New Series: Reads and Recs

September 8, 2014 § 8 Comments

I recently retired (or temporarily laid off) my weekly “Nightstand” post that outlined what books, articles, blog posts, and short stories I planned to read for the week ahead. It resonated with a few followers, but the majority seemed uninterested.

“Reads and Recs” is a renovation of “Nightstand,” with the focus instead on pieces I’ve read and liked in the last week and a short review of each. Let me know what you think in the comments. What do you like and what would you change? Do you prefer the simpler “Nightstand”? Or should I stick with my usual blog fare (photographs and the occasional essay) and leave the literary criticism to other bloggers?

I welcome all constructive criticism. As a writer, rejection is my constant companion. I revel in it.

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What I read last week, why I read it, why I liked it (and a quote to entice you). Click on the link or accompanying photo for each to access the piece:

  • What I read:The Art of Independent Publishing” Jonathan Lee interviews Fiona McCrae (Guernica, April 15, 2014)
  • Why I read it: Small, independent presses outshine large publishing houses in my eyes most days. Plus Graywolf, the press featured, resides in my city and published one of my favorite books of the year, The Empathy Exams.
  • Why I liked it: The interview with McCrae offers an inside glance into the independent world of book publishing. It gives hope to exceptional writers who never plan to publish to the masses (at least at first) but instead savor the chance to be nurtured by a respected and exceptional publisher that is looking to unearth something original.

“A person who lived their whole life without reading a Graywolf book wouldn’t keel over and die. But they’d be impoverished in some way, I think. Our books enrich the people who read them. All good books do. I really believe that. And I think a culture has a responsibility to nurture its talent.”

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  • What I read:Crime Fiction” by Nicholas Schmidle (The New Yorker, August 4, 2014)
  • Why I read it: This caught my attention right around the time the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, occurred. It’s about one case in Chicago where the guilt of the African American man sentenced for the murder of a young basketball star is in doubt, likely because Chicago police and the detectives who worked on the case used unethical tactics to solicit confessions.
  • Why I liked it: Schmidle skillfully unravels the case against Tyrone Hood, who has been in prison for 21 years for a murder he claims he didn’t commit. It calls into question the tactics used to prosecute and jail Hood. While the facts are murky, Schmidle highlights the systemic problems within the Chicago Police Department and the tactics some officers are notorious for using to solve “heaters” or cases that draw significant media attention

[Upon Schmidle meeting with Kenneth Boudreau, one of the homicide detectives on the case whose interrogation practices have been suspect for years] “When I went to turn on my audio recorder, Boudreau flashed a dimpled grin and said, ‘Nobody tapes me.’”

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  • What I read: The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant (1963)
  • Why I read it: A re-read — one of my favorite books. But I’ve yet to meet one person who has read it or even heard of it.
  • Why I liked it: It’s a fantastic study of hope in the midst of pain and desolation. Norman Moonbloom is an agent who collects rent from tenants in four run-down New York City apartment buildings. He has avoided pain most of his life by exerting the least amount of effort in order to maintain a comfortable, yet dull, existence. As he collects the rent every week, Moonbloom catches a glimpse into the tenants’ struggles. He tries to deflect their complaints (e.g., leaky faucets, vermin, bulging walls, burnt out hallway lights), but he begins to reflect on his aversion to pain and conflict and contemplates what change might mean for him, possibly bringing with it extreme pain, but maybe joy as well. In an effort to make the transition, he begins to repair the apartments and the tenants’ lives, expecting a breakdown or breakthrough by the end, welcoming either. Wallant eases the reader into Moonbloom’s metamorphosis from nice but reticent agent who fears inevitable pain to an agent of change who seeks it out. It’s a reminder that life is agony, but unless we open ourselves up to the pain, we’ll never experience the joy that comes from loving and helping others and pushing our limits.

“His solitude now was the result of his metabolism, that constant breathing in of joy and exhalation of sadness. He had come to take shallower breaths, and the two had become mercifully mixed into melancholy contentment. He wondered how pain would breach that low-level strength. ‘I’m a small man of definite limitations,’ he declared to himself, and relaxed in the admission.”

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  • What I read:Why Walking Helps Us Think” by Ferris Jabr (The New Yorker, September 3, 2014)
  • Why I read it: I walk a lot, not just for exercise, but to clear my head and jumpstart my creativity, especially when writer’s block sets in or I need to solve a problem.
  • Why I liked it: The article reiterated what I already knew or suspected about the benefits of walking to spur the imagination. Jabr outlined why it has been a treasured exercise and tool for writers through the ages, including Thoreau, Woolf, and Wordsworth, and that’s kind of cool, right? To be on the same wavelength as those writing gods.

“Because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander—to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind’s theatre.”

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I also took my daily photo of today’s harvest moon, obscured:

Big moon, obscured

UFOs (and Renovating “Nightstand”)

July 14, 2014 § 6 Comments

UFOs. Or a blurry photo of parking garage lamps. Either/or.

UFOs

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As much as I love to read and share book and article suggestions with others, I’m finding my weekly “Nightstand” series really doesn’t add much value, at least to followers. I’m thinking of some ways to repackage the recurring post, perhaps reviewing a recently read book or article rather than developing a list of what I plan to read in the coming days.

The series has been a great motivator for me to read the books and articles I post, and I like having a record of items I’ve read that I can refer to when I want to make a recommendation to family and friends. Yet I don’t know how much my followers actually enjoy it.

My plan is to introduce a new iteration in a week or two, focusing on a fresher format of greater interest to people who love to read as much as I do.

I’ll end with a possible topic for a future post. I adore Joshua Ferris’s writing and am loving his latest book, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. It’s about an atheist dentist who discovers someone is impersonating him online to promote a strange religion. I loved Ferris’s first book, And Then We Came to the End, and I look forward to seeing where this story leads.

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

Post-Rain (and Nightstand 2014: Week Twenty-Eight)

July 7, 2014 § 5 Comments

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What I’m reading this week:

The Housekeeper and the Professor

Bloom (and Nightstand 2014: Week Twenty-Seven)

June 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

My mom grows beautiful flowers, and her peonies are among the loveliest of her blooms. A bouquet of pink and white blossoms from her garden is nearing the end, but it’s still stunning.

Peony

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What I’m reading this week, including a series on World War I from The New York Times. I won’t get to all of the new pieces and archived articles, but it’s definitely worth a look if you are as fascinated by that era and the senselessness of the war as I am:

The Snow Leopard

Nightstand 2014: Week Twenty-Six

June 23, 2014 § 2 Comments

What I’m reading this week, including an interview conducted by a favorite writer (Hessler), a book by another favorite writer (Portis), and a sneak peak at a new book celebrating a favorite photographer (Leiter). Oh, and then there’s McSweeney’s “Short Imagined Monologues,” which are brilliant. Two recent versions top this week’s “Nightstand”:

The Dog of the South

Decor (and Nightstand 2014: Week Twenty-Five)

June 16, 2014 § 4 Comments

Pottery and wood

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What I’m reading this week — from Pooh to NYC to the troubles in Iraq, with some O’Connor thrown in for good measure:

A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories

Nightstand 2014: Week Twenty-Four

June 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

What I’m reading this week — lots of good stuff:

Beware of Pity

Where Am I?

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