Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Suggested Reading

There's a great cartoon in Issue #7 of Opium Magazine that says "I thought I'd never write again. Then I put on my cold wristwatch." The text is a short poem from either the wife of Philip Guston, or Philip Guston himself.

I've never been able to wear a watch because whatever chemical goodness is going on in my body stops time. Gee, maybe I should take that as a hint: Quit taking time for granted. Also - thank your friends for opening bookstores and recommending books to you.

This is a reading list that was prompted by my friend Jennifer, who is going to have a bone marrow transplant at the beginning of the year. It will be a renewing spring of 2009 for her. The other day she asked Dan and me what we've been reading that's been good lately, because she wants to stockpile some reading material for her months of recovery time. She asked particularly about poetry. I had no quick answers for her, which was upsetting. I've been a lazy reader this year - or rather, a not-so-interested-in-poetry reader this year.

So, here's my updated reading list - some of the books I've read recently that I liked. For you, Jen, and anyone else who loves to read.


Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus The Corduroy Kid by Simon Armitage

The collection begins with a short found poem called "Hand-washing Technique -- Government Guidelines," which I thought was odd at first, then realized the brilliant placement of the poem. You should always wash your hand before reading a book of poems. God knows where they've been, and perhaps you should wash after, also. This collection has one of my newest all-time favorite poems in it, which I read to Dan last night. It's titled "You're Beautiful." Seek this collection out if you haven't read it already. I bought my copy at my favorite indie bookstore, Anthology. If you don't have a favorite indie bookstore, seek one of those out too.

The Door, by Margaret Atwood

A poet I return to on a regular basis for her terseness. The Door is her newest collection of poems, which includes a CD of Atwood reading some of the poems. I haven't listened to it yet, because I have a happy memory of my friend Heather reading a few of the poems from the book in the car on our way back from her reading in Scranton. Where was that reading? Oh yes, at Anthology, where I bought the book. I love these lines from "The Poet Has Come Back...":

The poet has come back to being a poet
after decades of being virtuous instead.

Can't you be both?
No. Not in public.

The Journals of Susanna Moodie, by Margaret Atwood

I already have this book and have read it, but I scored a first edition paperback at the Philadelphia Free Library bookstore last month on our honeymoon. I read it all in one sitting when we returned from our trip, and was surprised and happy to read in the Afterword that the poems were in Atwood's words "generated by a dream." She also did all of the art for this collection.

Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties, Translations by John J.L. Mood

A gift from Heather, purchased the day of her reading at the bookstore. I've written in the margins of this book, a sure sign that I liked it. It contains selections from Rilke's letters on love, poems on love and other difficulties, and shorter selections or Rilke's work, and an essay by John Mood. I thought the prologue to the book was one of the best I've ever read, and we used a selection from this book on our wedding program.

The Beforelife, by Franz Wright
This collection begins with a simple dedication:
I wrote these poems between December of 1998 and December of 1999 for my wife, Elizabeth." Wright wrings out striking, brief poems about alcoholism. From "Nothingsville MN":

The sole tavern there, empty
and filled
with cigarette smoke;
the smell
of beer, urine, and the infinite
sadness you dread
and need so much of
for some reason

Sleeping on the Wing, an Anthology of Modern Poetry edited by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell

A guidebook for reading and writing poetry. I was going to take a class with Heather Thomas this summer, but it was cancelled, so I bought the suggested book anyway, did some of the exercises, and learned more about poetry, which is always good.


Fat Pig, by Neil LaBute

Great dialogue. One of three plays by the playwright all on the theme of body image.

Reasons to Be Pretty, by Neil LaBute

I didn't like this as much as Fat Pig. Opium Magazine has an excerpt from this play in their current issue.

The Shape of Things, by Neil LaBute

See the movie too, but after reading the play of course. Helen and her friend Grayson watched it when he was visiting recently. Helen read the play as well.

Kimberly Akimbo, by David Lindsay-Abaire

I loved "Fuddy Meers" which a friend gave to me. This one is just as brilliant. I really like the absurd/real in his writing.

Baby Food, by David Lindsay-Abaire

Where would I be without my theatre friends? Reading less plays, which would be a travesty. I want to produce this collection of short plays. A group of us read this at the studio recently and laughed a lot.

The Faculty Room, by Bridget Carpenter

Hilarious description of setting, funny characters, heavy ending. A little expected, actually. I enjoyed the characters a lot though.

Crave, by Sarah Kane

Like reading poems that are all cut up and thrown up into the air. Wherever the lines land, that's the dialogue. Disconnect, but also some places where there was narrative going on - an intention. I have a collection of her plays to finish now. Helen's reading this play now, and she said the non-naming of characters makes it tough to follow. I agree with her.

Fresh Kills, by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder

A loaner from Dei, who is home from London on Christmas break. Eddie, a middle aged married man, becomes strangely obsessed with a teenage boy named Arnold, who takes an overactive interest in him. Really terrific dialogue, but there are some places where Arnold is a little unbelievably prosaic, and the end kind of reminded me of my friend Mike's old joke about writing for the theatre: "Don't know how to end it? Bring in a guy with a gun!" That's not a total spoiler, by the way. Worth reading, still.

The Mistakes Madeline Made, by Elizabeth Meriwether.

I read this over and over. Memorized lines. Played a part in a production of it this summer, which was just what I needed. It's a play that is wildly open to directorial interpretation and I'm glad our direction had good vision.


Until I Find You, by John Irving

Took me two months to complete. Retitled in my head as "Until I Finish You." It was worth the time. I can't imagine how long it took him to craft this. Beautiful, lush sentences. This copy was a gift from my friend Bob, and Dan loaned our copy to our friend Jack.

Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn

This was recommended by Dan, and I'm not sure where it was purchased. I had to read the first sentence several times before it sunk in entirely. I read this in conjunction with several plays by Neil LaBute, and all of the story lines deal with body-image. This book put me in strange mood whenever I read it, but I enjoyed it. My friend Chad has it now, since I put it in the book box at the studio. He snapped it up when he saw the title.

Falling Sideways, by Tom Holt

Holt has a quirky, twisted, and funny writing style. This gist is this: humanity's ascent to civilization has been ruthlessly guided by a small gang of devious frogs. I'm not done with this book yet. I'm a slow reader of "quick-read" fiction for some reason. This one was loaned to me by Dan, who I think got it from Dave.

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck

Helen was reading it for school, so I read it too, since I've never read it before. I cried, cried, cried at the ending.


Not Quite What I Was Planning - Six Word Memoirs by Famous & Obscure Writers, edited by Smith Magazine

Smith Magazine launched a call to their readers based on Hemingway's famous super-short story: "For Sale: baby shoes, never worn." The concept was deceptively simple - distill your life down to six words. The result is a collection with entries that span from the heartbreaking to the hilarious. Since reading the book, I've used this concept in various writing workshops, and have written a few myself. A great lesson in reflection. Another Anthology purchase.

Reading Like a Writer, A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them, by Francine Prose

Loved it, and now have a collection of books that I love for their sentence structures, musicality, and meaning on a shelf next to my writing desk - a tip I took from reading this book. I can't remember where this book came from...might have been an impulsive Barnes and Noble purchase.

A People's History of the American Empire, a Graphic Adaptation, by Howard Zinn, Mike Konopacki, and Paul Buhle

After slowly reading A People's History of the United States, I picked this book up and read it swiftly. Every high school history teacher should use both books. From the prologue:

"We can all fell a terrible anger at whoever, in their insane idea that this would help their cause, killed thousands of people. But what do we do with that anger? Do we react with panic, strike out violently and blindly just to show how tough we are?"

Zinn reflects on 9/11 in the prologue and then begins in Chapter One with the Massacre at Wounded Knee. The graphics include drawings, photos, and snippets of newspaper headlines, and all throughout Zinn is silhouetted as if he is giving a lecture, or writing at his desk. I enjoyed this book so much I tried to get Helen to read it. Maybe she will someday. Sadly, this was a B&N purchase as well. I probably had a Scubrats coffee with it too. *sigh*

Literary Journals

Opium Magazine, edited by Todd Zuniga

Subscribed last year, I think. Opium Magazine is a fun combination of the visual and the literary, and the editors add "approximate reading times" to entries, which makes it perfect reading for the bathroom, doctor's office waiting room, or, well, anywhere really. I always find something I really like in the issue.

Short Fiction, edited by Anthony Caleshu

Issue 2 of Short Fiction showed up in my mailbox, and I don't remember ordering it, but I'm glad I did. Margaret Irish's story "The Searcher," grabbed me and wouldn't let go, so I wrote a letter to the editor thanking him, and subscribed for a year.


Anonymous said...

the cartoon you refer to: those words about the wristwatch are a short and famous poem by the wife of the great 20th century artist Philip Guston--and it kind of awful to think of them being used--in a cartoon no less--without citing their author.
Thanks for including The Beforelife in your reading list. (It was not the winner of the P. Prize, by the way, though the one that followed it--Walking to Martha's Vineyard--did, for some reason.

Jenny Hill said...

Opium did cite the author of the words as Philip Guston, not his wife. Hm. I will look it up for sure. It's a great poem, and reminds me of the poem by Buson about his dead wife's comb.

Susan said...

I haven't finished reading your post yet (and probably won't until after Christmas), but I wanted to thank you for sending me to find "You're Beautiful." I'm still smiling.

Talia Reed said...

Merry Christmas, Jennifer.

Jeff Wild said...

Jennifer . . .

Thanks for the poetry anthology reference. You might consider some of Kenneth Koch's plays (very short plays -- one or two minutes) -- they are quite playful.


Jodi Anderson said...

In my RSS reader, I kept marking this post as new so that I could refer back to it. Now, I'm adding it to my favorites!