Philip Graham on Craft and Reading

A beautiful essay on reading, emotional stress, and War and Peace:

“One day in seventh grade I ordered my usual stack of books from the Scholastic Books Service; one of them was an abridged version of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  A little skeptical, I figured I could skip past the peace parts if they proved too boring.  When the nine or so books I’d ordered finally arrived I saved Tolstoy’s novel for last—even abridged, the book was 500 pages long, longer than any book I’d ever read before.  But its length was not the challenge, not in the way the vocabulary of Henry Huggins had been for me years ago. The challenge was of an entirely different order.” https://themillions.com/2010/04/every-day-i-open-a-book.html

Also–selected crafted posts from Graham:
https://www.philipgraham.net/selected-craft-posts/

What Philip Graham is Reading!

1.  A Place to Stand, by Jimmy Santiago Baca.
The poet’s autobiography, gritty and spiritual both.  Especially moving to me was his account of his years in solitary confinement in a high security prison—in that  confining space he found a much larger space within, and saved himself by learning the art and craft of writing poetry.

2.  Medicine and Miracles in the High Desert: My Life among the Navaho People, by Erica M. Elliott.  
Elliott’s memoir of her time among the Navaho, first as a school teacher and then later as a doctor, employs a spare and direct prose that allows the complexity of her cultural encounters to shine through.

3.  The Walk, by William deBuys.
Another memoir!  I’m still reading this. The author recounts the stages of his daily walk through his small farm nestled among hills in northern New Mexico.  The gorgeous prose inspires reflection, and after a week I’ve just barely cracked page 30.  No need to rush, when the writing is this good.

4. The Memory Police, by Yoko Ogawa.
In the haunting future Ogawa imagines, a cruel authoritarian State, without giving a reason, periodically censors things—calendars, photographs, flowers, even birds. Even something as trivial as toast. All examples must either be destroyed or turned in to the Memory Police. Once this is done, people forget they ever existed. Slowly, the world trudges toward extinction.

5.  Poems New and Collected, by Wistawa Szymborska. 
I keep coming back to this book by the Nobel laureate, for a kind of mental rejuvenation.  She finds a way in her accessible and exacting poetry to burrow into subjects such as miracles, the sky, hatred, and love at first sight in such a way that you see the world anew.

Philip Graham
Website: www.philipgraham.net
Editor-at-Large, Ninth Letter: www.ninthletter.com

More Readers Suggest Books!

Baro Shalizi: I just read Overstory and am now reading Destiny Disrupted.

Cheryl Marita: Finished listening to “where the crawdads sing” wonderful, lush story. Now reading memoir “Just Kids” by Patti Smith.


Sarah Sarai : Just finished Martha Collins’ new collection Because What Else Could I Do: Poems; and Sonia Sanchez’s Does Your House Have Lions? Both amazing. Both on loss.

Vicki Holmsten: Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. I am maybe even more terrified by it than when I first read Handmaid’s Tale 30+ years ago, because it now seems we are even closer to becoming her fictional Gilead. Atwood is a master storyteller. Hard to put this one down once you’ve entered into the narrative.

Paul Bustamante: “The Fiends in the Furrows: an Anthology of Folk Horror” and “Writing Fantasy Heroes.” Oh, and rereading David Gemmell’s “Drenai Series” for inspiration.

Karla Linn Merrifield: I’m reading Jim Ray Daniels ‘ book of short stories, The Perp Walk. I’m a great fan of both his poetry and prose.

Susan Nalder: couple of non-fiction wowsers: David Treuer’s THE HEARTBEAT OF WOUNDED KNEE; and Tamim Ansary’s THE INVENTION OF YESTERDAY (the latter, how stories & narrative are the true engine of history).

Susannah Page: Just finished 9th Street Women, about Lee Krasner, Grace Harriman, Elaine de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler

AJ Schuman: I’m reading “What Language Do I Dream In?”, by Elena Lappin. It’s a memoir of her life’s interactions with Russian, Czech, German, French, Hebrew, and English. A meditation on language and how it shapes thought.

Rod Scott: “On Trails” by Robert Moor. It’s an exploration of how trails affect everyone from the ant, to the Appalachian Trail thru hiker. It’s a fascinating read.

L.j. Mulry: Next up is Hampton Sides’ Blood & Thunder; just finished Momaday’s House Made of Dawn.

Lucy Moore: There, There — amazing fiction about urban Indians in Bay Area

Some Suggested Reading

Suggestions about what to read are coming in to the blog! Here is a sampling to start:

NIna Bjornsson: I’m reading SAPIENS right now. Bought at Collected Works, where it was being kept behind the counter because so many people were stealing copies.

Chris: I am reading haiku mind, 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness & Open Your Heart by Patricia Donegan

Michael G. Smith: I’m on a writing residency in Iceland, and am reading Independent People by Iceland’s Nobel Laureate Halldór Laxness, Volcanoes: Whats Hot & What’s Not on Earth and in Our Solar System by Ian M. Lange, and an issue of the lit journal Prairie Schooner.

Isabel Winson-Sagan: Just finished Carmilla, taking a horror break with “Killed At the Whim of a Hat,” and then on to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein!

Jane Taylor:
House of Broken Angels. Urrea.
The Overstory. Powers.
Women of Copper Country. Russell.
The Blue Fox. Sjon. ❄️

Victor Ialeggio:
1. Ivo Andric: Bosnian Chronicle, The Bridge Over the Drina
(translations by Josef Hitrec, if possible)
2. Vassily Grossman: Life and Fate. (Life & Fate is to Stalingrad and
the Shoah as War and Peace is to Austerlitz. translation, Robert Chandler)
3. Yataro Kobayashi aka A cup of tea: The Year of My Life (translation,
Nobuyuki Yuasa.)

Devon Miller-Duggan Turns 64 and Reflects on That and More

This Week

I turned 64. I like that I have now reached the age when I don’t have to ask my husband “Will you still need me? Will you still feed me when I’m 64?” mostly because I have a year in which I’m a line in a Beatles song. I’m not sure why that amuses me so much, but it does, and I’m not inclined to expend much energy figuring it out. Maybe one of these days, we’ll rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight. If it’s not too dear…

I saw a list on line the other day of Beatles songs John Lennon didn’t like. A handful of my favorites are on the list. Either I have given up on being edgy/with-it, or it’s possible that Lennon and I don’t have to agree. I have friends who know and like my poems who are fondest of poems I think are mediocre, and I know for certain that I have given up fretting about this. Anything I can manage to give up fretting about is a good thing.

And my husband did feed me, in fact. I bought the steaks and peas and potatoes and Boursin (for the potatoes), but he cooked. And, besides, I was doing the weekly grocery shopping for my mother, so I had time to noodle around in the store thinking about whether I wanted steak or king crab. He likes to cook more than I do these days, and he got everything done perfectly.

I don’t particularly like it when my birthday coincides with Mother’s Day. I have mixed feelings about both, and having them happen together just seems like too much to process in one day. So I did the morning routine for my mother (tough to schedule an aide on the holiday), went to church, probably let myself get talked into helping with an internet book club set up between young South African women and young American women, shopped for my mother (who was aware neither of my birthday, nor of Mother’s Day, which was okay with me) took a nap, did some submissions stuff, played Words with Friends, and spent the rest of the day either crocheting or eating and watching TV with my husband. The highlight of the day was probably when I told my 18-month-old-grand-daughter I loved her and she came over and kissed me (a first—she’s plenty affectionate, but this sort of specificity is new, and she chirps/sings as she walks, which is pretty wonderful to live with).

It’s been a complicated semester. I had a kidney stone early on and have never quite felt like I’ve gotten my feet under me. I’m teaching a new course—typically, I came up with a nifty idea about doing imitations of a bunch of poets, but only semi thought it through—this is one of the parts where being an experiential learner doesn’t always work out for the best. The course will be better next time I teach it, but seems to have not been a disaster, as nearly as I can tell, this time ‘round. My other two classes had big, tough issues I’ve never dealt with before, neither of which should go in a blog–one a headbanger, one a heartbreaker. And I lost 30-40 hours at the beginning of the semester to a new Faculty Evaluation System put in place at Pretty Good U that is a total POS (it has, for instance, gone down in the middle of contract renewal system, of course). And I’m pretty ticked that I am going to start having an actual attendance policy in classes (I’ve done quite nicely for years with one that consisted of “You expect me to be here, don’t you? I expect the same.”), but absences have gotten way out of hand. I blame the zeitgeist. Meanwhile, my mother’s slide downward has picked up speed—she’s almost out of language, and has begun to be seriously short of breath. And I have been trying to get her whole home-health-aide situation re-settled since the week between Xmas and New Year’s, when we found out that the coordinating insurer had pulled out of the market, and the new one won’t deal with Home Instead. In the northern of Delaware’s 3 counties. Just the one. Meanwhile, I am trying to coordinate between 4 companies/agencies. Much of this would be resolved by paying home-health-aides living wages, but they’re all for-profit companies, so…

The yard’s a mess, though it’s full of flowers. It’s been a weird, long, cold spring, so some things hung on forever. I’ve never had daffodils still blooming when irises came up. It was pretty. The stripey pale pink azalea has been in bloom for ages. But it got stinky hot just in time to fry the lilacs the day after they bloomed. I haven’t walked the back yard for several weeks. I’m betting there’s some poison ivy out there somewhere. And I think I’ve decided to forgo the fancy wood play-set-with-house-and-climbing-wall that seems to be the suburban standard in favor of an old-fashioned swing set. But the poison ivy will have to be dealt with first.

Our cello prof tends to favor 20th/21st c. music, so I don’t often go hear him (I’m fond of some, especially of the elegiac sort, but often feel like I’m wearing uncomfortable underwear when listening to much of it), but he did a 2-night recital of Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suites several weeks back. It was imperfect and glorious and made me so goofily happy that I email fan-girl-ed him. We’re going to try to have coffee. There’s much too little cross-departmental conversation around here, just because depts. are so big and we’re all so separate, so that’s kind of nice.

Last day of class tomorrow. Mostly, my students will be reciting the poems they’ve chosen to memorize. That’s nice, too. And it’s looking like I’ll survive to teach another semester. The summer’s big projects include reading all the books of poetry I haven’t gotten to all year and re-organizing the bookshelves. Could definitely be worse, which, these days, is saying a lot.

How Do I Want To Be Read by Serena Rodriguez

I can remember the first time I read Bluebird, by Charles Bukowski. I was sitting on the floor amidst a loud group of young people, drunk on youth and whiskey. But this poem. It made all the noise in the room, all the laughter and gossip, come to a halt. My heart hit the pause button on this life and I fell into his words. They became entangled within me. They took my breath and tucked it away in some old heartache. His words made me stop. I devoured every single letter, every syllable, and sentence. This. This is how I want the words that I weave to be experienced.

Serena Rodriguez

Inside Story by Julia Goldberg

1. Julia–you’ve just published your first book–INSIDE STORY. The focus is a guide to writing creative nonfiction. I found the tone and approach very helpful. What in particular can the reader expect to learn?

My hope is that the book has appeal to many different types of creative nonfiction writers, from students to working writers and everyone in between. Inside Story delves into various categories of nonfiction—from memoir to journalism to the lyric essay. Each chapter endeavors to provide explanations about craft, writing exercises as well as references and resource lists. So, it’s a way to both learn more about the genre but also very much a practical guide to reporting and writing creative nonfiction. I have read many craft books myself, so I tried to distinguish my book in terms of it sounding like me—it has, I hope, much of the information one might find in a textbook, but it has a voice as well.

2. Was it easier–or more difficult–to write a book than you expected? You’ve been an editor in numerous capacities, including the Santa Fe Reporter but this is a different kind of endeavor. What surprised you?

I was surprised at how challenging it was! I’ve written on deadline my entire adult life and have written many long-form reported pieces. I worked as an editor on another book (Best Altweekly Writing, 2009-2010 from Northwestern Press). So I am familiar with many of the components needed to write a nonfiction book, such as research, reporting, organizing and, of course, the actual writing. But the accumulative process—writing for hours every day, day after day, and still not being finished, was a challenging—invigorating and difficult—experience. It set a bar in terms of my appreciation for the stamina it takes, for sure.

3. Anything else you want to add?
The book isn’t just my take on reporting and writing. I’ve been lucky in my career to both meet and read many amazing writers. I interviewed and reference numerous people for this book, whose own perspectives and experiences are in each chapter, and I’m very grateful for that.

4.How can readers buy a copy?
If readers are in Santa Fe, they can buy it at Collected Works. The book also is available on Amazon and all other online retailers. I’m also doing a giveaway on Goodreads May 24-June 23, so they can enter and maybe win one!

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Inside-Story-Everyones-Reporting-Nonfiction/dp/0997020776

Goodreads giveaway link: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/237632-inside-story-everyone-s-guide-to-reporting-and-writing-creative-nonfict

What Are You Reading And Where?

I was having a cup of coffee with a friend who was telling me about his travel plans, and also about what he was reading. This led me to muse on where we read as well as what. Putting the question up for crowd sourcing led to great answers! I’m going to share them in a set of ongoing posts.

***

Janet Brennan: Anne Hillerman, Song of the Lion. Read several chapters each night.

Isabel Winson-Sagan: 2nd sex on the couch with a tiny dog

Michelle Holland: The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Alice Hoffman. Listening to the audio tape on my commute from Chimayo to teaching every weekday at Los Alamos High School. I’ve been listening to novels rather than the news for the past four months or so.

Judith Sherman Russell: Space operas sitting in the car waiting.

Hannah Duggan: Saga Vol. 2, in my bedroom.

JenMarie Macdonald: The Neapolitan Quartet next to my napping babe

Wednesday Nelena Sorokin: Half a Yellow Sun, in my bedroom.

Nate Maxson: Disgrace by Coatzee. On the bus.

Maternal Mitochondria–what are we reading?

A blog contributor recently asked me to post what our collaborative duo (me and daughter Isabel) are reading. Here goes, in no particular order:

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.–dystopian Future

Scheherazade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems by Fatema Mernissi–feminist art criticism and memoir

Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay–says it all!

Las Madrinas: Life Among My Mothers by Ana Consuelo Matiella–memoir of the border and feminine Mexican archetypes

The Art of the Russian Matryoshk by Rett Ertl and Rick Hibberd–we love nesting dolls and all they imply

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