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?