Thursday, September 20, 2007

Making a Literary Life Friday: What Are You Reading Now?

The darling of the blogosphere, Curtis Brown agent Nathan Bransford, asked a question of his readers this week: What are you reading now? It was fascinating to see in black-and-white the diverse reading habits of writers. Naturally, many responded that they were revisiting Madeleine L'Engle, others were reading the classics, and then there was everyone else. What was truly fascinating was how many people were reading multiple books at once. What we read shapes us, literally; it has the power to create synapses in our brains. It also informs and inspires our own writing. So how about you, what are you reading today? Or writing?


A lovely teacher I know recently shared some devastating news: her husband was arrested, is in prison for a heinous crime, her bills are piling up, and she's broke. Her financial situation is dire, in fact. She needs money - end of story. I recently made a post about not chasing the market when it comes to writing, but I question myself...What if I needed money, really needed money?

What would I write if I wrote fiction for money. One thing's for sure, it would be different than the story I'm writing. Necessity, after all, is the mother of invention.

In response to Lisa's question, there are easier and more profitable ways to make money than writing. I'd try plumbing and write for myself at night.

I was speaking with Therese Fowler, author of Souvenir, this week and we shared what we were reading. I left her with the impression that I read mostly non-fiction. Not true. It's probably an 80:20 split. How about you?

I am reading Jonis Agee's The River Wife and Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram. Buy River Wife in hardcover; I expect to see Ms. Agee's name on multiple awards lists next year. She is an expert at this craft and if you've the opportunity, she teaches at the University of Nebraska. As for Dang Thuy Tram's diary, I must admit to feeling conflicted. Dr. Dang was a very young physician for the Communist North Vietnamese when she was shot and killed by an American solider in 1970. This book contains the thoughts, fears, frustrations, and, especially, hopes of a woman who despised the "American devils." While reading this book, it's important for me to set aside the politics of war -- if such a thing is possible -- to understand the intensely personal experience of one woman, a poet. She felt so much. I wish I could give her a moments peace.

Last week, I finally read Lois Lowry's The Giver. The book is sheer genius, one that will surely stay with me the rest of my life. I actually gasped while reading. No, not at that part, but when the secret of the apple was revealed. My goodness, Ms. Lowry's brilliant.

To Lisa's question, wow. If I really needed money, would I write something different? No, and not just because I would simply work at the PR more hours! I suspect there are no guarantees that something written for money will sell either. So then where would I be?

As for current reading, I am finishing Updike, finally. I also read Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson semi-recently. Brilliant, brilliant prequel! The Giver is soon to be on my list, as my middle schooler will be reading that after Spinelli's The Loser and before MacBeth and some Twain. (I'm actually excited about MacBeth. I had a great English teacher, and this one has the potential to make Shakespeare click, too!) On an adult level, I want something fun, humorous (dark or blended with intensity is fine) and yet thought-provoking on a Big Questions Of Life level. No kidding. Any suggestions?

Okay, I don't mean to be flip in response to Lisa's question. But I am trying to write for money!! With my daughter starting her first year of college, trust me, I need some. The thing is, at every juncture of my writing career I've had to examine my personal ethics around what I would write and how my writing would be packaged. Walking the path to the writing life involves climbing integrity mountain.

As for what I am reading. I am almost finished with Water for Elephants; I've been giving it a close read because I am studying the structure, as I'm toying with a similar one for my second novel. I just started Falling Man, by Don DeLillo; what a writer! As I read, I feel secure resting in his capable hands. And I am finally reading, Twelfth Night, because my son has a part in the school play.


kristen spina said...

I just finished reading The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. Wow. That's really all I can say about the sheer brilliance of that one...

And I am now about 1/3 of the way into Patricia Wood's Lottery (and, so far, I LOVE it!).

I will say, if I had to make money, I don't think I'd write. But I'm not sure what else I know how to do.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hi Kristen,

The Things They Carried is brilliant. O'Brien's ability to capture beauty in pain and suffering is extraordinary. And of course, Lottery is a favorite here at the Writers' Group.


Judy Merrill Larsen said...

I'm reading Torch by Cheryl Strayed (I met her at a book fest this spring). It's lovely.

I taught high school when I absolutely had to have a paycheck--but even with that, I think there are easier ways to make more money.

And Kristen, I'm so glad you loved O'Brien's book--you know I'm kind of an evengelist for it.

Carleen Brice said...

Amy, thanks for the kind words on Judy's blog!

I just finished A Wrinkle in Time, and I think I may have missed the boat on that one. Maybe it's one of those you had to read as a younger person?

I'm now reading Lottery, by Patricia Wood, and really enjoying it!

Lisa said...

I'm reading The Children's Hospital, by Chris Adrian (I read a review of it on Conversational Reading). I'm hooked. I've also barely started From Where You Dream, by Robert Olen Butler (Mardougrrl posted on it at One Hand Typing). I see many follow on posts in the future based on ideas about fiction writing in this one. Since I've never been paid for my writing, if I really needed cash, I'd keep on doing the day job I have. It's a bit soul-crushing at times, but there's nothing else I can do that would compensate me better.

Therese Fowler said...

As I told Amy, I'm re-reading Pride and Prejudice, and also have Lisey's Story in progress, as well as Margot Livesey's Eva Moves the Furniture. Eva's wonderful and just the right size to take with me to the gym, to read on the eliptical machine. (I hate machine-based exercise, it's so boring!)

I'm another who LOVES The Things They Carried. Read it for craft but also for a tremendous story.

P&P, on the other hand, is NOT the book for prose-level craft, but wonderful on every other level.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Judy, I'll have to try The Torch. And after attending my children's open house last night, I'm convinced there are far easier ways to earn a paycheck than teaching.

Carleen, I used to read Wrinkle once a year, stopped about 15 years ago. I'll have to try again with new eyes. When is your novel Orange Mint and Honey published? What made you try your hand at a novel after so many non-fiction books? I'm so excited to read it.

Lisa, I know all about soul-crushing jobs. *Sigh* Have you read Severance by Butler? I''m definitely going to pick up The Children's Hospital on your recommendation.

Therese, thanks for reminding me to get Eva Moves the Furniture. Margot Livesey is a goddess. I need to own a copy of The Things They Carried. I'll place my order this weekend. Thanks to both you and Kristen for reminding me.


Larramie said...

To make money, just think of Patry Francis and simply waitress.

And I'll be beginning the ARC of Monsters of Templeton by debut author, Lauren Groff. It may just be presented in one of my future Monday posts.

Anonymous said...

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse at the moment.
And Hannah for that fun, thought provoking novel; what for me to get published. It'll take some time but you have lots of other stuff to finish, I assume. ;)

Lisa said...

Amy -- I'm only about halfway through (it's just over 600 pages), so I'm not 100% sure I recommend it yet. I'll render my final thoughts when I finish. I'm pretty sure it's going to be two thumbs up, but for such a big investment, I want to be sure :) I have not read Severance, but I will definitely find it. Thanks for the recommendation.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Therese, Eva Moves the Furniture is an all time favorite.

Carleen, A Wrinkle in Time was a family read aloud here at the Griffin's. I still remember with clarity the different voices we attempted for each character.

I've added Ann Packer's latest novel, Songs Without Words, to my to be read pile (Dive from Claussen's Pier is another of my faves)


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Larramie, I was about the worst waitress ever. I got the food out on time, never forgot an order, was super-friendly, but as the night wore on and the men got drunker, I'd kick their heels to wind my way through the crowd. Not a lot of tips. I look forward to your post on Monsters.

Reality, I haven't read Siddhartha yet! I'll make a note. Thanks.

Lisa, let us know how it is in the end.

Lynne, the NYT gave Songs Without Words a stinging review. I wonder, though. I'd rather decide for myself and I can't wait to hear your thoughts.


Sustenance Scout said...

Wow, LOTS of titles and authors to check out. This blog is a treasure trove. I'm currently reading my latest issue of Glimmer Train Stories and just finished Antonya Nelson's brilliant "Falsetto."

I read YA titles like The Giver and A Wrinkle in Time each year for a Junior Great Books program at my kids' school. While students seem to like the fantastic aspect of Wrinkle, The Giver never fails to spark heavy-duty discussions about life issues. I know I gasped more than once while reading The Giver the first time. Love it. Thanks for a great post!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Thanks for stopping by, SS. I read the The Giver for the first time a couple of weeks ago and it is now one of my forever favorites. I haven't heard of Falsetto,but will pick it up now. Thanks for the tip.


Anonymous said...

I recently re-read all the Moth Love chapters in Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer. It was fascinating to read these as a set, a story apart from the rest. (I was also doing some writing about grief and wanted some inspiration. I got it.)

Now, I'm reading The Art of the Short Story because I'm writing one and have never written one before so thought I could use some lessons. But I was inspired by re-reading Jack London's To Build a Fire. I used the metaphor in a longer piece where my character wants to be a teacher, so she can build fires within students--tend that spark and turn it into a sustaining flame. (Yes, this is fiction. Couldn't we have used teachers like that.)

I love stories that blow you away, like the end of Edith Wharton's Roman Fever or Alice Munro's How I Met My Husband.

So you never know where inspiration comes from. Just be open to it when it arrives.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Kira, so many good recommendations.

Which should I start with, Kingsolver or The Art of the Short Story?

Thanks for stopping by.


Anonymous said...

You stumped me there. I can't decide. Get both.