Monday, November 8, 2010

MFA Monday: My First Semester Book List

One of my first assignments for grad school is choosing 20 books for the coming six months. At this point, I have little guidance as to what to choose, which I can only guess is because they want students to choose books that most closely relate to what they want to learn and study, and how they write. Or it's a test to see what kind of idiot I am.

The funny thing is that it felt like a test, and because of that, it became an extraordinarily difficult task. Every time I'd start to add books to the list, I'd think, "But I know about this book, which means it has to be pretty mainstream, which means it has to be more commercial fiction, which means probably not as worthy of a writing program, which means the faculty is going to look at this and laugh at me and think I'm a hack. I need books I've never heard of!"

And the conundrum, of course, is how to add books you've never heard of.

In the end, I tried to make a good mix of classic and contemporary, of best-sellers and award winners, and the books I chose all fit into the three challenges I face in my next writing project: multiple first person point of views, multiple story archs, and foreign setting.

So just in case anyone is interested, here's my tentative list I've submitted to the faculty:

Books With Foreign Settings:

1.     Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
2.     Bend in the River (V.S. Naipaul)
3.     Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
4.     Three Cups of Tea (Greg Mortenson)
5.     Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)
6.     The Things They Carried (Tim O’Brien)
7.     Out of Africa (Isak Dineson)
8.     Dream of a Blue Room (Michelle Richmond)

Unique 1st Person Narrative

9.     The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (Mark Haddon)
10.  The Art of Racing in the Rain (Garth Stein)
11.  The Help (Kathryn Stockett)
12.  Room (Emma Doaghue)

Weaving Multiple Plots and Characters

13.  Bel Canto (Ann Patchett)
14.  Sarah’s Key (Tatiana de Rosney)
15.  Love Walked In (Marisa de los Santos)
16.  Plainsong (Kent Haruf)

One of the above with medical issues as key plot:

17.  Middle Place (Kelly Corrigan)
18.  Cutting for Stone (Abraham Verghese)

Also, I'll add in a couple books on the craft of writing, but I haven't chosen those yet.

I'm so excited about this list! I hope my advisor approves it without me having to tweak it too much.

For now, I'm still plowing through about two books a week by Pacific Univ. faculty members. They are such amazing books. I finished Live Through This, by Debra Gwartney, and it's burrowed into my brain so deep I find myself talking about it constantly, to anyone who will listen. It's her memoir about the years her two teen daughters ran away from home to live on the streets. Harrowing, sad, gut wrenching... a fabulous book.

Right now I'm reading The Lonely Polygamist, by Brady Udall. Another fantastic book. He is a master of writing about sad and desperate people with just a touch of irreverant humor that makes the misery totally bearable, and sometimes laughable.

What's on your reading list?


  1. Very, very interesting! I love the freedom (and from that the trepidation) that is a part of the list.

    I think I've read about half of yours. The others I'll have to get to.

  2. It looks like an excellent list. I've only read about 5 of those. I'm going to have to grab some from it to put on my TBR list.

  3. I hear the Room is awesome. I'm going to pick it up this week.

  4. That's an impressive list Heidi. I'm ashamed to say my reading has been rather light this last week. I'm re-reading A Wrinkle in Time but on my want list is Daniel O'Thunder by Ian Weir. I tend to be drawn to Canadians who have been awarded or nominated for Canadian prizes. It's how I learn about the latest reads. But I do need to expand my book searchers. I'm going to add a few you have listed.

  5. What a great list! There are several titles on there I would like to read!

  6. Great list! I am nearly finished with Beth Revis's Across the Universe, then I am planning to read Reckless by Cornelia Funke. :-)

  7. Okey dokey, then. That would be a lovely list for me because I haven't heard of most of them! (I hope that doesn't say anything shallow about me!)

    I have heard of Kite Runner :) and my daughter, who is busy at college, recently posted on her FB page about how much she LOVED that book and how she devoured it in two days. All the while I'm thinking, "How the heck does this English major kid have time to read for PLEASURE?!!"

  8. Interesting. I just posted about Betsy Lerner's claim that writers gravitate towards the genre that best suits them. Perhaps, as you noted, that's what your instructors have in mind.

    I've only read four on your list. Loved OUT OF AFRICA, but Isak Dinesen's SEVEN GOTHIC TALES is one of my all-time favorite books.

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