A day early this week in order to leave space for technology free Thanksgivings for all of us. A quick rundown of what I’ve read in the past month in books, and also online articles that intrigued me in some fashion.
A light month for me—I spent a lot of time writing but also mostly because I started and didn’t finish three books that just weren’t holding my interest (those are not mentioned here). Incidentally, none of these are recent publications except the novel and memoir I’m still reading.
The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, Thomas Lynch (memoir/essays) I absolutely loved this guy’s take on so many things. I think there’s a lot of good insight to be had from someone who deals so regularly and closely with death. I need to re-read some of these again.
“Fall” from Seasons at Eagle Pond, Donald Hall (essay; there is one for each season, but I just read “Fall” for now) So lovely. He’s relatively new to me (just this past year), but I’m increasingly a fan of his.
Getting a Life, Helen Simpson (short stories; note: it was originally published in the UK under a different title, Hey Yeah Right Get a Life) I liked many of these stories. Such sharp, relatable wit about women and domestic life.
Around the House and in the Garden, Dominique Browning (essays) My heart swelled with many passages. A book about divorce in the context of the home, tending a garden, and raising a family. I will come back to this one again. Can I share a passage with you? It was after she stumbled upon an old photo of her son when he was seven:
I told a friend about this bit of accidental tourism into my past, and he counseled me to stop looking back. But it isn’t that I wanted to live in the past; that seems a dry and dusty path to wander. I don’t believe in the past perfect, and don’t yearn to return to any particular moment. One of the benefits of growing older, it seems, is a greater comfort with the simple present. It is from that vantage point that we find beauty in the accumulation of details. “Live in the layers,/Not on the litter” writes poet Stanley Kunitz. His desk overlooks a compost heap in his garden. The layering takes a long time; just as true of people as of things. For the past is what we have made of our lives, and to have a past—and to learn from it, honor it, and celebrate it—is a great luxury.
(still reading) The Mountain Story, Lori Lansens (fiction)
(still reading) Like Life, Lorrie Moore (short stories)
(just started) Dear Mr. You, Mary-Louise Parker (memoir in letters)
From Fusion News, a piece about how the beloved Richard Scarry books have been updated to be more progressive and inclusive.
On BuzzFeed Books, an insider’s view from the great Lincoln Michel about what it takes to get published in a lit mag.
NPR’s the salt has a take on why eating out alone is not necessarily the worst.thing.ever (I like eating out alone but many of my friends unequivocally do not).
Thank you, BookRiot, for this fun list of famous authors’ Myers-Briggs Types (I’m an INTJ, every single time).
Check out this one from the Stranger about what happens when scientists and poets study together. I loved the idea so much.
From The Atlantic about the rash of teenage suicides in Silicon Valley. It will break your heart, but I also hope we will now all talk more openly about teenage suicide, depression, and anxiety. Please also read this equally important follow up response from members of that community.
This one might appeal to writers in particular. It’s hard, I think, to stay certain that any writing we do means anything, has any worth beyond frivolity, when things are happening like the fatal terrorism in Paris, Beiruit, Mali, Iraq, Nigeria . . . an endless list. So if you feel that way, please read this from National Geographic. I think it is completely on point about why it is still OK, necessary perhaps, to keep writing.
From NYMag’s The Science of Us, a piece about the science of longtime couples who die in temporal proximity.
Lastly, a good note to end on. I love sunsets, as any of my Instagram followers must know by now. Have you seen this? I definitely will rely on windows and my eyes more than an app, but this Slate piece about some new sunset forecasting technology definitely got me excited.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. We got another day, perhaps the most important thing to be thankful for.
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
Last Thursday of the month, so that means a quick rundown of what I’ve read in the past month both in books, and also online articles that intrigued me in some fashion.
How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature, Scott D. Sampson (nonfiction/parenting) [skimmed only—I wasn’t learning anything new, to be honest; there are others I’ve already read in this genre in years past]
Lillian on Life, Alison Jean Lester (fiction) [one of my two favorites this month]
The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, Jessica Lahey (nonfiction/parenting) [really well done—some solid advice in here]
A Year By the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman, Joan Anderson (memoir) [my other favorite this month; that passage above had me thinking for a while]
The Turner House, Angela Flournoy (fiction) [incidentally, this first novel is a 2015 National Book Awards Finalist, and Flournoy is also one of this year’s 5 Under 35 Honorees of the National Book Foundation—it is so easy to see why; compelling read]
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert (motivational)
I Was Thinking . . . , Peter A. Gilbert (essays) [any book that has essays mentioning Steve Martin, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson and a love of reading will get a gold star from me]
(still reading) Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World, Linda Hirshman (nonfiction)
(still reading) The Undertaker: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, Thomas Lynch (memoir) [oh my, this one is so good]
This Kirkus Reviews piece about Diana Nyad’s new book Find A Way just might get me to read the book.
Glamour reminds us why apologies in person might be better than by text.
I’m a ways off from an empty nest, but this Cognoscenti essay slayed me nonetheless.
Some fantastic tips/reminders from Tremr if you are submitting work to lit mags (or thinking about it).
Ever wonder what happens in those “write an essay to win a B&B contests”? Then read this piece from NYT.
I’m a huge Virginia Lee Burton fan. This New Yorker piece reminds me why.
I’ll read any article that discusses the choice that some women (like me) make to keep the name they were born with despite getting married. This Guardian piece offers a new twist on that topic.
I have very passionate thoughts about this one in particular and the language we use when talking to children. Thank you, NYT Motherlode, for writing this one.
Tell me what books or compelling articles you’ve come across in October. I’d love to know!
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
I hope you’ve enjoyed the new format of posts I’ve been running on Thursdays. I’ve only written two so far (Scrambled Eggs and Family Tree), but I’ve already found freedom and comfort with this “If you ask me how . . .” approach. It’s been a good shift for me.
But on the last Thursday of each month, I’ll list books I’ve read over the month, and any essays/articles that really piqued my interest. If I think a book was particularly well done, I will note it; otherwise, I will refrain from recommendations in this space. That said, if you really want to know my thoughts about a particular book, you can just ask in the comments and I will respond offline.
Pieces of My Mother, Melissa Cistaro [this memoir was moving, poignant, and so well done—I really loved it]
Kitchens of the Great Midwest, J. Ryan Stradal (audiobook / fiction)
Doll Palace, Sara Lippmann (short stories)
How to Walk, Thich Nhat Hanh (meditation based self-help)
Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf (fiction)
The Same Sky, Amanda Eyre Ward (fiction)
What Comes Next and How to Like It, Abigail Thomas (memoir)
In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise, George Prochnik (nonfiction) [I skimmed this one]
The State We’re In: Maine Stories, Ann Beattie (short stories)
Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World, Linda Hirshman [currently reading]
ESSAYS / ARTICLES
Today is my debut appearance at The Mid—read why I’ll always prefer paper cards over texts and email.
Slate piece about the incredibly amazing discovery of Homo naledi and how they buried their dead
Slate piece about proliferation of first person essays
The Guardian’s response to the Slate piece about first person essays
Looking for new short story writers to read? Here are five mentioned by Lit Reactor
A compelling piece from New Republic about women writers who drink
Atlantic piece about being an attorney and a parent (a lot of this hit close to home for me personally)
The New Yorker’s listing of the National Book Awards longlist in fiction (I liked that a nod was given to the short story collections on the list)
Elite Daily gives our generation ten reasons to unplug and embrace solitude
This Atlantic headline had me at “Anti-Disneyland” and methinks a 2018 trip to Japan will be in order.
What book(s) did you read in September? Are any of them a “must read”?
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
The other day I shared an Instagram shot of some literary journals I had picked up that day. In my caption, I suggested that folks support lit mags in some capacity, whether it be buying a single copy or subscribing for a year, or even just borrowing them from the library.
I got to thinking about why I am such a huge fan of many of them, both as a writer and a reader (my favorites are listed below, though it’s certainly not a complete list). In all honesty, until about maybe eight years ago, I didn’t realize the wide, WIDE range of literary magazines out there beyond the biggies like Ploughshares or The Paris Review. But now that I am actively submitting short stories and essays to various lit mags (writer me) and no longer always have the time or attention span for books in some circumstances (reader me), I’ve discovered there are many reasons to love lit mags. Allow me to share them with you, and maybe even convince you to go snag one for yourself sometime this summer.
♦ If you are a writer and want to end up in a lit mag someday, you need to read a few. It’s a no brainer, but you should read a few issues of the journal(s) where you’d like to be published to get an idea of the caliber/style/content, and see if your writing is a good fit. But read others too. You will be both inspired by and aspire to be included among the truly great writing contained therein. Since I’ve made the recent decision to focus almost all of my writing efforts to submit to print publishers rather than online forums, this has been a crucial part of the process for me.
♦ Many of them have mixed content. I love the fact that most (not all) have an assortment of essays, creative nonfiction, interviews, poetry, short stories/prose, and/or book reviews. It allows for skipping around (or past) things to suit your interest in that moment.
♦ You will come across new styles/content that you might not have been willing to commit to in long form like a novel or an anthology, but are willing to dabble in for a moment here without much investment of time or money.
♦ Lit mags make a good palate cleanser between reading books or writing your own content. Sometimes I want to read things that most other folks haven’t read widely, mainly because I don’t often like being biased by popular and strong praise for something that everyone seems to be reading. While I always welcome suggestions for brilliant books, the other side of that coin (especially if you move in writerly/readerly circles online like I do) is that I often feel like I don’t want to read something because it’s already been talked about to death before I’ve gotten to it, sometimes ruining the experience for me when I finally do sit down and read it. By reading lit mags, I have fewer skewed expectations yet I know that it is writing that has been vetted by astute editors.
♦ The price is justifiable. You are not only supporting a lit mag and its writers (though I know that not all of them pay writers with money—that’s a topic for another day), but the reading experience is often quite on par with a short novel timewise. I can buy a newsstand magazine for about $4-5 and finish it in an under hour, but lit mags usually take longer to savor and get through which (I think) aptly correlates to the slightly higher pricing. In other words, it’s worth it.
♦ You will definitely find new or “new to you” voices and be intrigued by what else they’ve written (that happened with me and reading something by Sara Lippmann in Heavy Feather Review), especially if they are not big names (yet).
♦ You will also occasionally find nuggets from writers you already love, whether it be an interview of them or an essay that they’ve written that you didn’t know about (like when I read something by Roxane Gay in Tin House).
♦ Many of the writers are on Twitter, and some of them are fascinating to follow.
♦ It’s on paper. I love the tactile experience of paper books and magazines. Lit mags are often like a revved up version of those media because the paper quality and size is usually quite good. It makes it feel like you are reading something special (because you are!).
♦ Many issues have a theme, and so discovering how various writers (and the editors selecting the work for that issue) thought about that theme can be really interesting, especially if you are a writer trying to put down your own words in a new light or with a different slant.
♦ Lean and portable, they are a good alternative to your regular beach or waiting room reading.
♦ Many English language lit mags available for purchase in U.S. bookstores are actually published in other countries. I personally think there is a lot of good stuff coming out of Canada and the U.K., but I know that I still have a lot more to explore from other places.
♦ The artwork adds a wonderful element to the reading experience. There are some really intriguing illustrations, collages, paintings, photographs, etc. that are featured in these lit mags, and are often things that you might not see anywhere else (and certainly not locally to where you live).
♦ Lit mags look interesting on your coffee table or can be easily passed along to friends (though I save many of mine).
♦ It is short story nirvana. And if you write short stories, you really start to appreciate how concise and sharp the writing must be to come in at under 1,000-5,000 words. I am learning so much, particularly with dialogue and pacing.
♦ The voices are fresh, and the stories are too. I like that the editors of these lit mags sometimes take risks that perhaps book publishers would not.
Some recent favorite literary journals (some of these probably qualify more as magazines) include Glimmer Train, One Story, Brick, Tin House, Orion, Popshot Magazine, Taproot, Heavy Feather Review (I purchased a volume of this for my iPad, which I loved), Womankind (this is new, but I love it so far), and Massachusetts Review. I also occasionally read a few others online as well, so even if a paper lit mag is not your thing (I actually just switched to an electronic subscription of Orion), I suggest poking around online. Many of the lit mags have an online presence (either exclusively or in addition to print), and sometimes their content is free (like a few of the stories in one volume) or can be purchased in single issues rather than subscribing for a full year.
Do you read literary journals? Which ones do you like best? Are you reading more as a reader or a writer?
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
March was a weird month for me when it came to reading. I was all over the place—either in the middle of lots of things or picking things up for a quick skim—meaning that I only finished two books during the month. A nasty cold worked its way through the house too, and I didn’t feel like reading for about ten straight days when my eyes hurt from the sinus pressure. This had the serendipitous effect of making me fall in love with Parks and Recreation and The Office (BBC version) via Netflix.
Here are the two books I did complete, and my quick takes:
Yes Please by Amy Poehler – I definitely liked it very much, particularly the parts about being a mother and growing up in Burlington. I certainly giggled in a few places (though admittedly not as much as with Tina Fey’s book) and I liked her candor with what she was willing to share. That said, I’d love to see her write another book in another 5-10 years. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but I felt like she was either holding back, or distracted, or sometimes coming from a place of sadness while writing it. I want to see what she has to say in a few more years. (Not surprisingly, this book was the catalyst for my Parks and Recreation binge; I was not into the series during its original run, but will now watch more of these when I need a chuckle.)
Sweetland by Michael Crummey – What a great story. Set in the town of Sweetland (an island off of Newfoundland), it follows the difficult decision that the main character, Moses Sweetland, must make in the wake of the government offering the island’s residents a financial package to pick up and leave their homes and the island for good. Moses is eventually the last holdout, and does not want to leave his home or this special coastal place that has contained almost the entire the universe of his life. I really got a sense of the hardscrabble coastal imagery. The characters are keenly developed and even though they were not always likable, I loved them all. It’s the second book I’ve read in recent months where it focuses on a difficult decision that must be undertaken by an older man (the other book, which I adored and caused the ugly cry, was A Man Called Ove, by Fredrick Backman). I’m not sure whether that means anything profound, but it’s a POV I’m growing to love.
The poetry I poked in and out of included the selected works of Walt Whitman, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke, Sharon Olds, and Adrienne Rich. I needed a “reset” mentally, and poetry seems to work wonders that way.
I also borrowed a few poetry collections. I adored Ten Poems to Change Your Life, by Roger Housden (I’ll be ordering a copy of this to keep—poets included Mary Oliver, Rumi, Pablo Neruda, and Galway Kinnell) and Light-Gathering Poems, edited by Liz Rosenberg (might order this too). From the children’s section, I snagged The Night of the Whippoorwill, selected by Nancy Larrick, illustrated by David Ray (featuring all night-themed poems that are lovely for children and adults).
Near the end of March, I started (and am still reading) several other books that I won’t list here now (mostly writing craft books), but I will say that I am really enjoying many of the stories in Neil Gaiman’s latest, Trigger Warning.
What did you read in March? Tell me below or link to your own blog post if you have one.
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
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