The Year in Reading, 2018

December 15, 2018 § Leave a comment

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I got away from writing about the books I read and enjoyed this year, so here is a list in digest form as I shared it on Twitter.

Probably my greatest literary achievement was attending the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in August, where I met about a half-dozen of the authors mentioned here and either bought and read their books in anticipation of meeting with them or in the months following.

THE IDIOT by Elif Batuman. A look inside the mind of an inquisitive Harvard freshman becomes a thorough meditation about the apartness of worlds and lands, the fractured nature of language, and the perplexity of love.

THE SPORT OF KINGS by C.E. Morgan. A novel about legacy, horse racing, and race relations spanning generations of a Kentucky family, vast in scope yet with scenes sculpted with delicacy and a playfully expansive vocabulary.

CLASS A by Lucas Mann. A chronicle of the 2010 season of the Single-A Clinton, Iowa LumberKings, and the dynamic that exists between athletes with their eyes set on major-league gold and the fans who cling to small-town hopefulness.

MARLENA by Julie Buntin. About navigating the waters of a volatile friendship ending in tragedy and the haunting of one’s psyche into adulthood.

FLÂNEUSE by Lauren Elkin. A a fascinating and whimsical tour through Paris and other literary cities through the eyes of the resilient women (writers and characters) sauntering through them.

FARMER by Jim Harrison, a quiet book about manhood and loneliness and the search for fraudulent ecstasies amid restricted promise.

HOUSEKEEPING by Marilynne Robinson. A strange story born out of a mysterious place, “chastened …by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere.”

THE EMPATHY EXAMS by Leslie Jamison. Wise essays exploring, among other things, pain and how we react to it in ourselves and in others, along with a generous engagement with the strange that reminded me of the best of Didion.

THERE THERE by Tommy Orange. A tense and layered story about the contemporary Native American experience, the struggle to belong, and the violence undercurrent in lives torn between identities.

NIGHT AT THE FIESTAS by Kirstin Valdez Quade. Stories set in the American Southwest that look at the spaces between families and generations and the challenge of faith and traditions among them.

SICK by Porochista Khakpour. An honest memoir of illness and its bafflements both natural and institutional, set against the larger story of one writer’s search for herself through cities, relationships, friend circles, and her own artistic ambitions.

IMAGINE WANTING ONLY THIS by Kristen Radtke. A graphic exploration of places buried, ruined, and abandoned, and uncovering the stories smothered underneath, prompted by the unexpected death of the author’s beloved uncle.

SIGNS AND WONDERS by Alix Ohlin. Richly drawn character-driven stories about the complicated and often damaged relations among intelligent creatures and their families.

STEPHEN FLORIDA by Gabe Habash. A lucidly crafted portrait of a college wrestler in North Dakota, and a darkly rendered critique about the constrictions of competition and obsession.

INSURRECTIONS by Rion Amilcar Scott. Wisely crafted stories in a range of styles that forge links between generations and neighbors in the black community of a Maryland town under the shadow cast by its history.

HOMESICK FOR ANOTHER WORLD by Ottessa Moshfegh. Stories featuring humans unafraid to peel their scabs and revel in the bloodiness of their wounds as a means of escaping the confines of the body and their own angst.

ONCE I WAS COOL by Megan Stielstra. Confessional essays at once chatty and thoughtful about testing boundaries, responsibilities, and the warped evolution of the adult self.

THE STORY OF MY TEETH by Valeria Luiselli. An imaginative tale as impressive for its wicked topography and seamless integration of philosophical theory as it is for the raconteurial wanderings of its memorable protagonist.

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Honorable Mention for Robert and Adele Schiff Award in Prose

November 13, 2018 § Leave a comment

I am delighted to discover that I am listed for an Honorable Mention for my submission to The Cincinnati Review’s 2018 Robert and Adele Schiff Award in Prose.

Congratulations to Tori Malcangio, who won the award for her story “See What I Mean” (chosen by Michael Griffith), as well as to Maggie Millner, who won for her poem “Cherry Valley” (chosen by Rebecca Lindenberg).

Good Brown Girl from the Barrio

October 6, 2018 § Leave a comment

Cisneros

If House on Mango Street cut me open, the poetry of Cisneros shattered me. I was expecting more of Esperanza, the narrator of Mango Street. Instead I got Sandra Cisneros herself — wild, raw, and vulnerable on the page in ways that left me buzzing. She wrote of her family, of violence, of travel, of sex, of lovers, of chaos, of loneliness, depression, and obsessive love. She wrote of all things a “good brown girl” from the barrio should not experience, much less put down on the page. When I read her poem “Christ You Delight Me” from Loose Woman and came to the last stanza — Suckle vines, I have to hunker//My cunt close to the earth,//This little pendulum of mine//Ringing, ringing, ringing — I couldn’t believe it. A Mexican-American woman, talking like that?

At Bustle, Lizz Huerta, my wonderful friend from the Misfit Crew at Bread Loaf, writes about Sandra Cisneros and how a writer is born when she finds herself on the page.

On Andy Capp at Ploughshares

September 23, 2018 § Leave a comment

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At the Ploughshares blog, I wrote about the comic-strip character Andy Capp, created by Reg Smythe. Despite a history of domestic violence, misogyny, and hostility to the role of the domestic citizen, the character continues to maintain a minor following and be used as a spokesman to sell popular line of snack foods.

Andy’s abuse of Flo was such an indelible part of his brand that it informed the marketing copy employed by Fawcett in paperback collections of the strip published in the 1960s and ‘70s. That he survives serves, to me, as an example of how our ugliest and most tired characters are granted new pathways for reinvention in spite of their inability to speak to modern sensibilities.

Curbside at Ghost Town

August 7, 2018 § Leave a comment

Issue 10 of Ghost Town, the online lit magazine of California State University-San Bernardino, has been released this week and I’m happy to have a new story in it called “Curbside.”

Anyone can see your shit. They see your cheats, your workarounds, your porn fetishes, your tricks for remembering your passwords—and you have passwords for things you shouldn’t need passwords for, like catching up on whole seasons of The A-Team on Netflix because that’s what you’re good for now.

We used to do things, Duke. We used to have dreams.

That’s what Linnie told him. Or what he remembers her telling him. It was one of her speeches where she pivots subjects midway through. He was holding the remote like a thumbs-up, and before he knew it she was thunking her roller bag down the stairs.

It’s an issue with an impressive cast of poets and prose writers to celebrate the magazine’s 10th anniversary. Many thanks to editor Chad Sweeney and fiction editor Devin Almond.

The Sock Gnome at Juked

June 26, 2018 § Leave a comment

Damien’s paintings had razor wit and were executed flawlessly, but Julianne sensed some hesitation in the timing. She felt compelled to ask if he had ever thought about working on a larger scale, cautiously tossing out the suggestion that while celebrity wreckage (Natalie Wood, Frances Farmer, Amy Winehouse) might seem like a hot subject now it wouldn’t age well, and there might be room for more of him, and he didn’t take it like an uptight asshole when she said this. In fact, he told her he appreciated the critique. That kind of candor is hard to come by in a crowd like this, he said, circling his finger.

It’s probably not a good idea for a writer to have a favorite piece that they’ve produced, but “The Sock Gnome”—published this week at Juked, might be mine. I had a lot of fun writing this story, and I hope it shows. Thanks to Ryan Ridge for giving it a nice home.

Heading to Bread Loaf

May 22, 2018 § Leave a comment

Last week I received the thrilling news that I’ve been accepted as a General Contributor in Fiction to the 2018 Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Middlebury, Vermont.

It’ll be my first time at the conference (this was the first year I applied) and I’m excited and can’t wait for August.