Yesterday on The Missouri Review blog, I wrote an essay called “10 Things Emerging Writers Should Learn.” These types of lists, usually dressed up as general advice, are ubiquitous and easy to find online, but I hope that this is found to be a little playful, a bit fun, while also making some good, simple points about what an emerging writer should do, both as a writer and as a literary citizen. It may be a small distinct, but my first inclination was not to use the word Learn but the word Know.
Learn is better. Too often, we assume that simply because we know something, and that knowledge is so ingrained in how we behave on a daily basis, everyone else should know it, too. It’s far too easy to forget that there was a time when we didn’t know anything. We knew less than nothing. If we even knew we knew nothing, that would be something. But we didn’t. So! Learn, however, is a word that suggest process and progress, that all of these things take time, and that we are, always, striving to discover more about the fine art of storytelling. No one has ever mastered it. No one ever sits in front of the page and fails to struggle.
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This Sunday night at 7 pm, I’m reading with three other writers in the Sunday Salon Series in Chicago. A few months ago, I read in the Sunday Salon Series in NYC, and I’m sure this one will be just as much fun.
This reading is free and open to the public. You should attend! The event details are here. And if you don’t feel like clicking the link, Black Rock Pub is located at 3614 N. Damen in the Windy City, and the event is from 7 to 9 pm. We’ll read for about fifteen minutes per reader (there are four of us) and I’ll have copies of my book available for sale. My book comes with a free beer koozie. Yes, really! So you should definitely be there to snag a copy of the book and throw rotten fruit at me. Not necessarily in that order.
I’m reading with three other writers. Micki LeSueur is a freelance copywriter, writing fiction posing as non-fiction for major corporations and their advertising agencies. She writes fiction for her own amusement, and is the founder and host of Fictlicious, a live reading and music series, and its podcast series. LeSueur is also the president and founder of Coat Angels, a local not-for-profit providing warm winter coats for cold Chicago kids. Adam McOmber is the author of The White Forest (Touchstone 2012) and This New & Poisonous Air (BOA Editions 2011). His work has appeared recently in Conjunctions, The Fairy Tale Review and Third Coast. He is the associate editor of Hotel Amerika, a literary magazine at Columbia College Chicago where he also teaches literature and creative writing. Sandi Wisenberg is the author of The Sweetheart Is In, stories; Holocaust Girls, essays; and The Adventures of Cancer Bitch. In Chicago, she directs the MA/MFA in Creative Writing Program at Northwestern University. She has received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Illinois Arts Council and Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.
Basically, this reading is going to be fantastic. Come join us! I’d love to see you there.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye
Last weekend, I was in Denver for a few days to work at the Lighthouse Writers’ annual LitFest. For two weeks, Lighthouse brought a flock of writers—including Andre Dubus III, Robin Black, Thomas Lux, Steven Schwartz, and many others—for a fortnight of workshops, seminars, readings, and general literary goodness. Andrea Dupree, Lighthouse director, graciously offered me the opportunity to come to the Mile High City in late June. This was a nice fit for my schedule; fall and spring are always a little packed when you have a full-time gig.
Denver was first suggested to me by the writer Amanda Rea. I met Amanda last fall at the time I was planning a year of promotion for Strategies. She raved about Lighthouse, said they were terrific, that it would be a good place to teach or do a reading, and I said, all right, I’m on it. (more…)
This month over at The Missouri Review, my staff and I—and a few outsider writers and bloggers that we’ve said “Yo” to—are writing a daily blog post about a single short story. These posts aren’t long, usually less than one thousand words, and are a nice opportunity to rave about a short story that is deeply loved. Already this month, we’ve received contributions from writers like Ron MacLean, Dionne Irving, Bess Winter, Michelle Zuppa, and Jessica Vozel, with many others forthcoming this month, along with editors and interns of The Missouri Review.
I’ve chipped in three blog posts about writers whose work I don’t think gets enough attention. (more…)
This Saturday, March 23rd, I’ll be reading from Strategies Against Extinction at Indy Reads Books. It’s a long Midwestern weekend for me. On Friday, I’m visiting my friend Ryan Stone’s class at Danville Community College in Illinois to talk short fiction and maybe get in a good knock-knock joke or two. Sadly, this is not open to the public.
But Saturday night is open to the public! You should attend! The Facebook event is here. And if you don’t feel like clicking the link, Indy Reads Books is located at 911 Massachusetts Ave in Indianapolis and our event is from 7 to 9 pm. We’ll read a bit, answer some questions, and then play foosball with all attendees. Or something.
The reading Saturday night is hosted by Vouched Books, who were super wonderful in Atlanta and will be equally terrific in Indianapolis. I’m reading with my friend Andrew Scott, the author of Naked Summer, editor at Engine Books, and though he’s a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, we still get along.
Come join us! I’d love to see you there.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye
Movies are one of my favorite things, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a mental list of their favorites right readily available. One of the joys of having the “What are your favorite movies?” conversation is that it seems endless: just when you think you’ve named all your favorites, another one pops into your mind. Or, you ask for some kind of criteria to help limit your focus. Favorite of all time, or just comedies? Or just action movies? Or just Christmas movies?
With this in mind, I answered the call on Nathan Bransford’s site for my 100 favorite movies. Remember that “favorite” and “best” are, of course, not the same thing. And as soon as I post this, I’ll almost certainly think of a couple that I left out. Picking a top hundred isn’t all that hard. Putting them in order was really hard. But I did my best, and reserve the right to change my mind frequently. And I will. So, thanks, Nathan, for the motivation!
In 2009, I started keeping a list of all the books I read in a given year. I was inspired to do this because of Matt Bell, a writer with an active, engaged website. One of the things Matt frequently does is post when he reads a book, and I was amazed at how much Matt reads and how widely. So I started keeping track, too, thinking this would help direct my reading.
It didn’t. I skip around. I get interested in one author for a month, then shift away. I want to read only classics … then I only want to read contemporary work. Etc. Looking back, there is always one brief moment where I think “What was that?” before remembering that, sometimes, a book is quite forgettable for good reason. On Twitter, I frequently will tweet about what I’m reading, and way too often, I got started on something, got sidetracked, and never finished. I hope not to do that nearly as much in 2013.
I am not a fast reader and I need to frequently remind myself that this is not a bad thing. Some people read faster than I do, and some people read slower. That’s okay. There will always be great books that I have not read, and I can’t beat myself up if I haven’t read, well, everything. I pick and choose what I can to the best of my ability, and listen, always, for new things to try out.
So, the following list is not an endorsement or condemnation of any of these titles. It’s just what I read. Here they are, in order from January 2012 to December 2012 (posted before the end of the first month of 2013!) with some occasional comments on the books.
Books Read in 2012
1. Look at Me by Jennifer Egan
This one I read fresh off reading A Visit From The Goon Squad. I’d also read The Keep two or three years ago, and was eager to read Egan’s debut. It’s a very good novel, albeit not great, but I don’t need every book I read to be The Greatest Thing Ever.
2. The Ruins of Us by Keija Parssinen
3. The Family: A New Way of Creating Self-Esteem by John Bradshaw
4. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
5. Pulphead: Essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan
Sullivan’s collection of essays is one of the books I’ve talked about the most this past year. I found the essays mesmerizing and at times quite frustrating. Sullivan’s narrative voice changes from essay to essay, which is obviously useful when each piece was originally published as a stand-alone essay, but as a book makes him quite elusive, and some essays feel forced compared to what seems like a natural voice (the brilliant “Mr. Lytle” is my favorite from the collection).
6. A Drink Before The War by Dennis Lehane
7. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
8. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
9. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
10. Sula by Toni Morrison
I did my absolute best to keep up with Rebecca Schinsky’s Book Lady’s Blog and her idea to reread all of Toni Morrison’s novels prior to the release of Morrison’s newest book, Home. I managed to read three of them. That’s pretty pathetic. I’d read Beloved before, and The Bluest Eye, and I enjoyed her novels. One of the fascinating things about reading one author for several books in a row is seeing what she, as a writer, is trying to build on from her previous work. Or, veer far away from. It’s not a book example, but it’s kinda like David Lynch making a G-rated movie called The Straight Story—what could be more of an artistic shift after Lost Highway?
11. The Best American Short Stories 2011, ed. Geraldine Brooks
12. The Best American Essays 2011, ed. Edwidge Danticat
13. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
14. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
15. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A little of a modernism kick thanks to a recommendation from a friend. I had tried, and failed, to read Mrs. Dalloway several times: never got through it as an undergrad, in grad school, post-grad school. She insisted I try it again and, this time, it clicked. What a wonderful, wonderful book, and after, I couldn’t quite grasp how I hadn’t seen that before. It made me want to reread lots of books. Are the books I loved, in here and now, as good as I remember them? Are the books I disliked, in fact, quite good? Hot tip: Gatsby remains awesome, no matter how many times you read it.
16. The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
17. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
18. Tinkers by Paul Harding
19. Echolocation by Myfanwy Collins
20. The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst
21. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes by Christopher McDougall
22. The Sensualist by Daniel Torday
23. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
24. Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
I don’t remember why, but I went on a bit of an Ishiguro kick. Like my attempt at reading all of Toni Morrison, I couldn’t sustain an interest in reading the same author for the third time in a row. I’d like to read more by Ishiguro, just not all in one month.
25. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
26. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
27. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Read Middlesex, not The Marriage Plot. Just trust me on this one.
28. May We Shed These Human Bodies by Amber Sparks
29. Pretty Tilt by Carrie Murphy
30. The Book of Freaks by Jamie Iredell
In November, I read with these three authors (and the wonderful Kate Sweeney’s, whose book isn’t out until later in 2013) so I got autographed copies and brought those suckers back with me to Missouri, then sat down and read ’em. Boom!
31. Donnybrook by Frank Bill
32. NW by Zadie Smith
My most anticipated read of 2012. I adored White Teeth—that’s a book that holds up upon multiple readings–and was up and down on her other two novels. NW is a challenge to read, but the kind of challenge that is wholly satisfying. Some books, and this is rare, force me to slow down and read carefully, and that’s something that NW accomplishes. One of my friends recently told me that he loves books that end in such a way that when you’re doing reading it for the first time, you must think back, all over again, on the entire experience of reading it. He knows last sentences by heart. He knows books that you have to carve your way back through the narrative, through the character. NW is one of those books.
33. The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day
34. Safe as Houses by Marie-Helene Betrino
35. A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer Du Bois
36. Refusing Heaven by Jack Gilbert
Was this really the only poetry collection I finished last year? I was kind of surprised, then looked at all the collections I read pages or parts of and, yup, this is the only one I actually read all the way through. I’m a little embarrassed by this, actually. Oath: read more poetry collections!
37. The Best American Short Stories 2012, ed. Tom Perrotta
38. The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin
39. The Might Have Been by Joe Schuster
Can’t go wrong finishing up with a good baseball novel.
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I recently wrapped up the first two months of Strategies Against Extinction book tourin’ with a return to St. Louis, the city that was my home for six years. The River Styx reading series had been at Duff’s Restaurant for decades, but since ownership has put the restaurant up for sale, the series had to find a new home. And, it’s a beauty: Tavern of Fine Arts on Belt Avenue in the Central West End. Easily, this was my favorite reading yet, filled with old friends, past colleagues, fellow graduate students, mentors, and long time supporters of River Styx. I couldn’t have asked for a better close to the first two months of the tour.