Tag Archives: books

The Ten Books That I’m Reading Now

I’d love to credit whichever blogger suggested the idea, but I’ve forgotten. My to-be-read pile is actually an entire shelf, plus three shelf-high stacks beside it. I love to buy books. I receive them as gifts. I collect them as souvenirs when I travel. I never feel guilty about it. Buying books is good for authors. Reading is good for my brain. While I will toss a shirt when it gets too worn, my books will be pried out of my cold dead hands.

But all that choice is overwhelming. I never know which one to start next. The blog post I read suggested a new strategy. Picking ten books. Reading them in order. Then picking the next ten books. One volume at a time, the books move from the overflow shelf onto the shelf of books I’ve read and enjoyed enough to keep. The others go into the book swap/ donate pile under the china cabinet.

To beat the rush for New Year’s resolutions, I’ve got my first ten piled up and ready to start. I’m attempting to stick with the plan, knowing full well I’ll have new temptations after Christmas.

1. Zelda by Nancy Milford: I’ve heard so many great reviews of this biography of Mrs. Fitzgerald.

2. Inferno (A Poet’s Novel) by Eileen Myles: I cheated a bit and flipped through the first few pages. Such rich language!

3. Collected Poems 1909- 1962 by T.S. Eliot: Eliot has been a favorite of mine since middle school. My mom treated me to this lovely hardcover as an early birthday gift.

4. The Journals of Sylvia Plath: I picked up a vintage copy at a rare books store with a huge poetry section. The unabridged version has since been released, but I feel like Ms. Plath deserves a little polite privacy.

5. Art and Madness: A Memoir of Lust Without Reason by Anne Roiphe: I mysteriously received a review copy from the publisher without requesting one. I started it and then got distracted by too many other books around, but was enjoying it. The Lady’s mother mentioned wanting to read it when I finished, so I have an incentive to wrap this one up.

6. The Last Madam: a Life in the New Orleans Underworld by Christine Wiltz: a souvenir of my last trip to New Orleans, purchased at the adorable Maple Street Book Shop.

7. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life by Twyla Tharp: adding more “making” to my days is on my 2012 agenda. I’ve been a little more office drone than maker lately.

8. Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica by Zora Neale Hurston: I will read anything about voodoo. Anything. Somehow I have missed this non-fiction classic.

9. Touch by Alexi Zentner: I bought this the day it came out and have been looking forward to it ever since, wistfully, while it lingered mid-shelf.

10. The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser: (reread) This little book was so chock full of useful pointers that I couldn’t absorb them all on the first read-through. I like to pick it up every few months as my pocket writing course.

I’m not promising that the list won’t get re-arranged after the Christmas gifts roll in or if any urgent review copies come around, but for now that to-be-read pile seems so much more manageable.

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Filed under Daily Life, Reading

What I’ve Been Up To

Those of you follow me on Twitter may have seen a post a few weeks ago with my good news. In August, a small collection of my poetry will be published. I swooned a little when I got the email confirmation from the editor. Especially in light of the fact that when I sent off the manuscript, none of the poems included were accepted anywhere for publication by themselves yet. In the months that passed, I had almost forgotten about the submission, and delightfully three little poems had found future homes in some journals.

So, I’ve been buried up to my neck reviewing the manuscript, changing words and punctuation here and there, moving the poems about to get them in a semi-logical order, trying not to obsess and failing and succeeding at not obsessing depending on the minute or the hour. I want it to be really good. I want it to be better than I know how to make it. But, I also want to remember to take a deep breath and remember to just feel good. Someone wants to publish them.

Deep breath.

Gratitude.

It’s hard to remember to just enjoy the moment sometimes. I’m working on that.

Then, I can get back to working on my manuscript.

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Filed under Building a Better Me, Writing

Pack Up Your Troubles

There are few tasks in life that I find more detestable than moving. Nonetheless, I’ve done quite a bit of it in the last 33 years. At last count (and I’m probably forgetting something here), I have moved 19 times, between 15 different homes in six cities. That’s a lot of dragging yourself around, especially considering the number of books that make those moves with me. I would leave household pets behind before books. Really. I mean it.

My current townhouse has been my home for longer than any other, besides my two childhood homes. I moved in with the ex, but once that travesty ended, my name was the one on the lease and I stayed. (By the way, if you are dating someone who you think will later break your heart, I highly recommend that you have only your name on the lease- the amount of wrangling this saved me was epic). It’s finally starting to look the way I want it to- cozy, colorful, book-centric, handmade, and with the occasional bargain antique tossed in for good measure.

It’s not perfect. I’d love a kitchen with a counter. Mine has none. No really- not an inch of counter in sight- a sink, a stove, a refrigerator. I’d pinch someone else’s grandma for laundry hookups to avoid the laundromat. And if you have a spare gardener, the nine square feet of my patio that’s under 3 feet of evergreen weeds could use some attention. But it’s affordable, it’s in a great neighborhood, and I love it.

Today’s topic is “something you hope you never to have to do,” and while moving will happen at least one more time if I find and buy a house, I hope never to have to decide to leave my home.  I moved away from my family years ago for school and work and to have adventures. I love them dearly and the feeling is mutual. I’d like to visit them more often if flights weren’t so expensive.

But something I think about occasionally is what would happen if something bad and unplanned came up. What if I was really sick and needed someone to help me out? I would have to decide between going home to my family or being a burden on my friends. BC was great when I had my gall bladder out and took time off work to look after me, but that’s not reasonable for anything more than a few days. Family would probably win. But then, I’d be in a horrible situation and be 14 hours away from all the emotional support I count on every day in the little life I’ve finally managed to build for myself. 

My sisters both live close by, but if something happened and my parents needed cared for, I’d have to find a way to chip in. They won’t be healthy or young forever, no matter how much I wish it. Again, they’re family and if they need me, I go. But I would be torn leaving my life entirely to go back home. I’ve moved around enough to know how hard the friends I’ve made and the community I have now would be to replace if I had to start all over.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I never have to make that decision. I love my little townhouse. I love my Pittsburgh chosen family. I love staying still for once in my life.

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Filed under At Home, Family, Friends, Pittsburgh, Soul Searching

Fingers on Keys… And Go!

I’ve written ad nauseam about wanting to have a baby. For those of you who were so supportive during the testing stage, thank you. All of the results are in and according to my doctor, I got an A+ on every one! My withering bits aren’t withering yet, old lady or no, so I have a little more time to do the rest of the hoop jumping. Let me just say, that was the sigh of relief heard around the world.

Today’s 30 days of truth post calls for “something you hope to do in your life.” Since the baby business is covered, I thought I’d focus on the other big goal that keeps me up at night- writing a book. I actually hope to do more than write the darn thing; I’d like to see it published. In my lifetime.

Which is all well and good, but truth be told, I don’t  work on it nearly as often as I should. I have a desk job with a decent amount of downtime built in, but I spend an awful lot of it surfing the internet. I live alone without interruptions and watch all three seasons of Veronica Mars on Netflix. I’ve gotten in a decent weekend morning writing routine, but when it comes down to it, if I want to make this thing happen, only I can do it, and I need to do it more often. Signing up for a writing workshop has helped. I have deadlines to get assignments done and page minimums to work with. Still, no workshop can last forever and I need to stick my booty in the chair and write whether I have homework or not.

November is just around the corner, and as usual, I’ll be attempting NaNoWriMo- the annual madness of trying to complete a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. This year, after four attempts, I’d like to win the darn thing and have it done (minus the editing of course).

There’s no one to blame for my not doing it but myself. So, inspired by a quote I tacked up on the fridge, I’m sitting down today with my calendar and making appointments with myself to work on it. I fill up my schedule with everything else that I want to do, so making those appointments non-negotiable is a must. The quote? “A year from now, you will wish you had started today.”

It starts today.

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Filed under Daily Life, Writing

Book Review: Lies My Mother Never Told Me

Kaylie Jones‘ memoir of growing up the daughter of novelist James Jones and life with her alcoholic but glamorous mother, Gloria, Lies My Mother Never Told Me, made for an excellent transition from my recent literary fiction binge. Raised in Paris surrounded by literary icons, boozy parties, and celebrities, Jones weaves the memoir together with her mother’s anecdotes opening each section, then chronologically works her way from childhood, through her own alcoholism and recovery, and her mother Gloria’s alcoholism, which eventually leads to Gloria’s death.

Jones pulls no punches about the ugly side of the “glamorous” literary drinking life- the insults hurled between mother and daughter, the risks carelessly taken, and the complexities of friends who think of an alcoholic as “fun” and a sober person as joyless. Readers will both enjoy the random sightings of famous people (Sinatra, Mailer, etc.) and Jones’ ability to avoid being overly maudlin while describing some mighty ugly scenes between her mother and herself.

This is not a straight-up redemption story. Jones avoids the standard addiction memoir format-  things get ugly, a revelation, things are all better. Like real life, this narrative gets ugly, better, worse again, and complex. Jones bravely confesses her own sins as well, rather than create a monster out of her mother entirely.

Jones’ father dies when she is 16 from his own alcoholism, making her promise to keep her mother from drinking. From that point forward, Jones is on a journey, first denying that she or her mother have a real problem, then saving herself, while being unable to save her mother from her own addiction. In Gloria, the reader can see the vestiges of a different time, when smoking and drinking around the clock were not only acceptable, they were expected. However, Gloria is unable to stop the party at the end of the era and lashes out, her drinking impacting everyone in her path.

Readers who enjoy literary celebrity memoirs and readers who are seeking a unique addiction memoir will enjoy this book. I found the writing top-notch and look forward to tracking down more of Ms. Jones’ work in the future.

You can find out more about the author at her website: http://www.KaylieJones.com or follow her on Twitter @KaylieJones.

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Book Review: Vanishing and Other Stories

In this month’s ReadyMade, they profile The School of Life, where bibliotherapists in London assign reading to clients based on their issues or life goals. My recent bouts of loneliness would probably have led their staff to assign Vanishing and Other Stories (P.S.) by Deborah Willis. In an odd bit of synchronicity, I received a review copy in the mail.

These fourteen short stories share a common theme- people leave, go missing, die. Then Willis deftly shows us what happens in the aftermath. The quiet, careful pace makes this collection a page-turner. Secrets are revealed just when you think the stories are over, and some of the revelations are so surprising you go back to read the story in full to see how she put it together. Willis, a Canadian, claims her biggest influence are the stories of Alice Munro and you can see in this collection the same careful attention to taking apart the narratives and rearranging time, scrapping a bit of the past onto the present until the big picture becomes clear.

In my favorite story in the collection, “This Other Us,” three roommates- a couple and a female friend- share a two bedroom apartment. When Karen, the exotic and dramatic half of the couple, leaves suddenly, her boyfriend and roommate are left to fill in the gap left behind. What starts as a game of dress-up with her left-behind clothes becomes increasingly complicated as they navigate Karen’s vacant spot in their lives. As in so many of these stories, Willis doesn’t limit the idea of love to romantic relationships and shows that the impact of a departure of a friend, sibling, or parent can redefine heartbreak.

Which is not to say that these stories are all entirely tragedies. They don’t choose the easy way out and wrap up with uplifting endings to send you out into the world, to be sure. They work out the way that life works out, without easy answers, and with their characters making the best of what’s been left behind.For me personally, as an assignment, reading these stories and sitting comfortably with their characters loneliness was a valuable experience- regardless of the holes left by those who are gone, life as they say, goes on.

Vanishing was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction. If these stories are any indication of her talents, I suspect we will be seeing more of Willis’ carefully crafted fiction in the future.

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Filed under Books, Reviews

On Being a “Writer”

Rebecca, over at Diary of  a Virgin Novelist, raised the old problem that rears its ugly head from time to time. When can you really call yourself a Writer? As in, “So Eleanor, what to do you?” “Oh, I’m a writer.”

I don’t pay the bills by writing - not even close. But that doesn’t mean I’m not a writer. As I discovered last summer, after meeting talented NY Times Bestseller writers and nationally renowned poets at a great conference, actually, most of them don’t pay the bills writing either. A lot of them are university professors. Most, even. And the ones who aren’t run the gamut from butchers to doctors to lawyers to “consultants” to non-profit workers. The very tiny number who squeak by on writing anything except airport paperbacks also spend a lot of time as paid editors and writing bulk copy for corporations and obscure magazines.

So, in my humble opinion, payday does not a writer make.

As for publication, it helps. Something, somewhere. I’ve been in a lot of tiny underfunded literary journals and university press anthologies in the last few years, but being published didn’t make me a “writer,” either. It gave me the energy to keep writing when I wasn’t sure anyone was reading. It left me with a handful of encouraging emails from readers that I could fall back on when times got tough.

But really? I couldn’t have gotten even those published if I wasn’t a writer. I had to write something to submit in the first place. And then get lots of form rejection letters mailed back in envelopes I addressed to myself. Nothing like my own handwriting on an envelope to darken my mailbox day.

So, when it boils down to it, a writer is someone who writes. And when asked, I gladly say, “I’m a writer and pay the bills with a desk job.” And as I told Rebecca, if anyone asks if I’ve had a book published, I always reply, “Soon.”

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Filed under Links, Soul Searching, Writing