Monday, November 7, 2011

MFA Monday: Books!!!

My reading for the semester is done. Here's what I read:

1. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (Tom Franklin)
2. Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout)
3. A Separate Peace (John Knowles)
4. Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri)
5. State of Wonder (Ann Patchett)
6. Heartsongs and Other Stories (E. Annie Prouxl)
7. Too Much Happiness (Alice Munro)
8. Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen)
9. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (Jamie Ford)
10. The Pleasure of Reading in an Age of Distraction (Alan Jacobs)
11. The Optimist’s Daughter (Eudora Welty)
12. Abide With Me (Elizabeth Strout)
13. Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
14. The Murderer’s Daughter (Randy Susan Meyers)
15. Little Bee (Chris Cleave)
16. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress (Rhoda Janzen)
17. Edgar Sawtelle (David Wroblewski)
18. Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories (Tom Hazuka)
19. That Old Cape Magic (Richard Russo)
20. The Modern Library’s Writer’s Workshop (Stephen Koch)

I've said it before, but I'll say it again. I LOVE that Pacific University allows us to make our own reading list. There is a certain amount of responsibility that comes with this. I assume if I peppered my reading list with genre fiction (which I'm not writing) my advisors would nix the list. But I work hard creating a good list - books I both want to read and books I think I should read. I gathered a long list of titles, most of which were suggested to me by people I respect (like YOU all), went to amazon and read the synopsis and first pages to see if I liked them, went to goodreads and read the reviews, and then chose the ones I liked the best.

Also, I tried not to weigh my list with books that were 800 pages. 

Let's face it, if I have to read these books and not put them down and move on if I hate them, I might as well pick ones I'll like, and ones I'm not stressed I'll finish on time.

Of course, some of these I loved more than others. I was not at all a fan of Love in the Time of Cholera. The reviews are great, but the book seemed slow and sluggish, and to take me forever to read. And I was unsure why I was supposed to connect with a main character who declared he'd had 600 affairs, some with girls as young as 11, some married, but declared he was really a virgin because he didn't love any of them and had "saved himself" for the one girl he did love (saved himself from what, I'm not sure).

But all of the others I thoroughly enjoyed.

I put a lot of short stories on this list because I wasn't as familiar with short stories as I feel like I should be. Most people in this program write short stories, and it's been ages since I'd done that. What I learned is that I still am not a huge fan of reading collections of short stories. Not that I don't enjoy them. Olive Kitteridge was fantastic, and Interpreter of Maladies was superbly written. But it's much too easy for me to put a short story collection down and not feel compelled to pick it up, because each story is self-contained. There's nothing calling me back to the book because if I've finished one story, that's the end of that character's journey.

Of all the books on this list, the ones I most highly recommend, ones that I absolutely loved, are State of Wonder (ironically a retelling of Heart of Darkness, which is the bane of my existence), Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (a book I just didn't want to end, and whose end was immensely satisfying), and Little Bee, which I wrote about here.

I also love the Writer's Workshop book. When I first read it, it seemed to lack the kind of practical advice and organization I crave, but it was so full of wisdom I couldn't help but underline half of it. I've continued to go back to that book over and over this semester. One of the best parts of it is where Koch talks about "climbing Mount Probability." Meaning, essentially, it doesn't matter if what you write is possible (or realistic), only that you can make your readers believe that it is. This is a whole post unto itself!

Now I've got two weeks to come up with a new reading list for next semester. I have 16 books so far, and need 4 more really great ones. So I come to you, again, asking for help.

What should I read next semester? What have you read and loved?


  1. I cannot stop raving about The Homecoming of Damuel Lake. Hands down one of the best books I've read! I also loved The Passage by Justin Cronin but that one may be a little long for what you are reading for. Thr Nighy Circus was one of the most beautifully written novels I've ever read too. Hope that helps!

  2. Little bee is on my shelf cause of you.

    LOVED Water for Elephants - I couldn't put it down.

    The Corner of Bitter and Sweet is on my list.

    Abide With Me is sitting on my shelf.

    Amazing books I read this past year?

    WIntergirls by Halse Anderson - her use of language astounds me in everything she writes. So quirky and interesting.

    Anything by john Green b/c I love books about nerds and all their excitement. He too, has an AMAZING voice.

    I think my favorite "just for fun" book was Not My Type by Melanie Jacobsen.

    A book with an ending that crushed me, but will stay with me for a long time was Take Me There.

    He Loves Me, He Loves You Not is a short story written by my agent that I really just soaked up the language of.

    Cracked Up To Be by Courtney Summers left me feeling hollowed out, and I still look back at that book and think, wow.

    And then there's four or five books on the left side of my blog that I will love and think about forever.
    Looking for Alaska
    The SKy is Everywhere
    Fixing Delilah
    With or Without You

    All Intense, all made me cry, and I was SO sad when each finished. Aside from With or Without You. I think that was one of the best endings I've ever read.

  3. I want to read Water for Elephants--a good friend said I must! So will get it soon.
    I've finally been doing some reading but not like what you have been doing. I read too fiction books this weekend and wept through them. Ahhh:)

  4. Heidi, are you on I have found a ton of wonderful books that way...

    Here's a few I love...

    BOOK THIEF by Markus Zuzak. I recommend this book to everyone. It is one of the best books I've ever read.

    LOTTERY by Patrici Wood. Oh. My. Goodness. Another book I recommend to everyone! A mentally-challenged young man wins the lottery. Fabulous concept and Wood pulls it off so well.

    MAJOR PETTIGREW'S LAST STAND by Helen Simonson. Oh, just a lovely, lovely, quiet book. Simply delightful.

  5. Am reading Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. And enjoying it thoroughly. The Night Circus is next on my list. Time Traveller's Wife is one of my favourites. So is The Book Thief.

  6. Wow!! That's a ton of books. I've read a few of them, but not a lot.

    Amazon just came out with their top ten books for 2011, (even though there's two months left)

    Here are some of their suggestions:
    1. “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach
    2. “1Q84″ by Haruki Murakami
    4. “In the Garden of Beasts” by Erik Larsen:
    5. “The Marriage Plot” by Jeffrey Eugenides
    6. “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” by Laini Taylor
    7. “Before I Go to Sleep” by S.J. Watson
    8. “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson
    9. “Lost in Shangri-La” by Michael Zuckoff
    10. “The Tiger’s Wife”

  7. Glad I found you, Heidi!

    I'm in Washougal, Washington. Lived in Portland for years and know Pacific U.

    I'm impressed with your reading list! I have so many books on my list, but lately have been very delinquent in my reading. I'm a newly contracted author, so have been a little overwhelmed with everything that goes along with that--including the prospect of MARKETING!!! Yikes!

  8. Well I absolutely must read Mennonite In A Little Black Dress.

    I just finished reading Room by Emma Donoghue. I was actually afraid to read it. The very concept gave me the shivering creeps. But it's on the book club list, and my trusted bookshop owner looked me in the eye and said, "Don't fear it. I will not tell you what happens, but... just read it."

    It is amazing. Totally claustrophobic and somewhat horrifying and weird, yet so charming and by the end... well I can't say anything else... but she was right. That book gave me actual physiological responses. It's that strong.

    Not for the faint of heart, but worth reading.

  9. Great list, Heidi! I'm glad you are enjoying them. I haven't read many short stories either. I think I should put some on my tbr list. :D