Tag Archives: reading

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

Netherlandish Birds

15 May

bosch-pond

Thanks to the tremendous generosity of the Artist Trust / Gar LaSalle Storyteller Award, I spent the earlier part of this month in the Netherlands, researching my third novel. M came as my trusty research assistant, furnishing highlighters, snacks, and sweaters with alacrity. There’s a lot of information crammed in my skull right now, which I am organizing as best I can, hoping it seeps into the crevices of my subconscious fruitfully.

What struck me on our trip: the birds! (I know, I know, put a bird on it.) Egrets, loons, swans, geese, ducks, grouse, crows; white-breasted, brilliant blue, long-tailed, plump and shimmery; raucous, trilling, warbling, chortling. Fact: the first painting acquired by the Rijksmuseum features a bold, angry swan.

Jan_Asselijn_-_De_bedreigde_zwaan;_later_opgevat_als_allegorie_op_Johan_de_Witt_-_Google_Art_Project

In the moat by the citadel in ‘S-Hertogenbosch, an egret bullied ducks until a trio of geese chased the egret to the boardwalk where it loomed. This continued on a loop for a while. A seagull swooped down to chase the egret further and when the egret returned, the geese trailed it, sinister and slow. Sinister, at least, until we realized there were goslings near.

In a canal in Rotterdam, three loons had a lovers’ spat. Slapped wings, held heads beneath the water–murderous! Not far from there, we strolled past the “swan bridge,” soaring and modern.

On our last night in Amsterdam, we stayed at a fanciful b&b on the Western Canal Belt. Our hostess could not greet us when we arrived. She hid our keys in a flowerpot. Up two steep, narrow flights of stairs, we flung open the door. The lights were on, the doors and windows open, a gust of wind coming from the terrace, which led to another room with another open door, and the flutter and chirp of green and yellow parakeets, in a big cage looking down upon the Keizersgracht canal. Old books stacked everywhere, art on the walls and leaning upon the books, a laptop left on a long wooden table, half open, as if our hostess had left in a hurry. It had the feel of that computer game Myst, where mysterious rooms, empty of people, always suggest a presence, a place quickly abandoned. We did meet her late that night and in the morning at breakfast the birds flew freely about the room and she would call to them and air kiss them and talked to us about Argentina and Barcelona and photography and her love of Amy (Winehouse).

Apropos of birds, on the flight back, I finished Noy Holland’s debut novel Bird, a raw gorgeous thing. Here, I leave you with an excerpt:

She was hungry again and gorged herself on chicken fried steak and skittles, on vermilion faces of canyons, cliffs you could dig with a spoon.

 

Upcoming Readings

10 Aug

Autumn, that busy literary season, starts a bit early for me, with three readings coming up this month, and more to follow September through December. As I promised on King 5’s New Day Northwest (!!!), I will channel a young Jack Nicholson in at least one reading this year. Jack Nicholson in Chinatown

AUGUST

SEPTEMBER

  • Thursday, September 10, 6 pm: An extra special Jack Straw event at the It’s About Time Reading Series in Ballard, themed around Jack Straw, a leader of the English Peasant Revolt of 1381. These insurgent peasants traveled throughout southern England, gathering followers, opening prisons, killing lawyers and telling stories. As I’ll be reading an excerpt from my novel-in-progress Paralegal, I’ve been tasked with covering the “killing lawyers” portion of the evening. Martha Kreiner will give a craft talk on opening prisons. L.J. Morin and Clare Johnson will gather all the followers and tell all the stories.

OCTOBER

NOVEMBER

DECEMBER

  • Thursday, December 3, 7 pm: Pay Dirt at the Rendezvous in Belltown. To celebrate my 4Culture grant, I’ll be reading from my novel Paralegal alongside fellow Jack Straws Emily Bedard, Matthew Schnirman, Bernard Grant, and Martha Kreiner. We’ll dig up the dirt on art, money, desire, and making a living.

(No, I didn’t shamelessly tag a zillion things in this post…Okay, yes I did.)

Women in Translation

25 Jun

August is Women in Translation Month (WITMonth), designed to encourage readers, reviewers, publishers, and translators to explore more books in translation by women. If you’ve been following the VIDA count, then the grim statistics around women in translation (gathered diligently by Meytal Radzinski) is, unfortunately, not a surprise: women writers comprise only about 30% of books translated into English. As I’m passionate about cultivating a diverse literary ecosystem, this is a project near and dear to my heart. And though I’m happy WITMonth is an annual event, I’m getting started right now. Because there are SO MANY good books and I’m sure there are SO MANY MORE out there waiting to be picked up by a publisher and gobbled by readers.

I immediately pulled all the books from my shelves that fit the bill. I made a read pile and a to-be-read pile. Of the read pile, I’d like to make some recommendations, for those of you who’d like to join me in WITMonth. Read these books! And I’ll be diving into the to-be-read pile and writing about the gems in that pile in August. Read those books too! Let’s talk about ’em!

Recommended Books

Tasty pile of books in translation

Tasty pile of books in translation.

Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda, translated from Catalan by Martha Tennent (Open Letter, 2009). A gorgeously written and harrowing novel about cruelty among humans and violence in nature.

Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante, translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions, 2005). A dark, slender novel about a woman abandoned by her husband spiraling into terrifying psychological territory, with a helpful dash of absurd humor and redemption. After devouring this book, anything else was VERY difficult to get into. So good. This brief review in The New Yorker is spot on. I have not cracked open her more recent Neapolitan series, but it is definitely on the docket.

The End of the Story by Liliana Heker, translated from Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger (Biblioasis, 2012). Another dark novel. I’m sensing a trend? This metafictional work explores Argentina’s Dirty War. I reviewed it for Ploughshares.

Death as a Side Effect by Ana Maria Shua, translated from Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger (University of Nebraska Press, 2010). As I note briefly in my review of Heker’s novel, Shua‘s is “dark and wry and screwed up in the best possible dystopian way.” Is it weird to quote myself? Oh well.

Dreams and Stones by Magdalena Tulli, translated from Polish by Bill Johnston (Archipelago Books, 2004). I adore Archipelago for focusing on translation and producing truly beautiful books. Dreams and Stones is probably the least dark book on my list, a kind of treatise on cities and imagination.

Mile End by Lise Tremblay, translated from French by Gail Scott (Talon Books, 2002). I read this novel a few times, starting in a class in college on literary Montreal. It’s set in the neighborhood I lived in while at McGill, which may be part of my attachment to it. And, yes, yes, this is another dark story, about an obese pianist at a ballet school teetering toward psychosis.

The Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller, translated from German by Michael Hoffman (Metropolitan Books, 1996). Muller, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in literature, paints a grim picture of life in Romania under Ceausescu. The language is highly poetic, and I’ve been working on an essay about it (among other things) for quite some time. In fact, the assignment I’ve given myself for the next few weeks is to cut that essay up paragraph by paragraph to figure out how to keep going with it.

Why the Child is Cooking in the Polenta by Aglaja Veteranyi, translated from German by Vincent Kling (Dalkey Archive Press, 2012). Told from the point of view of an unnamed young woman, this is the story of Romanian refugees who travel through Europe as circus performers. Yes, yes, dark. But also with absurd humor. (Some criticize Muller for being humorless. I say, bah. Read her still. Not everything is funny ha ha.)

Phew. That’s a lot of recommendations. There are more in my pile. I may write more about them. More likely I will tweet my favorite bits from them in August. But not just August. Probably all year. WITForever!

My To-Be-Read Pile. Stay tuned for reviews & more !

Another tasty pile of translated books.

Another tasty pile of translated books.

Background Reading for a Novel-in-Progess

18 Apr

I’ve been feeling anxious about the many things I’m juggling at the moment, so I just did a “brain-dump,” hashing out my immediate deadlines and less imminent ones, projects where I owe work to others and projects where I owe work to myself, and when in the coming months I will be able to do that. This is something I do from time to time, but having just finished auditing the ArtistTrust EDGE program, I have a few more tips and resources under my belt, with healthy reminders about making time for the writing and valuing that work. I feel a lot better. Of my own projects, there are a handful of short stories that I want to develop further, a handful to submit (or continue submitting), and a general plan to arrange the collection (in hard copy, not in my mind, which I’ve pretty much done) in September.

Anxiety-reduction aside, the brain dump also got me excited about looking ahead to my second novel. I wrote a quick, rough sketch of about 115 pages last April and put it aside to simmer. I took a number of inspiring and invigorating classes at Hugo House in March, including Chris Abani‘s class on voice and Sam Lipsyte‘s class on keeping a story going. Now, I’m taking Peter Mountford‘s excellent class on narrative structure, and had a really productive workshop of my synopsis and first chapter. I’m looking forward to digging deeper into the main conflict of the story before I set out to rewrite with more intention. And I’m excited to keep reading novels that I think will feed this book. For my first novel, I read countless books. I wish I had kept a more careful list all in one place, but my notes are scattered over many notebooks, and it would take me some time to sift through the pages to put it all together. I pretty much read anything I could get my hands on that was from or about Argentina and seemed remotely related, as well as a number of books that used magic realism in some way similar to how I tend to write it. I’m trying to be more organized about my second novel.

So far, here are some of the works feeding into Novel # 2. If you have any recommendations that fit into the nodes developing here, feel free to leave a comment!

Not pictured: Grisham, Le Carre.

Pictured left to right: A Convergence of Birds, An Almost Perfect Moment, The Brooklyn Follies, The Map and the Territory, Bleak House, Billy Budd and Other Stories, Just Kids, The Emperor’s Children, A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, The Big Short, Lives of the Artists. Not pictured: some legal fiction by Grisham, some spy fiction by Le Carre.

Related posts:

  1. On Reading
  2. End of the Story
  3. Narcissus and Goldmund

Upcoming Readings

26 Jan

Recently, a gardening-savvy friend got me excited about what will crop up in our yard as the weather warms – lilacs, cherries, and plums, oh my! I just have to get through these last cold, muddy weeks. Luckily, I’ve got three readings on the horizon that will sneak me right into spring, all at the loverly Richard Hugo House:

  • Tuesday, February 5, 8 pm – The Castalia Reading Series – This is the monthly reading series for the UW MFA program, and I get to read as an alum for the first time. I’m reading alongside fellow alum & poet Rachel Welty and students Derek Robbins, Jay Yencich, and Kristine Greive.
  • Friday, February 15, 7:30 pm – Made at Hugo House Midyear Reading – As a part of the Made at Hugo House Fellowship, the fellows (Bill Carty, Irene Keliher, Eric McMillan, Katharine Ogle, Elissa Washuta, and me) will be sharing new work produced in the first half of the program.
  • Thursday, March 21, 7:00 pm – Cheap Beer & Prose – I’m reading alongside Nicole Hardy, Corinne Manning, and Kristen Young as a part of the series’ annual ladies’ night. Wee!

Addendum: At the Pine Box, Monday, February 11, 7:30 pm – Pacifica Launch Party – The literary magazine I help edit is launching its first issue! Lisa Nicholas-Ristcher, Maggie MK Hess, Sarah Kathyrn Moore, Leena Joshi, Joannie Stangeland, and Jake Uitti will be reading, and the book, designed by Ryan Diaz, is beeeeautiful.

On Reading

22 Aug

View from San Francisco Museum of Modern Art – can you find Waldo? Sometimes sifting through reading and ideas for stories feels a bit like this.

Twice this week, I thought, “this is *just* the thing I need to be reading.” It’s a curious and satisfying sensation, especially when that reading is incidental or meets a need in an unexpected way. I picked up Mark Doty’s slim book Still Life with Oysters and Lemon: On Objects and Intimacy in preparation for a class I’m teaching at Hugo House in October.  In my notebook, I ended up copying long passages from it (and I’m still reading it, so perhaps more on this later), but the kernel that first caught my attention will also, I think, help a lot with my in-progress short story collection, “More Like Home Than Home,” which explores themes of migration:

“[…]why resist intimacy, why seem to flee it? A powerful countercurrent pulls against our drive toward connection; we also desire individuation, separateness, freedom. On one side of the balance is a need for home, for the deep solid roots of place and belonging; on the other is the desire for travel and motion, for the single separate spark of the self freely moving forward, out into time, into the great absorbing stream of the world [….] We long to connect; we fear that if we do, our freedom and individuality will disappear.” (p.6-7)

Doty goes on to explore how to “think through things” – how attending to precise detail in objects is more than just that, how “intimacy seems to confront its opposite, which is the immensity of time” (p. 21).

Mark Slouka’s “The Hare’s Mask,” in Best American Short Stories 2011,  is the second item that set off little internal bells that said “yes, this.” It’s a multi-generational story, from the perspective of an adult thinking back to his childhood understanding of his father’s life, surviving the Holocaust in Czechoslovakia while his parents and sister had not. The story jumps in time to different ages when the narrator picks up details of his father’s story about a refugee hiding in his parents’ rabbit hutch in Brno, and his father’s struggle with the weekly task of slaughtering a rabbit for dinner. The central object of the story, a hare’s mask used by the narrator’s father in fly fishing, contains both that sense of intimacy and that immensity of time. In the contributor’s notes (which, in BASS, can sometimes be enormously helpful in a practical sense, and can sometimes a source of solace), Slouka writes:

“I had to warm the actual event, knead and stretch it until it became malleable to the imagination. The basic material is historical fact [….] Who knows where these things begin, really? [….] I sensed a story about history’s losses, time’s compensations, a child’s ability to misread the world. To get at it, I had to mix three generations. It was easy enough; in my heart, they were already blurred.” (p.343-344)

Reading these three texts – Doty’s essay, “The Hare’s Mask,” and Slouka’s note on the story – rearranged something subtly in my mind. I’m not sure it would’ve happened if I hadn’t read all three in close proximity to each other. I read Slouka’s story today before my morning walk and writing time. When I finished, without knowing exactly how, I just knew it would help me with a short story I’ve been struggling with, that I’d been spending too much space summarizing. It’s not totally explicable (who knows how these things begin, indeed), but, huffing up to north Capitol Hill, where it’s quiet and where the moss takes over the sidewalk, specific images started coming to my mind, enlivening what I worried was static and making sense of other images and ideas that had seemed disconnected and hazy. I realized that something in her past, in her family’s past, was heightening those conflicting desires Doty writes about, that need for both intimacy and freedom.

Two men in orange vests were at an intersection (this is not an image my story but what I actually saw on my walk today). One of them knelt on the asphalt and was pointing at a small divot in the road, possibly a hole. “This looks strange,” he was saying. He brought his eye to the street, peering toward a storm drain. I realized there was a divot in my story, that thing in her past, something to look at more closely. I haven’t decided yet whether to yank it open for the reader to see what’s beneath it, or whether to draw the reader’s attention to the divot itself and what it suggests. My guess is that I’ll have to yank it open for myself and then decided how much needs to be buried again.

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2. Glass Steak

3. Summer

Launching The Furnace

1 Aug

Tonight we’re launching The Furnace, and I’m very excited to be reading my story “More Like Home Than Home”. Corinne asked me a question about that story over on The Furnace’s blog, giving a little taste for the evening’s festivities, and over at Hollow Earth Radio’s blog there’s a nice round up of all the write ups we’ve gotten thus far.  And here’s the Facebook invite. Hooray! Hope to see you tonight!

Story Sounds

5 Jul

So I’ve got this reading in a month, and I’ve been thinking a lot about sound and how important reading aloud is for writing. Even without having a performance to prepare for, I like to read drafts aloud to see where they’re working or not. The story I’ll be reading this August 1, “More Like Home Than Home,” uses a lot of footnotes, which is a special listening challenge, so I’ve enlisted my friend Kristen Young to perform the story with me as the voice of the footnotes. I’m really excited to be working on this with her.

I’ve also been playing with SoundCloud and hope to record a story or novel chapter soon (and I posted a recording from my last Castalia reading for now). In the meantime, here’s a fabulous article on writing and sound from Constance Hale.

The Furnace

26 Jun

ImageI’m thrilled to kick off a new quarterly reading series in Seattle called The Furnace and hosted by Corinne Manning. The series features one new prose writer at a time, and its mission is “to encourage innovative storytelling and a vibrant literary community.” I like to think of it as literary biodiversity.

The reading is Wednesday, August 1, 6-7 pm at Hollow Earth Radio’s performance space in the Central District. You should come!

Check out the series’s Facebook page and “like” it: http://www.facebook.com/thefurnaceseattle

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