Category Archives: Reading

Mid-Summer Reading 2014

Midway between June’s Summer Reading List, and sharing a new list of great books to read in the fall, this week it seemed a good time to post a Midsummer Reading update.  A little feedback on some of the novels I’ve read so far this summer, as well as those great discoveries of books I’ve added to my reading list.

Summer reading, ready to go. c. Elissa Field

Summer reading, ready to go. c. Elissa Field

Early Summer Reading

First, a little update on what I’ve read so far, from My Summer Reading List 2014 and a few carry-overs from My Reading List Winter 2014.

  • reading - long manAmy Greene’s Long Man (2014). I highly recommend this novel, which mixes an element of mystery and beautifully lyrical writing in unveiling the subtle secrets and loves of a small mountain village during building of a dam in their valley to introduce electricity and income during the Depression.
  • Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed (2013). Yet another insightful novel from author of The Kite Runner (2004) and A Thousand Splendid Suns (2008). Although… it had a hard time competing against other reading favorites in the past month.
  • Erin Morgenstern, Night Circus (2011). I was slow to ‘discover’ this one, although readily captivated by the unique and mysterious community Erin creates — I loved this one and it makes my recommended reads.
  • Alice McDermott, Someone (September 2013). Actual sigh. I love Alice McDermott, and I also am familiar with her quietly powerful style. But I was so impatient the full first half of this novel. Tons of description of domestic detail (furnishings of rooms, mostly). There is a powerful, albeit subtle, payoff in the end, so I still recommend reading, but I don’t know that it is one of my favorites of hers. Beautifully written, just very quiet.
  • Celebrated first day of summer: reading by the pool. c Elissa Field, 2014

    Celebrated first day of summer: reading by the pool. c Elissa Field, 2014

    Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013). So far, my favorite read of the year (he catches a slight boost in that his writing structure and topic fit my writing mood at the moment). There’s such powerful accuracy in every sentence, with a masterfully balanced structure of varying timelines and points of view. I did a lot of underlining as I read. This one has had several nods for awards: long-listed, short-listed and awarded.  If you want details, I reviewed: Reading: Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena.

  • Carol Rifka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I’m Home (2012).  This was another reading favorite. Beautifully told, it was most surprising for being a book so much about love without being about a romance between main characters: love between sisters, between uncle and niece, between a parent and the parent’s sibling… At all times, Brunt delivers authentic and new insights. It is particularly a fresh portrayal of homosexual partnership and the AIDS crisis of the 80’s. While not written as young adult fiction, it’s a book I would include in teen reading lists.

What I’m Reading Now

I just received delivery of a few of the books I couldn’t find in bricks and mortar stores, so am exciting to be reading these, this week:

  • Gae Polisner, The Summer of Letting Go (March 2014).  If you have a teen reader or read young adult literature, I really recommend this one. I was instantly pulled in by the endearing voice of the main character, who is stalking a beautiful neighbor, Nancy Drew-style, worried the woman has seduced her father. Sometimes subtle, sometimes bold, it is compelling, the weight this girl feels to hold her family together after her brother’s drowning. Beautifully written.
  • Colum McCann, Fishing the Sloe-Black River: Stories (1996).  This one was on my Summer Reading List 2013, but I’ve just now gotten ahold of it. Despite a factual detail that really undermined the plot of the first story, it’s so far delivering the voice I so admire McCann for, for its concise and subtle precision. He tends to be a favorite.
  • Colm Toibin, Bad Blood: A Walk Along the Irish Border (2001).  I’m still waiting for this one to arrive as it was hard to track down. Kudos to small booksellers (and my ability to find them through Amazon) for having just the book I was looking for.

Newly Added for Midsummer Reading

Here are a few books I’ve added to my reading list since June’s list.

  • Helen Oyeyemi, Boy, Snow, Bird (March 2014). I first ran across Helen’s writing with a really strong short story in a literary magazine a few years back. I’d put Mr. Fox on my reading list, and was reminded of her when I came across Boy, Snow, Bird, her new release. I’ve heard great things from other reading friends.
  • Colin Barrett, Young Skins (January 2014). This short story collection was just recognized with the Frank O’Connor prize, and Barrett’s writing has been praised by writers I love, like Colm Toibin.

Carryovers from Prior Lists

Some of these have carried over from prior lists as I track them down. Each is highly recommended.

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How About You?

What are you reading, what would you recommend, or what books make you to be read list?  If this inspires you to blog your own list, share link to your post so we can come read with you.

Where do the book links take you?

For convenience, you can click book titles for their link at Amazon — or find them at your favorite indie bookseller through indiebound.org:

Shop Indie Bookstores

*     *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or RSS feed. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

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My Summer Reading List 2014

Summer reading, ready to go. c. Elissa Field

Summer reading, ready to go. c. Elissa Field

What is the first thing I did with my days off, when spring semester ended? READ. Read read read. I can’t say why, but more than any other year, it felt so good to spend full days reading as summer started this year. 

The first few books I read were ones from my Winter 2014 Reading List, including Amy Greene’s Long Man and Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena(I reviewed Constellation here).

Celebrated first day of summer: reading by the pool. c Elissa Field, 2014

Celebrated first day of summer: reading by the pool. c Elissa Field, 2014

I highly recommend both of them and am excited for the successes both books have seen.

But now it’s time to get excited about the latest must-reads — it’s time for My Summer Reading List 2014! Please do share your own reading recommendations or must-reads in the comments. We all love to learn about great new titles.

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Fiction

  • Michael Cunningham, The Snow Queen (2014). This made my radar after watching Cunningham give a reading (online) at Bart College. I first fell in love with his writing when I stumbled on a short story in the defunct DoubleTake Magazine — before The Hours — which had me guessing he’d become a notable writer. Snow Queen releases this summer.
  • Aminatta Forna, The Hired Man (2013). I’ve heard this described as a “taut and suspenseful” tale of the relationship between villagers of a small Croat town and outsiders, after Croatia’s War of Independence. The title has appeared on several recommended reading lists. I’m intrigued.
  • Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See (May 2014). This novel set in World War II has been surfacing in every reading forum, with rave reviews. I’ve read short stories by Doerr before that were full of beauty and nuanced insight.
  • Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed (2013). This is the novel I just started reading. Hosseini’s prior novels – The Kite Runner (2004) and A Thousand Splendid Suns (2008) — were stunning. Read this New York Times review. 
  • Erin Morgenstern, Night Circus (2011). This one made my reading radar before, but finally made it into the stack that came home with me from a recent book-buying trip. This novel had a lot of buzz among my lit friends on Twitter last summer ago. I actually finished reading it just prior to posting this and can tell you that Erin has created a magically unique world, justifying the buzz.
  • Joshua Ferris, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (2014). This was added to my reading list on sheer faith of this tweet from Anthony Marra, whose Constellation has gotten so much praise from me lately:

 

 

Carryovers from Winter

Middle Grade or Young Adult Fiction

You may know that, from my own interests, from reading along with my sons and from teaching middle grade lit, I am an avid reader of middle grade and young adult fiction. These make my summer list:

  • Gae Polisner, The Summer of Letting Go (March 2014). I’m excited to read this new release by a writer I came to know as one of the hosts of the annual TeachersWrite forum. Early reviews have been great! I’ve come to know her as frank, intelligent, and witty, and am interested to see how her voice plays out in the novel.
  • E. Lockhart, We Were Liars (May 2014). Here’s another new release showing up on nearly every recommended reading list. The cover alone has that summer-mystique from childhood to pull me in.
  • John Greene, An Abundance of Katherines (2008). One of my Best Reads of 2014 never made it onto one of my readings lists, and that is The Fault in Our Stars. Forget that it’s a movie this summer; you have to read the book. It will be a classic (and yes, you’ll cry through much of it). Credit to John Greene for being example of why adults read young adult fiction: Fault is one smart and passionate novel. So read that, if you haven’t. I, in the meantime, will be reading Katherines (recommended by a friend) or one of Greene’s others: Paper Towns or Looking for Alaska).
  • Carl Hiaasen’s Scat, and Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. I’ll be buddy reading these along with my son, a rising 5th grader — they are part of his summer reading. If you have a child 4th-6th grade, these are great reads.

Nonfiction

  • Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers (2012). Boo’s reporting of the “bewildering age of global change and inequality” through the inner stories of families in Mumbai was winner of the National Book Award, the PEN/John Galbraith Award, Los Angeles Times Book Prize… should I go on?
  • Gary Shteyngart, Little Failure (January 2014). While it’s possible I’ll end up buying something else by Shteyngart (novels: Super Sad True Love Story or Russian Debutante’s Handbook) when I’m actually in the store, this memoir has been on my target list for some time.
  • Elizabeth Berg, Escaping Into the Open (2012). This book made my reading list, sight unseen, as it is the book being shared by my Wordsmith Studios friends as a summer reading group. Smile at the thought of this great group.
  • Colm Toibin, Bad Blood: A Walk Along the Irish Border (2001). I look forward to reading this account from one of my favorite Irish authors about the time and place where much of my current novel-in-progress is set. (More about my novel’s Irish connection here.)

 Want more reading recommendations?

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What Are You Reading?

I’d love to hear your own reading suggestions in the comments.  Let us know the favorite books you’ve read this year or ones on your must-reads list.  If this inspires you to blog your own list, share link to your post so we can come read with you.

Where do the book links take you?

For convenience, you can click book titles for their link on Amazon — or find them at your favorite indie bookseller through indiebound.org:

Shop Indie Bookstores

*     *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

More on Books and Reading:

Is Novel Revision your summer goal?

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Reading: Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Celebrated first day of summer: reading by the pool. c Elissa Field, 2014

Celebrated first day of summer: reading by the pool. c Elissa Field, 2014

I’ve been very picky in reading this past spring — literally put down 7 out of 12 books, without finishing. But today I’m motivated to post the first book review I’ve shared on this site, because so bowled over by Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Hogarth, Jan. 2013).

And the Winner Is…

I first picked this novel up when it began appearing on lists nominating it for various national and international book awards last year. Constellation won the 2014 National Book Critics Circle’s inaugural John Leonard Prize, the inaugural 2014 Carla Furstenberg Cohen Fiction Award and the 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in fiction.  It was also nominated for the National Book Award in Fiction, and appeared on numerous best-reads lists, including the Goodreads Choice list.

anthony marraI was particularly intrigued because I “knew” Anthony from when he participated in a writer’s forum back when he was applying for a Stanford Stegner fellowship, years back. Constellation is Marra’s first novel. I shared this interest here before, when I included link to an interview with Marra by the New School in Friday Links for Writers: 02.21.14.

From this, what I knew of the book in advance was that it was intelligent and stark, with some risks taken in multiple narrative threads.

Stunning and Beautiful

What I found was an intelligent, sometimes poetic, emotionally powerful insight into individual lives of civilians during the wars in Chechnya. The simplest compliment I could give the novel was the point, midway through, when I found myself comparing the narrative impact of the writing to Tolstoy.

Marra’s writing is beautiful, brave, clean and with an unhurried confidence that left a nuanced and authentic portrayal of characters who were altogether new. As the novel opens, a young Chechen girl, Havaa, is watching her house burn, knowing her father has been disappeared. She is quickly spirited away by Akhmed, a close friend of her father’s, who takes on a job (as the worst physician in Chechnya) in Hospital No. 6 in order to convince the head doctor to hide the girl. As three more key characters are introduced, Marra weaves together histories and desires that reveal the personal losses and motivations that populate the lives of civilians in wartime.

Fascinated by Marra’s Narrative Structure

There is an idiosynchratic spirit to Constellations.  I’d heard it described as multiple stories woven together, but what he accomplishes is much more organic and unified than that.

Divisions of the novel are based on time. There are 28 chapters to the novel, grouped into parts that measure the five days after Dokka is disappeared. At the top of each chapter is a timeline band, highlighting the relevant years for that chapter. While the storyline progresses through the events after Dokka is taken, each chapter moves organically through the minds of the main characters and how the past 20 years of memories led each of the characters to the events of these 5 days. The complexity of the structure is pulled off beautifully.

Some risks are taken in the ways that Marra plays with voice, as the narrative fluctuates in varying degrees of 3rd person. The most basic structure is that each chapter begins with close 3rd on one of 5 main characters; line spacing mid-chapter usually then signals a shift to close 3rd from another main character’s pov. Frequently, however — particularly in traumatic encounters with other players in the war, such as arrival in the ER of a man whose leg was blasted apart by a landmine — narrative voice shifts to omniscience for 1-3 lines, revealing inner secrets, thoughts or future outcomes of this side character before returning to the main character’s pov.  The effect of this intrigues me, as it breaks a linear plane to create a wavery effect that is less godly than a shared-awareness that seems fitting in an environment where all predictable rules have dissolved.  What is impressive is Marra’s control, as pov shifts are accomplished without apology or need for awkward segues.  By visiting Havaa’s pov in the opening line, then Akhmed’s within the next line, Marra has effectively signaled that views will shift.

Lasting Impact

The concept of the novel is powerful. I was continually impressed at Marra’s ability to deliver with nuanced subtlety how each individual progresses through the insane or horrifying events of war (or warlike conditions and even torture in supposed peacetime). He manages to present the factual history in a manner that is seamless with the characters’ individual voices and storylines.

What is most powerful are the characters. While it is a novel revealing truisms of war, it is ultimately a novel about love and compassion and the warmly developed lives of characters in this small village. Each character is vivid, intriguing and their stories compelling.

Congrats to Anthony Marra for making my Top Reads of 2014.

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What Are You Reading?

I’m getting ready to post my Summer Reading List for 2014, which has me curious what everyone else is reading.  I’d love to hear your own reading suggestions in the comments.  Let us know the favorite books you’ve read this year or ones on your must-reads list.  If this inspires you to blog your own list, share link to your post so we can come read with you.

Where do the book links take you?

For convenience, you can click the book link to Marra’s book in the opening paragraph, which takes you to Amazon.  Or, you can find it at your favorite indie bookseller through indiebound.org:

Shop Indie Bookstores

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If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

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My Reading List: Winter 2014

Watching for snow - perfect time for a great read. c. Elissa Field

Watching for snow – perfect time for a great read. c. Elissa Field

Snowed in on New Year’s weekend seems the perfect time to curate a reading list for the winter months.  This list includes the books I am reading or plan to read over the coming months, as well as a few other notable recommendations.

Have you been inspired by a recent read or have you compiled a reading list of your own?  We’d love to hear your recommendations (or links) in the comments.  At the bottom, find more links for reading resources.

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Recommended Fiction from 2013

  • Alice McDermott, Someone (September 2013).  Folks, help me lower my expectations as I’m really expecting lots from this one (no, don’t really). McDermott has been one of my favorite authors for her nuanced characters, and an excerpt from Someone was one of my favorite short stories in the New Yorker in recent years. Let’s hope the novel measures up.
  • Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013). I can’t tell you my excitement when Marra’s novel was longlisted for the National Book Award, as I “knew” him from an online writer’s forum years back. He is a graduate of Iowa and Stanford, whose writing maturity and complexity have been compared to Jonathan Safran Foer.  I’m really curious to read this novel. From the New York Times, here is an interesting piece on research for the book, and here is a review.
  • Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch (October 2013). This one has made it to my “must read” list after feedback from reading friends. My mom was slow to warm, but gripped at the end. Missouri Review editor Michael Nye tweeted me, “It’s a book you want to rush to finish AND don’t want it to end at the same time. That’s rare (for a grouch like me!)”
  • Colum McCann,  Transatlantic (2013). I will get myself to read this… but must confess I’m afraid it might disappoint, which pains me, as he is a favorite of mine. McCann’s writing can feel effortless and powerful (as in Let the Great World Spin or his story/novella collection Everything in This Country Must), but the research level of Transatlantic makes me worry it will have the overwrought weight of Zoli (can anyone convince me to finish reading that one?). Hoping for the best case scenario — I’ll let you know.
  • Amy Greene, Long Man (February 25, 2014).  I am so excited to read this new release by critically-acclaimed writer, Amy Greene (a Southern Living book of the month).
  • Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries (October 2013). This winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize and the Canada Governor General’s Literary Award is described as “a breathtaking feat of storytelling where everything is connected but nothing is as it seems.” I’m in.

Other 2013 Fiction on My Radar

Carried Over From My Summer Reading List

Continuing the Challenge: Reading the Books You Always Meant to Read

Middle Grade & Young Adult Fiction

  • Marcus Zusak, The Book Thief (2007). Well, yes, the opening of the film adaptation in November provoked me to pull this one off my classroom bookshelves, where I’d included it based on a passionate recommendation from a colleague (for 12 & up). I brought it home to buddy-read with my 7th grade son, before seeing the movie.  Random plug for an indie bookseller: this book was included on the weekly bestseller list for Village Books of Bellingham, WA. Click the link if you’d like to buy from them.
  • J.K. Rowling, The Chamber of Secrets (2000). I’m re-enjoying this one as a bedtime read-aloud with my sons.

Nonfiction

  • Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman, How Not to Write a Novel (2008). Not sure if I’ll actually bite on this one, but I’ve heard only great things about this book, which presents writing advice in the negative by sharing “200 classic mistakes and how to avoid them.”
  • Donald Maass, Writing 21st Century Fiction (2012). How to sum this book up? I don’t read it as much as, each time I begin to read, it instantly engages me back in revisions to my novel. I am not big on “how to write” books, but Maass writes amazing prompts to challenge structure, character motivation and more.
  • Margaret Searle, Causes and Cures in the Classroom (November 2013). I’m fascinated to read this one, which draws connections between executive functioning and behavior to optimize learning.

Want more reading recommendations?

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What Are You Reading?

I’d love to hear your own reading suggestions in the comments.  Let us know the favorite books you’ve read this year or ones on your must-reads list.  If this inspires you to blog your own list, share link to your post so we can come read with you.

Where do the book links take you?

For convenience, you can click book titles for their link on Amazon — or find them at your favorite indie bookseller through indiebound.org:

Shop Indie Bookstores

*     *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or the Bloglovin button in the sidebar. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

More on Books and Reading:

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My Summer Reading List 2013

Summer Reading 2013 c Elissa Field

Summer Reading 2013 c Elissa Field

It took me a little while to feel inspired to post my Summer Reading List before June’s end. Am I not excited about reading? Sort of the opposite.

As I posted about in My Reading List: Winter 2013 and 2012: Year of the Book, the last year of reading has been so rich that it can be hard to be the next book in line. In the last month, I’ve started and put down half a dozen books.

Just as I thought I was being an irritable reader, Curtis Brown literary agent Jonny Geller tweeted this:

In that spirit, I’ve made it through my “rebound” books and here is list of the books I’m excited to be reading for summer.

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2013 Releases I am Curious About:

Another 2013 release worth noting (see My Reading List: Winter 2013 ) is Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove.

More Fiction:

  • Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies (2012). As mentioned in 2012 Year of the Book, Bring up the Bodies went on my list after winning the 2012 Man Booker Prize, making Mantel the only woman to have won it twice. Mantel writes rich historical fiction. While I’m really enjoying it, I would have preferred to have read her Wolf Hall first, as Wolf Hall takes on Henry VIII’s efforts to marry Anne Boleyn, and Bring Up the Bodies picks up where Wolf left off.
  • Colum McCann, Fishing the Sloe-Black River: Stories (1996). I love listening to interviews of McCann for his soft Dublin vowels and his ease with poetic intelligence. He also tops my list of writers I’d love to workshop with, and this collection is one of his books I’ve not yet read. McCann is best known for his award-winning, best-selling Let the Great World Spin, and on current bookstore displays for his summer 2013 release, Transatlantic.

Young Adult and Middle Grade Fiction:

These are titles I’m reading with my sons, my 5th or middle grade students, or just because I love YA & MG fiction. (For more, here is my Teacher’s Summer Reading List from my teaching blog.)

  • Jacqueline Davies, The Lemonade War (2007). This novel was assigned as summer reading for my son, rising to 4th grade, and I was glad for the chance to read it with him as I’d skimmed the book in interest several times before. In addition to a good story, I believe it includes some math connections. Will let you know.
  • Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None (1939). Right. It’s not “YA” fiction — but this mystery classic is listed here because I am re-reading it along with my rising-7th grader, as his assigned summer reading. Fun, since I read all of Christie’s books in middle and high school.
  • Lois Lowry, The Giver (1994). My rising-7th grader is giving me perfect excuse to finally read this popular, Newbery-winning novel about a young boy in a utopian society. I’d previously read her WWII Number the Stars.
  • Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time (1963). I look forward to rereading this long-time favorite by Madeleine L’Engle, which I included among 3 classics on students’ summer reading options (rising to 5th grade). I may reread another on the list: Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins as well.
  • Nova Ren Suma, 17 & Gone (2013). I’m excited for this new release by author of Imaginary Girls.
  • William Goldman, The Princess Bride (1973). This nearly-cult classic — often best known for the film version out in 1987 — is the topic of conversation for the month of June among a great group of writers I chat with on Twitter (#wschat on Wednesdays). It is likely to become the summer’s first nighttime read-aloud with my boys.

Nonfiction – on writing craft and teaching:

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What Are You Reading?

I’d love to hear your own reading suggestions in the comments.  Let us know the favorite books you’ve read this year or ones on your must-reads list.  If this inspires you to blog your own list, share link to your post so we can come read with you.

Where do the book links take you?

For convenience, you can click book titles for their link at Amazon — or find them at your favorite indie bookseller through indiebound.org:

Shop Indie Bookstores

*     *     *     *     *

If you like this blog, be sure to subscribe using WordPress’s +follow option, or via email or RSS feed. I love to connect with like-minded readers and writers!

More on Books and Reading:

Posts on the Craft of Writing:

Where Else You’ll Find Me:

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March Reading Challenge: The Books You Always Meant to Read

Shared by the Library of Congress, this poster is from a Chicago promotion 1936-1941. No known copyright restrictions.

Shared by the Library of Congress, this poster is from a Chicago promotion 1936-1941. No known copyright restrictions.

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One of my favorite books is Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.

Except I don’t think I’ve ever actually read it. I love it because I loved To the Lighthouse. I loved the brave stubborn trust of Virginia Woolf’s sentences. I loved The Hours. I loved film adaptations of Mrs. Dalloway and The Hours.

That counts, right?

Not so much!

When I spotted the poster above — a vintage Chicago literacy promotion from 1936-41, shared by the Library of Congress — on Pinterest, I knew the March Challenge was on.

It’s time to challenge our reading resumes.

March is the month to read the books we’ve always meant to read.

Let’s kick this off, in proper spirit, with a shout out to McSweeney’s for sharing this post: “Feedback From James Joyce’s Submission of Ulysses to His Creative Writing Workshop.” Kudos to an imaginary beta reader brave enough to advise Joyce, “Think you accidentally stapled in something from your playwriting workshop for Ch. 15.”

No doubt, for many of us, Ulysses is poster child of a certain category of “books we’ve always meant to read.”

In my polldaddy survey (click this link to the survey ) over the past month, most readers indicated two reasons for a book they haven’t gotten around to reading:

  1. so many books, so little time – other books took priority; or
  2. the unread book was ominously challenging – like Ulysses.

I have 2 copies of Ulysses, including a completely annoted version, meant to explain all those vexing inside references. Still not sure I ever finished reading.

How About You — What books have you always meant to read?

My challenge this month is just to read Mrs Dalloway. Off to a great start: it’s in my reading stack. Next, if I finish that, might be IQ84.

And what about you?

Is there a book most kids read in high school, except you changed schools that year and missed it? Is there one (be honest…) you read Cliff’s Notes for instead of the real thing?

Is there a famous book you’ve seen several film adaptations of but never read the actual book? All those great Jane Austen flicks, but never read Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibilities? (My favorite is actually Persuasion.) Or Dracula or Frankenstein, or Anna Karenina, all of which lose their subtlety in film.

Or, just as likely, is there a guilty-pleasure book everyone else read and you never did? Bridget Jones? Harry Potter?

If It Helps Get You Thinking:

My books-I’ve-been-meaning-to-read fall into these categories:

  • classics or famous authors I’ve always meant to read: Brothers Karamozov, Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton or one of his older works, Updike.
  • books I’ve seen the movie of but wanted to read the book: Mrs. Dalloway, Life of Pi, The Help, Hunger Games.
  • new-ish books that had to wait in line when I bought other books: see My Winter Reading List for these.
  • books everyone else was talking about but I didn’t read: Swamplandia.
  • writers I love and want to read their newer work: Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, or Michael Ondaatje
  • the great wall of literary intimidation — one or two that seem like daunting reads, for their complexity or sheer size: Haruki Murakami’s IQ84 ; Ulysses; Middlemarch.

What is your obstacle to getting your book read?

Joining the Challenge:

Where? Post in the comments below to let us know the book or author that has always stumped you (and why, if that’s interesting). If you want, share this as a post on your blog (include link to this challenge), and then post the link to your blog in the comments so we can visit your site.

What? No rules about what the book should be. Maybe this is a great excuse for tackling a classic, but there’s no reason you can’t make it the month you read Gone Girl (because it’s your turn for a sleepless night) or Tiger’s Wife (because you didn’t really mean to fake it through the book club chat).

How many? The challenge is to read one, but it’s up to you if you want to read more, or even raise the bar and aim for one each week, or one each month for the rest of the year (honestly, how many books have you been avoiding?).

When? The goal is to post the title of the book you plan to read, then post again to say you’ve finished it by the end of the month. Then we all clink glasses, confetti falls, we cheer and books everywhere sigh.

Can I get fancy? If you want to get festive on your site, you can use the badge for this challenge, which was adapted from a poster in the Library of Congress.

Books You’re Allowed to Give Up On (We Say It’s Okay)

  • If it’s on your list because it’s “a book everyone is supposed to read,” consider why. If you write short stories and it’s a collection by an author whose work became the foundation of story writing, sure, give it a go. If it’s a classic of Southern Lit and you teach literature at Ole Miss, get on it. But if Dante’s Inferno or Madame Bovary aren’t your thing, we say you’re off the hook.
  • Is it a book you bought and never read? Free pass to be fickle: the fact it grabbed you in the aisles doesn’t mean you have to read it now.

This is the month to take on a book you’ve always meant to read.  Let us know what challenge you’ll take on!

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My Reading List: Winter 2013

Winter reading waits. c Elissa Field

Winter reading waits. c Elissa Field

Mid-winter makes it perfect time to update my current “must-reads” list.

As noted in prior reading lists (links at bottom), 2012 occasioned release of some fabulous fiction, including several I haven’t gotten to yet. I’ve discovered some other great books released prior to 2012, as well as a few winter-spring 2013 releases I’m really curious to read. Rounding the list are 3 books by writers I love, 3 works of nonfiction, and the “challenge list” that serves to seed the reading challenge I’ll publish in March: reading books you’ve always meant to read.

I’d love to hear your own reading recommendations, recent favorite reads or link to your own reading list in the comments. Happy reading!

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Fiction:

  1. Anuradha Roy, An Atlas of Impossible Longing (2011). This debut novel set in Bengal is being heralded internationally as a great new voice. the author, longlisted for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize, has also released The Folded Earth (2012).
  2. Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time (2004). The name alone sold me on this book — one I had often picked up and set down before finally taking it home last month. Update: I’ve read lots of haters on this book, but hands down, it knocked me off my feet with its humor, intellect and heart. I quickly added it to a top-recommended read list for upper MG and YA (lower, if not for the f-bombs).
  3. Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies (2012). See my prior post 2012 Year of the Book: Bring up the Bodies went on my winter list after it won the 2012 Man Booker Prize, making Mantel the only woman to have won it twice. Update: I finally got a copy of this and am reading it in June. Will update further as I finish reading but, in the meantime, it’s worth sharing advice I’ve heard from others: Since all of Mantel’s work is highly recommended and since she writes historical fiction, you would be safe to decide which of her books to read based on which topic most interests you.
  4. Helen Oyeyemi, Mr. Fox (2011).

2013 Releases I am Curious About:

  1. Eleanor Morse, White Dog Fell from the Sky (Jan. 2013). Compared to Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone.
  2. Karen Russell, Vampires in the Lemon Grove (Feb. 2013). I so want this collection of stories by the author of the 2011 award-winning novel Swamplandia and 2007 collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Vampires lost out in my most recent book run only to Mrs. Dalloway, as I have the March reading challenge to gear up for. Update: Russell’s stories are rich with intelligence and off-kilter with subjects as odd as teen girls enslaved and transformed into silk-spinners. So far, I’m partial to the title story. A little icked by the silkworm story. But genuinely impressed by her writing. Worth reading one of her titles.
  3. Ned Beauman, The Teleportation Accident (Feb. 2013). This LA crime noir/scifi novel made the longlist for the 2012 Man Booker Prize.
  4. Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed (May 2013). With its May release date, this is on my Winter list merely as reminder to look forward to it for the Summer List, considering the insight of Hosseini’s prior novels: The Kite Runner (2004) and A Thousand Splendid Suns (2008).  Update: I plan to get a copy of this new release and hopefully watch Hosseini read at Books & Books in Miami 6/19. He is on tour, so you might check if he is reading at a bookstore near you. Or, read this New York Times interview with Hosseini.

Writers Who Inspire Me:

This lists morphs over the years, along with growth of my writing and interests — but there has always been a mental short-list of writers whose work really inspires me. In addition to the 3 authors below, there is Tea Obreht, who has no book for me to add to the list as she has only published The Tiger’s Wife.

If one thing were in common among these writers, it is each of their lack of fear of being intelligent in their writing (think that through: they don’t fear when the writing begs complexity or a long sentence, don’t rush it into something more commercial), fueled by a familiar ease with folklore or magic.

  1. Alice McDermott, Child of My Heart (2003). Child of My Heart was McDermott’s first novel after her National Book Award winning Charming Billy – and my love of her writing in CB was impetus for seeking out ChildUpdate: I may post separately about the experience of reading this, as it became a favorite read for 2013, although I fought it the first 25 pages.
  2. Nathan Englander, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (2000). Nathan Englander is on the short list of authors I’d like to workshop with, which says a lot.  His 2008 novel Ministry of Special Cases made my favorite reads of 2011, as intelligent, poetic and haunting. His 2012 collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank , made my reading list last year. Update: tsk. Despite my love for Englander, Unbearable Urges lost out on recent buying trip when I realized it was a story collection. LOVE his stories, but Ishiguro’s novel won out.
  3. Colum McCann, Fishing the Sloe-Black River: Stories (1996). I love listening to interviews of McCann for his soft Dublin vowels and his ease with poetic intelligence. He also tops my list of writers I’d love to workshop with, and this collection is one of his books I’ve not yet read. McCann is best known for his award-winning, best-selling Let the Great World Spin.
  4. Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero (2008). While Ondaatje was best known for his Booker Prize-winning  The English Patient (loved), my favorite was his novel In the Skin of a Lion (1997). I’ve not read his more recent work, and Divisadero came recommended by a friend. (I’ve also heard good things about his 2011 The Cat’s Table.)

Rolled Over from my Fall 2012 or 2012 Year of the Book lists:

Follow links to either list in the title above to read more about these highly recommended or award-nominated books.

  1. David Abrams, Fobbit (Sept. 2012).
  2. Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Mar. 2012)
  3. Matthew Dicks, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend (Aug. 2012).
  4. Sarah Winman, When God Was a Rabbit (Apr. 2012).
  5. Margot Livesey, The Flight of Gemma Hardy (2012). I’m trying not to cheat and look this up, but I can’t help finding inspiration from Jane Eyre in this one. Livesey is an intriguing writer and this is in my current stack. Update: I thoroughly enjoyed this book – you could feel Livesey’s childhood thrill of Jane Eyre in richly reimagined scenes — although I couldn’t help feeling the love more flat than sultry. Top marks for all but that.

Three More 2012 Releases That Call to Me on Every Book Run:

  1. Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus (2012). I resist the circus theme, but can’t hold out much longer — I’ve heard such great buzz about this book.
  2. Carol Rifka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I’m Home (2012). You had me at the title.
  3. Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins (2012). You had me at the cover.

Young Adult and Middle Grade Fiction:

These are titles I’m reading with my sons, my 5th or middle grade students, or (admit it!) just because I love YA & MG fiction:

  1. Rebecca Stead, Liar & Spy. I wish I could take credit for discovering this one. I do follow Rebecca on Twitter and had her 2009 novel When You Reach Me on my to-read list, but this book came as a Christmas gift to my son from Mimi & Papa. Update: Quiet in its own way, Liar & Spy is funny, mysterious and so intelligently written. Rebecca earns my Gold Star for Writers Who Get Kids. It’s one I quickly recommend to my kids.
  2. Katherine Erskine, Mockingbird (2011). A National Book Award winner. Update: ever empty a package then keep shaking for more to come out? I wanted to like this book, but eh.  Pros: for the same reasons I liked Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time(above), I liked the POV of an Asperger’s narrator. But. I’m around kids all day (the age of the narrator) and the plot arc felt too issue-y and forced. Perhaps the author’s note at the end rammed it a little too far. It still is a 3-4 star book, but not on my top-recommended.
  3. Theodore Taylor, The Cay (1987). Set in Curacao during World War II, this is a novel I’m reading aloud with my 5th graders. I inherited this one from prior curriculum, not yet sold on it.  Update: I am NOT a fan of this book. The best thing to come from it was the opportunity to teach kids that “setting” can be expressed myriad ways: within the opening pages, there are 2 sentences that each hold 6 separate means of expressing setting — which is great, as kids so often think it is only made up of literal time (date, hour) and place (actual location).

Nonfiction:

  1. Charles Baxter, Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction (2008). Baxter wasn’t my workshop leader when I went to Bread Loaf Writers Conference, yet I came away from that intense week more impacted by the advice in Baxter’s afternoon lectures than the whole week of my workshop.  This collection of writing on craft just arrived in the mail. I also recommend his Bringing the Devil to his Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life (2001).
  2. Shane Connaughton, A Border Diary (1996). I’m fascinated by the culture of borders within related but disputed lands, which was motivation for the hometown of my main character in Wake. This memoir is an odd first-person source in that it recounts a small village along the Antrim-Fermanagh border at the time of the 1994 ceasefire — but during the border country’s use in filming The Run of the Country, as recorded by the hometown Irishman who authored the story.
  3. David A. Sousa & Carol Ann Tomlinson, Differentiation and the Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom (2010). If the first 2 were for development of my craft in fiction, this goes to craft in teaching. This book applies decades of brain research (into how brains learn, and how individual students learn differently) to concrete methods for differentiating in the classroom to reach and activate all learners. Love this book.

Writers I’ve Been Meaning to Read:

Shared by the Library of Congress, this poster is from a Chicago promotion 1936-1941. No known copyright restrictions.

Shared by the Library of Congress, this poster is from a Chicago promotion 1936-1941. No known copyright restrictions.

This part of the Winter List will receive special attention and an update in March, as I’ve stumbled across a vintage literacy challenge to take on reading of a book “you’ve always meant to read.”

I’m curious about the kinds of books we forever postpone on our “to read” lists — and what keeps us from tackling them.

  1. Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (2006).  I was a huge fan or Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day but haven’t gotten myself to read anything he’s written since. Update: ooh, since I misplaced my Mrs. Dalloway, can this count as my March Challenge book? I read this in 2 days, over spring break. For all of part 1 I argued with his narrative style — talk about unnecessary clauses and modifiers that added nothing! The plot twist in part 2 lights a fire, and I did read nonstop to the finish. Not my favorite, but thought-provoking.
  2. Haruki Murakami, IQ84 (2011). Like Ulysses, I keep hearing this is a book that a writer should challenge themselves to read. I see that brick-of-a-book and can only think of the 3 or 4 books it has to be good enough to take the time of.
  3. Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton (Sept. 2012) or one of his earlier works.
  4. Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925). I’ve read other works by Woolf (I’m a fan of To the Lighthouse) and have read and viewed so many adaptations, but don’t know that I’ve ever read the original of Mrs. Dalloway. Update: Don’t laugh. I swear I can’t find my copy of Mrs. D. Honest – I did not hide it. Looking, looking…

Hmm… What other books have I never gotten around to reading? And which are on your list? 

If you have a minute, please click this link to a survey where you can leave your insights or the kinds of authors or titles you never get around to reading.

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What Are You Reading?

I’d love to hear your own reading suggestions in the comments.  Let us know the favorite books you’ve read this year or ones on your must-reads list.  If this inspires you to blog your own list, share link to your post so we can come read with you.

Where do the book links take you?

For convenience, you can click book titles for their link at Amazon — or find them at your favorite indie bookseller through indiebound.org:

Shop Indie Bookstores

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My Reading Lists from 2012:

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Friday Links for Writers 02.08.13

friday linksToday was a week where “other plans” intervened — a complete position change in my teaching post wiped me so “blank screen” that I even forgot I had jury duty to call for on Tuesday. I spent my week getting to know new students and sentimental over some great writing students in the class I gave up.

Sigh.

It made little time for fiction writing. But there’s always time for reading. Pinterest has become my stress reliever, and it’s just your luck that this leaves me stumbling on some great pieces.

Here are some of my favorites, which take us from revision to queries, and then to the joy of reading.  Enjoy!

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Home Improvement

As writing conference season approaches, I was reminded of the great things I’ve heard of author Benjamin Percy as a workshop leader. In this article, published in the May-June 2010 issue of Poets & Writers, Percy offers some brave advice about the daily work of revision.

Query Pitfalls

In response to readers who appreciated the link to agent Sara Megibow’s query twitter chats, here is link to a blog by literary agent Janet Reid. Janet is bluntly entertaining in evaluating just what steers a query wrong. This link goes to a most recent post, but the full series is available by clicking the categoy “query pitfalls.”

Query Shark

Want more query pitfalls? This site evaluates actual query letters blow-by-blow.

Everyday Miracles

Tin House runs a series on its blog called The Art of the Sentence in which authors take turns reflecting on the perfection of one single sentence that inspires them. In “Everyday Miracles,” Pamela Erens mulls how John Updike was trained first as a visual artist, wondering if this is what leaves his writing so intimately revealing. Wondering to myself: did I ever actually read Updike?

Shared by the Library of Congress, this poster is from a Chicago promotion 1936-1941. No known copyright restrictions.

Shared by the Library of Congress, this poster is from a Chicago promotion 1936-1941. No known copyright restrictions.

Perfect segue to say I am in the process of getting ready for a March Reading Challenge, which has me thinking about books we “always meant to read.”

Reading list survey for the March Challenge: Click here if you’d like to share the kinds of books currently lingering on your “to read” list.

Finalists for the Story Prize

The Story Prize is given annually to honor an outstanding collection of short stories. The link above takes you to announcement of the 3 finalists for collections published in 2012: Junot Diaz, Dan Chaon and Claire Vaye Watkins. Want more great collections? This link here takes you to The Story Prize blog, with an annotated long list of other great collections they considered.

100 Notable Books of 2012 & 100 Recommended Books of 2012

I’ve posted before, calling 2012 the Year of the Book. It really was a year of some fabulous reads. But where “top 10″ lists and award lists tend to hit the same few books over and over, these two lists by the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle offer a more comprehensive range of the fabulous books published in 2012, in all genres.

Bookshelf Porn

If your eyes lit up at links for The Story Prize or {100 + 100} great books from 2012, they you’re probably in a category who would find photography of gorgeously shelved books satisfying. Kick back and enjoy yourself.

What did you find in these links that is useful to you? Let me know if you want more on a particular subject, or share your own best finds. Be sure to click through to the survey for the March Challenge, to share the kinds of books on your 2013 Reading List. I’d love to hear your current must-read titles!

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Summer hours spent revising Wake. c. Elissa Field

Summer hours spent revising Wake. c. Elissa Field

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2012: Year of the Book

imgpress

2012 was the year of many things — politics, gun violence, Hurricane Sandy, Olympics (remember way back that far?). But for those of us who crave getting lost in a great read, 2012 was something else: it was a year of new releases for many fabulous novels and works of nonfiction.

2012 was the year of the book.

Compiling reading lists before summer, I was astounded at the riches — only to find fall’s new releases a true embarrassment of riches. Even as pundits mull once again the death of the novel, death of publishing, death of print; even as self-publishing flooded in with more than a million e-releases via Amazon last year, the real news — the heady tweets and retweets throughout summer and fall — were the immensely satisfying novels arriving in print, lining up on the shelves of real bookstores.

It seemed everywhere people were reading. The question wasn’t, “What can I read next?” but, “What fabulous book on the many kudos-lists for 2012 have I not yet gotten to?”

As I gear up to compile my winter reading list for January, I came upon announcement at The Morning News of their annual Tournament of Books. Their 2013 list  reads like a summary of various award nominees from throughout the fall (click here to read my prior post for several of the awards’ longlists).

Considering these top-reading lists, as well as my own and those of friends this year, had me taking stock: which were my favorite new releases of 2012, and which 2012 boooks have I yet to read

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My Favorite New Releases of 2012:

I am not a fast reader, yet both of my top-picks compelled me to drop everything. Literally. All day in bed, reading. Through the night, reading. To the point of reading the second I woke, without stopping to make coffee.  No joke: I took the second with me into a movie, suspecting I might be tempted to read a chapter by light of my cell phone, between scenes.

  • Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds . Hands down, I think this is the most important book published in 2012.  Beautifully written (battle described with haiku-like stillness), without hammering over the head, yet you cannot help be changed by the knowledge imparted. As a teacher, its impact left me expecting it will someday be assigned reading, as my generation once read The Red Badge of Courage.
  • Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl . Where Yellow Birds was “important,” Gone Girl was ubiquitous as the “must read” page-turner of summer. I slogged through the first few chapters, skeptical over the characters’ self-indulgent narration… and then hook-whizzzz! Flynn had me. What began as self-important introspection reveals itself as the intricate mind-battle between two genuinely intriguing characters — and yes, I read compulsively, without stopping from page 60 through to the astonishing end, all the while seamlessly in love with Flynn’s ability to spin characters and story. To convey the extent to which Flynn won me over: through the whole last third of the book, I was actively thinking how glad I was to know she’d written other books I’d have to fill the gap once Gone Girl was done. Rare, hooked.

My other favorite-reads of the year weren’t published in 2012, but you can find them on my reading lists linked at the bottom of this post.

2012 New Releases Still-to-Be-Read:

There are another half dozen 2012-releases on my must-read lists that I’ve not yet gotten to.

  • Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies  — winner of the 2012 Man Booker Prize, and the first woman to ever win the award twice.
  • Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and David Abrams, Fobbit In a way, it’s unfair to list these together, as if they are equivalent, but together with Yellow Birds, these were three of the remarkable books written by veterans this year — each adding a unique voice to the experience of America at war.
  • Matthew Dicks, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend
  • Nathan Englander, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank Everything Englander writes is charged with his intellect, and deeply meaningful. I’ve read one story from this collection, and look forward to the rest.
  • Margot Livesey, The Flight of Gemma Hardy This is one of two books I am dying to read by Livesey — who not only impresses me, but has endeared me with encouragement on a story in the past.
  • Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton

For other books on my reading lists, but not published in 2012, see the links at the bottom of this post — and be sure to share any of your own recommendations, as I’ll consider them in compiling my Winter 2013 list!

Said shyly: “Great” Books of 2012 I Put Down Without Finishing:

Caveats are required, here, because I am a discerning reader… but also an impatient one.  Perhaps even moody. It is likely that these books did not fit my tastes at the time of reading, but these were two books I highly anticipated, then could not read past the first chapters:

  • Ann Patchett, State of Wonder I have heard only rave opinions of all Patchett’s work, but I could not get into the plot, setting or characters of this one. I’m hoping it will hook me in another year, or I’ll read one of her other books.
  • Jan-Phillip Sendker, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats  A lovely book, set in a country I had been studying so was easily intrigued by… yet I could not get past feeling it was not well-edited, with the feel of a self-published book full of first novel errors. Impatience kicked in and another book took it’s place in line.

Are you like me — do you often find yourself quick to put books down?

Of a dozen books, I feel like I might eagerly make it past the third chapter on only 3-4 of them. Other well-reviewed books I put down in 2012 included Elegance of the Hedgehog (I didn’t feel like reading about Paris) and The Imperfectionists (it didn’t seem to go anywhere and I preferred the narrator of the first chapter, who then disappeared).  With limited time and so many good books to read, I almost never force myself to finish a book that hasn’t hooked me. Then again, more than once I’ve stumbled across one of these later — in a different reading mood, perhaps — and loved it. Is there advice in that? I wonder how others experience this?

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My Reading Lists posted throughout 2012:

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Christmas Shopping for the Writer in Your Life: 40 Top Gift Ideas Writers Really Love

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At birthdays and holidays, how great is it when friends or family try to find just the right gift to honor the recipient’s interests? Since writers often work alone, it is especially touching when family try to affirm their work with what seem to be “writing” gifts.

But, wow. Looking at the feathered pens and pewter bookmarks and dolled up journals in the “gifts for writers” display at a bookstore the other day, I couldn’t help feeling protective of the well-intended money lost on such things.  At the same time, a real list of “gifts writers could really use” began playing in my head.

This feeling was furthered Tuesday when editor Jane Friedman tweeted: “Advice, please: How do you deal w/family who buys you stuff, even though you lead a minimalist life & hate accumulating things?”

In this economy, no one wants to see their loved ones wasting money. For every writer in your life, there are actual things they would love to have or maybe even need for their writing. Writers care deeply when you seek to honor how important their writing is. But, family and friends: your writer would love for you to not be tricked into that $25 pewter bookmark that could only dent pages and make books weigh a ton.

The list below highlights writing-related gifts that writers would genuinely appreciate, with guidelines for any shopper to make the best use of their money.

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Resist those cutesy kiosks by the bookstore cashier — we don’t all write with feathered pens in angel-covered journals.

1) Journal — or no? Over the years, I’ve been given some really thoughtful journals from friends, which have gone to good use. But know your writer. In the age of laptops and smart phones, it is common for writers to rarely use pen or paper. Tricks for guessing if your writer would like a journal: if your writer never carries a bag bigger than their cell phone and car keys, then they are unlikely to carry a journal with them for writing out in the world. If they make all notes and keep their calendar electronically, they are unlikely to use a handwritten journal. However, if they do use a journal, ask or notice the type they tend to prefer. Some writers really do like a luxurious leather one or artfully decorative one — while others prefer the stark usefulness of a Moleskin or even old school composition notebooks. If you can’t ask, use the accessories they wear or carry as measure of how elaborate or plain their tastes are. Cost (& where to buy):  $1-2 for composition books (try Target); $5-15 for Moleskin or other midrange journals (try your local bookseller or office supply store); or $30-45 for leather (finer stationers or booksellers).

2) Quill or… cheap ballpoint? I once wrote with only fountain pens and was thrilled to be given an expensive one. Then I had a few too many leaks. Same advice about journals goes for pens: some writers love paper and ink; others are nearly all digital. In most cases, a writer has use for pens, but not all will appreciate an expensive pen, so know your writer. Personally, I always appreciate when my sons put pens in my stocking that write well but are only midrange in price. Pilot V-Ball or Pentel gel are decent. If you live with your writer, try to see which type of pen they prefer.

Other “jotting” alternatives to journals:

2) Diver down!  Is your writer a shower thinker? Surprise them with a humorous — but genuinely clever — solution to help them remember their showertime brilliance, and avoid that dripping dash to write things down on paper.

  • Underwater writing slates, originally designed for scuba diving, are a great solution to hang in the shower for recording ideas. They come in standard (5 x 6″) or instructor (8 x 10″) sizes, and I’ve heard writers appreciating either. The smaller size is convenient and unobtrusive, but with room for short thoughts only. The larger size allows room for an entire paragraph or for several thoughts to accumulate without needing to be transferred right away. Both types have rings or hooks for hanging.  If space is not an issue, I’d go for the larger one.  Cost & where to buy: $6-14; available at a local dive or sporting shop, or here are 2 on Amazon:   smaller slate or larger slate.
  • Aquanotes: like the dive slate, this is a notepad for wet writing, specifically designed for the shower. Deciding between this or a slate, consider: as a wipe-off format, the slate is permanently available, although with the inconvenience that notes need to be transferred.  The notepad offers the convenience of tear-off sheets, although this makes it a disposable solution, needing to be repurchased again in the future.   Cost & where to buy: $9, offered by Your Shop via Amazon at this link.
  • Bath Crayons. What the heck — go for the laugh. This idea comes courtesy of the year my husband was taking organic chemistry and stole our son’s bathtub crayons to scribble chemical formulas all over the tile wall while showering before a major exam. The crayons are intended for toddlers’ bath time artwork, but work equally well for scribbling that brilliant bit of dialogue.  They wash off. They are cheap, easy to replace and easily stored. Best yet, they’ll provoke a laugh as your oh-so-serious writer gives you an odd look while unwrapping. Cost & where to buy: Crayola or Alex brands are $5. Try independent toy/children’s shops, Toys R Us, Target, some grocery stores, or here is a link to find them via Amazon.

3) Writing while driving. One of the funniest “you are a writer if…” pictures I ever saw was of a writer’s arm after having scribbled a scene up and down her forearm out of desperation while driving. Others confess the desperate grab for a receipt, napkin or anything else within reach to write on. Yes, we are a dangerous driving mess.  Here are a couple options to capture those genius insights behind the wheel:

  • Dragon Dictation smart phone app.  Love this one.  You download the app onto your phone.  When an idea hits you, click the app, then it records whatever ideas you dictate.  When done, it processes your words to text which it will then email to you.  It jumbles some words, but is enough to get the idea down while leaving your hands free for safe driving. It’s saved me many times. Cost & where to buy: The app is FREE, downloaded via itunes or other app stores (within the phone).
  • Evernote smart phone app. Popular with many writers, this allows a writer to type their ideas (pull over, please — not as readily used as Dragonware). Cost & where to buy: sample app is free; available via the smart phone app stores (within the phone); for complete app, gift an itunes gift card or purchase and email the app.
  • Car accessories. Try an auto supply store, office supply store or the auto supply aisle at Target, for various note-taking accessories available for business people who spend hours on the road. Options include dashmounted notepads or Post-It holders, or pen and pad options for the console.

The real basics — paper, ink & other office supplies:

4) Printer paper. Most of the time, your writer will be submitting their work electronically, so there is not the constant need for printing and mailing stories that there used to be — but paper is still a mainstay. Rather than fancy journals, a ream of printer/copier paper is a nonglamorous but useful gift for writers on limited resources. (Read: your wife will not find it romantic, but your grad student nephew might appreciate it.)  Hint: this gift will be less appreciated by people who are able to print for free in an office. Consider combining with ink, below.  Cost & where to buy: $4-7 for a 500-count ream; try any office supply store, or even Target or your grocery store, or order HP Multipurpose paper online here.

5) Ink. For writers who have to pay for their own printing, those ink cartridges are a constant and invisible expense. Cost & where to buy: single cartridges are $10-20 for black, and $10-20 for each of the colors, in an ink printer (laser cartridges are more expensive, but less common in home printers). Know the proper model for their ink cartridges, or give an office supply, Target or Costco gift card.

6) Other practical office supplies:

  • Standard stapler.For a young writer starting out or a writer who used supplies from their office before working from home, a good stapler is a basic.  Hint in choosing between a cute stapler or a sturdy one: writers’ stories can be 20 pages or more, and a sturdy, office-grade stapler by Swingline or Bostitch is less likely to break or jam.  Cost & where to buy: $5-20; buy at office supply stores or general stores like Target. Office Depot or Staples tend to have one stapler “on special.” For shopping online, here a Swingline classic at Amazon.
  • Heavy duty or automatic stapler. If your writer is submitting print copies of manuscripts, theses or grant applications, only a heavy duty stapler can clamp those documents more than 25 pages. I loved my automatic heavy duty stapler (up to 80 sheets), but had to borrow the manual one from my office for longer documents. Hint — knowing your writer: this will be very appreciated by a writer printing long documents, and meaningless to a writer who works only via computer. Be sure to include a box of staples.  Cost & where to buy: non-electronic ranges from $25-60; electronic ranges from $50-80. Try office supply stores, and aim for weekly sales. Here is link to a good manual stapler by Swingline  currently at a great discount price via Amazon.
  • Staples. If buying a stapler, include a box of staples — and be sure they are the correct size for the stapler.  Cost: $2-4, depending on type; buy where staplers are sold.
  • Post It notes or flags. If your writer is working on revising a print copy of their work, various PI notes or colored flags are great for tracking revision comments — and just expensive enough to be an appreciated stocking stuffer.
  • 3-ring Binder. Best practices for most novel writers includes printing a draft for read-through during the editing process, which happens several times.  A thoughtful gift for a writer at this stage would be an editing kit: a ream of paper, black printer cartridge, post it notes, highlighters, a pen and a 3-ring binder. How do you know if your writer would like this? If they have just completed a draft or if they’ve just finished a first draft through NaNoWriMo (you would have heard the cursing/boasting of word counts throughout November).  Cost & where to buy: Recommend Avery Durable View Binders. White is best, unless you know how to fit a theme to their novel or style.  The clear cover pocket allows them to slip in a “title page” if they want. For average novel size, 2″ binder will hold the pages without being unwieldy.  $3-10; office supply stores or Target, or here is one on Amazon.
  • Portable memory stick. These are the thumb-sized, mini memory drives for moving documents from one computer to another.  Cost & where to buy: $5-15, available nearly everywhere, including office supply stores, Target and even grocery stores. For fun, they now range in silly designs, including animals, toy cars and more.

Our real “office” is usually our computer:

7) “You had me at 4 GB.” If your writer is your significant other or someone else you’re likely to lavish, then know the main gear most writers live for are a laptop, wireless internet access (at home: a router; away: portable hotspot), and a printer . As a girl who’s gone 3 months with a favorite laptop out of commission, let me tell you how easy it is to romance a writer with efficient computer processing. Cost & where to buy: my #1 suggestion for buying laptops or printers is Costco. They have great prices for laptop packages and they double the manufacturer’s warranty with Costco Concierge service, which is the best tech support I’ve used. For routers or wireless service, go with your cable/phone service provider.

8) Software or updates. The key software for writers is a wordprocessing software and a backup or security software. For PC users, most use Microsoft Office-based Word; for a new computer, that would be helpful. But here are some more novel suggestions:

  • Scrivener software. If your writer is working on book-length fiction or nonfiction, Scrivener is a software that helps them organize the complexity of multi-scene, multi-chapter works.  Originally designed for Macs, a PC version came available in 2011 — so that it has been a “new discovery” for many writers in the past year.  I was a fast convert.  Days off during the holidays are a great time to get to learn and play with all the software’s functions.  Cost & where to buy: $40; the software is purchased directly from the vendor at this link Literature and Latte; if you are unsure if your writer will like it, you can download a trial first.
  • Quicken. We don’t go into writing poetry because we’re awesome at accounting. But writers accrue lots of expenses that can be tax write-offs. The day a fiction writer earns their first publication check, they should be able to see how much they’d spent in submission fees or research to get that piece written and published.  Writers who are freelancing need help managing not only expenses, but client accounts and invoicing and self-employment taxes.  Especially if you have a recent graduate or job-changer getting started as a freelancer, this is a great way to say you believe in the business they are starting.  Cost & where to buy: Quicken Home & Business 2014 retails $115; can be purchased as a download from various online sites including the manufacturer’s site, or at a range of stores including Best Buy, Costco or Target. It is currently on discount for $62 at this Amazon link, or check for discounting at other sellers.
  • PhotoShop or PaintShop Pro. Truth: many writers are photographers, bloggers or researchers, and a good photo software comes in handy. I prefer Corel’s PaintShop. Cost & where to buy: PaintShop Pro is $79 (on sale now for $59) via Corel’s website; or current sale price $41  via Amazon.

9) Upgraded battery. No matter what laptop stats brag, those batteries don’t keep a charge long when the computer is processing large documents with demanding software. It takes an upgraded battery to get beyond an hour or 2. Hint: you must know your writer’s computer model and DO seek a brand-name battery vs. a cheap one. I was slipped a mickey once, and it does not latch properly and performed inconsistently. Cost & where to buy: $90-150; try local electronic stores and battery retailers; or accessories sold on the laptop manufacturer’s website. Be cautious of fly-by-night discount websites.

10) I love you enough to guard your manuscript. Have you ever heard the echoing scream of a writer whose computer crashed while containing the only existing copy of what was certain to be the greatest novel ever written? Then you understand. Give the gift of a reliable back up.

  • Carbonite or Norton 360. Carbonite is an online backup service, provided for an annual fee. If you’d rather give security in a wrappable box, try buying Norton 360 (includes all around security), which includes a minimal amount of memory in online backup, and the option to upgrade for a comparable annual fee. Cost & where to buy: Carbonite is $59/year; free trial or download of Carbonite at this link . Buy Norton 360 for $33-60 (depending on sale prices) at office supply stores, Costco, or discounted at Amazon here; option to buy additional backup space when setting up account online.
  • Portable back up drive. (Also called an external hard drive.) A professional grade external hard drive copies the computer’s contents to a separate drive. Cost & where to buy: drives are available at office supply stores like Staples, for as little as $20-120. Price range corresponds to storage capacity.

11) Surge protector. That scream you heard from the writer whose computer crashed could have been at our house, where 2 computers died within weeks of each other after summer power spikes. Plugging equipment into surge protectors guards against such damage. Cost & where to buy: minimal protection is available for $20-30; higher quality provides greater “clamping” of spikes. Try office supply stores, or the electronics section at Target, where average Joes demand them for protecting tvs and video equipment.

Writers are readers – and no writer can afford all the reading they want to buy!

12) Literary magazines. If your writer writes short stories or poetry, their main targets for publication are literary magazines. Your writer needs to read what is being published to know what is out there, and those magazines need subscribers to stay alive. It is a great place to spend your money. Cost & where to buy: single issues are $5-20; subscriptions are $10-60/year. Eeshh… but which publication? There are hundreds out there, so here are some hints:

  • Single issues.  Single issues of literary magazines can be bought on the shelves of many independent and chain booksellers, and gifted the same as you would a book.  While there are hundreds of litmags out there, it is unusual to see more than half a dozen on the shelf, which narrows your confusion. How to select: a safe bet are the glossier, famed mags like Granta, The Paris Review, The New Yorker or Tin House. Literary writers may appreciate more the lesser-known regional publications, which vary by store. Flip through a magazine, maybe skim a few pieces, or select a publication that has more of the kind of writing (fiction or poetry) that your writer writes. Cost & where to buy: $5-20 per issue. Buying options: 1) Try your local independent bookseller (find one using indiebound.org). If your local bookstore is Barnes & Noble, they carry several. 2) Or, see links in “subscription” below — single issues can be ordered directly from the magazines. or 3) Order through the website New Pages, which sells sample issues of many literary magazines.
  • Subscriptions. The most cost effective and convenient option for you (and best for the publication) is to order a subscription. This is a luxury most poetry or short story writers would appreciate all year long. Hints for picking a magazine: 1) Ask your writer what magazines they submit to or which ones they would want to be published in. Those are your prime targets.  2) If you can’t ask, then check bookshelves to see publications they’ve bought before. 3) Or just pick a good one. Cost & where to buy: most are $10-20/year, some are up to $60/year. Find the magazine online and order through the website. Here are a few suggestions:  internationally respected publications that anyone might appreciate: Granta, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Tin House and The New Yorker.  As a fiction writer, a few of my favorites:  The Southern Review, Glimmer Train, The Missouri Review and Fiction. Right now, most are offering holiday promotions or “gift one, get one” offers.

13) Subscript to Poets & Writers. Over the years, this one publication has impressed me more than any other with the concrete professional advice it offers writers, including everything from submission practices to success stories to calendars and lists of submission deadlines. Cost & where to buy: order through this link to the site for $14.95/year (or $24.95 for 2 years); or, purchase a single copy at a bricks and mortar bookstore, and order using a subscription card.

14) Never enough books. If you have a book that was your favorite read, it can be a meaningful gift. But sometimes what a writer wants most is permission to buy a title that has been on their reading list, so a book store gift card is like gold.

  • Gift cards. Where to buy: To get gift cards from independent booksellers, try indiebound.org (can purchase via the website or find an independent near you) or try Powells in Seattle. If no indie is available, Barnes & Noble is good for gift cards, as they have bricks & mortar stores near most shoppers.
  • Find the book they want.  Hints to shopping, sneaky as an elf: social media makes it very easy to know the books your writer wants to read. If they blog, see if they posted a recent “must reads” list. Otherwise, see if they have a “to read” list on Goodreads or wish list via an online bookseller (Amazon has one here). Want other book suggestions? Here is a list of recommended reading: My Reading List Winter 2013.

Writing away from home:

15) Cafe gift card. Some writers actually do most of their writing in a cafe, and “rent” for that chair is paid in purchased scones and lattes.  If this is true for your writer, a gift card to their cafe would show you get it.

 16) Workshops, conferences or retreats. At the same time we’re sweating gift lists and holiday cards, many writers are already wrestling with whether they can afford to enroll in writers’ workshops and conferences in throughout the spring. Associated Writing Programs and Grub Street both hold fabulous long weekends that draw writers from throughout the country. Several other regional conferences last long weekends or full weeks in January. Other writers may be looking ahead to workshops at Iowa, Bread Loaf, Tin House or Sewanee in the summer. You can check out my post reviewing several famous workshops in this post: 2013 Writing Conferences & Workshops, which includes links to their sites.  But know your writer: unless you have overheard them talking about one, you’d need to ask your writer if they have such workshops in their goals for next year. Many workshops involve an application process, so you cannot just sign them up. Cost & where to buy: workshop fees and tuition can range from $150-1,500, depending on the program. You could sponsor tuition, or offer to pay for one option in the program (such as a private meeting with an agent, or manuscript review with an editor). Other costs include travel to the conference or housing.

17) Support that MFA candidate. If your writer is considering applying for an MFA program, you could sponsor the application fees. Entry into graduate programs is competitive, and it’s not unusual for writers to apply to 6-10 separate programs to get accepted. Cost & where to buy: application fees range $60-100; the student pays the fee directly to the school with their application. Another alternative: if your writer is already accepted, and attends a “low residence” program, then they have twice yearly expenses to travel to the school. Have accumulated frequent flyer miles? Consider sponsoring their next ticket to write.

Writers are researchers – do you know their current project?

18) Support their research. When I was writing Breathing Water, I learned Spanish, listened to Cuban music, cooked Cuban food and bought every coffee table book of Cuban photography I could find. I’ve done the same with Ireland and India. Here are ways you can support your writer’s current work-in-process, if it involves research:

  • Cookbooks, travel guides or music. For researching a foreign culture, books rich in photography of the architecture and common people are great. Cookbooks are great for this, and offer the added bonus of cooking the meals that provide the smells of a culture.  Illustrated travel guides or even maps are also useful.  Cost & where to buy: Look in travel, cooking, culture or art sections, as well as discounted sections, where books are sometimes available for $5-7.
  • Rosetta Stone, tapes or language classes. Are characters traveling through France? Is one character a soldier attempting the rudiments of Farsi? Do they have relatives from South America? Often, writers are trying to quickly learn the rudiments of a new language to write dialogue, or even just to describe the sounds of a location. Cost & where to buy:  English conversion dictionaries are available in most bookstores ($7-20). In the same section, book & CD sets are available beginning at $40.  Rosetta Stone is available for $200 through its own site, or via Barnes & Noble or Amazon. A foreign language course at a community college ranges $90-200, plus book.
  • Bang! Bang! Get your writer to ‘fess up: are they writing a thriller? The sweetest granny goes gritty when researching for the perfect murder weapon. Try Gun: A Visual History or The Illustrated Guide to Rifles. Or give real action by giving a day out at a shooting range.
  • Travel for research. How much do you love that writer? I’m sure there are statistics out there somewhere to show just how many writers have a fantasy destination they would nearly die to travel to, in order to get perfect research for their work-in-progress. That might sound over-the-top — but selecting that destination might be a thoughtful gift if you’d planned traveling this year anyway or, say, had a proposal to plan.

If only you could wrap up writing hours – give the gift of time:

19) Actual time.  Especially if writer has a separate job or children or family to care for, time is the greatest gift every writer needs to get work done. Surprisingly, there are ways to accomplish this:

  • House cleaning. The best baby shower gift I ever got was a gift certificate to a local maid service. Key is to use a service that is licensed and insured (or loan your own maid, if you use one). You can prepay the service, bill it, or see if they offer gift certificates. Cost & where to buy: assume $80-140 for a single visit, although a gift certificate for any amount could be an option. Merry Maids is a national service. Check local listings for one in your area, or get a word of mouth referral.
  • Child care. Personally, I’d rather the housekeeper — but a babysitter would be a tremendous gift to many writers. Cost & where to buy: DIY: one option is to babysit, yourself. Otherwise, pay the writer’s own sitter, or sponsor a day, weekend or week of camp ($20-50/day, or $50-300/week per child).

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What do you think is the perfect gift for a writer — or reader?  Let me know what you think in the Comments below.  I love to connect with my readers!

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Reading Lists: Nobel in Literature, Man Booker Prize and National Book Award Finalists

Photo from Fairfield University, when author Colum McCann spoke about his 2009 National Book Award novel. (c Peter Caty/The Mirror)

Featuring one of my favorite National Book Award winners: Colum McCann speaks at Fairfield University in 2009 with his National Book Award novel, Let the Great World Spin. (c Peter Caty/The Mirror)

It’s award season! No, not the ones with red carpets and stars dressed by Rachel Zoe.

Today’s news announces finalists for the National Book Award, Thursday at one will be the official announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and news is still pending on the Man Booker Prize short list announced in September.

Below are links to the award lists, with highlights of books on the lists that had also previously made my Summer Reading List or Fall Reading Lists. One interesting aside regarding customer reviews, is how many of these books — recognized for their merit by such prestigious awards — earned only 3-star reviews.  Clearly reviews and awards are equally subjective and fallible.

As always, share your own reading recommendations or link to your reading list in the comments!

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Man Booker Prizes

First awarded in 1969, the Man Booker Prize is awarded yearly to recognize “the best novel in the opinion of the judges” with the goal of increasing the visibility of quality fiction. Novels published by citizens of the United Kingdom, and Commonwealth or Republic of Ireland are eligible. Notably, judging panels are comprised from a wide range of disciplines, “including critics, writers and academics, but also poets, politicians and actors, all with a passion for quality fiction.”   The longlist was announced July 25th, and the shortlist announced September 11th. Link to the Man Booker site. Follow @ManBooker on Twitter for updates.

Updated 10/16 – News is out:  Hilary Mantel is winner of the 2012 Man Booker Prize for Bring Up the Bodies . (Link here to news on Man Booker site)

Short list:

Longlist included the above, plus:

Other news for the Man Booker Prize is that it will announce finalists for the 2013 award at the Jaipur Literary Festival in India, in January, with an increase to 5 judges (from 3) (link for article).

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National Book Award

The National Book Award is second only to the Pulitzer, perhaps, in prestige for books published in the US. Finalists are listed below. They will read on November 13th, and presentation of the final awards will be November 14th.  Link to the National Book Foundation, which sponsors the award.

Finalists:

Fiction

From that list, Kevin Powers’ Yellow Birds topped my Fall Reading List, and the Eggers, Fountain and Diaz will likely make it to my Spring Reading List.

Nonfiction:

Of those, I was previously intrigued by buzz around Katherine Boo’s book and Anthony Shadid’s.

Poetry:

Young People’s Literature:

Of these, I am most interested in McCormick’s Never Fall Down and will likely add it to the books I read with my sons or students.

Lifetime Achievement Awards

The following lifetime achievement awards will be presented on November 14th:

  • Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters will be presented to Elmore Leonard “in recognition of his outstanding achievement in fiction” writing over 5 decades.
  • Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community  will honor Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., “chairman and publisher of The New York Times, for his continuing efforts through the New York Times Book Review and online book coverage to ensure an ongoing conversation about books in American culture.”

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Nobel Prize for Literature

The Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded by the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, Sweden, and has been awarded to 108 laureates from 1901 to 2011.  Interestingly, the average age of all these writers at the time they received the award is 64. Rudyard Kipling was the youngest at 42, and Doris Lessing the oldest at 88.  Mere spring chickens, we are.  Have hope, people.

On October 11th, the Swedish Academy awarded the 2012 Prize in Literature to Chinese novelist Mo Yan.

Link here for coverage by The Huffington Post

Link here for a little outrage reported by The Guardian.

Link to the Nobel’s site, with a listing of all laureates for the Prize in Literature.

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Pulitzer Prize

It’s old news that the Pulitzer was not awarded for Fiction in 2012. Current news is that the deadline for entering books for consideration for the 2013 award was October 1, 2012, so all books up for consideration will now be in.  The site link for Pulitzer Prizes is here.

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What are you reading now? Are you likely to read any of the books honored on these lists?  Share your recommendations or thoughts in the comments, below.

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Next on My Reading List: Fall 2012

Here is a selection from my “active reading” stacks, bridging my reading from summer into fall 2012. (The porcelain boxer has run through three generations in our family – as has the breed.) c Elissa Field

My Summer Reading List was one of the most-read articles I’ve posted this year, and I really enjoyed the great conversation it drew here, on Twitter and on Facebook.  One of the more charming qualities avid readers share in common is the unrestrained love of a great new story. Ungainly as colts learning to manage our legs, we go to bookstores in search of one book but walk with a guilty armload of the half-dozen we hadn’t expected but can’t wait to read.  We’re reading one book, but have six more stacked on our bedside table or waiting in our virtual shopping baskets.

Which is segue to say that soon after posting my summer reading, I’d already begun drafting “Next on my Reading List,” which I’m excited to share below.  Several of the books come from readers’ comments, as you shared your own favorites and to-reads, or blogged your own lists.  A couple were books I’ve wanted to read but either slip my mind or I haven’t yet found them in store.  Others have grabbed my attention over the summer from reviews, nominees for awards, and news of new releases.  There are some fabulous books releasing this fall.

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Fiction:

  1. Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds (Sept. 2012). Let’s put it this way: after reading the New York Times review, I tweeted, “If the book is half as good as the review, it will be a top read for fall.” London editor Drummond Moir tweeted back, “It’s twice that good.” It doesn’t hurt that the topic fits my current writing bent, so this debut is high on my list. Update: Yellow Birds makes my best read(s) of the year list. I bought it on Friday and didn’t put it down. Days after, I was still shaken by the subtle, powerful impact he conveys — I’ve never read such an honest account of war, so poetically expressed. Highly, highly recommend this one.
  2. Tayari Jones, Silver Sparrow (2011). I have never heard a negative thing about Tayari Jones, and everything I’ve read of her, from reviews of her books to reading her on Twitter, has been fabulous. Silver Sparrow is her much-applauded book published May 2011, but I’ve also heard great things about her 2003 novel, Leaving AtlantaUpdate: Finally (yay!) I picked up Tayari’s book, and it’s next in line. I can’t wait.
  3. Nathan Englander, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank (Feb. 2012). Frankly, Nathan Englander can do no wrong, in my book.  He is on the short list of authors I’d like to workshop with, which says a lot.  His 2008 novel The Ministry of Special Cases made my favorite reads of 2011, as intelligent, poetic and haunting. What We Talk About is a collection of short stories; his 2000 novel For the Relief of Unbearable Urges is also on my to-read list.
  4. Helen Oyeyemi, Mr. Fox (2011).  I’ve read short stories by this writer, and suspect this first novel deserved more acclaim. I’m curious to check it out, now that paperback and Kindle have made it easier to get ahold of — I had a hard time finding it before.
  5. David Abrams, Fobbit (Sept. 2012). I discovered Abrams on Twitter, so have anticipated Fobbit’s September release.  A 20 year veteran as a journalist in the Army, Abrams shares his behind-the-scenes insight to life on an FOB during the war in Iraq.
  6. Matthew Dicks, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend (Aug. 2012). For several months when I was seven, I had an imaginary pet dog who I felt no hesitation in talking about (or walking on a leash). It’s the sort of thing you forget as adult, and there is something powerful in hearing someone else share a similar experience — like having the guy beside you say he saw the same ghost. Beyond that personal appeal, I’ve read excerpts and am excited to track this book down — it is an interesting first novel, with a whole new perspective.
  7. Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl (Jun. 2012).  Addition of Gone Girl to my reading list is Twitter-provoked — which reflects either a really effective social marketing campaign, or this book really does keep readers up all night turning pages.  This thriller is Flynn’s third novel. Update: this made my “favorite reads of 2012″ list — a great thriller.
  8. Sarah Winman, When God Was a Rabbit (Apr. 2012).  Searched, but I can’t for the life of me find the original list I discovered this one on — I thought it was long list for an award? — but something in reviews makes it compelling. This is Winman’s first novel.

Writers I’ve Been Meaning to Read:

It’s unfair that readers so readily buy work by famous authors — and just as unfair that we sometimes bypass the famed writers, numb to their accomplishment in favor of discovering someone new. Here are a few I’ve been meaning to read.

  1. Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (2006).  I look forward to this one as Ishiguro impressed me immensely with his ability to portray passion in restraint in The Remains of the Day.
  2. Joyce Carol Oates, Black Dahlia & White Rose  (Sept. 2012). It’s true I neglect many famed writers until something like this interview in Salon brings them to my attention, made more human than celebrity, and the idea of reading their work feels as fresh as discovering that new writer. (Thanks to link on my cousin Katie’s facebook for this one — and good luck to her in her Fullbright teaching post in Rwanda this fall!)
  3. Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton (Sept. 2012). This one comes from Flavorwire’s “10 New Must Reads for September.” I admire Rushdie and have been weighing which of his to read. Anton may, in the end, lose out to one of his earlier works.
  4. Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000; 2001 Pulitzter Prize winner). Whether this one or, Wonder Boys, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh or another, I’ve been meaning to read Chabon.
  5. Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925). I’ve read other works by Woolf (I’m a fan of To the Lighthouse) and have read and viewed so many adaptations, but don’t know that I’ve ever read the original of Mrs. Dalloway.
  6. Ann Patchett, State of Wonder (May 2012).  I began reading this over the summer after countless recommendations from friends. Update: this one has not yet held my attention, but that’s part of the fickleness of reading — books compete not only with other works, but with the writing going on in our own heads. I’m putting it aside for my next reading list.

Irish Writers:

Sometimes my reading list becomes topic- or author-specific, based on what I am writing.  Writing Wake, I’ve been seeking out current fiction by Irish authors, and these rose on my list.

  1. Jon Banville, The Sea (2005; Man Booker Prize). I’m reading this one now and can’t read a line without being distracted back to my own writing, so the reading is going slowly. I picked Banville, though, for portrayal of a tranquil seaside town, countering the crime noir and conflict-based writing I’d been saturated in.
  2. Anne Enright, The Gathering (2007).  Winner of the Man Booker Prize (2008?), Enright’s voice has been praised as bridging the lyrical traditions of Irish story telling with new sense of surprise. Update: When I began reading, I was impressed with the confident, unhurried and subtle way Enright conveys emotions… But I put it down at page 62. It may be a matter of taste, but I was turned off by the grunge-level of drinking and sexuality, without feeling compelled to like any characters.
  3. Colm Tóibín, Mothers and Sons (2008). This story collection snuck its way in line, taking the place of one of the books off my Summer Reading list.  His prose is clean and smart; he’s best know for the precision of his characters — not so much for story resolution. His novel Brooklyn (2009) also makes my list, as does his essay collection, out this year, New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families. Update: I loved Mothers & Sons, and look forward to reading not Brooklyn but The Master next.

Rolled over from Summer’s list, just releasing this fall:

  1. Adrian McKinty, The Cold Cold Ground (2012).
  2. Emma Straub Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures (2012).

Nonfiction:

  1. Charles Baxter, Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction (2008) and The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot (2007). Baxter wasn’t my workshop leader when I went to Bread Loaf Writers Conference, yet I came away from that intense week more impacted by the advice in Baxter’s afternoon lectures than the whole week of my workshop.  I had been meaning to read Burning Down the House, but recently heard great feedback also on The Art of Subtext, so both go on my list.  Want one more? Bringing the Devil to his Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life (2001).
  2. Pankaj Ghemawat, Redefining Global Strategy: Crossing Borders in a World Where Differences Still Matter (2007).  I stumbled on this while trying to find lost link to a book about Ireland’s border counties… and it may just make my Kindle list.

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And What Are You Reading?

As with the Summer Reading List, I’d love to hear your own reading suggestion in the comments.  Let us know the favorite books you’ve read this year, or ones on your must-reads list.  If this inspires you to blog your own list, share a link.

Do I Really Read All These Books?

Over the summer, I read a third of the books on the list I posted. Of those I didn’t read: 3 books I started and set aside — not that they were bad, but others took over.  Several I could not get ahold of (2 had not yet released, so are posted as “rollovers” above).  I ran out of time for the rest as I’m also reading news, articles, student work, blogs, submissions and more, each day.  Realistically, I know I’ll read at least a third of the fall list (1 down, already), and the ones I don’t get to are still the books I would mention to a friend, if they were wondering what good books were out there. Update: I read 8 of the 21 listed here, as well as another handful not listed. Of those I didn’t read, several rotated to my Winter Reading list as I had not yet gotten ahold of them by the end of year.

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Happy fall reading, all!

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Where do the book links take you?  For convenience, you can click book titles for their link at Amazon — or find them at your favorite indie bookseller through indiebound.org:

Shop Indie Bookstores

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Filed under Books, Reading

Twitter for Writers: Top People to Follow on Twitter (and Useful Hashtags)

I’ve posted before (Why Writers Should Use Twitter and Social Media for Writers: Twitter v Facebook) about the ways I’ve come to value Twitter.  I’ve gathered a list of the people and organizations I’ve found most interesting to follow on Twitter this year.

I recommend them based on interest, usefulness and activity level on Twitter.  That is important to say, since, for example, the lit-mag and writer lists clearly leave off many magazines and writers I love.

The list is partially annotated, and loosely categorized (nearly all of those listed might fit in more than one category) and includes some related hashtags.  Also, there are links to my lists within Twitter, to find more writers, magazines and more.

I hope it is useful to you, and would be interested to hear  your own recommendations in the comments — better yet, look me up!  Elissa Field on Twitter: @elissafield.

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Agents:

(Some agent specialties are listed, although I follow many agents outside my genre, based on the information shared in their tweets.)

@RachelleGardner - an agent whose advice on everything from querying to income is thorough and honest.

@DonMaass - ubiquitous agent, Donald Maass

@SaraMegibow - a lovely agent at Nelson Literary Agency, who shares sample replies by posting #10queriesin10tweets (Thursdays)

@michellewitte - MG & YA lit

@sarahlapolla - associate at Curtis Brown

Michelle, Sarah and other agents share advice in open Q & A #askagent chat (Wed evenings)

@greyhausagency - represents romance and women’s lit, and shares sample replies with #GLAQueries

@NepheleTempest - CA lit agent, writer, reader

@QueryShark – a great resource, offering frank critiques of queries submitted by writers

(Note: you can find more than 30 agents and junior agents by checking my list of agents .)

Editors:

@mpnye – Michael Nye is managing editor of Missouri Review, and author of Strategies Against Extinction

@HannahTinti - editor of One Story, author of The Good Thief and more

@robspill – Rob Spillman, Tin House editor

@MargotLivesey – editor of Ploughshares, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy (on my reading list) and other novels

Also, check out my list of editors, and publishers.

Literary Magazines:

@parisreview – The Paris Review

@GrantaMag – Granta

@_conjunctions – Conjunctions

@Missouri_Review - Missouri Review

@haydensferryrev - Haydens Ferry Review

@mcsweeneys - Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly

@NERweb - New England Review

@asfmag - American Short Fiction

@TheReviewReview - a review of literary magazines

@Tin_House – Tin House

@PaperDarts  – Paper Darts

@onestorymag - One Story

(In addition, here is a listing of 70+ literary mags I follow.)

Writers:

@NathanEnglander - his Ministry of Special Cases (2008) was one my best-reads last year

@meganmayhewbergman - has been featured in BASS and has a great short story collection out (2011). Her tweets about writing and life on a New England farm with tiny daughters and vet-husband are elegantly genuine.

@Benjamin_Percy - a great writer, on my list of great workshop leaders as well

@alexanderchee – author of Edinburgh (2002), with new novel coming

@alanheathcock -award winning author of highly charged collection, VOLT (2011)

@CherylStrayed – author of the memoir Wild

@tayari - Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow and more

@SalmanRushdie - does he need introduction?

@Shteyngart - most enjoy his tweets in exchange w others, like Rushdie

@novaren - the writer of YA novel, Imaginary Girls, and more

@katemessner - a children’s writer and TED2012 speaker, who hosted TeachWrite! camp this summer

@alexizentner - author of Touch and The Lobster Kings (coming 2013)

@unitedirishman - Irish ex-pat writing crime noir (his The Cold Cold Ground is on my reading list), whose blog is fierce with wit and intelligence

I will read anything this witty writer posts:

@mat_johnson – author of the novel Pym, whose twitter profile reads, “Because it amuses me to say so.”

@emmastraub - author (on my summer reading list: Other People We Married (2012)), bookseller, @RookieMag  staffwriter, with a lovely wit.

(I follow many more writers than this, so check my list of writers.)

Writer-Resources:

@Duotrope - a powerful writers’ resource listing 3,500 publications, with submission tracker — posts updates about publication reading periods, etc.

@newpages - tweets updated info on litmags, booksellers and more for writers, editors and readers.

@GrubWriters - Grub Street center for creative writing in Boston, hosts the MUSE conference in May (hastag #MUSE2012, or -2012

@poetswritersinc - Poets & Writers magazine – the only “how to” magazine I’ve ever liked for writers

@galleycat - “first word for news in the publishing industry” from Mediabistro

@PublishersLunch - tweets for Publishers Weekly

@BTMargins - Beyond the Margins literary blog

@janefriedman – has been an editor, current role changing, she posts frequently on all aspects of publishing and promoting literature

@Porter_Anderson

@JonathanGunson - a writer, sharing publishing, writing & emedia advice

@ErikaDreifus - author of The Quiet Americans, collects and shares useful information for writers

Teaching & Teaching Writing:

@writingproject - National Writing Project

@edutopia - “what works in education” – the George Lucas educational foundation

@RWTnow - Read Write Think. org

@nytimeslearning - New York Times Learning Network

Social Media or PR:

@robertleebrewer - a poet whose blog My Name is Not Bob is generous with advice on social media and more

@kmullett - Kevin Mullett – a developer/designer tech guy, not PR, who just… well, seems to get all those things folks have questions about

@wordwhacker - Linda Bernstein – writer, editor, blogger, posting about all this and social media and parenting

Look for Kevin and Linda on SM & tech chats using hashtags including: #pinchat #toolschat #tocc (tools of change)

Indie Booksellers:

@TatteredCover – an indie in Denver, with great online content

@indiebound – use indiebound.org to locate your neighborhood indie bookseller online, or purchase books online from any indie in the network.

(Raid this list to find all the independent booksellers I follow. Find one near you to do your shopping.  Find one to order from.  Connect with these guys to build your reading tour when your book launches.)

News Sources:

My two favorite sources for news:

@nytimes – The New York Times

@guardian - The UK’s Guardian

Other sources I follow:

@reuters - Reuters top news

@the_irish_times - Irish Times

@washingtonpost - Washington Post

Book News & Reviews:

@nytimesbooks - New York Times Books

@nybooks - NY Review of Books

@latimesbooks - LA Times Books

@guardianbooks - Guardian Books

Online Curators:

@brainpicker – Maria Popova shares one brilliant thing found online

@FridayReads - use the hashtag #fridayreads to share what you are reading each week

More Hashtags and Chats I Follow:

#toc variations – Tools of Change discussions and conferences

#litchat – literary or book chats held several times each week – great to visit, or to add to your book release tour

#YAlit, #MGlit or #kidlit – chats about young adult, middle grade & children’s lit

#amwriting #writetip – for kindred spirits at work on writing

#WSchat (formerly #MNINB) – Used by Wordsmith Studio, a writers’ group formed by participants from Robert Lee Brewer’s April 2012 Platform Challenge

#educhat – matters related to teaching and education

Twitter trick: Have you ever wondered what a hashtag stood for and didn’t know how to look it up?  Try this: http://tagdef.com/

(If you’re curious about a meaning and the tag is not listed on the tagdef site — as happened for me with #WTLconf12 — you can always tweet someone using the tag to ask them the meaning.)

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Feel free to add your suggestions or your own Twitter ID in the comments, and do look me up: @elissafield

Housekeeping takes time: if we are already connected on Twitter, check to see if I added you to the twitter list you would fit on by checking here. If not, private message me so I can add you.

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Related Posts:

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Coming next:

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Filed under Reading, Seeking Publication, Social Media

Remembering Ray Bradbury

Falling jet trails & rocket boosters, lit by sunset, after Discovery launch 3-15-09. copyright Elissa Field

“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”  – Ray Bradbury

To Ray Bradbury, I say thank you. Reading Martian Chronicles in Mrs. Ruebens’ sophomore English class in high school, I learned what it was to capture the ethereal without losing sight of intellect, of logic. You captured dream state, with your words. You captured imagination.

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Filed under Inspiration, Reading

What I’m Reading: Summer Reading List 2012

School is out. The boys are making snowcones. And, along with plans to head out of town or to the beach, with time suddenly available, it’s a reader’s tradition to ask: What were those books I’d been meaning to read?

Dress of books: often posted without credit, this pic was taken at the Dallas Home Show 2011, by Lori of Katie’s Rose Cottage Designs. The dress was part of a display, by a vendor unknown.

My list isn’t summer reading in the “beach” reading sense, but an accumulation of great books I’ve collected during a busy winter and can’t wait for summer’s freer days to savor.  Most titles are linked to Amazon; options for Indiebound.org or Powell’s Books are available on my Links page.

Fiction:

  1. Alice McDermott’s Charming Billy (2009, winner National Book Award for Fiction).  I had not read McDermott before, but began reading Billy a couple weeks ago to understand a comment Ann Hood made in workshop comparing the opening pages of my draft,Wake, to some aspect of McDermott’s writing. (Update this made my Favorite Reads list for 2012: I learned some interesting things about action/reaction in writing scenes from McDermott’s novel, which is rich in authentic character.)
  2. Aleksander Hemon, The Lazarus Project (2009). I first became curious about Hemon, a MacArthur award-winning writer, after reading his painfully beautiful essay, “The Aquarium,” in The New Yorker online, about the loss of his daughter. (Update: This made my Favorite Reads of 2013 list, as one of the most complex, subtle and sophisticated novels — well worth the praising comparisons to the like of Nabokov. Expect a slightly slow, even confusing start — but note quickly how two novels entwine in one, to create a haunting and very personally told story. I look to read anything else Hemon has written.)
  3. Jan-Phillip Sendker, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats (2012). Billed as “a love story set in Burma,” this was named an Amazon best novel in February. I fell in love with Berlin foreign correspondent Sendker’s writing after reading a single description he gave of riding a train so slow he sometimes jumped off and walked alongside.
  4. Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2008).
  5. Tom Rachman, The Imperfectionists (2011). Both Hedgehog (#4) and Imperfectionists won me over on a recent trip to Barnes and Noble, confirming them to be intriguing in the way I’d heard others speak of them.
  6. Thrity Umrigar, The Weight of Heaven. I have this 2010 novel downloaded onto my ereader, although others might be interested in Umrigar’s latest novel, The World We Found, which came out January 2012.
  7. Bradford Morrow, Fall of the Birds (2011). On a personal note, Bradford Morrow was the first editor to publish my work in a national forum. He is an acclaimed writer, and I was glad to discover this novella of his, available as a Kindle single.
  8. Margot LiveseyThe Flight of Gemma Hardy (2012). I first got to know Livesey as the Fiction Editor at Ploughshares, and have been eager to read her January novel, Gemma Hardy.  I’m equally interested in reading one of her earlier novels, Banishing Verona (2005).
  9. Emma Straub’s, Other People We Married (2012). Emma Straub is one of the writers I’ve discovered through Twitter.  I’ve come to trust her wit, so am eager to read anything she writes. Other People is a collection of stories.  Her novel, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, will come out in September and I believe will be featured as a Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers selection.
  10. Laura Maylene Walter, Living Arrangements (2011). I can’t wait to read this collection of stories.  She is winner of the 2010 Chandra Prize for Stories.
  11. Adrian McKinty, The Cold Cold Ground (2012). Along with writers like Declan Burke and Stuart Neville, Belfast-born McKinty is among a group of edgy, intelligent writers who’ve turned the energy of post-Troubles Belfast to a new era of crime noir writing. If Cold Cold Ground is not yet available in the U.S., I’d consider reading Falling Glass.
  12. H. G. Wells, The Time Machine (1895). I believe Wells’ book just came into the public domain, as Time Machine is in the list of classics available as a free download.

Non-fiction:

  1. Ann Hood, Creating Character Emotions .  One chapter into this book of advice for writing emotionally authentic characters, I have filled the margins with notes provoked by Hood’s advice (which you can read about in blogs here and here).  (Update: this book made my Best Reads of 2012 list, and has provoked more immediate, effective results in my writing than any other writing book I can remember, so I highly recommend it).
  2. Kate Messner, Real Revision: Author’s Strategies to Share with Student Writers (2011). I’ve followed writer Kate Messner for awhile, and found out about this resource to teaching students revision from comments during the TeachWrite! summer challenge for teachers and librarians.
  3. Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. I first encountered Cheryl Strayed years ago as a participant at Poets & Writers’ Speakeasy forum. While changes in the forum have slowed participation, Cheryl was part of a vibrant and generous group of writers back in the day. I was therefore thrilled to see the immediate and rousing reaction her memoir Wild has received, and can’t wait to read it.
  4. Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2011). Skloot’s well-researched story of the scientific life of cells from Henrietta Lacks made the New York Times bestseller list as #1 for paperback nonfiction this week. Curious, I was blown away, reading this review of Skloot’s book from the New York Times, which describes her narrative as being “far deeper, braver and more wonderful” than just the scientific facts.

Poetry

  1. Saeed Jones, When the Only Light is Fire (2011). Saeed Jones, a Pushcart nominee in 2010, has captivated me with his refined snarky wit on Twitter.

Young Adult/Kids Fiction:

Some of the best books I’ve read in the past year have been young adult fiction. The first 3 on the list below are books I’ve bought for my classroom library, and am “stealing back” to read myself.  I also read with my sons, who are rising 3rd and 6th graders, so the last three books are ones I’ll be reading with them.

  1. Nova Ren Suma, Imaginary Girls (2011). A novel about two sisters, which sounds magical and intriguing! I can’t wait.
  2. Alyson Noel, Shimmer (2011). I bought this during book fair, looking forward to reading when students were done with it.
  3. Sara Shepard, Pretty Little Liars (2009). Okay: guilty. I’ve caught a few episodes on tv and now want to read the book(s).
  4. Jean Craighead George, My Side of the Mountain (1959). This and #5 are assigned reading for my rising 6th graders, which includes my son this year. It’s a perennial favorite, about a boy who runs away from the city and creates a life for himself in the wilderness.
  5. Gloria Whelan, Listening for Lions (2006). I’ll be intrigued to read this book, set in British East Africa in 1919, and assigned as summer reading for my son and my rising 6th graders.
  6. Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (1861). Not really YA or kid lit, but I’m up to chapter 4 of reading this with my boys, since they fell in love with the Masterpiece Theater version this spring.

Literary Magazines & Anthologies:

  1. Silk Road.  I downloaded vol. 7.1, to read Jennifer Kirkpatrick Brown’s story, “The Roots of Grass.” (Update: Jennifer’s story is fresh and intriguing – I was glad to get to read it, and look forward to reading more from this writer.)  Silk Road is a great publication. As much as I would love to have had a print edition in hand, it’s great to have such easy access to it via download.
  2. Best American Short Stories 2011. I am especially interested to read stories by two writers I follow: Rebecca Makkai (her 2011 novel, The Borrower, released in paperback on May 29th) and Megan Mayhew Bergman (whose acclaimed story collection, Birds of a Lesser Feather, came out in 2011).
  3. Back issues waiting, from Lit and Southern Review.

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Want more information?

In keeping descriptions brief, I’ve mostly noted what drew me to the books. If you want to know more about a writer or book, let me know in the comments.

What are your recommendations?

I’d love to hear what makes your reading list this summer, or books you’ve read recently and would recommend.  Share them in the comments and I may update this list through the summer — especially as I am sure I have forgotten a couple from my own list!

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Living with Books

Monkeys reading. copyright Elissa Field no repro w-out permission

Monkeys reading. c. Elissa Field

When asked about designing bedrooms, my mother (Connecticut ASID designer, Julianne Stirling) once said that she makes sure to put a little bookcase in every room.

In my parents’ 230 year-old house off the village green in Fairfield, Connecticut, my boys’ favorite room has African-carved giraffes and a porcelain elephant hiding among the books on a carved case that also features a portrait of my grandparents when they still lived in North Africa at the end of World War II. Monkey prints parody my boys’ personalities as they read in bed. It is a room Kipling or Hemingway might have brought keepsakes home to.

At the back of the house, the girls’ room, where my nieces stay and where I stayed the night before my wedding, is more delicate, its curtains gathered high as if the empire waistlines of Elinor and Marianne in Sense and Sensibilities. A copy of Austen is likely tucked among the books held on an antique latticework shelf above the bed.

Long before my mom was an accomplished interior designer, back in the first house I remember, with the 70s lemon yellow shag carpet and turquoise leather chair, there were books in every room. Coffee table books of famous artists, designers and photographers. Picasso, the impressionists. Biographies of dignitaries, inventors, trendsetters. Henry Ford, Marilyn Monroe. And fiction. A leatherbound set of Fitzgerald. Updike. Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, Moveable Feast, Finca Vigia collected stories. Henry Miller. Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. And the fodder of avid readers: the bent-spined, inch-thick paperbacks whose pages aged brown by the time it was my turn to read them.

Coveted, to this day, are the found books. The hand-me-downs. There is a threadbare, heavy volume of fairy tales my Grandma Aho read to us from her childhood in Michigan’s upper peninsula, whose line drawings had been painted in watercolors by herself and her sisters as girls. I have pictures of the same girls straddling the shoulders of a draft horse, patting his neck to warn his heavy hooves from stomping cabbages as he navigated the garden. Equally loved: question arose over the holidays as to who last had the dozen original clothbound Nancy Drews, printed in the 30s and 40s, that had been passed from one cousin to another, then down to my cousins and myself.  Less lovely, but equally treasured, were the horse books left by my college-age aunt for me to discover at the cottage we all shared in the summer. Or the James Bonds my brother and I traded, or the military training guides he found in family footlockers. There was the elicit, always denied, hairy-armpit copy of The Joy of Sex that finally disappeared altogether. And there are the Bibles, passed down from the last-living members of various branches of the family, with patchy recording of births and deaths and marriages written inside the covers.

We were a family who lived with books.

I carried this with me as I set up my first houses. In college, novels advanced in a line along the baseboards around the wood floor in my Richmond rowhouse, arranged by country, by year of publication. In Florida, waiting for a hurricane, books were one of three things I protected with plastic bags and packed into a sheltered closet. Along with photographs, the few things I could not bear losing to a storm.

It hadn’t occurred to me this is idiosyncratic. I’d never lived in a house without books and never took time to think of it as unusual — a joy some of us share, in surrounding ourselves with the magical worlds we’ve discovered in those pages, loving the undulating ribbon of color and texture formed by a line of spines.

Coming across interior design photographs of great rooms with books has made me aware of this kindred reality some of us share: living with books. This new column will share some of my favorite Living With Books images, in monthly editions.

Here is the first:

I have always loved a dining room with books.

A dining room with books, featured at www.atticmag.com.

Fabulous photographer chotda (santos) has photographed a number of versions of a hue-spectrumed bookcase, most notably this one below.

I love this picture, by author, photographer and gender activist Rita Banerji, of a bookseller’s stall at Kolkata’s Annual Book Fair.

In this Chicago living room, featured by Architectural Digest, books hold their own against dramatic artwork. As much as I love books, the room’s balance is crucial, as a library should reflect the owner’s pleasure in books, and not feel a weighty burden.

And what about you? I’d love to hear your favorite experiences or memories, living with books.

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Filed under Living With Books, Reading, Setting Place Roots, Writing Life

Welcome summer… what’s made my reading list

Freshly bought and waiting are the books to be tackled next, pictured with my antique parrots (one from Prague, one from Budapest, paired like content old friends at the Connecticut antique shop where I found them).

My summer reading list is dominated by new writers whose work I am excited to read. In a writers’ community, I’d become impressed with the intelligence and perceptions of Ida Hattemer-Higgins over the past years, so was quick to buy her first novel, The History of History, on its spring release. Similarly, after reading her short stories in several journals and Best American Short Stories anthologies, I eagerly looked forward to the June release of Rebecca Makkai’s first novel, The Borrower. Ellen Meeropol’s House Arrest intrigues me with its story (an excerpt is available here), as does The Reservoir, released this week by John Milliken Thompson.  Thompson’s is an historical mystery set in Richmond, Virginia — one of my former homes and sources of inspiration.  Worth noting: each of these writers have been touring with their book, so check their sites to see if they will be coming near you.

A handful of writers have made my reading list as a result of the coincidences that happen when following links online. Matt Bell’s collection How They Were Found, made my Kindle after rediscovering one of his stories at an online litmag. I found Amy Greene online and am excited by praise of her novel, Bloodroot (Vintage Contemporaries)Nathan Englander hit my radar, and his The Ministry of Special Cases made my reading list as the first of his books I found while shopping. Seth Fried’s collection, The Great Frustration: Stories, drew my interest first when my son and I cracked up over his clip of the book’s “placement” at Barnes & Noble (click this link — funniest if you’re also a writer), and then reading one of his stories online.

These newer books were not on the shelves on a search at Barnes & Noble, but I came home with a stack of intriguing books (for which I must give shout-out to B&N’s educator discount).  Before its announcement as winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, I bought Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin in part, at least, in envious love of its title. Likewise perhaps, Sarah Braunstein’s The Sweet Relief of Missing ChildrenIsabel Wolff drew my interest with her A Vintage Affair, perhaps as a throwback to my Richmond college years, combing vintage clothing stores for dresses from the 30s, stoles, my collection of boleros and military jackets, and amazingly sculpted velvet and net hats.

Tobias Wolff’s relatively new novel, Old School, hit my radar as assigned reading for rising 9th graders at a competing prep school.  As it happens, the novel hits well beyond a 9th grade level — more satisfying to adult readers with an appreciation for the writers who feature as characters in the book, including Robert Frost, Ayn Rand and Hemingway. It’s a smart, insightful novel. An observation on Wolff’s use of duplicity as character motivation provoked a great new insight into one of my own characters, in a story in progress.

I have really enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows, in the same way I miss the grace and intelligence of my grandparents. Written by a lifelong librarian (finished posthumously by her niece), the novel is written as an extended exchange of letters, which reveal a poignant insight into the era of Nazi occupation and the bombing of London.  It makes my recommended reading list as testament to the lost era of letters, as well as for its historical intelligence, spirit and wit. And yes, as a History and English teacher, I found ways to use it in teaching WWII history.

Scat, by Carl Hiaasen, came to me as assigned summer reading for my oldest son, a rising 5th grader. He is a reluctant reader and, sweet Pete, I’ve hated so many of the books he is assigned. Insipid characters. Vocabulary that frustrates without adding learning or meaning. Don’t even get me started on poor storytelling. Insert miraculous light opening from the clouds as we start this year’s summer book and Hiaasen’s clean, intelligent prose leads my son to understand effective storytelling, character development, precise vocabulary and wit. Ahhh.

Then there’s the queue of unread classics I keep on the Kindle app on my phone. Going under the dryer at the salon, my phone hinted it was time I undertake Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace. Memory serves, I first fell in love with Tolstoy a decade back, with Anna Karenina keeping me company over the summer months (then, in the fat chunk of a paper book).

On bookstore runs, I always bring home at least one literary magazine (why would they carry them, if we don’t buy them?), so issues of Fiction, Zone 3 and Southern Review  add to the daily short stories that make my reading list.

I’m interested to read Charles Baxter’s Gryphon: New and Selected Stories, but more interested to track down his essays on writing fiction, Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction, as he is one of the workshop leaders whose advice most often comes back to me.

Finally, Leonard Sax’s writings hold an important place on my summer list. As a mother to sons, and now as a teacher, I’ve had powerful observations into the emotions and unique thinking of boys, and how those are not often met in education.  Boys Adrift, therefore, is on my list to read before school starts again in August.

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A Fellow Writer Posed the Question: “How Do You Arrange Your Books?”

It is a question as personal, sultry and unexamined as asking how one gets ready for a date — asking a writer (or reader), “How do you arrange your books?”

In my first real house, I had all my books organized by the author’s country, then, within countries, by the year/period published. Within England and the US, I also had them subdivided by some trends, as might be done for lit classes, like Southern Writers, or classics vs. contemporary short story authors. I traded rare books at the time and had special parts of the book case for special and first editions, and had the books stacked so you could see pretty covers or large and small books made patterns. I LOVED it. You could stand back, look at the wall of books and see whole trends and eras unfold and evolve, and then new guys take over. I love foreign fiction and it felt like playing that old board game Risk to be able to see which countries I’d tackled (and countries or even whole continents still needing exploring).

It all ended when my son learned to walk. There were a couple new parent photos taken where I thought it was so cute to see him rifling through the pages of books he’d pulled off in piles, tumbled broken-backed onto the floor. Then a few pages went missing. Two moves later and my books are now securely — and without fanfare — stashed on shelving I put in the closet of my office. My boys are just getting old enough I might think to rearrange them again one day. On the other hand, I’ve gotten more pragmatic over the years and am more likely to make a book really fight to justify keeping its shelf space — I purge a lot more often than I used to.

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Filed under Living With Books, Reading, Writing Life, Writing Mother