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“The Ball” by Irène Némirovsky

10 Aug

Golder

I read Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française in French to prepare for my language exam at UW. Among the three works I inched through, it was the only one I managed to finish that summer. (The others were Swann’s Way, which I hope to tackle again one day, though it will probably have to be in English with some kind of Proust support group, and a vintage collection of short stories in a volume designed for college students, which was kind of stodgy.)  What I remember best from Suite Française, other than the scenes of Parisians evacuating before the German Occupation, is Némirovsky’s use of light. A woman hiding in a house shrouded in trees seems trapped in something aquatic. It was then that I learned and cherished the word glaucous.

Other than the fact that the French were fleeing the Nazis, there was no whiff of anti-Semitism in that book that I, with my limited language skills, could detect. So I was surprised, when reading Claire Messud’s introduction to the collection David Golder, The Ball, Snow in Autumn, The Courilof Affair that Némirovsky was virulently anti-Semitic, a token Jew at a right-wing newspaper, and a convert to Catholicism. Not that any of this saved her in the end. (For an in-depth discussion of Némirovsky see Susan Rubin Suleiman’s The Némirovsky Question.)

Michael read “David Golder,” the novel that made Némirovsky famous at 26. Though the story is well-written, the stereotypical depictions of Jewish businessmen did not sit well with him. (It should be pointed out, if you don’t know, that the stereotype of the banker Jew is a result of centuries of discrimination, as Jews were not allowed to practice most other professions or own land.) I wondered whether the popularity of “David Golder” had any connection to pandering to stereotypes. I decided to save my time and skip to “The Ball.”

Here, the Kampfs are a nouveau-riche couple who want to throw their first big party. M. Kampf “made a killing” in the Stock Market and in just four years they moved from a modest apartment to one that could accommodate (if a bit uncomfortably) 200 guests. The story was published in 1929 and you can feel the imminent doom.

M. Kampf is Jewish (alas, the Jewish stockbroker) and his wife is Catholic. They’re raising their fourteen-year-old daughter Antoinette to be Catholic. Mme. Kampf, whose past is questioned and who married M. Kampf for money, is desperate to host a glamorous party that will establish her reputation with the aristocracy. She hires a band to play the blues and the Charleston, and orders a bevy of roses, buckets of champagne, aspic, oysters, foie gras, caviar sandwiches, game, fish, petit fours, and, a modern luxury to be delivered fresh at 11 pm: ice cream.

Poor Antoinette keeps getting in the way of party planning. It is her violent emotions that attract me most to this story. Her thoughts feel the most real, compared to the somewhat flat, Mme. Bovary-esque aspirations of Mme. Kampf. Indignant, in bed, Antoinette thinks:

To them a fourteen-year-old was just a kid–to be pushed around like a dog…I want to die! God, please make me die…Dear God, sweet Holy Virgin, why did you make me their child? Punish them, I’m begging you. Punish them just once, and after that, I’ll gladly die.

Antoinette’s desire for vengeance suggests something darker here than your run-of-the-mill teen anger, but it also pushes this story deliciously to its conclusion. The characters probably aren’t any more likable than in “David Golder,” not that that is a requirement for my reading pleasure. But Antoinette’s course of action moves the story toward a complex, yet surprisingly tender, picture of mother-daughter conflicts.  If you like the glamor of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age Stories, or coming-of-age stories in general, you’ll want to check this one out.

“Translation is not kale” in The Seattle Review of Books

10 Aug

WITMonth2017-2August is Women in Translation Month. This is the fourth year of the campaign, which was founded by literary blogger and biophysicist Meytal Radzinksi. I’m a big fan of this effort to raise awareness about women writers in translation and read more of them. And, I’m super excited to have my piece “Translation is not kale” in The Seattle Review of Books today, which discusses WITMonth in a wider context and revels in some of my favorite-favorite books. You can read “Translation is not kale” here. I’ve also got three reviews scheduled right here on my blog, starting today and continuing the next two Thursdays. More soon!

 

“Marital Rifts Three Ways” in Women’s Review of Books

31 Jul
WRB_34.4_cover__13062.1498484559.1280.1280

Eleanor Roosevelt in a très chic hat.

I’m happy to have a piece in the July/August issue of Women’s Review of Books, discussing Jade Sharma’s Problems (Coffee House Press), Julia Franks’ Over the Plain Houses (Hub City Press), and Angela Woodward’s Natural Wonders (FC2). You can purchase a digital copy here.

In other news, last week I had a lovely time chatting with fellow LaSalle Storyteller Award winner Peter Mountford and Scott James of Solipsis Publishing about the writing life and the impact the award has had on our work. You can watch the video here. The deadline for the 2017 award is August 28. If you’re a Washington State fiction writer, you should apply!

 

“What Keeps You Up At Night?” in PageBoy IX

28 Apr
Beetle

The natural history of beetles Edinburgh :Henry G. Bohn, 1852. biodiversitylibrary.org/page/16056978

My poem-collage-essay-thing (I guess the kids these days call it a hybrid piece), “What Keeps You Up At Night?” is in the current issue of PageBoy Magazine. Issue IX’s theme is “writers on writers” and my piece touches on Kafka, Ricardo Piglia, anxiety, and memory. You can pick up an issue online, at the launch party at Vermillion on May 5th from 7-9 pm, or in Portland on May 27 from 6-7 pm at Another Read Through Books.

After the May 5 launch, you can pick Pageboy up at many fine bookstores. (I’ve starred stores that also carry the new issue of Moss. Maximum efficiency! Yay.)

In Seattle:

Elliot Bay*, University Bookstore*, Third Place Books*, Bulldog News, Open Books, Left Bank Books*, First and Pike News. (Moss is also available at Phinney Books.)

In Portland: Powell’s*, Another Read Through.
In Olympia: Orca Books, Last Word Books, The Evergreen State College Library.
In San Francisco: Dog Eared Books, City Lights, Green Apple Books.
In Berkeley: Pegasus Books (Shattuck).

 

Apropos of Moss, you can also find it:

In LA: Skylight Books.

In NYC: McNally Jackson.

Winter Class: Writing About Place

14 Dec

pieter_bruegel_the_elder_-_hunters_in_the_snow_winter_-_google_art_projectPieter Bruegel the Elder – Hunters in the Snow (Winter) – 1565

This winter, I’m teaching Writing About Place at Hugo House. In this six-week class, we’ll read stories by Flannery O’Connor, Louise Erdrich, and Ursula LeGuin, among other illustrious authors. We’ll write about places we know, places we don’t know, and places that exist only in our imaginations. And, we’ll talk about memory, research, and world building.

 

Class meets Wednesdays 5-7 pm from 2/22-3/29. Hugo House is located in First Hill, an easy-peasy trip from downtown and right next to the always-free Frye Art Museum. Speaking of place, if you’ve not been to the Hugo House’s temporary home, you’re in for treat, with a light-filled atrium and mysterious winding hallways.  Registration is now open. The scholarship deadline is 12/16 and there’s an early bird discount until 12/19! Hope to see you there.

December Events

27 Nov
ampersand

Olympic Sculpture Park; photo by George Szilagyi

As the year winds down into its darkest days, I hope you’ll join me for one of these events. If you come to two, I will give you a lollipop.

  • Friday, December 2, at 8 pmThe Furnace Says Goodnight at Hollow Earth Radio. Thirteen Furnace writers contributed pieces that Corinne and I have woven into a single story. The pieces are at turns raw, luminous, defiant, and hopeful. I’m super excited to see the collaboration come alive on stage.  And there will be klezmer music! Please come help us celebrate our last performance. If you’re not in town, you can tune in online at hollowearthradio.org.
  • Wednesday, December 7, at 7 pm: Superfriends: Moss + Pacifica at Open Books. Two literary magazines near and dear to me are having launch parties for their latest issues. I’m in Moss #6! Pacifica published my first poem back in March.
  • Tuesday, December 13, at 7 pm: Seattle Fiction Federation at Richard Hugo House.  A fiction-full night! I’m reading alongside Steve Sibra, Lucy Hitz, and Donna Miscolta, whose story collection Hola and Goodbye just came out from Carolina Wren Press. There’s also an open mic, so come with up to 5 minutes of fiction to share.

Jack Straw Podcast: Excerpt from Paralegal and interview with Kevin Craft

18 Aug

Jack Straw logo

The podcast from my 2015 Jack Straw fellowship is now up on their blog. Curator Kevin Craft spoke with me about my novel-in-progress PARALEGAL and the creative process. Then I read an excerpt, featuring, among other things, cabbage and spite. (Per Levi Fuller’s recommendation, I might retitle it CABBAGE AND SPITE.)

Here’s how the podcast begins:

Sometimes she wondered if part of her motivation to pursue art was simply spite.

Listen

You can pick up an anthology with this excerpt and those of all the 2015 fellows here. Many thanks to Kevin Craft, Levi Fuller, Joan Rabinowitz, and everyone at Jack Straw Cultural Center!

Women in Translation Month

26 Jul

Women in Translation Month is around the corner! Last year, I compiled a list of translated books by women that I enjoyed and created a Women in Translation Bingo game. I also wrote about novellas by Marguerite Duras and Eileen Chang and poetry collections from Rocío Cerón and Angélica Freitas.

This summer has been a bit more hectic as I’ve been teaching more, taking my second novel through an eighth draft, and researching my third novel. However! I’m excited for Women In Translation Month and wanted to share with you four books on my to-read pile.

What have you been reading? WITMonth2016

“Mapping Imagination” in Airplane Reading

16 May

photo (21)I just got my contributor copy of Airplane Reading, an anthology about air travel edited by Christopher Schaberg and Mark Yakich which includes my essay “Mapping Imagination,” about traveling to Argentina to research my first novel.

I’m honored to be in some pretty outstanding company:

Lisa Kay Adam * Sarah Allison * Jane Armstrong * Thomas Beller * Ian Bogost * Alicia Catt * Laura Cayouette * Kim Chinquee * Lucy Corin * Douglas R. Dechow * Nicoletta-Laura Dobrescu * Tony D’Souza * Jeani Elbaum * Pia Z. Ehrhardt * Roxane Gay * Thomas Gibbs * Aaron Gilbreath * Anne Gisleson * Anya Groner * Julian Hanna * Rebecca Renee Hess * Susan Hodara * Pam Houston * Harold Jaffe * Chelsey Johnson * Nina Katchadourian * Alethea Kehas * Greg Keeler * Alison Kinney * Anna Leahy * Allyson Goldin Loomis * Jason Harrington * Kevin Haworth * Randy Malamud * Dustin Michael * Ander Monson * Timothy Morton * Peter Olson * Christiana Z. Peppard * Amanda Pleva * Arthur Plotnik * Neal Pollack * Connie Porter * Stephen Rea * Hugo Reinert * Jack Saux * Roger Sedarat * Nicole Sheets * Stewart Sinclair * Hal Sirowitz * Jess Stoner * Anca L. Szilágyi * Priscila Uppal * Matthew Vollmer * Joanna Walsh * Tarn Wilson.

 

 

Springtime Readings

23 Feb

photo (18)Behold, Seattle’s gloriously long spring, stretching from February to late June. In my youth, the colors of my birthday month featured gray slush and the unnatural blue icing on Carvel ice cream cakes. Now, there is a profusion of pink in all the azaleas, rhododendrons, early cherry blossoms, meaty camellias.

Speaking of meat, I’m reading at a”Moveable Feast” themed reading on Saturday, March 5 at 7 pm, alongside my fellow Jack Straw‘ster Bernard Grant and Emily Holt. They’re promising a themed cocktail and open mic to follow, so come have a drink and bring food-themed work to share. This will be at a private home in Madrona on 34th and Columbia, as a part of the roving Makeshift Reading Series. Incidentally, this is also the second time I’m reading at a private home, which is just a lovely experience. A few weeks ago, I read at a party Artist Trust threw for me (!), hosted by Gar LaSalle. It was surreal and delightful and an honor. Pictures here!

Then on Wednesday, April 6 at 7 pm, I’m reading at the third anniversary edition of Lit Fix at Chop Suey, alongside Anastacia Tolbert, Michelle Peñaloza, Sean Beaudoin, Gint Aras, and acoustic solo project The Wild. I’ll be reading nonfiction, a genre I’ve been diving deeper into in the last year or so, and which I’ve never performed before.

Lastly, on Wednesday, April 13, I’m returning to Castalia, the University of Washington MFA program’s monthly series at Hugo House. Details on the line up to come!

I’ll have copies of my chapbook I Loved You in New York on hand at each of these readings, for $5. You can also get them from alice blue books at the APRIL book expo on March 20, at AWP in Los Angeles March 31-April 2, or via Etsy.

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