Saturday, September 13, 2014

Ten Books

There are these things going around on FB and so I thought I would list the 10 books that changed my life here. In no order, and off the top of my head, as, I think, the rules state:

1) Lord Foul's Bane, by Stephen R. Donaldson. I was a fantasy fan in my teens and this character Thomas Covenant seemed so real and flawed. It was a revelation and was great for me at the time so I could understand that morality is not simple.

2) The Foundation Trilogy, by Asimov. Not sure why. I feel like Dune and The Empire of the East by Saberhagen changed me too, but back in those days every book or record did, like when the Cult's Love came out.

3) Pastoralia, by George Saunders. This one is just so good. "The Barber's Unhappiness" is one of the best stories ever, so honest and so hard to read at times.

4) What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, by Raymond Carver. I hadn't read Carver long ago when I started writing short fiction in a class taught by Tom Henighan during my undergrad. He was a model and I didn't know it. I think he'd changed things so much I was copying his copies.

5) Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, by Grace Paley. I still think she is horribly underrated, like she should be mentioned before Carver every time, and before Saunders, and before all of them except maybe Alice Munro (who is not on this list because I don't remember her books, just some stories. I've read her books so many times I feel like her work exists just like short fiction should -- as a life-long collection of discrete stories. Anyway, back to Paley. It was so great to hear her name from Gish Jen when she read with Tobias Wolff at the last AWP.

6) Swarm, by Jorie Graham. For better or worse, changed the way I read and write poetry, and led to my finding her other work, like the poem "At the Cabaret Now."
7) 60 Stories, by Donald Barthelme. "The Glass Mountain," "The School," "See the Moon?" "City of Churches," "Me and Mrs. Mandible," the one with Paul Klee in the title . . . they are all so good. Somehow he manages to be so clever and so funny without being cold.

8) Nine Stories, by J. D. Salinger. I cannot get enough of "For Esme, with Love and Squalor." Every time I read a book about war, or a book where characters try to live after some kind of trauma, I cannot help but think of this story.

9) The Mezzanine, by Nicholson Baker

10) Coming Through Slaughter, by Michael Ondaatje

Short Fiction from the Car Wash

My new book, We Don't Listen to Them, will be published in a few short weeks.

It's a book that's taken a long while to write. I know some people write collections from the outset, knowing a book will result. I really believe short stories must stand alone, so the timeline of this book's composition is hard to be sure about, but I know have been writing short stories all along, and my first book of stories was published way back in 2002, so that's a while.

I am trying to look at them objectively right now. That's hard, for some reason, until the physical book is in my hands. But it is nice to see this little review.

Also nice was a great review of my previous Thistledown Press book, The Ditch Was Lit Like This, published in the Fiddlehead.

The process of publishing and promoting can be demoralizing in some ways, so the see a one of your books read so attentively years after its publication is a great encouragement.