilliant writer, but, well, he f-s you up.

6. Miscellaneous poetry. I need some poetry in my life again. Anyone have a recommendation?

7. The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home, by George Howe Colt. I say I am going to read this book every summer, because, like Colt, my family has a New England summer house that was purchased by my grandparents in the 1950s—and was left to their five children, who had twelve children between them, and those twelve grandchildren now have ten kids between them. Colt tells the story of having to sell a house on Cape Cod because so many people owned it that no one could keep up with it or afford it any longer. I think. I haven’t read it yet, after all.

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8. The Essential Urban Farmer, by Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal. This is the current reference book on my nightstand. Next thing to look up? How to grow potatoes in a burlap sack. I’m feeling adventuresome.

9. Student papers. I am teaching two sections of composition and one fiction-writing course this summer, all online.

10. Operating Instructions, by Anne Lamott. I’m interested in accounts of childbirth and pregnancy, and have heard that this book takes a refreshing and literary approach to both.

What are you hoping to read this summer?

In Praise of Peers

Hi everyone,

Welcome to my new and, I hope, improved blog! This one will feature little writing tidbits, updates, and links to some of my other blog ventures, including today’s post, “In Praise of Peers,” on popcorntheblog. Stay tuned for news about a Mama blog, to be released soon, where you can get your fix about the fun-loving lives of Susie and, to paraphrase Tina Fey, the “drunk midget who’s running around in my house.”

Thanks, as ever, for reading.