Saturday, May 7, 2016

I've been spending most of my evening free time with a new man. He's been dead for four centuries, but what's that to stop a good love affair?

I'm determined to make it through Michel de Montaigne's Complete Essays this year, and I'm about halfway through.  Though it's taken me some four months to read these 600 pages, that's no reflection on the quality of the material (obviously).  I'm astonished and captivated by this French nobleman's ability to flay himself on the page.  He admits his lusts, his weaknesses, and his strengths.

That's him, Michel de Montaigne. Not bad, eh? Ok, not great.
What are we doing with our time, he argues, if not exploring ourselves first?  What can we know, if we don't know ourselves?  How can we understand what lays beyond our fingertips if we do not first come to terms with the limits of our grasp?

It's daunting stuff, even for a writer who spends a lot of time in her own head.  (Maybe particularly?  Do we writers doubt ourselves even more, for having explored those murky interior depths and gotten lost more often?)  So sometimes, it makes for slow reading.

But the point of this blog post is to recommend the other books I've been reading.  Here were some I loved:

The Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thornton.  This is a rich, nuanced book about some of the women surrounding Genghis Khan.  Totally transportive and convincing, plus heart-breaking.

The Sun and Other Stars by Brigid Pasulka.  You might think you're not interested in a soccer-obsessed town on the coast of Italy, but these charming characters will prove you utterly wrong.

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose.  The glamour and danger of pre-war and Nazi-occupied Paris will give you shivers in this beautiful novel by a true master.

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones.  Two half-sisters, one a secret daughter by a clandestine second marriage split this novel of love and yearning.  Just what does it mean to love, Jones asks, and how much will you sacrifice?

Friday, September 13, 2013

It finally feels like fall is coming! Fall is my favorite season, with its combination of new beginnings (school starting, even if I'm now years out of any regular class schedule) and gentle farewells. To say nothing of bright foliage, pumpkin pie, fresh apples, and the smell of fallen leaves. And did I mention pumpkin pie?

Fall is also great for reading (though what season isn't?) -- best with a mug of hot apple cider and a light blanket over your knees as you face a window or sit on the porch. It's also a great time to celebrate reading, with lots of book festivals, like the National Book Festival or Fall for the Book (Sept 22-27 in Fairfax). On a more intimate scale, a local DC author will be reading from and signing her novel I Am Venus on Sept 19. Ok, not technically fall, but close! I reviewed the novel for the Washington Independent and very much enjoyed it.

Wherever you are, I hope you have a fall to enjoy (or spring if you're in the Southern Hemisphere!) and books to relish it with.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Quick update

I've been spending a lot of time on other projects and so haven't blogged much. I'm shifting my book reviewing largely over to the Washington Independent Review of Books, a great site that publishes tremendous content every day of the workweek. It constantly makes me wish I had more time to read. And I've also started work on my next novel manuscript. So add in a toddler, a house, and a dinner to cook, and there's not much time. Yeah, yeah, the story of the internet.

My latest review for WIROB is of Matt Bell's In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods.

Have a great summer, all!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Weave Magazine Issue 8 is available!

The beautiful eighth issue of Weave Magazine is now available for purchase! I have a short story included, and I'm honored to be in such good company. Thanks to the editors for all their hard work! Check it out here.

Gettysburg Review - Spring 2013

My husband and I just bought a house, an old one with the sort of mysterious insulation and basement tile that just might be asbestos. We did our walk through this week and, while looking at the suspicious golden-colored puffs of insulation poking out in the attic, I couldn't stop thinking about Victor Reusch's story, "Sweet Miseries," in the latest issue of The Gettysburg Review. Reusch's narrator substitutes his fear of asbestos poisoning for a deeper existential anxiety. I could imagine, as the narrator did, those strange fibers percolating down into my lungs and making a nest. And then what? That's what the story is about.

This issue of the Review with its eerie art is filled, of course, with moving stories, essays, and poems. Perhaps my favorite is Gina Troisi's "Wrapped Up in Skin, Hidden behind Eyes," a heart-breaking account of her childhood with her horror-movie addicted stepmother and her self-absorbed father. Troisi circles around and around, uncovering the pain of a child living in fear of rejection or injury, and we wonder what other dark depths lurk beneath the attractive facades of those around us.

As is their custom, the editors of The Gettysburg Review don't label their essays or stories, except in the table of contents. Maybe I'm too narrow-minded about this, but knowing if I'm reading fiction or non-fiction affects the way I interact with a piece, and so I find it irksome to have to flip back to the table of contents each time I reach a new entry. But, that's a minor quibble. The collection is, as always, beautiful and haunting. Check it out!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel

When death is a foregone conclusion, when one is merely counting the meals, minutes, and breaths before dying, what does it mean to be alive? We know from the start of Bring Up the Bodies that Anne Boleyn is destined to die, and soon. But rather than dulling our interest this knowledge brings a macabre frisson to Mantel's story. Anne flirts, plots, rages, and dines in innocence, and we are left to bite our nails and watch her agonizing decline. King Henry's honor necessitates that she bring a number of gentlemen down with her and these, the bodies of the title, are also dead long before the headsman brings down the axe.

The novel's hero, or anti-hero perhaps, is the often-reviled Thomas Cromwell. Even casual students of Tudor history know that Cromwell himself will, eventually, suffer the King's justice. So he too is a walking corpse, even though his death is still years away. He has begun to fear his enemies but still, he lives and thrives. The reader's foreknowledge is difficult to bear when we find ourselves rooting for Cromwell while knowing his immutable end. But Mantel is reminding us that we are all, ultimately, sentenced to death. Anne's and Thomas's tragedies are our own.

Mantel brings Cromwell into focus with deft skill and heart. He is a bold, ambitious man who dares to bring down queens, but he loves his son and his friends, and offers mercy where he can. As in Wolf Hall, Mantel pulls the narrative focus in tight, getting as close to Cromwell as third person narration can, but in this second book in her trilogy she gives the reader a little more help with comprehending her style. We're grateful, and the book reads like the prize-winner it is. The plot gathers speed and tension as Cromwell uncovers suspicions and then evidence, however specious, of Anne's treason. Meanwhile the reader, just like Henry's bewildered courtiers, becomes caught up in the drama, beauty, and horror of this famous, yet uniquely told, story.

[Full disclosure: I am an unabashed Hilary Mantel fan. But you should be too. :)]

Thursday, December 6, 2012

On Death and Cats (both the house and tiger varieties)

The nice people at Floodwall Magazine have recently published my short story, "A Certain Way of Alone." Check it out, along with the awesome stories I'm honored to be published next to. You'll encounter existentialist cats (are there any other kind?), philandering photographers, a menacing bear, and other curious creatures.

Princess Nijma

Princess Nijma