My Favorite Reads of 2013

I promised a list of books I read in 2013 that left me thinking. Remember, these aren’t necessarily new books on the block, just ones I turned to this year. So here goes, the best first:

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Fiction:

  1. The Son, Philipp Meyer
  2. Black Dogs, Ian McEwan
  3. The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer
  4. Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein
  5. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski
  6. How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought, Lyn Fairchild Hawks
  7. Life Among Giants, Bill Roorbach
  8. The Orchard Keeper, Cormac McCarthy
  9. Z – A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Therese Anne Fowler
  10. Sweet Tooth, Ian McEwan

 

Nonfiction:

  1. The Unwinding, George Packer
  2. American Lion, John Meacham
  3. Black Count, Tom Reiss
  4. Zealot, Reza Aslan
  5. The Mind of the South, W.J. Cash
  6. The Hemingway Patrols, Terry Mort
  7. The Art of Power, John Meacham
  8. Season of Terror, Charles F. Price
  9. Heaven and Hell – My Life in the Eagles, Don Felder
  10. Visiting Tom, Michael Perry

 

I’d be interesting to see your lists, too.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

A Magnificent Sprawl

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski

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Quite often it’s the flawed novels that stick to your ribs, not those approaching literary perfection, and this book is a great, magnificently flawed novel that I’ll find hard to forget.

The story is one of the Sawtelle family, principally son Edgar, who was born without an ability to speak. The family train and sell dogs, and part of the story’s charm is the practiced interplay between Edgar and his student-dogs. But father Gar dies suddenly under what later prove to be suspicious circumstances, and Edgar and mother Trudy carry on the family business – until Uncle Claude slithers in to complicate life for Edgar. Edgar runs away and stays away for months, during which time Claude beds Trudy. Edgar finally does return, intent on proving Claude culpable in Gar’s death, and that sets in motion Wroblewski’s tense  but overwrought end to the story.

If this all too brief synopsis seems vaguely familiar, it should be. Hint: think Shakespeare. It that doesn’t do it for you, think Denmark.

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But what do I see as flawed about this ultra-inventive novel? First, one has to read to mid-book before it becomes clear that the author is taking the story somewhere. And then there’s the too-long stay in the woods and on the road. Such storyline doldrums lead me to believe that Wroblewski has turned writer’s block on its head by writing until a story begins to emerge.

If I seem unfair to the author, let me list the book’s assets. Wroblewski’s prose style nears perfection, and I put his writerly voice up there with Cormac McCarthy, his ability to evoke mood alongside Steinbeck and Guterson. In various sections, he paces with the greats, and his ability to build tension is breathtaking. Wroblewski has magnificent literary chops in this novel, but such abilities can be a burden as well as an asset. If he can tame his storytelling tools, he’ll be among the greats.

 

My rating: 16 of 20 stars

 

 

Visit my website here, and my FB Fan Page here for more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you. I’ll soon be adding podcasts of selected book reviews to my website, as well as an opportunity to buy mp3 files of my reading of Sam’s Place – Stories, so look for those.

 

Does Reading Actually Change The Brain?/Futurity

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This article tells us that reading stories puts us into the story in a way more real than we would have thought. Fractal theory in turn tells us that certain systems (let’s call them stories) repeat infinitely, tons of these systems (stories) embedded in others.

Why were even primitive humans fascinated with stories? I have a theory.

A story is in a sense the life of a system, whether that system is the life of a quasar, a solar system, a planet, a civilization, a family, a human life, etc. And if we sense or observe each of these systems in terms of its “story,”or its life, then we’re mentally fitting ourselves into this fractal. So if this is true, when we read stories we’re doing two important things:

  • We’re creating a new sense of reality, an alternate reality, if you will
  • We’re fitting that sense of reality into our own fractal system (story) and into the larger system (story) that we’re a part of.

What’s important about these? We’re seeing/sensing our proper place in the order of things, and so we’re noticing order somewhere within the chaos of our personal story. That alone should make reading worthwhile, shouldn’t it?

Futurity

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Let Us Inspire You

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Poets & Writers, January/February, 2014

To my mind P&W struggles to be worthwhile to the writer who has been around the block a few times. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of spending a rainy afternoon reading.

I love charts – especially when they indicate something substantial, and the mag’s “Anatomy of Awards” article indicates that almost half of 2013’s awards went to poets. (I suppose that’s okay to throw them that bone; poetry sells very little.) And fiction writers take most of the other half. So where are these writers located? Mostly in the northeast and west, although the regional split is relatively equal.

But a few highlights:

Benjamin Percy tells us in his essay, “Modulation in the Moment,” that he thinks his pieces through over a number of months before sitting down to write.

As for chatting up an agent, P&W talks in this issue to David Gernert, John Grisham’s agent, after having worked in the publishing field for Doubleday. Gernert, however, struggles along with writers in knowing how to build a platform. He’s old-school, asking readers and writers to support bookstores.

The inspiration meme: P&W offers mini essays by seven writers on how to amp up the passion – your own, writer, and that contained by what you write.

An interesting profile of poets indicates a stable of verse-writers who are mostly in their thirties. How long do they spend in writing, editing, and getting their work ready for book publication? On average, more than two years. How long to find a publisher? About a year.

 

The bottom line here? It’s still tough to get published, even tougher to get to the make-a-living point. But don’t let that dissuade you. Keep writing. Hang in there.

 

 

Visit my website here, and my FB Fan Page here for more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you. I’ll soon be adding podcasts of selected book reviews to my website, as well as an opportunity to buy mp3 files of my reading of Sam’s Place – Stories, so look for those.

 

Making a List

 

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Whew. No wonder I wear glasses. I’ve just taken account of the books I’ve read this year and the total comes to 36.

I know, that doesn’t sound like a prodigious number, but I spend 3-4 hours a day writing my own stuff. Not an excuse – it’s simply to account for time consumed in the average day. And this doesn’t account for the newspapers, the 4-6 magazines I read per month and a smattering of literary journals. Anyway, there it is – – 36 books, 23 fiction and 13 nonfiction (which makes me a normal fiction writer and an abnormal reader in a world currently enthralled by reality and its TV versions of same.)

What comes next? I think I’ll spend a little more time on this and rate the top fiction and nonfiction books I’ve read this year. Coming up soon.

 

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Blue Collar Liberalism

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Harper’s Magazine, December 2013

Harper’s continues to espouse an ethos that fits well in the jeans and work shirts of the laboring class. This cuts against the grain of most progressive thinking in the early days of the twenty-first century, but who’s to say they’re wrong?

Thomas Frank bemoans (slightly) the political gentrification of Chicago, and Jeff Madrack reminds us yet again of our increasing inattention to educating, informing, and employing our youth.

But not everything here is of beer taste. There’s the wine drinker’s concern about the rising price of art. (Is art not for the masses anymore? author Ben Lerner seems to ask.)

John Kerry seems to have gained the fascination of many journalists since he took the reins of State, and here Andrew Cockburn implies that the project of foreign policy is bankrupt, supposing, I guess, that governmental paydirt lies within the national borders. Meanwhile, the sun rises on a truly international economy and politics.

Of course there’s more, as always with this magazine. I wait patiently to see whether its visionaries have truly glimpsed the future.

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

The Brave New Future

 

Note: I occasionally post on magazines; I’ve always read them, and would seriously bemoan their passing. While I don’t have the time to do all the mags justice that I might have an interest in, I do try to post regularly on the ones I think have the most substance to offer readers.

 

The Atlantic, December 2013

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I remain heartened by this magazine’s approach to informing its readers. Much of what interests me here is apparently gained from polls on various subjects, particularly the modern effect of male-female interactions.  In a similar form we come face to face with capitalism’s amoralities, and their effect on social unrest.

If this causes you unrest, don’t read the article on inmate control tactics in the nation’s prisons – a subject mostly hidden from the public – the article leaving this reader wondering how widely these tactics might be applied to the rest of us.

Too, we gain insight into John Kerry and his approach to foreign policy, which may very well ask you to wonder what he might’ve been like as president.

One subject bound to unsettle readers has to do with data and data mining in the workplace and how that might affect your life as a worker. Altogether fitting for sure, but big data need not be a workplace onus. Such data systems, properly used, can set workers free from almost all clerical work and much of the drudgery of reports, analyses, and the like. Why not, for instance, set these freed workers down in front of the organization’s future, using them creatively to further improve such organization’s products and services?

There’s more here, of course, and The Atlantic is doing those of us committed to reading this fine magazine a most welcome journalistic service.

 

 

Visit my website here, and my FB Fan Page here for more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you. I’ll soon be adding podcasts of selected book reviews to my website, as well as an opportunity to buy mp3 files of my reading of Sam’s Place – Stories, so look for those.