From Books

The Bookocalypse is Coming, and You’re Invited

Have you heard that the end of books is nigh? People have been having a big old freakout about this idea for years. The thinking goes that in the age of the internet, combined with cheap ebook availability, books will cease to exist. For a long time, people have been Very Concerned that today’s teens and young readers just aren’t interested in reading anymore, with a world of tweets and Facebook messages to catch up on.

But as it turns out, the reports of the book’s death have been exaggerated. Recent data coming in shows that book sales are actually thriving, and ebook sales, while healthy, have even declined a fraction. That means that when it comes down to it, people still greatly value the beauty of a book. And people may even be reading more than ever before. But no one really knows why. Read more

New Story Available at Day One Lit Mag

Readers, I’m excited to announce that a short story of mine, “Grimalkins”, is now available for download in Amazon’s online literary magazine, Day One. The story can be read on any Kindle or any Kindle app for iPhone or Android.

I worked hard on this story, which is loosely inspired by my stay at an artists’ colony and the very interesting characters one meets there. Somehow the story ended up being about motherhood and the gulf that exists between young and older artists as well.

Please support this writer by buying an issue or subscribing — there are some really excellent poems and stories to be read in the issues. Here’s the link:

Amazon: Day One

What Will Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” Be Like?

The controversy just won’t die away; after decades of sweltering in a drawer, the prequel to Harper Lee’s masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird (and the only other full-length novel she seems to have written) is at last scheduled for publication. From what we can tell, it will star Scout as an adult, living far from her hometown of Maycomb, reflecting back, perhaps, on her childhood. In an old interview, Harper Lee recollected that when she first submitted the manuscript to a publisher, she was told that the best portions were flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, so she extracted those and worked them into To Kill a Mockingbird.

So where does that leave Go Set a Watchman? Will it just be the rejects from To Kill a Mockingbird?
Like half the universe, I loved Mockingbird as a child. It was one of the first “grown-up” books I read in an English class, learning to analyze its themes and tease out its hidden meanings. As an adult, I can see some of the more problematic aspects of its depiction of black characters, but even if it is simplistic, it remains a powerful and timeless portrait of race in small town American life.

But I feel myself to be honestly torn about whether I want to read Go Set a Watchman. I’m torn for the exact reasons that Harper Lee probably hesitated to have it released. She achieved such overnight, saint-like status in the writing world that she couldn’t possibly top herself with a second book. Her first effort was so beloved, so instantly classic, that she had nowhere to go. Won’t any other literary effort, particularly a manuscript that was long ago rejected, only tarnish her sterling record?

In a way, this is the fear every writer has after writing something good. We all know when we can be proud of ourselves; but almost as soon as the flush of triumph fades, we’re thrown into a panic, afraid we’ll never be able to capture that magic again. Surely it was a fluke; we aren’t really writers, we are merely lucky, right?

At some point, we all have to take a big gulp and try again to capture the magic; we have to stumble and maybe produce something disappointing. We have to keep pushing forward; we have to keep writing if we want to call ourselves writers.

So I think I will pick up Lee’s latest effort. If anything, it will provide an interesting footnote to her masterwork, and it could provide enlightening details into her process. I hope your feelings about Mockingbird won’t be easily changed by how this new book goes down.

Did you love or hate Mockingbird, and will you read Go Set a Watchman?

What Books Do You Love to Hateread?

We all know those TV shows that we love to hate. We know the storylines are cliched, the characters are over-the-top, and the drama is cheesy, and yet when we flip by them when channel surfing…aren’t they so hard to resist? For some reason we keep watching, laughing at every ridiculous turn of the plot or dumb character moment. Why are these shows so fun to hatewatch? And do you have books that you love to hate-read?

I think there are books out there that fascinate us even as we know they’re not of the highest literary merit. Plenty of people read just this sort of book all day, in fact. Sometimes we read just for a little light entertainment. And we choose to overlook flaws in the prose or the character development or the realism, just so we can get through a rip-roaring yarn. There’s a reason these sorts of books seem to have a lot of emotional drama, and a lot of violence too; it’s because it’s immediately exciting, and not too difficult to think about.

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Is E-Reading Finally Mainstream?

How much of your reading in the last week was done online?
Probably a lot. But how much of your fiction reading was done online?
Probably more and more every week! E-reading has officially moved out of the fringe and has become mainstream in the past couple of years. There is a variety of devices you can choose from, from Amazon’s Kindle to Barnes and Noble’s Nook to Apple’s iPads. Even more people seem to be doing their reading on smartphones. So have paper books gone the way of the dinosaur? This has been a heated subject of debate for the past few years, but I think it’s only really become relevant to devoted readers recently. Now the cheaper prices of ebooks, combined with some pretty slick, convenient devices, make it hard to say no to e-readers, even for the most die-hard book devotees.

So where do you fall in the so-called war on paper books? Do you still love the smell, the feel, and the experience of opening a book? Would you rather save your money and buy more ebooks? Or do you prefer the electronic reading experience, with its built in lights and ability to check email or define words as you go?

I’m personally a half-and-halfer. I love having paper books, and I get inspiration from seeing my collection on the wall. But I appreciate the ease and convenience of ebooks. They’re great for traveling or when you’re far from home for a long time. They’re great for buying books that you don’t want to spend the hardcover price on. And if it leads to more people buying more books, that seems like a good thing for authors and readers alike. As long as sufficient protections for writers are built into the ebook business, as publishers and agents are hopefully starting to do, it seems like a good thing. But I’ll mourn the day when people don’t have books on their shelves.

So how do you feel about the ebook revolution? Do you use tablets for school, or read your homework on a device? Do you take a device traveling? Do you love cozying up with a paper book? Do you hardly even remember what paper feels like? Where do you fall on the spectrum, and what do you think is the future of the paper book?

What Children’s Books Do You Hold Close To Your Heart? And Some New Ones to Add to the List

Children’s books have a funny way of sticking around in our minds and in our hearts. They catch us in our earliest days of reading, and they’re often beautifully poignant, sweet, or sad in ways that adult books struggle and fail to capture. Some children’s books stay with us forever. I’m thinking about books like THE GIVING TREE or CHARLOTTE’S WEB; these books teach us about death, about hardship, and also about generosity, friendship, and love.

So what books from your childhood still have a special place on your shelf or in your heart? Which books would you want to read to future kids in your life, whether it’s as a teacher, parent, or cool aunt/uncle? Here are some faves of mine, as well as some new recommendations for children’s books that might reach that special place in your life.

CHARLOTTE’S WEB: Yes, this is the big granddaddy of sweet, sad, moving books. We grow to love Wilbur, Charlotte, Templeton the Rat, and all the rest; and we learn about compassion and the cycle of life.

A CRICKET IN TIMES SQUARE: I loved this one, involving a country Connecticut cricket who finds himself in the subway station of Times Square, befriending cats, rats, and bodega owners. It’s beautiful and funny too.

Z FOR ZACHARIAH: This one falls more in the category of young adult, but it stayed with me long after I read it (for the third or fourth time). In a post-nuclear world, one little valley seems to have avoided the fallout that has spread across the rest of the globe. There’s just one girl there, until a man arrives with a suit that can withstand radiation. But there’s only one suit — and he’s very protective of it.

Check out this article to see some new children’s books that are sure to move you:

And how about adding YOUR favorite books to the list? What children’s books should be handed down from generation to generation?

Life on the Writing Trail

I’ve been terrible, readers. This spring’s schedule of teaching and keeping up with multiple writing jobs has overwhelmed me and I haven’t been able to keep up with regular posts. But I haven’t abandoned Writerly Life! This blog will still be a vital source of tips and techniques and larger thoughts about what it means to be a writer; but I’ll have to hold myself accountable and devise a posting schedule that is truly manageable. So for the future, let tell you to expect a weekly post, but one with greater length and substance than your average posts. I’ll be working hard on those posts to make sure they’re up to a high standard, and that they get you thinking about writing, memory, life, creativity, and much more. Don’t give up on me yet!

At the same time, of course, I’ll be wearing my other hat of acting as co-editor of my new literary magazine, Two Cities Review. You’ll see me over there, writing about the intersection of writing and city life, and you can expect any relevant post about writing to wander over here as well.

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Are You a Binge Reader?

I saw an interesting post on the New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog the other day about a new trend in entertainment consumption that book publishers are trying to capitalize on. We’ve all heard of “binge watching” as the new it term for sitting down and bombing through an entire season of “Battlestar Galactica” or “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix; there’s something absolutely addictive not only in the way the episodes are framed these days, but even in the way they’re queued on our computers, inviting us to watch more and more. Now publishers are trying to make “binge reading” a thing. The Christian Science Monitor has more: read the article here.

Do you think binge reading will catch on the way binge watching has? I think there are two problems with the way the article is being framed; first, likening binge reading to binge viewing is misunderstanding the fundamental difference in thought that occurs when reading and when watching tv; and second, binge reading has already existed long before the advent of television. This may sound a little contradictory, but bear with me.
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Countdown: My FAVORITE Read This Year Is…

I’ve been counting down my top ten read of 2013 as our Kickstarter project counts down. We now have just a few days left and we need your help! Consider donating, and in the meantime, take a look at my FAVORITE read of 2013.

The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner

I just can’t get over Rachel Kushner’s The Flame Throwers. It is so wildly exciting as a story for so many reasons. It’s dark and dangerous; it’s cold and clear and beautiful; it’s got some kick-ass female characters; it’s sensitive and sad; it enlightened me about what a few corners of the world looked like in the 1970’s that I knew virtually nothing about. It does all these things, and is also just a rip-roaring good read.

The story follows “Reno” as she’s known, a young female motorcycle enthusiast who somehow ends up in the landspeed motorcycle racing time trials across the barren salt flats of the western United States. Reno loves racing for the speed, but somehow she becomes caught up in the 70’s intellectual art scene of New York. In this crowd, every act is a statement, every event a creation of art. So her focus on motorcycle racing becomes something of an artistic statement, and it grants her entry into a very exclusive club.

As we’ll see, the world of the 70’s art scene is cruel; even as it claims to espouse liberation of every kind, it actually polices its members. Gender and sexuality are explored here with a stunning eye for detail and nuance of meaning. And that’s only the beginning. The Flame Throwers captures the world of a youthful, transgressive, and misguided, or self-deluded, culture. It captures revolutions in Italy and slave labor in South America. Its reach is truly global, even as its story is inherently personal. I can’t recommend this stunning, original book highly enough.

Thats my top ten! What are YOUR favorite reads of 2013? What are you looking forward to in 2014? And can you help get our magazine launched? Donate to our Kickstarter project today!

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Countdown: My Second Favorite Read This Year Is…

We’re counting down the days left until we run out of time for our Kickstarter project, and we desperately need your support to launch. I’m also counting down my ten favorite reads this year, and we’re almost at the end!. My second favorite read is the oldest book on the list; it’s a classic I only got around to reading recently. Read on to find out that my second favorite read this year was…

Middlemarch, George Eliot

I’m not the biggest Victorian lit fan. Jane Austen has some good moments, but overall I’m usually bored; the writing can be very dry, and the reflections of people and their doings too outdated to apply to people today. I therefore avoided George Eliot and her Middlemarch, thinking it would be typical nineteenth century British literature. How wrong I was!

It’s hard to describe what is so profoundly moving in the large, leisurely story of Middlemarch. Here’s what I wrote in an earlier review:

Middlemarch succeeded in utterly beguiling me. It’s less like Austen to me, and more like Henry James; it is passionate, realistic, and willing to gaze upon the lives of unhappy individuals with great clarity and compassion. Unlike the stories of Austen, which generally bear toward a marriage, several marriages happen in Middlemarch right at the outset. The drama will stem not from who will marry whom, but what life will truly be like after these matches, for better or for worse, have been made. One storyline follows Dorothea, an enlightened, modern women with great wisdom, ambition, and intelligence. She is a wonderful character to follow, full of identifiable emotion, passion, and loyalty. She marries an older man who is a respected scholar because she believes she wants to support him in his great work; but to Dorothea’s dismay, and the reader’s as well, we discover that his work is useless and backward, the scholarship that he has been devoting his life to an utter waste of time. Through Eliot’s graceful writing, we can see a marriage, having lost its foundation, crumbling from within.

There are other married-life dramas within this story, including another marriage that seems to begin on the best of terms, but begins to fall apart as husband and wife discover how little they know about each other and how unwilling they are to understand each other. Eliot’s descriptions of the small bitternesses of relationships, and how wounds can fester, or how chasms can open between people who once loved each other, are sensitive and real. They feel as relevant to relationships today as they must have been about marriages of a previous century. Frequently I felt myself associating guiltily with the character of Rosamond, whose utter self-absorption causes rifts to open in her marriage. She firmly believes each new hardship is done deliberately to spite her or marr her happiness; it’s these sorts of perspectives that I feel I take when I’m at my worst. And it’s these sorts of perspectives that can make relationships fall apart.

Of course, in the time and place of Middlemarch, divorce or breakups are not an option; so the members of these unhappy unions must struggle along the best they can, facing a lifetime of dischord. They realize that unhappy marriages can mean a lifetime of smothering their true selves, or subjugating their wills to others; but a chance for freedom, even at the risk of social disapproval, might just be worth taking.

Middlemarch is a small-town gossip novel; it’s a gripping portrait of troubled family life; it’s a coming-of-age novel; it’s even a murder mystery. I found it riveting, honest, subtle, and true. It’s the first book in a long while that I’ve felt a real, personal connection to. Finally, I get what all the hype was about.

Stay tuned for my FAVORITE read of 2013, and Donate to our Kickstarter project today!

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