A quick rundown of the books I read (or am currently reading) during this month, and also just a few of the online articles that intrigued me in some fashion.
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, Elisabeth Tova Bailey (memoir). I had wanted to read this one a few years back and it’s lingered on my TBR list for some time. It’s a lovely short book about the author’s ability to cope with a debilitating chronic illness that forces complete bed rest for a lengthy amount of time. She is able to cope better during the ordeal all because of a tiny wild snail that lives in a potted plant (and eventually terrarium) next to her bed. Note: it does get a bit deep into the science of snails (which I personally liked). To me, the ending felt like it came up too quickly or was rushed at the “end” of the author’s story, but overall I really liked this book.
Blackass, A. Igoni Barrett (novel). I’d been seeing this book all over the place in various social media feeds, reviews, etc. and so I was intrigued. The simplistic version of the story: a black man living in Nigeria wakes up one morning to find that his skin has turned white, and it creates a new kind of lens for seeing life around him, including the inequities that existed but of which he was previously unaware. The dialogue/dialect were really well done, as was the creation of various scenes in Lagos, the Nigerian city where the story primarily takes place. Great book with a bit of satire, and I’m still thinking about its themes.
At Large and At Small, Anne Fadiman (essays). I became a fan of hers when I read Ex Libris (which I highly recommend if you are a book lover/buyer/collector!) and this book is equally stunning with its prose and the wide ranging topics she covers. I might need to binge read more of her work soon, that’s how much I like her work. As an essay writer myself, I also find her to be very inspiring and she makes me want to up my game.
[currently reading] The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America, Ann Neumann (part memoir/part research-essays). I am reading this for two reasons. First, I’m working on a collection of short stories where the central theme is all the various ways death affects those left in its wake, and I wanted a nonfiction source of inspiration/focus. Second, it dovetails so nicely into another recent read of mine, Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. Neumann’s prose is exquisite and she is a compassionate storyteller. I am about halfway through this one now.
[currently reading] What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, Helen Oyeyemi (short stories). What a treat it was to see Oyeyemi in person at an author reading of this book a few weeks ago. She is completely lovely as a person, and she is a stellar, creative storyteller too. I’m halfway through this one as well. It is a series of nine stories where a central theme is keys, all told with a fairy tale like approach. This book has received a tremendous amount of great press and I can see why.
I only had to read the title of this Atlantic piece to know I’d completely understand and relate: Why I Like to Instagram the Sky
This AGNI piece also lured me in because of the title: Why I Write Essays
I imagine many of you already saw this Katrina Kenison essay about solitude on On Being, but in case you didn’t…
Remember two weeks ago when I wrote my Writerly Bits: What I’ve Learned in 5 Years post (a popular one, surprisingly!), and I talked about whether I aim for print or online publication? Here’s another great take on that topic from The Review Review.
Solitude is a topic I think about quite often, as is one day living in Vermont. And so I was ecstatic when I read this essay and discovered that there is a new relevant memoir out there (The Point of Vanishing: A Memoir of Two Years in Solitude, by Howard Axelrod), which I will be adding to my TBR-PDQ shortlist.
What have you read this month that I should too?
Copyright (c) 2016 Kristen M. Ploetz
If you ask me when you last made me catch my breath, I will tell you this.
Last night I more or less forced you to let me read aloud to you. You’ve been a very determined self-reader these past several months, and regrettably it means you want Dad and me to read less and less to you. We’ve given you wide berth to have time to read to yourself, hoping that we can slowly work our voices back into your bedtime routine soon enough. But for now, we allow you the pure joy of reading alone. For me, it is a bittersweet fork in the road to your independence.
But yesterday we were having . . . a day. I knew you needed to just be still and listen to a story. To snuggle down. To settle in.
I needed it too. The past several days have been heavy on my heart.
So I picked up Flora & Ulysses (Kate DiCamillo), a book I’ve long wanted to read to you. I read a few chapters and then it was time for bed. I kissed you goodnight. With me still hovering over your sweet face in the soft glow of your night light, we both agreed that we were looking forward to reading more of it tomorrow. I walked out and went to my room where I usually read or fold laundry until you are asleep.
A few minutes passed. I heard you get out of bed, somewhat unusual for you anymore. You padded to my doorway and delivered an epiphany about the squirrel in the book. You understood something about a character that totally flew past me, a plot line I hadn’t even seen coming. And it was brilliant. It was the distillation of so much I’ve watched you absorb over the course of your young years. It reaffirmed that you are paying attention to all that is wonderful in life.
You beamed as you turned back toward your room.
And that was when I couldn’t catch my breath.
Copyright (c) 2016 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
Copyright (c) 2010-2014 Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved. Personal theme was created in WordPress by Obox Themes.