Category: Reading Lists

Summer Many Things Happen

Dept. of Speculation / Jenny Offill

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“Dear Ms. Ainsley” / Joel Streicker (Great Lakes Review)

The Adventures of Augie March / Saul Bellow
I’m almost done with this. I feel like Bellow mastered the art of making quick transitions. Well, “mastered the art” should be invented the art. It reminds me of barroom conversations from too intelligent drinkers.

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Victory / Joseph Conrad

The Walk / Robert Walser, translated by Susan Bernofsky and Christopher Middleton

The Tsar of Love and Techno / Anthony Marra

Котлован Андрея Платонова
Наконец-то, я вернулся. Ой такой хороший освежающий романчик. Особенно такие кафкаеские вопросы насчет отвлечения на работе…

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The Lazarus Project / Aleksandr Hemon
Hemon bares his struggles in his work. There’s something very endearing about this.

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Spring and Hope and Other Problems

The Translator’s Invisibility Lawrence Venuti
“The translator’s invisibility is thus a weird self-annihilation, a way of conceiving and practicing translation that undoubtedly reinforces its marginal status in Anglo-American culture.”

A History of Sexuality / Michel Foucault
An application of the principle just to describe rather than prescribe. It’s refreshing, but it also reminds me of the constantly paradoxical and hyper-(which also could be hypo- at times)critical behavior of some intellectuals I know.

In Marx’s Shadow
I read the essay on Havel, Fidelius and Orwell in this volume. The overall project is interesting. I was especially happy to have met Fidelius.

“1/3, 1/3, 1/3” / Richard Brautigan
I never realized how much Denis Johnson has inherited from Brautigan until I reread this. Like it’s era, it seems a little more innocent than Jesus’ Son though. There’s a kind of litany effect at the start of his sentences sometimes.

Зависть Юрия Олеши
Всё про зеркала…и долгие монологи Ивана Бабичева. С завистью делают такую атмосферу, целый спектакль.
Ура!

The Home Place / Wright Morris
It’s where you hang your childhood. I identify with the narrator here, who’s kind of from there, kind of not. But he has chosen where to hang his childhood. So have I.

Doesn’t this seem so egotistical?

1 Corinthians / Paul
Agape was once “charity.” Then it became “love.”

Трава забвения Валентина Катаева
Так интеллигентно…интересная, типо, апология для Бунина, “страха” при Революции.
Что сказать о смерти его папы. Как я мучу своего папу? Да, увидел слезу недавно. Но только на секундочку. Катаев напомнил. Я благодарен.

The Window Over the Way / Georges Simenon
What an interesting character for a detective novel, a goaded Turk.

The Book of the Grotesque / Sherwood Anderson
Anderson always loved the grotesque of the Midwest, which is always what I loved about it (and the South’s grotesque) too.

My People’s Waltz / Dale Ray Phillips
Phillips’ prose defies all the stereotypes of Southern Gothic, at least the ones I know. It’s smart, thick and dense as kudzu. It demands several readings. It makes sure you don’t take his people for granted.

“Odessa” / Isaak Babel (translated by Val Vinokur in The Odessa Review)
“Одесса” Исаака Бабеля
This is such a great little brochure for Odessa (at first). It becomes very serious, discussing the sun and the need to describe it in Russian literature, ending with a literary messiah figure rising from the Black Sea. Is пряный spicy? It seems more like “nutty” or “piquant,” sharp, like Odessan wit, still sweet, the smell of the acacia.

Пятеро Владимира Жаботинского
У меня были ингибирования о чтение этого. Ревизионистский Сионизм мне очень отвратителен. Я обычно читаю писателя, несмотря на его политику. А это…ну, нахожу меньше такого одесского голоса как у Ильфа и Петрова, как у Катаева, Олеши. Где же такая острота как мессия одесской литературы, Баб-Эль (читайте на вверху). Ну, может быть позже, когда я думаю больше о Палестине, чем об Одессе.

The All-American Anarchist: Joseph A. Labadie and the Labor Movement / Carlotta R. Anderson
I feel a certain kinship with this Detroiter, part-Ojibway, and the namesake of the library of radical literature where I spent many working hours during my undergraduate days. This also introduced me to the Society of Russian Anarchists and helped me find their journals, Пробуждение and Дело труда. Anderson, Labadie’s granddaughter, is gentle, echoing Labadie’s somewhat sentimental description of his childhood among Potawatomi people in Michigan. But she takes us out for a wider view and lets us know the difficult truth about how those Potawatomi with whom Labadie lived in lean-tos and “played Indian” were probably the last to be doing so at the time.

Золотой теленок Ильфа и Петрова
Нда…стыдно, что только что читаю. А на русском, мне только 10 лет. Тебе сколько лет, когда читал?

“Ethics as First Philosophy” / Emmanuel Levinas
“…War and politics, which pass themselves off as the relation of the Same to the Other (l’Autre).”
“It is in the laying down by the ego of its sovereignty that we find ethics and also probably the very spirituality of the soul, but most certainly the question of the meaning of being, that is, its appeal for justification.”

Gareth Jones / Ray Gamache

Чёрный монах Антона Чехова
“В доме опять запели, и издали скрипка производила впечатление человеческого голоса.”
“Дело красивое, милое, здоровое, но и тут страсти и война – подумал он. Должно быть, везде и на всех поприщах идейные люди нервны и отличаются повышенной чувствительностью. Вероятно, это так нужно.”
“Он никогда бы уж не мог полюбить здоровую, крепкую, краснощекую женщину, но бледная, слабая, несчастная Таня ему нравилась.”

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Damned to Fame / James Knowlson

“The Novelist” / W.H. Auden

Open City / Teju Cole
“How easy it would be, I thought, to slip gently into the water here, and go down to the depths. I knelt, and trailed my hand in the Hudson. It was frigid. Here we all were, ignoring that water, paying as little attention as possible to the pair of black eternities between which our little light intervened. Our debt, though, to that light: what of it? We owe ourselves our lives. This, about which we physicians say so much to our patients, about which so little can reasonably be said, folds back and also asks us questions.”
“But atrocities is nothing new, not to humans, not to animals. The difference is that in our time it is uniquely well-organized and carried out with pens, train carriages, ledgers, barbed wire, work camps, gas. And this late contribution, the absence of bodies. No bodies were visible, except the falling ones, on the day America’s ticker stopped. Marketable stories of all kinds had thickened around the injured coast of our city, but the depiction of the dead bodies was forbidden. It would have been upsetting to have it otherwise.”

Snow is Pure and Dead

“The Near Transitive Properties of the Political and the Poetical: Erasure” / Solmaz Sharif
I witnessed a reading by this poet in a cool living room. She went from a slam-style speed, common these days, to an incantatory slowness, one that transfixed. I hope this is something she or anybody can duplicate on the page. We talked about that… I can hear her voice in this poem. But there are no line breaks here, as I can tell. Some indentation… It brings up, for me, the question of politics and music. Often, “political” music has a religious sound to it. I’m thinking of Godspeed You, Black Emperor… Is it a leftover of the good old days when texts and art were only to be worshipped?

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“Anatolia” / Anis Shivani
I feel very American saying this, but there were too many Turkish and Islamic law terms here. I have thought a lot about this in my own writing, and I think there could be more context and they would work. The title for the main character comes over. I think he is some kind of a low-level judge. But often sentences would have three such terms, each juxtaposed to the others, and leave me baffled as to what they meant. I know a little, since I’ve seen Islamic law terms in books I’ve cataloged in my day job. But I couldn’t go on here. Perhaps this is my own failure, but it was an extension–one that pushed me too far away this time–of the problem in “Gypsy.” There is a lot of exposition, a lot of big blocks of explanation, rather than a varied approach between scenes and narration. I and my reading partner put this aside, and I accept responsibility for having done so.

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“The Swimmer” / John Cheever
I read this old classic to my reading partner, my better half (a better reader), who had never read it. Cheever shows you how well a sentence can run, like water in his case, and how far that can get the vehicle of a story. By the way, doesn’t water come up a lot in his work? If I were writing a paper…

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“First Love and Other Sorrows” / Harold Brodkey
We loved reading this. It’s so gentle, which makes the sorrow move so much more easily over the story, and makes it easier to hear.

“Один язык” Михаила Шолохова
А, если было так понятно.

“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” / Walt Whitman
I remembered that I used Whitman as a basis for my vows. The world of Whitman feels older, I think because it feels innocent, even though it’s not. It’s naive, but not in a bad way. Hope against hope maybe…

“Directions” / Fyodor Svarovsky (Alex Cigale translated on Facebook)
This was a good way to start the workday.

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Катакомбы Валентина Катаева
Ещё читаю. Наивность у писателей может быть не самое плохое, если это не зашишает ужас, как в эссей об Uncle Tom’s Cabin Джеймса Балдвина. Дело в том, узнает ли читатель, что наивность и сентиментальность оправдан или нет, и если они сушествуют (и делает его слепым) в читатели самом.

Gramophone, Film, Typewriter / Friedrich Kittler
I’m more interested in this “desexualization of writing” than the disagreement between Kittler and McLuhan.

“Some Other, Better Otto” / Deborah Eisenberg
I enjoy the richness of this story, its many characters and ideas very cleanly woven.

“Love” / Grace Paley
This reminded me, despite some cognitive resistance to the idea, of Carver…

“Borges on Translation” / Suzanne Jill Levine

“Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” / Jorge Luis Borges
Back to the classic…how silly this is, a revival of Cervantes’ humor, so rarely matched. “Fame is a form–perhaps the worst form–of incomprehension.” And there you go!

“The Hitchhiking Game” / Milan Kundera
Oh, what a great, vampy little story. I loved it. I haven’t read him in such a long time, and now I remember The Joke and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. About his perceived misogyny I have nothing to say.

“Love in Their Time” / William Trevor
A sad English story that made my reading partner cry. It seems to gather momentum and then releases right in that last scene. I love stories that end in the subway.

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“The Life You Save May Be Your Own” / Flannery O’Connor
An old classic, something that came up from the bottom of my memory because of a line I myself wrote, taking place in the South and having to do with conservative religious values.

“The Moon in Its Flight” / Gilbert Sorrentino
At first tedious, this story then becomes a story of a minor mistake that leads to a couple not coming together. Was she just a ghost at the end or not? Did it actually happen? Does that really matter?

Dancing in Odessa / Ilya Kaminsky
What a pleasure to return to this, our signed copy. What a kind poet. I remember his reading, and I remember trying to speak to him in Russian and failing to understand. This, of course, has happened multiple times. But he was very gentle with me, which has happened much more rarely.
The “Author’s Prayer” has been especially inspirational.

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“Yours” / Mary Robison
This story, short but with long, sweeping, devastating sentences, snatches you by the wrist and claims your attention, for a little bit.

“A Bad Thing” / David Gates

“First Love” / Isaak Babel
Reading Babel in English is always strange. I think that the Russian versions I’ve read were censored. There’s more of a voice here, not that I didn’t like what I read in Russian. But why censor such lines as those about being a boy throwing a tantrum? Was this unmanly?

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“У батьки нашего Махно” Исаака Бабеля
Этот рассказ хорошо показывает что-то не только не хорошо, а плохо, а ужасно. Есть в Украине когда-нибудь хорошее народное движение? И как этот мальчик и невинный, и темно настоящий…

“Учение о тачанке” Исаака Бабеля
Ух, хороший, тёмненкий писатель, который так сосредоточиться на странных местах в жизни. Особенно понравилось сравнение южних и штетелских евреев. Опять, тёмный портрет Махна. Кстати, я читал оба рассказа по-русски в самом последном издание его работы, которое только что вышло. В Мэкдафном переводе, переводчик говорит, что исключения были из-за цензуры, а в русском говорят что некоторые были его постоянно редактирования, и не так как Мэкдаф говорит. Бог его знает, но я рад улучениям.

The Book of Daniel / E.L. Doctorow
I’m still hoping the violent scene in the car will be explained somehow. It’s hard to read somebody like that. But I like the style, so I keep going.

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“A Gentleman Friend” / Anton Chekhov
This was recommended, I think I remember, in order to see how Chekhov’s more torturous stories are the ones that would seem to end happily, as does this one, unlike “The Kiss” which we read in my Russian Literature class. And it is torturous, like those writhing in tortuous, torturous pleasure in Gustave Doré prints of the Divine Comedy.

“The Salmon Spirit: an Ulchi Tale from Siberia” / Nadyezhda Duvan
Reminds me of the Russian children’s tales I read these days.

Inferno / Dante Alighieri
This is good inspiration…

Конармия Исаака Бабеля
Здесь меньше характеризации чем в одесских рассказах, по-моему. Но конец первой истории страшно для отцов дочерей.

“What Goes Around” / Olga Zilberbourg (B O D Y)

The Wonderful Writing Machine / Bruce Bliven, Jr.
Dedicated “To Naomi” (Horowitz, his wife). This guy was funny. Kittler (above) said he is the most entertaining and quirky writer about the typewriter.

“Fisherman of the Glass Battalion” / Ilya Ilf (translated by Steven Volynets)
Great little story here, which kind of reminds me of Конармия. I’m looking forward to more of these.

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“In der Strafkolonie” / Franz Kafka
I read this in German, but I’d like to write in English. It was in a book which discusses the legal aspects of Kafka’s story. Right now I’m thinking, why doesn’t he know his sentence? What part does this ignorance of one’s judgment have? This is probably the worst manifestation of punishment, since the Verurteilte doesn’t even know why and, in this case, how, until he can feel his wounds. In the end, der Reisende threatens with the old rope. He doesn’t need a fancy machine.

“Tonka” / Robert Musil
This story aches with the tension of an intellectual, who nonetheless is fascinated by a woman, inscrutable to him. It could never go to her perspective, in this way, and I’ve heard the comparison with Lolita made. Women’s inscrutability could be code for misogyny.

“In the Shadow of Dante” / Joseph Brodsky
The discussion of rhyme here would have been especially interesting about a year ago when I was writing about the translated poetry of Aleksandr Kushner, a friend of Brodsky’s from Peter. I came to this by way of Ilya Kaminsky’s dedication “To Montale” in Dancing in Odessa.

Зависть Юрия Олеши
Как модно! Может быть из-за настоящего времени голоса рассказчика. Можно подумать о месте, как будто оно Одесса? Настоящее время нормально тогда? Мне кажется, даже сейчас оно странно. Это историческое настоящее?

Трава забвения Валентина Катаева
Хороший советский писатель, который справедлив, по-моему, о других, как Бунине, с которым не был согласен насчет политики. О Бунине нельзя было говорить при Маяковском, и о Маяковском при Бунине.

“Less than One” / Joseph Brodsky
I read this long ago, but it was good to return, since you always find something new. A challenge: how Russian experience bounces off the English language, no matter how will composed.

Twilight of the Superheroes / Deborah Eisenberg
There is something refreshing about how Eisenberg always makes one guess at context. It defamiliarizes with the very straightforward American realist style.

“We Are All Already Gone” / LaTanya McQueen (New South)
I wonder where the “we” went in this haunting story, rough on a parent.

The Home Place / Wright Morris
There is something very strange about Wright Morris, to which I think Charles Baxter is the best heir. What is it? How does this character’s father not know he was raised on a farm? Or is it old age in a Midwestern middle-class grandpa, who hasn’t taken time to reflect much on things and doesn’t remember his own son’s upbringing? If I’m right, this is very sad…to me.

Leaves in Layers

Зеркало

I Burned at the Feast: Selected Poems of Arseny Tarkovsky / Translated by Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev
This is another one of those interesting bilingual books. These translations are highly lauded, although I think that in all the concern for meter, there was something lost in the simple aspect of diction. Но, я сноб такой. Самое лучшее эссей в конце книгы “Erotic Soyuz”.

The Big Green Tent / Ludmila Ulitskaya
Read Of Translation and Politics in Russian Literature.

“Ivy: A Love Story” / Mathew Chacko

“Everything Stuck to Him” / Raymond Carver
One that I had neglected to read when I read him years ago. It’s always good to read Ray Carver again, or, in this case, for the first time. It’s not the best. But it’s still Carver. I know he has his own trajectory, but thinking more generally, I compare this with Hemingway. It’s so American, as if we can write so well that it’s objectively good, no matter the cultural meaning behind it. I think that there’s a place for this kind of approach. However, I’m not one who believes that there is some kind of neutral and objectively good writing that is above culture and whatever language it’s written in. But what do I know.

Он упадет к коленам.

“Метель” Александра Пушкина
Я еще раз прочитал этот рассказ, который я “перевел” пару лет назад. Он такой надежный. Можно так хорошо дышать после чтения его. Поэтому перевел…

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Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams / Charles King
This is such a good work of history. I’m especially impressed by the discussion of Jabotinsky, thankful for the reading, since it means I can peruse but not go too deeply into The Five.

не работает с моей дочью…

“Пиковая дама” Александра Пушкина
Я думал, может быть, читать этот рассказ вместо вверхнего в моём классе. Не знаю в момент. Надо поспать одну ночь. Смешнее вверхнего, и это стоит много. Ну, хочется знать про ту девушку.

Young Brodsky

“A Commencement Address” (1984) / Joseph Brodsky
Interesting, however I don’t want to dismiss Christ’s teaching quite that easily. And I’m not so sure with regard to what he said about India. But I certainly enjoy this “tactic.” I think my hesitation comes from my knowledge of how much Brodsky resents Tolstoy. But another idea from the beginning is how similar Evil is to us, how almost identical, sort of a doppelganger. In this case, he’s presaging what the latest Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Svetlana Aleksievich, is saying in this interview. We mistake good and evil for one another.

“Viy” / Nikolai Gogol (Pevear/Volkhonsky)
Just in time for Halloween! I still love this, and this time I read alongside the 1967 Soviet film. Is Gogol a satirist or a mystic? It’s a trick question, although you can’t say that he’s only a mystic, while some only focus on his satiric humor. Translation’s not bad.

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“Everything Can be Montaged” / Viktor Shklovsky (Shushan Avagyan)
I love this essay for this and other lines like it: “One cannot predict life.” Out of context, it might not mean much. But it discusses how language works comprehensively, how important context is, how important growth is, how important the dynamic of a work of art is to its life.

“Our Father, the Lost Geometer”
“To be Sung at Certain Funerals” / John Freeman (Baltimore Review)
My friend has always caused me to have to run to the dictionary, and in these poems he continued that great tradition. It has been a long time since we first read poems in front of people in Detroit. I remember a fiddleback spider in a bottle. Despite our good friendship, we have lived in different places for a long time now. If I miss Detroit, the place from which I come, home, if you will, I can always read a John Freeman poem to remember. That humid fog…

A Clockwork Orange / Anthony Burgess
I started it. I couldn’t keep going. A baroque something about Burgess’ language turns me off. Maybe another day I’ll try again, on a stabler stomach.

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“Шерри-бренди” Варлама Шаламова
Я вспомнил рассказ, именно цитату “Записать, напечатать – все это суета сует. Все, что рождается небескорыстно, – это не самое лучшее. Самое лучшее то, что не записано, что сочинено и исчезло, растаяло без следа, и только творческая радость, которую ощущает он и которую ни с чем не спутать, доказывает, что стихотворение было создано, что прекрасное было создано. Не ошибается ли он? Безошибочна ли его творческая радость?” Вот оно. Нашёл слова, ими вдохновился, и опять напрягаюсь.

“Девочки и мальчики”
“Бедный враг” Людмилы Улицкой (Детский мир)
Очень импресионистические…то, что мне сказали, чтобы сказать что-то, когда не понравился мой рассказ.

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“Die Maßnahme” / Bertolt Brecht
“The Measures Taken” / Bertolt Brecht
I had to look at this hardcore Communist text, with that ending, “Comprehension of the individual and comprehension of the whole: Taught only by reality can/reality be changed.” Brecht presents the problem, dialectically, but he doesn’t solve it for either the “junge Genossen” or the “vier Agitatoren.”

Катакомбы (За власть советов) Валентина Катаева
Хороший писатель, с тем, как он может описывать место и описание относится к атмосферу части романа. Мне нравится “одесский юмор,” который, в его жизни, облегчил сложные моменты…

The Book of Daniel / E.L. Doctorow
I’m really enjoying the perspective so far.

“The Green Light of Dawn” / Olga Zilberbourg (Epiphany)
This story is a difficult read, because of the subject matter. There’s a lot of exposure of the oppressed position of women in Russo-Ukrainian society. This, to me, is unexplored territory. Olga is a brave writer to be taking it on. Likely this has something to do with her Pushcart nomination for this story. Mainly, I think that the way she leads up to this is what makes this story so good. It’s not the black and white predator and his prey, even though the rapist is certainly guilty in full here. There is nuance to this horrible event. Again, this is a compliment to the writer.

Anatolia and Other Stories / Anis Shivani
These are really interesting, such a different perspective for an American writer. There’s a lot of exposition, at least in “Gypsy.” The characterization is good, but I’d like it to come out more in scene than in narrative. But we keep reading it aloud to each other.

“Downriver” / Cal Freeman (Hobart)
I love me some Freeman…

33rd Summer

The Lover / Marguerite Duras
I thumbed through this for the first time in about 8 years. The immediacy of it…older, now I can look back at the perspective involved.

Катакомбы (За власть советов) Валентина Катаева
Я 40 страниц читал уже, а мы еще не приехали в Одессу. Платили считая слова, что ли?
Неплохо. Ну, сейчас можешь чувствовать романтисизм партыйного. Смерть моряка после бомбардировки Одессы слишком романтическая, чтобы имеет чувство. Ну, есть вот это, “Я никогда был член Партии.” Жалько, ну уважаемое в том, что это как религиозное дело для этого.

Age of Iron / J.M. Coetzee
I finished this the week of the Charleston, South Carolina massacre, an act of terrorism against the black population in our country. It was also the week my grandmother died. We’re all searching for a language. But there really isn’t one for all the violence in the world. We’re lucky if it spares us. Often, that luck has to do with the color of one’s skin. We can change language, which might change hearts, which will change laws. We can change that, at least.

The Book of Aron / Jim Shepard
Research novels seem to be a difficult thing. Today a radio broadcast of an ’89 interview with E.L. Doctorow made some sense. Doctorow makes things up. And he says that we all make things up. Our whole lives, the way we look at ourselves, are mostly made up, if not by us by others. With those historical figures about whom he writes, he says that there were already fictions about them with which he could work. Anyways, we Americans know Korczak so little. And this is an original take on a subject with a lot of shelf space in the book store.

“Пальто с хлястиком” Михаила Шишкина (Детский мир)
Ой, такой интересный хороший рассказ, какая любовь к матери и драма и печаль. Шишкин опять связывает высокое с низким. Поэтому так понравился его Венерин волос, что написал о нём эссей.

“Dad Thing” / Jonathan Durbin (Electric Literature)

“How to Tell if a Student in Your Beginning Poetry Class Is a Russian Spy” / Olga Zilberbourg (Mad Hatters’ Review)
An oldie but a goodie from my friend, Olga.

Очень чувствительный…

Мои открытие Америки Владимира Маяковского
Детройт такой несчастный всегда был.

Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: the Diary of Dang Thuy Tram
There is something about this voice, the fact that it barely survived to be in readers’ hands, that’s frighteningly beautiful. She is both a girl and a real-life warrior at the same moment.
Such a feeling for the Party. I almost want to stop reading, now that she has become a member. It could have been like a religious conviction, paradoxically impossible to reach, despite the believer’s striving.

Одноэтажная Америка Илфа и Петрова
Я открыл и читал немного про “гайбалы” с Хемингуеем в Ню-Ёрке. А переворачывал страницы до главы по имени “Дирборн”!!! Где я родился.

The Big Green Tent / Liudmila Ulitskaya
Read Of Translation and Politics in Russian Literature

Spring By The Very Definition

Анатолий Кузнецов

Бабий Яр: роман-документ Анатолия Кузнецова
Я уважаю честность этого текста. Чувства в нём реальные, искренные. И так как писатель смотрит не только на большие случаи, как любой исторический текст, а на простих людей, большинство чьих количества умирали.
“Какие новые Яры, Майданеки, Хиросимы, [Колымы и Потьмы] – в каких местах и каких новых технических формах – скрыты еще в небытии, в ожидании своего часа? И кто из нас, живущих, уже, может быть, кандидат в них?
Будем ли мы понимать когда-нибудь, что самое дорогое на свете – жизнь человека и его свобода? Или еще предстоит варварство?”

fordmadoxford
The Good Soldier / Ford Madox Ford
The more I read, especially books such as this, recommended by Tobias Wolff, the more I see how important perspective is to a text. This makes me think back to Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad. The most important thing about this book, it seems to me, is the “natural” way Dowell cuts it up, 100 years before films have started doing this. I think it was quite ahead of its time in this way. That “quite” by the way is my aping how Dowell/Ford use it.

Apollo In The Grass / Aleksandr Kushner, translated by Carol Ueland and Robert Carnevale
My review

Белая гвардия Михаила Булгакова
Многие руссофоны считают эту их любимой книгой. А есть паралеллы со современной ситуацей в Украине?
Что сказать об этой книге, об этом авторе? Последная глава говорит про поезд, как будто он бородавочник. Так, как всё живое, очень живое, из-за красноречивости Булгакова, и вовремя войны. “Почему не обратим свой взгляд на них?” Через 90 лет ещё есть такой вопрос.
Пожалуйста, кто-то заспорит со мной о том, что этот роман не лучше Живаго?

“False Documents” / E.L. Doctorow
I read this before Doctorow died a few weeks ago. Somehow it got left out of this post. I really enjoy the frustration that our society undervalues literature, and thus we don’t suffer for our writing like so many writers do. The Soviet Union’s many slaughtered writers come to mind. Is it because of the ubiquity of writing, that the readers are usually writers themselves, that we’re very disconnected with history and how we affect it, that most of our entertainment comes from premium channel series rather than literature? Just say yes.

“The Hum of Zug Island” / Jamaal May (Kenyon Review)
It’s so nice to see somebody using form in poetry again. I talked about this while reviewing Sasha Kushner’s poetry above. Also, Zug Island. Is it like the German word for train? What’s left there? I think some of my ancestors spent some time there. But I’m not Detroit enough to claim any familiarity. Thank you for doing the exploring and describing for me, Mr. May. This is a great poem.

“The Sky, Now Black With Birds” / Jamaal May (Kenyon Review)
What a haunting poem. What a way to capture the paradox of our culture’s regard for death, the state’s use of it as punishment, and the connection with anger about race, about murder, something extremely contemporaneous. Is it a reference to Allen Ginsberg’s “Kaddish”?

“The Whale” / Terrance Hayes (Kenyon Review)
I love the imagination here, the sizes of everything, how I must seem to my daughter, how my father seemed to me.

from Pangyrus, alongside the story

“Cowardice” / Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois (Pangyrus)
A quick little violent shine of light on cowardice here. And quite an interesting journal, from my old stomping grounds.

On Writing Fiction: Rethinking Conventional Wisdom About the Craft / Harold Jauss
I don’t agree with everything, but it stirs up good ideas of how to flip things around and writing in general.
Wow, so many great insights in such a sharp, critical voice. Thank you, Harold Jauss, for your encouragement.
What a wonderful, philosophical, critical book, one that would make a great textbook for a CW class.

“In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” / Amy Hempel
I read this highly anthologized story. Try to look at the arm bone.

“Житейская мелочь” Антона Чехова
Прочитал из-за заметки в эссе у Давида Джауса. Я думаю, что сегодня нельзя писать такой рассказ. Ну тогда никто такого не делал, разве нет?

Age of Iron / J.M. Coetzee
Picked up old Coetzee again. Already I can feel my self-doubt trembling.
How could you not love that part about Heaven as a hotel?

Odessa, 1941-1944: A Case Study of Soviet Territory under Foreign Rule / Alexander Dallin
If you ever wanted to read about Transnistria, not the current country but the territory occupied during WWII, its capital Odessa.

Армія без держави Тараса Бульбы-Боровеця
Я не плохо читаю по-украинский…побачил? Хороший националист – этот.

Подземные тайны Одессы Андрея Добролюбского, Андрея Красножона
Наконец-то, очень хорошая книга про катакомбы, очень прямая, но, то что ожидал.

“Сонечка” Людмилы Улицкой
Почему Улицкая не нравится? Её обожаю.

“People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk” / Lorrie Moore
I reread this almost 9 years later, since Jauss mentions it in his essay on present-tense narrative. Quite an interesting perspective, and now I know it wasn’t the one I was looking for. And I don’t blame parents for skipping this one. Although, I have to say that I think Moore handles it deftly and appropriately. It’s really a triumph, and I didn’t totally understand that 9 years ago.

“Controlled Burn, Wakulla Springs, Florida” / Brenda Butka (Cleaver Magazine)
I think Southerners write best about nature. Jeez, I think Southerners are the best writers. There I said it.

Winter in California : Summer by another name


King Matt the First / Janusz Korczak
I’m into the routine this book has set up, the need to fill pages, it seems, that many books from before the age of sound bytes seem to have. I’m into the routine, despite having almost no routine while the holidays pass by. It’s 2015 in the Kingdom of Ian Pian.
What a great open ending! I better understood and was able to go back and adjust this essay (I only adjusted a few words in my own copy). It’s very nice to read about a child character who is not faultless, whose faults even were not all forgivable, such as when Matt kills the negotiator (this is not a spoiler).


Евгений Онегин Александра Пушкина
I’m still intrigued by Pushkin’s respect and challenge, the back and forth dynamic of it, toward the tradition. As soon as one might agree with his lampoon of the poetic tradition du jour, he reminds the reader that this is quite serious, that one needs to pay attention.
Подробности о дуэли!
Татьяна идёт вечером на полу как в песне Long Black Veil – Johnny Cash
Я дочитал, но еще прочитаю. Очень модный, как все говорили. Но все равно, старая история. Я читал дочери, чтобы она знала русский. Не каждая рифма perfect. А это самый лучший русский, что знаю. Я не забуду все подробные черты, с которыми мы страдаем в жизни.
И так, как рассказщик говорит то, что ты ожидаешь, то есть норму, а потом рассказывает, как перепетия ту норму рухнет.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena / Anthony Marra
Сколько этого воображенно и сколько от книг настоящих солдат и людей, которые жили через вот это? Ну, надо думать о том, как правильно делать рисэрч роман. Я не говорю, что вот это сделано неправильно. Ну, у меня есть вопрос, может быть не один.

“Gryphon, by Charles Baxter” / Jeremiah Chamberlin
This is such a great “appreciation” of Charlie’s work, especially the story with which it lets the author end his own appreciation. There’s something of the end of Mrs. Bridge in that ‘goodbye…’

“The Cremation of Sam McGee” / Robert Service
An old favorite of my dad’s. He laughed, in his way, when I told him I read it.

“Die Sprache” / Martin Heidegger
“Language” / Martin Heidegger
Language speaks. What about other foreign languages? How do they speak to us, if we’re not as familiar?

Country Girl, A Memoir / Edna O’Brien
I’ve loved O’Brien for so long, and even though I often eschew such autobiographies of writers, I really wanted to know what it was like for her. I guess it has something to do with where she comes from and where she went.

Lark and Termite / Jayne Anne Phillips
The language here is so impressive, moody, inviting further. I especially like the discussion of the Language Immersion School, the way Tompkins and Leavitt respond to one another at the beginning.
Everything concrete, language the point of departure for almost all of the thoughts.
This ending was so good and reminded me of the children’s literature I read when I was still a child, something like Cormier, I think. What language, what concrete imagery, what humbly fascinating characters.

“Dead Dresses” / Rachel Cantor (Kenyon Review)
What a strange little story, reminding me of the writer Anne Perry (Juliet Hulme), whom I know of from the Peter Jackson film Heavenly Creatures. Of course, I don’t want to scare anybody, but I did make that association. Writing children’s voices is hard because it seems easy, I think. I especially like the “rooster” metaphor.

Степан Бандера: мифы, легенды, действительность Руслана Викторовича Частого

“The Lesson that You Should be Suspicious of Anything Too Clean: An Interview with Rebecca Scherm” / V.V. Ganeshananthan
I’m looking forward to reading this novel by Rebecca Scherm, who was a very good editor to me once upon a time. I like the references here, the discussion of obsessions, and the scrutiny women characters undergo.

Бабий Яр: роман-документ Анатолия Кузнецова
Вот это хороший пример сочетания истории и романов. Этика очень интересная, и я думаю, соцерзал ли он про стил и язык?

Странный союзник Марины Эскиной
My dear friend. I translated two of the poems in this collection. One is here.
Marina is truly a great poet of the Russian language, and I’m honored to have worked with her so much over the past 8 years or so and to call her friend.

Paul Celan

Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew / John Felstiner
This is a great biography, and I’m finding that I’m reading about the exact same area in my petty research as in this book. Even though so little is known of Celan’s time in the camps, it’s still so interesting to know about the lead-up to that, how his poetry adapted. I’m looking forward to reading about the Bremen Prize speech.

Одесса 1941

Odessa, 1941-1944: A Case Study of Soviet Territory under Foreign Rule / Alexander Dallin

“The Last Word” / Benjamin Percy (The Writer’s Chronicle)

“Осень у дверей” и “Тоска” Олгы Гренец (Квадрика аполлона)
Моя подруга делает что-то очень интересно с первым рассказом. Азартный ли?

“How to Tell a True Resistance Story: Fiction and History” / Hillary Moses Mohaupt (Writer’s Chronicle)
Thank you for the great references.

The View from Castle Rock / Alice Munro
I had trouble with the first story in this. But I’ll keep going, because I love Alice Munro.

Brother of Leaving / John Freeman
This is a brother of mine, this leaving one. Johnboy Freeman and I go way back to sharing work in the Allen Park Coney Island.

Палата No. 6

Палата Но. 6 Антона Чехова
Каждое начало должно быт таким.
Предупреждение это? По крайней мере, как эта история устроилась так тонко, что это же страшно.

The Good Soldier / Ford Madox Ford
Same here. That first sentence puts a lot of pressure on the story. But perhaps that’s how it should be.

The Art of Stillness / Pico Iyer
I read this and stopped and looked out the window and read some more. This has been coming up in my life more and more, having to do with Taiji practice, with being a parent. Last year was the busiest in my life, and now my life has become completely different. If I don’t take a moment to stop and breathe, I’ll suffocate.

Eimi / e.e. cummings
What a weird little travel journal. How funny to hear cummings’ strange linguistic imagination up against the Russian language.

Fall Ends and Beginnings

“Любовь” Юрия Олеши
Когда я начал встречаться с женой, она дала мне копию этого рассказа на английском. Я начал читать, но решил, что хочу на русском. 8 лет спустя и вот! Красавец – он.

Love in the Time of Cholera / Gabriel García Márquez
This is a hard one to put down. The love obsession of Florentino matches other experiences of obsession I’ve had in my life.
Time turns in on itself, doubles back, does flips between perspectives. We can learn so much from this writer. Also, the sympathy for the wife, sniffing her husband’s clothes, scented by his lover. He wasn’t a macho man, one who would deny the truth with utterly male violence. Instead, he admits he cheated. Maybe she didn’t want the truth. It’s so damn well done.
Now I finally understand the romance of the riverboat, the perpetual back-and-forth, the ongoing, neverending journey, which not even death ends. Time is not a pressure for Márquez. It’s a way of getting to the ends of things, of returning, and of setting out again.

There Is No Long Distance Now / Naomi Shihab Nye
I’ve been reading against my insomnia. So far, it reminds me of Jessamyn Ward. There’s a tricky innocence to Shihab Nye’s work that keeps me wondering about the experience behind it.


“Стадион в Одессе” Юрия Олеши
Я не знал, что Олеша был такой патриот, ну здесь что-то есть. Есть вопрос, честно ли он пишет. Ну, интересно, всё равно, об истории Одессы, о Ланжероне, и т. д.

Tolokonnikova
Words Will Break Cement: the Passion of Pussy Riot / Masha Gessen
Whatever you think of their music, there’s something different about this protest avant-garde primitivist art group. Masha Gessen seems to be hip to it. Notice the title’s allusion to a holy mission.

Kaleidoscopic Odessa / Tanya Richardson
This is a great mix of academic and more personal study of this beloved city. I especially like the whole chapter dedicated to the Literature Museum and its founding. It was almost as subversive as that museum out in the far east, where forbidden works were and still are displayed.

“Identity, Power, and a Prayer to Our Lady of Repatriation: On Translating and Writing Poetry” / Khaled Mattawa
Wow, what a great essay. I’m looking forward to more from this series on translation. I especially like how these ideas about translation are making it more primary than American letters has tended to.

“Islands” / Aleksandar Hemon
I love the cicadas “revving” and the cat’s “irreversible hatred.” These seem to generally allude to the division of Yugoslavia into islands, such a significant part of Hemon’s life. But, regardless of the content, even though I spent time on that tiny island in the middle of the lake of Mljet, a place just as haunted as this story depicts, a place very much outside of everything, even with that connection, what is striking here is the physical descriptions, how they suggest the mystery of writing. It seems so simple, the language is so rich. But, of course, nothing is so simple.

“Seymour, an Introduction” / J.D. Salinger
Nothing I’ve read more blurs the distinction between a fictional character and a real-life (or real-live?) one. Salinger makes it not really matter. Same as Márquez, he creates a vacuum around his own voice, and it’s difficult to read with any distractions, difficult not to become sucked in, difficult to be objective when near his words.

Interview with Geoff Dyer (Paris Review, Art of Nonfiction No. 6)
After setting “Seymour” down, I picked up this interview, which goes into the same kind of territory, having to do with this blur between fiction and reality, or in Dyer’s case, nonfiction. So, perhaps that’s how it should be approached. This is a constant difficulty, how much of one’s self to put in a piece of fiction, how much of others, how much to make up, how much to research, how much to include that has no relevance whatsoever. It doesn’t work on a logical level. But at least Dyer is hilarious, “Having read military history I knew how catastrophic was early success.” (Perhaps this isn’t an exact quote, but that kind of goes with the point…)

“Ходите в свете пока есть свет” Льва Толстого
Я рад, что эта повесть не такая, как “Крейцеровая соната.” По крайней мере сначала. Разница в том, что эта больше похожа на притчу, чем на историю, рассказ, роман. Драматических моментов мало. Есть только разговоры и повороты сюжета, восновном. Может быть, что повесть слишком моральный, как жена думает?
Досадно, что нечего больше здесь. Я ожидал что-то новое, что этот старичок бы был появляться христианом, который хотел пытать веру Юлия. Такой досад похож на тот, который я имел после “Крейцеровой сонаты”. Может быть лучшая работа лучших писателей нечайно напсианно.

The Optimist’s Daughter / Eudora Welty
The bathos of the death scene is so figured. Welty is a writer of voices, mainly Southern ones, who fill in the space in a baroque way. Then there’s the bathos of the funeral scene, and that image of the birds lifting off. The voices of the various Southern petite bourgeoisie characters overwhelm Laurel’s. It’s a model for how Welty lets them fill her writing. But then an image such as the birds lifting off in the cemetery reminds you of who you want to listen to.
Then the chapter on her mother, Becky. It’s a feminist text dedicated to fathers of girls. But the “optimist” part of his personality came later, and it was not a good thing, as we might think. The ending makes a reader sure of this. The past is solidified, but we can still have a relationship to memory, and that relationship changes as we do.

“Slow and Steady” by Frank Fucile (Kenyon Review)
This has an interesting technique with the changing of paragraphs. The story slowly dissipates into its objects.

“The Minotaur” / Jan Grue, translated by Becky Crook (Asymptote)
Is the killing in this story that of the Dutch cartoonist? I still can’t figure out why Utrecht. Such a moody and good little story.

There’s Something I Want You To Do / Charles Baxter
My interview with him.


King Matt the First / Janusz Korczak
So far I’m enjoying the dynamic of this story. I read it with my daughter sitting in my lap, so that she can see the book too. Мы тоже читаем на русском, а тогда маме надо править моё произношение.
I love Korczak’s ability to show the naivete of the child, even though it still drives the story, because it’s an understandable naivete.
Somewhere in the middle, I get the feeling that this story is just going as randomly as the mind of a child might. But that’s all right, that’s how it should be. We shouldn’t expect so much sense out of life.


Евгений Онегин Александра Пушкина
Это так весело читать Онегина на русском. То, что хорошо в нём есть видная тёмная сторона естественности человека. Так как он, этот рассказщик, который сочувствует с его Онегином, говорит про женщин наверно значит, что Онегин, может быть и Пушкин, так называемый по-английски ass man. Простите грубость.
Четверостишия LV-LX, глава первая, говорят наоборот, что поэт не Онегин, что он типо меньше Онегина, как каждый рассказщик, наверно, должен быть меньше его персонажей.
Какая прелесть читать Онегина на русском!

Summer Reading Pleasures and Pains

“The Passengers” / Tobias Wolff
My students all loved, as I did when I laughed out loud reading it, the idea Wolff’s character has of San Francisco: “…a high-ceilinged room with sunlight coming in through stained glass windows, and a lot of naked people on the floor flopping all over each other like seals.” That’s exactly how it is…to a square outsider.

The Symmetry Teacher / Andrei Bitov
Here’s my review.

“Enemies” / Anton Chekhov
This story has always intrigued students I’ve had. It’s interesting to see where people’s feelings lie, whether they understand the characters. I pick it precisely for this reason, for Chekhov’s deft story of how good people can come to hate one another and the beauty of human sorrow.

“Errand” / Raymond Carver
Many students didn’t like this as much. But, for me, it suggests that Carver might have had a late blooming that the world truly missed out on.

“A Story by Maupassant” / Frank O’Connor
Another favorite that I feel like is best understood in an American context, even though it’s Irish here.

Sankya / Zakhar Prilepin
Read Of Translation and Politics in Russian Literature.

The Flamethrowers / Rachel Kushner
I had to return to this last night. Throughout I can hear the way Kushner reads, her voice, the soft retreat of Reno (so far at least).
She has lots of big paragraphs. You can lose yourself in that open female wonder.
The middle chapter, the one of the Kastles’ party, has some strange moments where dialogue and narrative blend, not necessarily in the way indirect discourse does. I’m hoping for the return to the traveling Reno, to the motion of the first half of the Reno parts.
I can’t seem to put this book down despite so many other obligations. I love the detail, now the insights into the various characters are all coming home to roost.
SPOILER ALERT: I know women like Reno, who, scorned once, never return. Would I be a woman like that? For some reason, I wonder if it matches with the quiet and impressionable Reno, the girl looking at Sandro with wide-eyes?
It’s done, sadly. I finished it without looking back. I couldn’t help myself. The end was very clean, without drama, just that idea of waiting. It sounds like it was a nice place to wait. And I couldn’t. I had to go on. I like the ending essay about the photographs and making New York a character who is fully realized and beyond any other thematic tropes.

On Writing Fiction / David Jauss
As if I have time to do so, I snuck in a quick whiskey-sipping read late last night of one of Jauss’ essays in this volume. Ever since I read his article on characterization in the Writer’s Chronicle, I’ve been interested in this. But I didn’t see “Homo Fictus” here. I also haven’t read any of Jauss’ fiction. But unrelated to “Stacking Stones,” an essay about arranging story collections, I started to rearrange sentences according to his idea that a lack of variety can give a stultifying feeling.


“How It Was Done in Odessa” / Isaak Babel
This story is still weird, after years, in English, it’s still weird. There are many layers, people speak in rabbinic proverb, and the fright of people running “as if from a fire” sends spooky spiders tingling down my spine.


“Barnburning” / William Faulkner
I’ve always loved this villainous old coot. Now I think I’ve gotten through. He’s a thief, without sides, only subverting the system, a black-blocer before the turn of the 20th century. He has solidarity with blacks in the South rather than disdain for them. Check out what he says about sweat.

“Root Worker” / Edward P. Jones
This story has always stood out to me, perhaps because it’s Jones with a little bit of Southern mysticism. Of course, it’s done subtly enough that my students ask whether there were really any witches at all. It all has to do with that scene looking down the garden, which I suspect is out of “Rappaccinni’s Daughter”.


Подросток Савенко Эдуарда Лимонова
I just came to what seems like the climax, the scene where he reads his poetry. I’m hoping things will start wrapping themselves up, and there’s more to this than his hunt for money$$$.
The gang-rape (хором, as Limonov puts it) scene at the end of this book is incredibly difficult to read. The teenager doesn’t seem to realize how horrible an event he’s witnessing, and you suddenly become aware of the depravity of life for Soviet youth at that time, at least for this one (not to categorize). This is likely what makes the book unique among memoirs, how raw it is in exposing life on the fringes, (yes, Kharkov I consider a fringe) of the Soviet territory. The frame of reference is so different than anything an American youth, even from the same period, knows, except perhaps for those who have grown up in American ghettoes.
Read Of Translation and Politics in Russian Literature.

“Sonny’s Blues” / James Baldwin
I’ve always loved this story, always loved teaching it, and the students also seem to love it. The family relationships, the jazzing up of an old Blues story, perhaps the original, the failed intervention, reminding me of Frank O’Connor’s “A Story by Maupassant”. Even inspiration for The Birthday Party’s “Sonny’s Burning”.

“Writing American Fiction” / Philip Roth
It’s good to hear a little bit of Roth the vicious critic. But what if writers don’t agree with the politics he’s discussing here?

“Tapka” / David Bezmozgis
There’s something of Babel in this. The ending takes it to a different place, deep into the childhood guilt.
Actually, this story led me to dive into the whole collection. Here’s my review of his latest with mention of this collection.

“Run, Rudolph, Run” / Denis Johnson
A friend mentioned this essay as an example of how there is often a disconnection between liberal Americans, often from cities out of touch with rural areas, and the people from those areas. I remembered growing up in Alabama, and I was particularly interested in this essay because of a story I was writing about my memory of the 1998 Birmingham abortion clinic bombing committed by Eric Rudolph. As an essay writer, I find Johnson pretty clear and sharp. On the other hand, as somebody who has lived in Alabama, not necessarily in a rural area, but who has known people who do live in such areas, the cut-and-dry distinction drawn by this essay and by my friend is more complicated than either of them would like to believe. It seems more for the benefit of spooking some liberals and adding to the abundance of stereotypes of the crazy redneck South that they have. Sure, neither side are talking to each other. But this isn’t anything new, and this disconnect exists in almost every culture. I think it might even be worse in most places. I think the liberal “side” here is a lot closer to the other “side” than liberals tend to think or want to believe. Anyways, the “check your privilege” message could also lead to a “check your family tree” or “check your history.” Benjamin would have something to say about the idea that there is a large class of people who have moved beyond the kind of life rural people live. The very idea that they can constitute another side is problematic. For instance, where’s all the liberal outrage about the death penalty or the appalling conditions of our prisons? (back at ya)


“Today I’m Yours” / Mary Gaitskill
The story of a beautiful love affair. I don’t think anybody writes about uneasy sexuality better than Gaitskill

Love in the Time of Cholera / Gabriel García Márquez
Yes, I’ve finally gotten around to starting to read this, so long after Gaby’s death. I read him first in high school, and this feels the same, another one of his novels, wading into the details. That parrot who catcalls the servant girls…
All the connections made based on physical objects. Now I know what T.S. Eliot’s “objective correlative” is. In this case it also makes connections between objects.
Márquez seems to be able to create symbols out of objects. Mostly, I’m thinking of what he’s doing with almonds at the beginning. The narrative is seamless, flowing through and giving the illusion that everything is unbreakably united, a very safe and magical world. Okay, I get it…”magical realism”. But, I never realized that he was making the magic before.

“Emergency” / Denis Johnson
The students had an amazing take on the Vietnam War’s relation to this story.

“No Place For You, My Love” / Eudora Welty
Yet again, just a bee-youtiful story of New Orleans. My students liked the alligator on the chain leash, or at least I like to pretend they liked that.

Flannery O’Connor, duh

“The Nature and Aim of Fiction” / Flannery O’Connor
I reread this essay, or lecture, around the same time that I read it last year. I thought then to use it for my writing class, the same one I’ll teach this year. But it’s so bleak. It makes a writer feel…unworthy. But the principles, the ideas, the concrete matter so important to fiction, all of it is here. Also, here is the religious sense of writing, the idea of something, a mystery I suppose, beyond the hard born words you’ve written, erased, rewritten, and imprinted on the paper.

Night of Pure Breathing / Gerald Fleming
Jerry’s book has got me enthralled. I’m reading it on the train platform as the train is passing at 40mph 5 feet away from me. I’ve watched Youtube videos of this guy read, so I can hear him reading the poems. I agree that “prose poems” is not a grandiose enough term for what he’s doing here.

“Country Living” / Zoe Abramson (Fiddleblack #17)
This is a nice little story that helps me keep in mind upcoming events.