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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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!

Recent posts:

My Reading Lists from 2012:

Happy reading, all!

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