Holiday Book Haul

Holiday Book Haul

I only asked for one book this year, and I ended up with seven. So bookworms, here’s my 2017 Holiday Book Haul:
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This 1947 treasury came from my mother-in-law. It has many authors I’ve heard of and a few that I haven’t. Broken into 19th century Europe and America and “Our Time” Europe and America, I feel like some of these authors aren’t known to me not due solely to my ignorance (though some undoubtedly are) but because we simply don’t read them anymore. I like the fact that this book is compiled by a woman, as most of my anthology collections with a single compiler have a male selecting the stories. I’m hoping I’ll find some unique stories in this little book.

The Odyssey by Homer translated by Emily Wilson
I read Robert Fagles translation of the Odyssey a little over a year ago. While I own the Samuel Butler translation and do want to read Robert Fitzgerald’s translation, I’m curious what I’ll find in the first ever female translation of Odysseus’s journey home.
Here’s the first line(s) from Emily Wilson’s translation: Tell me about a complicated man. Muse, tell me how he wandered and was lost when he had wrecked the holy town of Troy.
Compare that to the Butler translation: Tell me, O Muse, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide after he sacked the famous town of Troy.
And the Fagles translation: Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns driven time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy.
In truth, while I’m only working with first lines, I’m in love with the imagery of the Fagles translation. Wilson’s is the second best, and maybe more “correct” or accurate. But the more truthful hero is not the ingenious one, nor the complicated one (though Odysseus is both ingenious and unarguably complicated), but he is the man of twists and turns. I’ll enjoy the Wilson translation, I’m sure, but hopefully she doesn’t sacrifice too much of the poetic for the sake of accuracy in translation.

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Destiny and Desire by Carlos Fuentes was the sole book on my wishlist this year. I heard about it on Michael Silverblatt’s Bookworm radio show. Fun fact: it’s narrated by a decapitated head floating in the ocean. My besite, Mike, bought this baby for me.

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My bestie also bought me Le Morte D’arthur by Sir Thomas Malory with original spellings! Seriously, probably my favorite surprise book this Christmas. I can’t wait to jump into it sometime this year.
Here’s a sample from “How Uther Pendragon Gate Kyng Arthur”: Whan hit was delyverde to thes kynges, Ban and Bors, they gaff the godis as frely to theire knyghtes as hit was gevyn to them. Than Merlion toke hys leve of Kynge Arthure and the two kyngis, for to go se hys mayster Bloyse that dwelled in Northhumbirlonde. And so he departed and com to hys mayster, that was passynge glad of hys commynge. And there he tolde how Arthure and two kynges had spedde at the grete batayle, and how hyt was endyd, and tolde the namys of every kynge and knyght of worship that was there. And so Bloyse wrote the batayle worde by worde as Merlion tolde hym, how hit began and by whom, and in lyke wyse how hit was ended and who had the worst.
And you thought you had the worst spelling day ever? It just goes to show that spelling standards do change, so it’s okay if you make a typo or misspell a word or two now and again. In a few hundred years everything you’ve written will look an awful lot like a misspelling or a typo to readers anyway.

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LitMag, a new literary magazine. This is their inaugural issue. My lovely wife gave me this book. The picture is a wee bit blurry, so here’s just a few of the famous  authors they’re publishing: William H. Gass, Harold Bloom, John Ashberry, and Kelly Cherry. I didn’t check, but I believe they rejected a short story of mine that I submitted at some point in 2016. The wife didn’t know, but that’s okay; it’s not like a rejection would keep me from buying or subscribing myself! I’m taking this magazine to read in my downtime at work.

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Old issues of the Iowa Review hold some of my favorite writings. Even long before I lived in Iowa, this was a review I turned too for good prose. And now that I’ve lived in Iowa for a couple of years, it’s about time I picked up this review again. This issue was also a present from my wife.

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This last one is also from Libby. No, we don’t have any kids yet, but we hope we will, and the wife wants to make sure I know my colors for when the baby comes. This year I’ll be spending many hours studying how blue is the color of sky and blueberries, how green is the color of peas and frogs, and so on and so forth. I’m just glad she got me a book and not a doll with a changeable diaper, which is just one of many baby-related skills I’ve yet to try my hand at, let alone master.

Let me know what was in your holiday book haul in the comments below. Have a happy new year.

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Merry Christmas

poorly wrapped Christmas gift

Merry Christmas friends. I hope you had many gifts wrapped with love, if not skill. The picture above is the only gift I attempted to wrap myself this year. It’s a little something for my wife, and it’s a great conversation piece! When Libby saw it she laughed, kissed me, and said, “I love you.”

Have yourself some seasonal cheer, and if you missed it, check out this Christmas story I wrote for a little holiday entertainment. See you all next year!

 

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Goodreads Confession

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I have a confession to make. About Goodreads. And I’m sure I’m not the only one, but still I feel compelled to confess.

I don’t list everything I read. This might explain why sometimes a single book is listed for a month. It’s often that I’m reading two books in tandem, or I put my first book down and read whole other book before I pick up the first again. I also don’t list certain types of books very often.
This list includes:
nonfiction) I often am reading only chapters or parts which interest me or are relevant to my novel research. Because nonfiction is often not a story with a beginning, middle, and end, I find it easier to put down and not get back to for weeks, years, or ever—these particular nonfiction writings just don’t have any characters or story that makes me need to pick it up again where I left off. An exception would be a book like H is for Hawk.

really old books) To get through a book often means taking it with me to work, to my parent’s place, on picnics, etc. But I can’t do any of that with my really old books. When I do read them, it takes me quite a while since I can only read them at home. (And, of course, because I can’t take it with me, but still need reading material when away from home, I inevitably end up reading one or two other books during the course of enjoying my antique). I might sometimes find a contemporary edition to list online, but I don’t really feel like advertising that it can take me two or three months to finish a book.

poetry) Frequently I read a handful of poems here, a handful there. Especially for poetry anthologies. And I reread my favorite collections in a day or afternoon sometimes. I just don’t feel a need to list the books I sample from or those I reread frequently like I do with my favorite poetry collections.

short story anthologies) This last one I covered in poetry, but it’s equally true for short stories. In fact, this is a great example of why recently Requiem for a Nun by William Faulkner was listed for well over a month.

sanctuaryI had just read Sanctuary by Faulkner. Requiem for a Nun is a sequel to this novel. However, toward the last third of Requiem, I suddenly plunged into reading short story anthologies for over two weeks. I sampled from three different books, none of which I’d read since college. It was great fun getting reacquainted with some of my favorite short stories. . .a lot more fun than Faulkner for sure. There was T.C. Boyle’s “Greasy Lake,” Annie Proulx’s “The Half-Skinned Steer,” and Sherman Alexie’s “What You Pawn I Will Redeem,” to name three. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Faulkner at his best and, in fact, the story proper of the novel was fine, that is, the parts of the novel that were written like a play. You see, Requiem is part play and part something else. One of the main characters—Temple— from Sanctuary is also the main character of Requiem. And her parts are written as a play with Faulknerian stage directions and everything. However, the play script proper is punctuated by long passages concerning past characters and history, especially the founding of the town of Jefferson and it’s important buildings.

 

Requiem for a NunIt’s these passages where I ran into a problem. The first one wasn’t too bad; it was actually quite funny and relatively interesting. But the second and especially the third one were just hard to slog through. They dragged, and I was having little luck connecting these “historical” passages with the play parts.

There is an obvious connection—the setting of each “act” in the play is the focus of each historical passage. But beyond this. . .well, I couldn’t find anything deeper, no thematic current tying the two together beyond simple location.

A part of me thought that perhaps it wasn’t the content or its lack of tie-in with the play portions, but the way it was written. The passages are un-indented, pages-long single sentences that liberally use the semicolon. Even where there are line breaks, the block paragraphs are connected due to the use of a semicolon. To be honest, I like long sentences, but I struggled with these.

 

So I took a break, read a bunch of short stories, and then came back and finished the whole third in one afternoon. I was left feeling it would have been much better had I just read the play bits and skipped the rest. And what I needed was something in between short story and novel, a good segue to get me back into longer works of prose because my mind was swirling with the form of short fiction, which isn’t really the best for me at the moment beings I’m in the middle of writing a novel. That’s when I remembered Seiobo There Below, a novel by László Krasznahorkai that I’ve heard is more like a short story collection than a novel. It being one a book I bought last year to celebrate the publication of my novel, I picked it, hoping it’d be just what I needed.

 

Seiobo There Below by Laszlo KrasnahorkaiUpon starting it, I thought I had made a mistake. Yes, it isn’t much like a novel and is really really like a short story collection. But all the stories have a similar voice. And they’re written in the same way, that is, in un-indented, pages-long sentences that liberally use the semicolon. Yes, it’s written almost exactly like the historical parts in Faulkner’s Requiem. The main aesthetic difference between Requiem and Seiobo is that Krasznahorkai uses a period between line breaks. Beyond this, Krasznahorkai‘s motto that the full doesn’t belong to humans, but to God, is followed to a tee.

Now that I’m approximately halfway through Seiobo, I’m very, very glad I did choose this book. It has shown me that it wasn’t the long sentences which made me seek other writing outside of Faulkner; it was the content itself. Faulkner’s long-ass sentences dragged because the content and style of that content (beyond being long and unpunctuated) was somehow uninteresting. Krasznahorkai’s semicolon-rich sentences push you along, are masterfully written to keep you reading, artfully maintaining a strong story momentum. Seiobo is hard to put down.

So I’ll probably be updating my Goodreads sooner than later to reflect yet another finished novel, or whatever you want to call Seiobo There Below. Or maybe I won’t. Because I might get distracted by another book, or even friends, movies, emergencies. I don’t know. What I will confess is this: I don’t list every book I read on Goodreads.

But if you are curious about what I do list on Goodreads (and sometimes rate. . .very occasionally review), just click the meme below.
Liz Lemon "I Want to Go to There" meme
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Personal Update

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When I accepted the opportunity to have Descriptions of Heaven published by Harvard Square Editions (rejecting two other small press publishers who wanted the rights to print the manuscript) I set aside a new novel I was working on at the time. I set it aside so I could devote my full attention to, at first, editing my debut and, later, marketing my book.

After Descriptions of Heaven came out, I wrote the first drafts to half a dozen short stories or so. As I like to say, all these story ideas were backed up, blocking the creative pipeline. That pipeline is a little clearer now, and I’ve begun work on my novel-in-progress again.

I’ve been working on the novel in the new library. The old library was one of the small bedrooms and did have the advantage of a small balcony where one could enjoy a book and a view. However, long-term plans finally reached fruition when my best friend, Mike Convery, moved in. I believe he owns more books than I do. So, Libby and I moved out of our large bedroom and into a smaller room, which had until then functioned as an office. I rather like our new space. It’s cozy and, for some reason, I sleep much better there (my love of tight spaces perhaps?). There’s an entrance to an attic bedroom too from the new library. Since Libs and I gave the room over to a communal space, it opened that bedroom up for her sister to move into last month, just in time for Abby to begin her first year of college classes here in Sioux City.

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My writing desk is now located in the library since there’s now no dedicated office space. I must say I don’t mind writing while surrounded by all our books (sans those piled in our respective bedrooms, plus a sole bookcase—built by my great grandfather—that sits in the living room, filled with matching hardcover classics).

As some of you know, I spent most of my summer writing at the Blue Cafe. I will admit, between sorting and shelving books, vacationing with an artist friend in Virginia, and a belated honeymoon with my wife, I did not make it much to the cafe during the months of July and August.
Sept7writingdeskAnd, as you can see, my desk is lined with post-it notes. They’re organized and essential to have for reference while writing my novel. I simply cannot take all the notes with me to the cafe. If I wrote my first draft on a computer rather than by hand (the pile of paper on the left is the hand-written manuscript) I could use the sticky notes function. However, there’s another reason that I must write here at the desk: the cafe is open only three hours during the day. Yes, I spent most of my summer writing short stories during a measly three hours. With so little time actually writing, I found myself editing at home, reading on the porch, and going on frequent walks and picnics with my new wife—all time spent well in my opinion.

But now it’s crunch time. I’m back to writing from morning until early afternoon, usually six hours (including a short lunch). The first thing I am doing is reading through what I’ve written. I have about seven chapters typed up. I’m now reading through those chapters, doing light editing as I go. At the time of composing this blog, I’m in the middle of chapter 4.

Ah, but what about those short stories? Will they be seeing themselves in print soon?
To answer that question, I’ll say that I still plan to go to the Blue Cafe once a week. You’ll find me there on Thursdays (the only weekday Mike works, which leaves me a little too lonely—I work best in a “studio setting” with the presence of others nearby). At the cafe I intend to work on my short fiction and other non-novel writing, submitting it and editing it, maybe even writing new stories should the impulse to compose be strong enough.

Some days I will also spend time on other writing-related work. But not every day. As much as I like the fantasy of a hermetic life of writing, my reality is that I have a lot more in my life to fill up my time. I write, yes, but I also do most of the household cooking, take on the major cleaning projects, keep the houseplants alive, and am essential to shopping excursions. I am a bit of a den mother—even the new members of the household have that figured out already.

I’d rather my plate be emptied of some of these duties (essentially the cleaning, as I do love cooking), that way I’d have more time for reading and studying. But, really, I don’t have any concrete complaints. My new roommates have picked up some of the chores. My cooking is now appreciated by more than just Libby and myself. I’ve found I have plenty of time for great conversations with Mike that only supplement my enjoyment of art and books. Somewhere along the line about an hour a day has opened up for me to begin studying Latin again—which is a joy for me because I’m not a natural when it comes to languages, and I love the mental challenge.

So things are going well. They’re going great. I have more time than ever to work, learn, and play. My house is full of people I love. My blind dog has more sets of hands to pet her than ever before. And my next novel is well under way.
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