Progress (and Reads and Recs)

December 1, 2014 § 3 Comments

The holiday cards are coming along. They’re more like little books, actually. I’ll fill each with happy wishes and personal messages. Thirty constructed to date, 70 (or more) to go, and zero signed or sent. Here’s a photo of a few:

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Some recently read works and pieces you may enjoy:

  • The Best American Short Stories 2014 edited by Jennifer Egan and Heidi Pitlor (2014) — The 20 best short stories from the last year, according to the editors. I liked all the stories, some more than others. Favorites include:
    • “Antarctica” by Laura van den Berg (originally appeared in Glimmer Train) — A woman travels to Antarctica to better understand her estranged brother, who died mysteriously on the icy continent in an explosion at a research station.
    • “Long Tom Lookout” by Nicole Cullen (originally appeared in Idaho Review) — Lauren returns to her hometown in Idaho with her husband’s autistic son, a product of an affair who has no one reliable to look after him. She takes a job as a fire lookout, further isolating her and the boy from the lives they fled in Texas and her indifferent mother in Idaho.
  • Lucky Us by Amy Bloom (2014) — A book that begins, “My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us,” is sure to please. I liked this strange tale of two half sisters who leave their incompetent father in Ohio to journey to Hollywood and New York during the 1940s. Bloom’s fresh prose carries the story forward, and overall I liked it. I can’t pinpoint why I didn’t love it, because I adored Bloom’s collection of short stories, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You. Perhaps the selfishness of the older sister irritated me. However, it’s a terrific romp if you’re looking for a novel with vibrant characters painting a much different picture from the mainstream of what it means to be a family.
  • Mark Strand’s Last Waltz” by Dan Chaisson (The New Yorker, November 30, 2014) — A short remembrance of the poet who died last week, eulogizing not just his gift for words, but also his sensitivity and kindness.
  • My Death” by Mark Strand (The New York Review of Books, October 24, 1968) — A fitting poem to commemorate the poet’s passing.

The Best American Short Stories Lucky Us

Pop Color (and Reads and Recs)

November 17, 2014 § 7 Comments

Little color exists in Minnesota these days now that the leaves have dropped, dried, and been enveloped in snow. This made today’s Photography 101 assignment, “Pop of Color,” challenging, for even human-made color is elusive in this climate.

A few scraps of color peeked out from the drifts and dried stems as I walked a mile in the bitter cold just to find something bright and shiny. I’m content with what I found but worry it’s going to be a long winter of photographing outdoors if natural color won’t rise again until April or May.

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Some recently read works and pieces you may enjoy:

  • From Poems to Paragraphs” by Donald Hall (Slice, Fall 2014/Winter 2015) — An aging poet laureate and essayist reflects on the art of writing and how his fading mind and body affect his process and work. A lovely, and informative, essay for writers of any age and genre.
  • Hannah and Andrew” by Pamela Colloff (Texas Monthly, January 2012) — A painful, true tale of an adoptive mother wrongfully accused and convicted of her troubled child’s bizarre death.
  • A House Is Not a Credit Card” by Bethany McLean (The New York Times, November 13, 2014) — A cautionary opinion piece about the trouble with cash-back refinancing — a problem that should have been addressed during the housing crisis but seems poised to return again due to the lack of regulations and restrictions on using one’s home as a piggy bank.
  • How We Look When We Look at a Painting” by Peter Schjeldahl (The New Yorker, November 13, 2014) — Frederick Wiseman is a genius documentarian, and it’s comforting to see him still churning out perfection. His latest documentary subject, “National Gallery,” focuses on the London museum of the same name, and the film, like all of Wiseman’s work, does not include voice-overs or interviews. Schjeldahl describes the film as eavesdropping on museum-goers and art lovers as they revel in the works that move and fascinate them, leaving the audience to wonder how each interprets a painting or sculpture or relic, how it forms their thoughts, how it heals their hearts.
  • The Humans by Matt Haig (2013) — This book wasn’t on my radar until it came up as this month’s selection for a local community book club some friends and I attend semi-regularly. I had no interest in reading it, turned off by the science fiction plot — an alien is sent to Earth to destroy the person who solves a mathematical problem that will advance humankind and allow human beings to, among other travesties, eventually travel between galaxies and destroy the universe because, well, humans just kind of screw things up (e.g., relationships, wars, the ozone layer). Yet in the end, I was surprised by how much I liked this story and the complicated evolution of an alien who grows to find human qualities preferable to that of his own advanced species. He even finds wonderment in our inherent flaws and disappointments, including the ability to love, which with death or a relationship’s end, leads to unspeakable grief and loss. An uncommon take on what it means to be human.

The Humans

Reads and Recs (and the First Day of Snow)

November 10, 2014 § 2 Comments

Some recently read works and pieces you may enjoy:

  • A Car, a Camera and the Open Road” by John Leland (The New York Times, September 15, 2014) — An article that feeds my desire to jump in my car and travel back roads, abandoned places, and forgotten rural outposts to photograph an America most don’t care to see.
  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1985) — I wouldn’t say I loved this novel. I’ve wanted to read it for years, always drawn to the title more than anything. The prose is divine if not a little melodramatic. I’m not quite sure I bought the love story at the end, but it was still a good read.
  • Oldies but Goodies” by Ian Parker (The New Yorker, November 10, 2014) — A sweet reminder of the luscious landscapes and confections painted by Wayne Theibaud and currently showing in a retrospective at Acquavella Galleries in Manhattan.
  • The Outcast” by Rachel Aviv (The New Yorker, November 10, 2014) — An article about Sam Kellner, a Jewish man who went outside his Hasidic community in Brooklyn to have a respected elder at his synagogue investigated for molesting Kellner’s son and other boys. Instead of being lauded, Kellner was the object of backlash from a community that prefers to resolve disputes and crimes without the interference of outside entities, i.e., the police. An interesting look into the culture of and corruption within the Hasidic community, fueled and supported by the politicians the community’s leaders endorse.
  • The Sparrows in France” by Aja Gabel (The Kenyon Review, Fall 2014) — An essay about the preparation and consumption of ortolans — a delicacy in France — entwined with remembrances of the writer’s father preparing exquisite dishes and ultimately losing his ability to eat and enjoy food because of the ravages of esophageal and stomach cancer. Allusions to birds’ souls and last meals and the ways we avoid and accept death round out this beautiful piece.

Love in the Time of Cholera

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The patterns left behind of leaves that fell before, during, and after our first snow of the season:

Home (and Reads and Recs)

November 3, 2014 § 5 Comments

I’m looking forward to attempting some of the Photography 101 prompts offered by WordPress this month. Today’s theme is home, which I took literally. I’ve included two photos of the same window I look out of every day to get a sense of the world that advances outside my four walls.

Window night Window day

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Some recently read works and pieces you may enjoy:

  • 10:04 by Ben Lerner (2014) — I liked Lerner’s first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, well enough, but I liked this one much more. Maybe because I relate to the place where and the time when the story unfolds (New York City between Hurricanes Irene and Sandy — a period when I lived in Manhattan). However, the poetic verse, intricate relationship between the main character and his best friend who wants him to impregnate her, and the tie between his genetic disorder and his residency in Marfa, Texas, all aroused my curiosity. I’ll likely read it again because of its rich subtext and meaning. Give it a look if you’re up for a challenging read.
  • Charity” by Charles Baxter (The Best American Short Stories, 2014) — A charitable man succumbs to an unknown but painful disease that leads to an addiction to painkillers and the disappearance of his self and soul.
  • Crisis in Mexico: Could Forty-Three Missing Students Spark a Revolution?” by Francisco Goldman (The New Yorker, October 30, 2014) — If you don’t know about the disappearance of 43 Mexican students in late September, you should read this and be alarmed.
  • NANO Fiction, 8.1 by various artists (Fall 2014) — I read this small flash-fiction literary magazine from cover to cover earlier this week. My favorite story — “Gravity” by Armel Dagorn — imagines a world where the force is lost and people tumble into the sky. And “Rumored” by Justin Carter is a sadly delightful list of possible small-town Texas rumors.

10:04 by Ben Lerner

Reads and Recs (and the Daily Photo)

October 27, 2014 § 2 Comments

Some recently read works and pieces you may enjoy:

  • The Crying Man” by Nick Arvin (Ploughshares, Fall 2014) — In this short story, a man cries uncontrollably everywhere — at work, while traveling, at home — over the impending end of his marriage.
  • Gabriel: A Poem by Edward Hirsch (2014) — A book-length poem on Hirsch’s son’s untimely death of a drug overdose in New York City during Hurricane Irene. Heartfelt, painful, and painted in grief.
  • How to Write a Sentence” by James Thomas (The New Yorker, October 24, 2014) — A satiric spin on how to right good so you’re sentences are well constructing.
  • Social Media Isn’t Free” by Allison Williams (“Nonfiction” blog, Brevity Magazine, October 27, 2014) — As someone who is just beginning to orbit the Twittersphere, I’m trying to determine how best to use my time to promote the writers, artists, organizations, ideas, and projects I love, even when my work isn’t noticed by the same people and places I Twitter about. Williams’s essay is a fantastic read for those writers who do their best to support the literary magazines and publishers they love but also could use a little love back, even if it’s just to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”


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Today I discovered that there is a book called Sometimes You Barf. I thought all the poop, snot, and gas tomes on the children’s picture-book market had covered this topic, but it appears it’s been overlooked until now.

I foresee a series and recommend someone write any or all:

  • Sometimes You Inhale a Snoutful of Chlorine at the Water Park
  • Sometimes You Can’t Trust Your Friend Carl
  • Sometimes You Pass Out
  • Sometimes You Smell Like Garlic and Old Sweat Socks
  • Sometimes You Sizzle the Tips of Your Fingers to a Crisp with Firecrackers
  • Sometimes You Go to a Foreign Country and You Inadvertently Eat a Tapeworm
  • Sometimes You Slice off a Friend’s Ear When Using Saws for Swordplay
  • Sometimes You are on a Plane and Think the Aircraft is Crashing When Really It’s Only Turbulence, So Just Calm Down Already
  • Sometimes You Think It’s Okay to Pet a Cat
  • Sometimes Your Appendix Bursts

Sometimes you barf

Reads and Recs (and the Daily Photo)

September 22, 2014 § 1 Comment

A full write-up of my favorite reads from the last week ain’t gonna happen tonight, but I do hope you’ll consider sampling one of these books or articles. I particularly recommend the Roz Chast graphic memoir about the anxiety and pain borne from watching parents age, decline, and die. It’s been shortlisted for the National Book Award in nonfiction. A quick read, funny at times, but gut-wrenching.

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My daily photo:



Reads and Recs (and the Daily Photo)

September 15, 2014 § 1 Comment

A Gabriel Garcia Marquez novella. Articles on homelessness in St. Paul, final photos of the World Trade Center in the months before 9/11, and how to live in Manhattan (conclusion: it ain’t cheap).

What I read last week, why I read it, and why I liked it (and a quote to entice you):

  • What I read: Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1981)
  • Why I read it: Since Garcia Marquez’s passing in April, I’ve wanted to read one of his books. When a recent article named this one of the best novellas ever written, I decided it was time.
  • Why I liked it: The reader discovers in the first sentence what will happen at the end, that Santiago Nasar will be killed. What we’re left asking, however, is why and also why no one tries to stop the ambush and murder, for abundant chances arise. A friend of Nasar’s narrates the story 27 years after the murder. He acts as an investigator piecing Nasar’s final hours together, ultimately discovering the role each character played in Nasar’s life and death and how his violent and untimely demise still haunts the main characters years later. Garcia Marquez’s simple, beautiful writing keeps the reader disbelieving the murder will occur because of the murderers’ reluctance at times to follow through with the plan and the ridiculous reason (at least in today’s world) for insisting on it (to restore a lying woman’s tarnished honor).

“All the many people he ran into after leaving his house at five minutes past six and until he was carved up like a pig an hour later remembered him as being a little sleepy but in a good mood, and he remarked to all of them in a casual way that it was a very beautiful day.”

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

  • What I read:As Homelessness Overwhelms, Dorothy Day Center Struggles, Plans” by Tim Nelson (Minnesota Public Radio, September 9, 2014)
  • Why I read it: Plain and simple, I, like most, worry about homeless people, especially those living in Minnesota’s cold climate. I drive by this center regularly and have noticed a growing number of people congregated outside its doors.
  • Why I liked it: The story emphasizes the desperate and growing need to house the homeless in St. Paul. Nelson focuses on the lack of services Dorothy Day provides, as it was never meant to be a homeless shelter, but it has become the place where 80% of homeless in the city go to get off the streets at night. The good news is a new center is being built to deal with the increased need, but it won’t open for another four years. And there doesn’t appear to be an alternative plan to serve this growing population in the meantime.

Dorothy Day was never supposed to be this way. It was built in 1981 with just two bathrooms, providing meals and services just during the day — with no sleeping accommodations. Now, as many as 250 people sleep inside each night, most on mats on the floor. Dorothy Day provides 80 percent of the shelter to homeless single adults in Ramsey County. It started turning people away for lack of space three years ago….’Every time I go in there I get sick,’ [Leticia Bell] said. ‘The ventilation system is not equipped for housing people up in there. So, all night long, all you hear is people coughing and in the morning, you can’t breathe, you can’t talk.’”


  • What I read:How to Get to Manhattan? Save, Save, Save” by Joyce Cohen (The New York Times, September 11, 2014)
  • Why I read it: I’ve contemplated a move to Manhattan in the recent past, and I’m always curious how people go about finding and buying an apartment there. The moment I saw the headline, I was intrigued.
  • Why I liked it: “Like” is a strong word. A better description is it opened my eyes wider than they already were to how expensive it is to live in Manhattan. I was pumped at first, thinking the buyer’s price range, though steep, was manageable ($450,000 for a one-bedroom apartment). Then the article began talking about the additional monthly cost of maintenance ($800-$1300), and my heart sank. Again, nothing I didn’t already know, but a reminder I didn’t appreciate.

“[Anna] Gole, analytical through and through, came of age during the financial crisis. ‘It was scary and it motivated me to work at something I was interested in,’ she said. ‘While other kids were talking about happy hours, I was talking about mortgage rates.’”


  • What I read:Take Picture” by Nick Paumgarten (The New Yorker, September 15, 2014)
  • Why I read it: It’s an absorbing profile that includes haunting photos of Windows on the World and the World Trade Center towers taken in the summer prior to the 9/11 attacks, and it touches on the search for Konstantin Petrov, the man who took them.
  • Why I liked it: This story has everything — photos, mystery, themes of art and loss and perseverance. A lot is contained in this five-minutes read.

“For whatever reason, this Petrov had turned an archivist’s eye on the banalities of an office building and a sky-top restaurant, which, though destroyed in one of history’s most photographed events, had hardly been photographed at all. The pictures were beautiful, too. Devoid of people, and suffused with premonitory gloom, they made art out of a site that most New Yorkers, at the time, had come to think of as an eyesore.”

New Yorker

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Fall colors, inching closer:

Red leaves and sky

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