reading recs

This is your brain on summer

July, I hardly knew ye.

I’m stunned as usual at how summer is flying right on past the horizon without pausing to give me so much as the finger. Speaking of flying (and birds): A hawk — a hawk — totally landed on the hood of my parked car today. It set off the auto light in the carport, and then sat there for a couple minutes, just checking out the yard.  TW and I just gawped at it with a Keanu-like Whoa. And then, I laughed, because It reminded me of this:

Writing here at a steady clip, I suppose. I’m making progress but am feeling suddenly shy and superstitious about bringing attention to the whole thing, so I’ll just say that I’m working and I’m happy about it. Otherwise, I am being a zealous hermit. My big excursions include walking around the neighborhood or along the river path with a hat pulled low over my eyes. In one of these moody jaunts, I coined a little phrase that rather amuses me: Writers: We put the F-U in Fun.

I do have a little happy news from my small writing world: I got a story, titled “When Are You Coming Home?”, accepted for publication in Blackbird, and I think it will be out this fall. Yay. I also have two readings on the docket: one in October at the Auburn Writers Conference and one in March at the University of Alabama-Birmingham for the UAB Writers Series. I’m delighted to be part of both.

I’ve also been reading. I’ve been for weeks intending to document my reading from the spring semester and this summer, and now I fear the details are already fading. I had intended also to write capsule reviews for each (ha), but now I would just like to get them down before they, too, fly away. Not all of these are perfect books, stories, or essays (what books are? And eek, I have got to get some more poetry in my diet). But I took something away from all of them, and as I scan the list I would give a “recommend” or a “highly recommend” to all. (The starred book-length ones are those that stand out to me, that really captured or moved me, left me a bit haunted or stunned; I think if you read any of those stories you’ll be a happy — or at least interested –camper.)

Spring (mainly short fiction and essays)

  • Selected essays from The Best American Travel Writing 2010, Ed. Bill Buford
  • Stories from The Best American Short Stories2010, Ed.  Richard Russo: “Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched” by Steve Almond; “Someone Ought to Tell Her There’s No Place to Go” by Danielle Evans; “Further Interpretations of Real Life Events” by Kevin Moffett;  “All Boy” by Lori Ostlund;  “The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach” by Karen Russell; “Safari” by Jennifer Egan; “The Valetudinarian” by Joshua Ferris; “Painted Ship, Painted Ocean” by Rebecca Makkai; “PS” by Jill Mccorkle; “The Laugh” by Téa Obreht; “The Ascent” by Ron Rash; and “Raw Water” by Wells Tower
  • From The Contemporary American Short Story, Eds. Nguyen and Shreve. Sherman Alexie, “Because My Father Always Said He Was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock”; Margaret Atwood, “Happy Endings”; Donald Barthelme, “The School”; Richard Bausch, “The Man Who Knew Belle Star”; Gina Berriault, “The Birthday Party”; Raymond Carver, “Cathedral”; John Cheever, “The Swimmer”; Junot Díaz, “Fiesta, 1980”; Andre Dubus, “The Fat Girl”; Stuart Dybek, “Pet Milk”; Louise Erdrich, “The Red Convertible”; Carolyn Ferrell, “Proper Library”; Richard Ford, “Communist”; Denis Johnson, “Emergency”; Jamaica Kincaid, “Girl”; Jhumpa Lahiri, “The Third and Final Continent”; Andrea Lee, “Brothers and Sisters Around the World”; Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”; James Alan McPherson, “Of Cabbages and Kings”; Bobbie Ann Mason, “Shiloh”; Alice Munro, “The Turkey Season”; Joyce Carol Oates, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”; Tim O’Brien, “The Things They Carried”; Flannery O’Connor, “Everything That Rises Must Converge”; Grace Paley, “Wants”; Mark Richard, “Strays”; George Saunders, “My Flamboyant Grandson”; John Updike, “Here Come the Maples”; Helena Maria Viramontes, “The Moths”; Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., “Harrison Bergeron”; Alice Walker, “Everyday Use”; Tobias Wolff, “The Rich Brother”


  • Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones.*
  • The Realm of Hungry Spirits by Lorraine López.*
  • Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
  • Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout*
  • A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  • Going Away Shoes: Stories by Jill McCorkle
  • Life Class by Pat Barker*
  • Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout
  • Once the Shore: Stories by Paul Yoon*
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides*
  • Fun Home by Alison Bechdel*
  • A Visitation of Spirits by Randall Kenan*
  • A Boy’s Own Story by Edmund White
  • Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
  • Just Kids by Patti Smith*
  • Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon
  • Trash by Dorothy Allison
  • Zoli by Colum McCann*
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishigiro
  • On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan*

ps I started Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters, and I gave it to page 100 — I really did — but it just didn’t win me over. I also started Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, which is good, but dark in a way I couldn’t deal with right now, so I will return to it another day.

Face in books

Today, I’m jotting down what I’ve read thus far in 2010 as we careen right over the hump into the second half of it. I’m not going to annotate for now, just list; perhaps I’ll come back later and amplify thoughts on individual pieces. I read a lot to prepare for teaching, but I’ve been on a bit of a tear of pleasure-reading since May (meaning, I suppose, reading without a pencil in hand). Honestly, I recommend all of these. Here goes:


  • The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
  • Homicide Survivors Picnic by Lorraine Lopez


  • Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman
  • Hiroshima by John Hersey
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler
  • “Facing It” by Yusef Komunyakaa
  • Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey
  • In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • “The Man Who Knew Belle Starr” by Richard Bausch
  • “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern
  • “The Third and Final Continent” by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • “Brownies” by ZZ Packer
  • “My Flamboyant Grandson” by George Saunders
  • The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  • Brownsville by Oscar Casares
  • The Gifted Gabaldon Sisters by Lorraine Lopez
  • The Latin Deli by Judith Ortiz Cofer
  • Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia
  • Select chapters from Borderlands by Gloria Anzaldua
  • Select essays from An Angle of Vision: Women Writers on their Poor and Working Class Roots, ed. Lorraine Lopez
  • The Truth Book by Joy Castro
  • “In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd” by Ana Menendez
  • Poems from A Question of Gravity and Light by Blas Falconer
  • How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents by Julia Alvarez
  • “Homecoming” by Julia Alvarez
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz


  • Open Secrets by Alice Munro
  • Negotiating the Dead by Margaret Atwood
  • The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
  • Home by Marilynne Robinson
  • Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
  • Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
  • Bone Key Elegies by Danielle Sellers
  • Temper by Beth Bachmann
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • Select chapters of Method and Madness by Alice LaPlante
  • Falling Man by Don Delillo
  • That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

In progress

  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (150 in, only 650 to go!)

On list next (hurry, hurry, before school prep starts!)

  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Attention Please Now by Matthew Pitt
  • From the Hilltop by Toni Jensen
  • Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout