Tag Archive for what I’m reading

Review: Almost Famous Women

I have a new review up at Heavy Feather Review of Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman.

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No lie: I really loved this book. I thought it was so well written and researched, and just a treat line by line. I can’t wait to check out Mayhew Bergman’s first book, Birds of A Lesser Paradise. I remember hearing this title but never picked it up. I will rectify that soon.

Oh! And I saw on Twitter that one of my favorite stories from this collection, “The Seige at Whale Cay,” was selected by T.C. Boyle for Best American Short Stories 2015!

What I’m reading: Tumbledown by Robert Boswell

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“People encounter life in vastly dissimilar ways. Some insist their days are orderly and unchanging, vessels on a slow-moving assembly belt, each identically filled by invisible hands. For others, the days are relentlessly complicated and unpredictable, as different, one from another, as patients waiting to see a therapist. But for everyone there comes a day when the filling no longer fits the vessel, when the therapist finds himself pouring out his heart to the patient, when air is indistinguishable from water and out is the rough equivalent of in, a day when even the voice of god carries a dubious tremor.”

What I’m reading: The Other Side, by Lacy M. Johnson

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“Twice a week he comes to pick me up from our old apartment to take me on another miserable date. I don’t let him hod my hand. I don’t let him kiss me. I say, Maybe we should do this only once a week. Then, Only twice a month. Meanwhile, with no one to watch over me, I eat less. I start taking diet pills in addition to the other pills and fall in love with the constant and perpetual neural hum of time travel: how the world slows, how the mind speeds through it.”

Reading List 2014

Two things that make me crazy happy are lists and reading. I’ve kept track of every book I’ve read since 1992, and when I tell people that, they sometimes look at me like I’ve been uptight for a very long time, to which I say, damn straight. This virgo be rockin it!

I set the goal every year to read fifty-two books, or a book a week. I was short this past year, but I still say it’s more than I would have if I hadn’t kept track. (Plus, my sister and I are still working through the Stephen King novels which are looooong. Maybe I should keep track of page numbers as well and then come up with a formula for how many pages the average book is and divide by that? Or maybe I should just call it good. My father said to the Flanagan women something to the effect, “you love to put too much pressure on everything,” to which we say, damn straight.)

Reading List 2014:
One Night, David Nicholls
Cell, Stephen King
What is Amazing, Heather Christle
Fear and What Follows, Timothy Parrish
Reconstructing Amelia, Kimberly McCreight
Undressing the Moon, T. Greenwood
From a Buick 8, Stephen King
Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout
Crapalachia, Scott McClanahan
The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
Domesticated Wild Things, Xhenet Aliu
The Hymn of the Black Terrific, Kiki Petrosino
Mermaid, Eileen Cronin
Last Word, Jonathan Blum
Red Moon, Benjamin Percy
Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple
An Untamed State, Roxane Gay
The Promise, Ann Weisgarber
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
Story Engineering, Larry Brooks
The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, Mayra Calvani & Anne Edwards
The Butterfly Lady, Danny M. Hoey Jr.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers
Firestarter, Stephen King
Attachments, Rainbow Rowell
Big Brother, Lionel Shriver
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle*
Dirty Love, Andre Dubus III
Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King
The Road, Cormac McCarthy
Tampa, Alissa Nutting
Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch
By Light We Knew Our Names, Anne Valente
Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay
The Eye of the Dragon, Stephen King
A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning, Lemony Snicket
Leaving the Pink House, Ladette Randolph
The Tommyknockers, Stephen King
The Giver, Lois Lowry
Quiet, Susan Cain
Beyond the Horizon, Ryan Ireland
Revival, Stephen King
Bossypants, Tina Fey
The Year of Perfect Happiness, Becky Adnot-Haynes
Dad is Fat, Jim Gaffigan
The Talisman, Stephen King and Peter Straub

*I also read a shit-ton of Magic Tree House books and Bad Kitty with my six-year-old, but I don’t usually count kid books on the list. I counted The Very Hungry Caterpillar because my sister, Mom, and I are also reading the Amazon Top 100 books together and probably putting too much pressure on ourselves to get it done. My mom actually had this at their house to read to Cora, so when I found it, I called Kelly and read it to her over the phone (audio books count) so she could cross it off as well. Her critical review? “That caterpillar sounds super hungover.”

Olive Kitteridge exercises – part 2

As I wrote about here, Olive Kitteridge is both a wonderful book and a kick-ass instructional guide for fiction writers. I’ll continue here with a few more exercises based on things I think Strout does like a boss:

Two stories in one: In “Tulips,” we learn the story of the Larkin family as well as what happens to Henry Kitteridge after his stroke. How does the blending of two stories strengthen both narrative lines, and how does the larger (public) story help to shape the smaller (private) one? Write a story where you take a larger event–of national importance, or local importance–that affects many people and tell it beside a personal story that is unrelated but happening simultaneously. How does the public story help to shape the private one, or how does the private story inform the understanding of the public story for the character?

Character understanding: Oftentimes when we’re telling a story, we’re telling it to try and figure out just what it means or because there is mystery inside of it somewhere. In “Tulips,” on pages 145 and 157, Olive is trying to understand why her son doesn’t seem to like her very much, and while telling the story, the reader begins to understand even though she can’t see through to the truth. How can you lead the reader to understand what a character cannot?
Write a scene where the reader understands something the character telling the story doesn’t–a child telling their parent about an incident at school, a man telling a friend why his spouse has left him, a person fired from a job for no apparent reason.

Assumptions: People often aren’t what they seem, and not in the secret I’m-a-serial-killer way they (delightfully) would have us believe on Criminal Minds, but in that we are more multi-faceted than we give each other credit for. Strout constantly is turning characters on their ears in a way that is believable and in-sync to who they are but a surprise to those who know them. Look at the portrayal of Mary acting out of character on pg 160, or Marlene not just being a sweet, daft woman on pages 176-77.
Write a scene where someone upsets another person’s expectations, where they do something that isn’t out of character, but that reveals another facet of that character.

I hope these have been helpful, or if nothing else, will lead you back to read Olive Kitteridge again. Even writing these up, I’m tempted to take another look and discover all I’ve missed. If you have exercises of your own based on specific works by Strout or by other writers, let me know in the comments!

What I’m Reading: Revival by Stephen King

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“Jacob turned back to her and lowered his half-frozen face until it was only inches from her dead one–a Romeo with his Juliet. ‘Mary! Mary Fay! Come back to us! Come back to us and tell us where you’ve been!’

It’s hard for me to think of what happened next, let alone write it down, but I must, if only as a warning for anyone else who contemplates some similar experiment in damnation, and may read these words, and turn back because of them.

She opened her eyes.”

What I’m reading: The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

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“But in glimpses of herself–shouting at Steve, at Zach–she recognized her own mother, and Susan’s face burned with shame. She had never seen what she saw now: that her mother’s fits of fury had made fury acceptable, that how Susan had been spoken to became the way she spoke to others. Her mother had never said, Susan, I’m sorry, I should not have spoken to you that way. And so years later, speaking that way herself, Susan had never apologized either.

And it was too late. No one wants to believe something is too late, but it is always becoming too late, and then it is.”

What I’m reading: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

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“It makes perfect sense that many of us obsess over our bodies. There is nothing more inescapable. Our bodies move us through our lives. They bring pleasure and pain. Sometimes our bodies serve us well, and other times our bodies become terribly inconvenient. There are times when our bodies betray us or our bodies are betrayed by others. I think about my body all the time–how it looks, how it feels, how I can make it smaller, what I should put into it, what I am putting into it, what has been done to it, what I do to it, what I let other do to it. This bodily preoccupation is exhausting. There is no one more self-absorbed than a fat person, and Skinny exposes just how obsessive people are when they are unhappy with their bodies. This is not to say all fat people are unhappy with their bodies, but many are. Most of my friends are equally obsessive even though they are thin–hating themselves or specific parts of themselves: their arms, their thighs, their chins, their ankles. They do crazy diets and starve themselves and run themselves ragged trying to maintain some semblance of control over things that are somewhat out of our control. I don’t think I know any woman who doesn’t hate herself and her body at least a little bit. Bodily obsession is, perhaps, a human condition because of its inescapability.

What I’m reading: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

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“But if renting all those movies had taught me anything more than how to lose myself in them, it was that you only actually have perfectly profound little moments like that in real life if you recognize them yourself, do all the fancy shot work and editing in your head, usually in the very seconds that whatever is happening is happening. And even if you do manage to do so, just about never does anyone else you’re with at the time experience that exact same kind of moment, and it’s impossible to explain it as it’s happening, and then the moment is over.”

What I’m reading: Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III

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“She’s snoring slightly. It feels like violation of her privacy to hear it. He’s sober now, or close to it, and outside the sliding doors the light has faded slightly. There’s the gurgling hum of the air-conditioning unit, the room comfortably cold. He thinks of his car back in the parking lot behind the Sea Spray Motel, its wood glue and tiling materials and steel pipe in the trunk. It’s not too late to at least repair the kitchen table leg, but he doesn’t want to wake this woman, and if he leaves he’ll be a prick.”