Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Story Published!

I've been busy! Working on a screenplay and writing a bunch of nonfiction essays for a workshop. So it's been a while since I've posted anything here. I promise to come back soon and post something more substantive than the reading list which follows. But I do have news. A flash fiction story of mine has been published by Vestal Review. Whoo hoo! Here's the link:

The Man from the Train

And here's a list of what I have been reading since I posted my summer reading list here on September 4, 2006 (in no particular order):

Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi
Intimacy, by Hanif Kureishi
The Celtic Realms: The History and Culture of the Celtic Peoples from Pre-history to the Norman Invasion, by Myles Dillon and Nora Chadwick
The Handyman, by Carolyn See
The Woman I Left Behind, by Kim Jensen
Child of My Heart, by Alice McDermott
Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill
Lisey's Story, by Stephen King
The Memory-Keeper's Daughter, by Kim Edwards
The Sea, by John Banville
Only Revolutions, by Mark Z. Danielewsky
Narrative Design, by Madison Smartt Bell
The Great Fire, by Shirley Hazzard
Incompleteness, by Rebecca Goldstein
New Monologues for Women, I and II, ed. by Tori Haring-Smith and Liz Engleman
Man's Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl

I gobbled up Reading Lolita in Tehran. It was more valuable than I thought it would be. As Nafisi tells the story of her secret meetings with a female students under an increasingly repressionist regime, the reader learns just how much one's sense of self can be threatened by living in such an environment. One must work hard to preserve the spirit, and one way is to expand oneself by studying and sharing great literature.

The preservation of spirit under difficult circumstances led me to Frankl, which I am still reading. Frankl is an important thinker, and I'd like to comment more thoughtfully at a later time.

Intimacy was a short one, and the title describes the narrator's relationship with the reader as much as it does the messy crisis of his character's life. Kureishi is one of those writers who accomplishes huge things with few words. You can see the insides and the outsides of his narrator all at once. John Banville does that well, too (see below).

The Celtic Realms was an impulse purchase. The history gets a bit tedious, but I am enjoying the parts about the female Celtic heroic figures and deities. Also it's fascinating to think how many of the customs we've inherited from the Celts appparently came from the early peoples who migrated westward out of ancient India. (I already have Antonia Fraser's Boadicea's Chariot on the shelf and hope to read it as a follow up.)

I think Carolyn See's books are a hoot. Quirky characters, unusual plots, fun and quick to read. I have another one in the wings. Every now and then I send her an email, and she writes back!

The Woman I Left Behind is written by a local author, Kim Jensen. I met her at the 2006 City Lit Festival in Mt. Vernon, where she did a reading and drew me into her seductive narrative. It was towards the end of the day, and did not have a check or enough cash left to buy her book. Later I ordered it on Amazon (they're pestering me to review it; perhaps I will). Jensen teaches at the Community College of Baltimore County. I was pleasantly surprised to find -- it has to be! -- Kathy Acker as a pivotal character in this novel! One day I will ask Jensen if I am right. I had only recently discovered The Essential Kathy Acker when I read Jensen's book. Suddenly it hit me. The Woman I Left Behind is as much about Acker is it is about the wife that the Palestinian emigre, Khalid, leaves behind when he finds Irene, the woman he really loves. Somehow Jenson reminds me a bit of Mary Gaitskill -- maybe because her characters hover on the fractal margin between connectedness and oblivion.

Mary Gaitskill's Veronica. Wow. This is the best novel I have read in ages. I would give my front teeth to write as well as that. What courage. Like fingernails scraping on a blackboard, and you can't stop listening. I want to write with the same sense of destructive abandon! I've scoured the internet and scooped up copies of everything else Gaitskill has published.

The Alice McDermott book was pure pleasure. I love the way she writes. Quirky story, magical even. Interesting parallel here with the story in Veronica, a quirky, erotic even, coming of age story revolving around a relationship between two female characters, one of whom is doomed and the other survives to tell the tale.

Only Revolutions is the new hot trendy literary masterpiece, or so various critics were saying. I decided I had to have it. Went to B&N and paid retail. I found it unreadable. It gave me a headache. Give me a break. This is not literature, it's new age bullshit. The production values are good, though, and there are cute little tricks built into the book itself, which is supposedly an object d'art. I read bits of it from both ends, and the chronology stuff in the margins. I did the flip thing to see the page numbers rotate along the edge. This book does absolutely nothing for me. I can't believe I bought it -- what was I thinking? And ha! The New Yorker agrees with me.

Shirley Hazzard is a wonderful writer. Her characters are so well crafted, so well definined and so distinct from one another. And her sense of time and place, and pacing, and mood, and story. I confess I am not quite finished with The Great Fire but I am loving it. I am enjoying it so much I keep forgetting to read it as a writer. I also have Hazzard's earlier book, The Transit of Venus, and hope to read it soon.

I read Madison Smartt Bell's textbook cover to cover, including all of the tedious but essential footnotes. I hear it is possible to attend Bell's classes at Goucher as a non-degree student, but only at significant expense and loads of rigamarole. You get to sign up for him only after the degree students are accommodated, and his classes are always full. Oh well.

After finishing Bell's textbook I read the new Stephen King novel solely to analyze its structure. Perhaps my time would have been better spent reading something else.

I need a new craft book to read. I like to always have one on the go. I haven't read John Gardner's The Art of Fiction yet. I have an old paperback edition snarfed at a flea market. It probably deserves to be read next, but I ought to get a better copy. Or maybe Janet Burroway's text, Writing Fiction, should be next.

New Monologues for Women (I&II) collects short to longish pieces, and they are outrageous, some of them, and a pleasure to read. You have to recite these pieces out loud if you want the full effect. My friend Margo loaned these slim volumes to me, and she probably wants them back. She was careful to write her name with a big black Sharpie pen in the front of both of them as she was handing them to me.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter and The Sea were book club reads. I was not fond of the former, as I found the characters hopelessly one dimensional and unrealistic. It was decidedly unliterary, too formulaic. I could not believe the author graduated from a serious writing program. Although I have suspicions -- perhaps writing programs drain all the creativity and originality and courage out of you. The Sea was my choice, however, and I fell in love with Banville. A painterly writer, and this story with its three intermingling currents is well constructed. The book is brief, and the story is tidal, like the sea itself. A haunting masterpiece. It won the Booker prize but Banville said in one of his interviews that The Sea is not his best book! Eventually I will read one or more of his others, perhaps The Book of Evidence.

I'm fascinated with Kurt Gödel and have three books about him. I'm well into Rebecca Goldstein's book, Incompleteness, and up next is Janna Levin's novel (faction?) about Gödel and Alan Turing, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines. I had long had in my library the third book, Douglas R. Hofstadter's Pulitzer Prize-Winner, Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid. Unhappily, I found it tough going and eventually quit the first two times I tried to read it. I guess I did not understand Gödel, but Goldstein explains him well, and her book is much easier to read. I've heard Janna Levin lecture on mathematical physics, and she's been interviewed a bunch of times on various podcasts that I have enjoyed. So after Goldstein, it'll be Levin, and then I'll go back and try Hofstadter again. Perhaps I will have better success.