My 2018 Reading List

I love to read, but I struggle constantly with my own expectations of how and what to read and specifically with how much to read. The struggle comes to a head about this time of year when I look back and make some kind of judgment about how I spent my limited time and energy. For 2018, I ended up reading 52 books, obviously, an average of one per week, although it wasn’t paced out that way at all.

Dorie and Book Shelf
Seen here, my cat Dorie picks out her next book to read.

Does it matter? Does the number of books I’ve read make me a better person? Does it make me a better writer? There’s some science to back up both possibilities. But more importantly, I enjoy reading. I love a book that captures me with its language and its characters, and yeah, a great narrative helps too.

Two of the books I loved the most this past year are Jacob Shores-Arguello’s In the Absence of Clocks and John Brandon’s Further Joy. Neither writer was familiar to me when I came across their work in magazines. Arguello’s poetry was found in The New Yorker, and I found a short story by Brandon in Oxford American. Both journal pieces blew me away. I felt so lucky to discover that each had books that were as thoroughly good as their individual publications.

Here’s the list of all 52 books I read this year. I’d love to see what you read in 2018. And I’d love to year which books were your favorites and which ones will stick with you.

1. Russell Banks – A Permanent Member of the Family
2. Virgil – Eclogues
3. Julia Cameron – The Artist’s Way
4. Laura Hunter – Beloved Mother
5. Elaine Fletcher Chapman – Hunger For Salt
6. Jacob Shores-Arguello – In the Absence of Clocks
7. Michael Dowdy – Urbilly
8. Eric Shonkwiler – Moon Up, Past Full
9. William Shakespeare – The Merchant of Venice
10. Marie Howe – What the Living Do
11. Robert Pinsky – At the Foundling Hospital (Feb)
12. William Shakespeare – As You Like It
13. Marie Howe – The Good Thief
14. Jacob Shores-Arguello – Paraiso
15. Madeline Ffitch – Valparaiso, Round the Horn
16. Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge – Poemcrazy
17. Todd Boss – Tough Luck: Poems
18. Walt Whitman – Song of Myself (Mar)
19. Marc Harshman – Believe What You Can
20. Rita Quillen – The Mad Farmer’s Wife
21. Linda Parsons Marion – This Shaky Earth
22. Greg Wrenn – Centaur
23. John Brandon – Further Joy
24. John Lane – Anthropocene Blues
25. Larry Thacker – Drifting in Awe
26. Rachel Danielle Peterson – A Girl’s A Gun
27. Michael Knight – The Holiday Season
28. Jia Oak Baker – Well Enough to Travel
29. James M. Gifford – Jesse Stuart, Immortal Kentuckian
30. Manuel Gonzales – The Miniature Wife
31. Sharon Kay Penman – Falls the Shadow
32. Crystal Wilkinson – The Birds of Opulence
33. James Herriot – All Things Wise and Wonderful
34. Ottessa Moshfegh – My Year of Rest and Relaxation
35. Rowling, Tiffany & Thorne – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
36. William Glasser – Choice Theory
37. James Herriot – All Creatures Great and Small
38. Sylvia Lynch – Jack Lord: An Acting Life
39. Kevin Fitton – Dropping Ballast (manuscript)
40. Jane Smiley – A Thousand Acres
41. Stephen Mitchell – Gilgamesh
42. C.D. Wright – One with Others
43. Kevin Canty – Into the Great Wide Open
44. George Eliot – Silas Marner
45. Michael Kardos – The Three-Day Affair
46. Christopher Smith – Salamanders of the Silk Road
47. Grant Faulkner, Lynn Mundell, Beret Olsen – Nothing Short of 100
48. Maureen Seaton – Fisher
49. Amy D. Clark – Success in Hill Country
50. Langston Hughes – Let America Be America Again and other poems
51. Cassie Pruyn – Lena
52. Kathryn Stripling Byer – Catching Light

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New Short Story: Fiddlers

Thanks to Sliver of Stone Magazine for publishing my short story, Fiddlers, in their 16th issue. Fiddlers is sort of a dark Christmas story, so it might feel a little strange to read in this July heat wave. Or else, it might remind you what snow and cold feel like.

Sliver of Stone

The entire story can be read online at https://sliverofstonemagazine.com/fiddlers-by-denton-loving/.

One of my favorite writers, John Lane, also has an experimental essay in this issue: https://sliverofstonemagazine.com/the-father-box-by-john-lane/. It’s called The Father Box, and you should give it a read. It’s an honor to have my work anywhere in the vicinity of his!

There’s also some info about Darren Demaree’s new poetry book, Two Towns Overhttps://sliverofstonemagazine.com/2018/03/31/new-publications/.

Love Letters to Ourselves

I’m so fortunate to have interesting friends who are always doing creative things. Case in point is my friend Megan Galbraith. Below, you’ll see a letter Megan wrote calling for people to write love letters to ourselves. Megan has written one to herself, and if you’re game, she’ll trade with you. I’m working on my own love letter to myself right now. It’s not an easy task, but I’m glad Megan asked me to try it. I hope you will too. Check out Megan’s directions below.

Love Letters to Ourselves Image_edited

Dear Lover,

Earlier this year, in the midst of personal despair, I came across a self-care tip that seemed simple enough: write a love letter to myself. I tried it. It knocked me on my ass.

As much as I poo-poo the self-care industrial complex, writing that letter did help. It also got me thinking hard about love, wanting more of it in my life, and about ways to collectively build each other up instead of tearing each other down.

So, as part of The Dollhouse, I’m launching a collaborative project called “Love Letters to Ourselves.”

I want to revive the art of letter writing, spread the love around, and understand how other people love themselves.

Will you write one? I want to see your beautiful soul.

Here’s what to do:
1. Write a love letter to yourself in any form
2. Include your name and return address
3. Put it in an envelope, lick a stamp and . . .
4. Mail your letter to:
Lisette Ophelia Von Elsevier (see what I did there?)
P.O. Box 483
Cambridge, NY 12816
5. When I receive it, I’ll mail you my love letter to myself.
6. Voila! Pen Pals.

Send me some love!

All my love,
Megan

Recommended Reading 2/2/2018 – Short Stories

The best part about January being so long and cold was that it was a great time to read.  It was literally too cold to do anything else. February is starting off the same way. If you’re stuck inside this weekend and not sure what to read, here are some of the short stories I read last month. Try one or two or more.

“No Good” by Hala Alyan

“Freezer Burn” by Ron Austin

“Shine” by Ron Austin

“August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury

“The Ceiling” by Kevin Brockmeier

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“Demonman” by Julialicia Case is an amazing story that appeared online this month at The Master’s Review. Here’s how it begins:

“I am eleven the spring Demonman comes, first to the alley behind the Kroger, where the dumpsters reek like fermented orange juice, then to the train tracks by the boarded-up video store, then to the Harding mansion, still for sale, then to a snot-colored van with flattened tires. He comes to our nightmares, our whispered worries, to newspapers and televisions and notices in the post office. He’s called something else, a different name, although, of course, he is still Demonman. Since the shootings upstate, the police struggle with the race riots, but they claim to be searching for him, following the leads.”

“Expensive Lessons” by Anton Chekhov

“These Certain Young People” by Dave Eggers

First Night

“First Night” by Kevin Fitton appeared online this month at Storgy. I loved reading this story that covers a large emotional range but still manages to impart some humor. Here’s how it begins:

“It was the morning of New Year’s Eve, and a dull light confessed the start of another winter day. In Vermont this time of year, the days were short. It was dark when Brian woke in the morning for work and dark when he drove home from the office. It was the time of year Vermonters did their best to survive by taking vacations to the Caribbean, talking to their therapist, and drinking. The night before it was snowing when he went to sleep, and Brian dreamt that the roof was covered with two feet of heavy snow. In his dream, he could feel the house sweating as it tried to hold the weight, could hear the rafters cracking under their burden—pop, pop, pop, like the last kernels of corn on the stove.”

“The Miniature Wife” by Manuel Gonzalez

“Mermaid in the Jar” by Sheila Heti

“Plan B” by Michele Johnson

 “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien

“My Name is Jean-Pierre and I am Still an End Table” by Dana Schwartz

“Saying Goodbye to Yang” by Alexander Weinstein

 

If you’ve read a great short story lately, please tell me about it in the comments.

Eric Shonkwiler’s Moon Up, Past Full

Frank Bill may have said it best when he said that Eric Shonkwiler “has an eye for detail and a lot of heart. His words stay with you.”

I picked up Shonkwiler’s collection of novellas and stories, Moon Up, Past Full, when I was in Washington DC in 2017 for AWP.  For the rest of the year, the book sat at the top of my to-read pile, but I was having a hard time reading anything. When I finally picked the book up this week, it was like taking a shot of good whiskey—smoother than you could hope for and over quicker than you want it to be.

MUPFfc

I admire this book and Shonkwiler’s writing so much.  His stories are perfectly balanced between character and action. His imagery is great. His language has some beautifully poetic turns but is also perfectly precise. So much happens in each story that even the shorter pieces feel completely developed and novelistic in scope. However, it is in the longer works in this collection where Shonkwiler really shines.

The longest piece in the collection, “GO21,”—an apocalypse-type story that I didn’t want to end—was also one of my favorites. The story works on so many levels.  It’s a must read.

Another favorite was the story, “Rene,” originally serialized in three parts online at Fiddleblack. Rene is a young woman on a horse with a sick mother.  Like all of Shonkwiler’s stories, the complications keep adding up as the story goes along. Unlike most of the other pieces, Shonkwiler is exploring issues of race and class in this story. I highly recommend you click the link and read the story for yourself.

It’s not by any means one of the longest stories in the collection, but “My Wakeup” is probably my absolute favorite of these stories.  The story was originally published online at Splinter Generation, and again, I recommend you read it now. Like Shonkwiler’s other work, this story is detailed and deceptively simple.  It starts off with Geier, an Iraq war vet, on his return home from the base in Kuwait. Once back and unsure of what to do with himself, he hooks up with another former soldier, Jones, and the two take a road trip cross country.  Some of the drinking and drugging and whoring might be predicable, but (like all of Shonkwiler’s stories) the feeling behind it all feels tragically sincere which makes it unique. And beautiful. And well worth the read.

For more about Eric Shonkwiler and his writing, check out his webpage: http://www.ericshonkwiler.com/.  Follow him on Twitter: @eshonkwiler

My 2017 Reading List

Some year, I’m going to read 100 books within a space of 12 months.  It wasn’t 2017 though.  My list for this past year is so short, I’m almost ashamed to show it.  But here it is anyway.  Several of these books were read in manuscript form and aren’t available on the market yet.  Look for them in 2018.

I’ve talked a lot about how problematic I find J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy.  And I never skip a chance to say again what a bad book it is. Beyond that, I recommend so many of the beautiful books on this list for various reasons.

I suppose the book I’m most proud of reading this year is Cormac McCarthy’s The Orchard Keeper.  I started this book about 15 years ago–maybe longer.  I suppose I wasn’t read y for McCarthy.  And though I’ve read several of his other novels in the past decade, The Orchard Keeper sat on the shelf, never finished.  Going back to it this year, I found it to be a really beautiful book, and I was glad I had kept it around all those years.

I’d love to hear what your favorite books were from 2017, or the one you’re most proud of reading. Let’s all read more this new year.

Here’s my full list:

1. Jim Wayne Miller – The Mountains Have Come Closer
2. J.D. Vance – Hillbilly Elegy
3. Alison Stine – Ohio Violence
4. Lincoln Michel – Upright Beasts
5. Ron Houchin – The Man Who Saws Us in Half
6. Iris Tillman Hill – All This Happened Long Ago – It Happens Now
7. Blas Falconer – A Question of Gravity and Light
8. Claudia Emerson – The Late Wife
9. Charles River Editors – The Library of Alexandria and the Lighthouse of Alexandria
10. Gerry Wilson – Crosscurrents and Other Stories
11-18. 8 manuscripts for a poetry contest
19. Mark Wunderlich – The Earth Avails
20. Timothy Liu – Don’t Go Back to Sleep
21. Anais Duplan – Take This Stallion
22. Peter LaBerge – Makeshift Cathedral
23. Jeanne Bryner – Both Shoes Off
24. Keith Lesmeister – We Could Have Been Happy Here
25. James Arthur – Charms Against Lightning
26. Ocean Vuong – Night Sky with Exit Wounds
27. Sean Frederick Forbes – Providencia
28. Clifford Garstang – Everywhere Stories Volume 2
29. Jenson Beach – Swallowed By the Cold
30. Adam Clay – Stranger
31. Joanne Nelson – If Not For the Mess
32. Katlin Brock – The Dead Always Stay OR Between the Wounds
33. Wes Sims – Taste of Change
34. Mark Powell – Small Treasons
35. Carol Grametbauer – Homeplace
36. Cormac McCarthy – The Orchard Keeper
37. Richard Hugo – The Triggering Town
38. Donald Morrill – Beaut
39. Lynne Sharon Schwartz – No Way Out But Through

Recommended Reading 12/12/2017

The year is slipping away, but here are a few last-minute reading recommendations.  Enjoy!

Megan Culhane Galbraith has a short essay about sex, virginity, and Planned Parenthood online at Boink: http://boinkzine.com/2017/11/10/losing-it/.

Linda Michel-Cassidy’s essay, “This Snow, This Day,” (originally published at Harpur Palate) has been republished at Entropy: https://entropymag.org/this-snow-this-day/.

Rosemary Royston has two poems in the new issue of museum of americahttps://themuseumofamericana.net/current-issue/two-poems-by-rosemary-royston/.

Brian Tierney’s poem, “Morning in Galilee,” is online at Cincinnati Reviewhttps://www.cincinnatireview.com/samples/morning-in-galilee-by-brian-tierney/

You don’t want to miss this fascinating conversation in real pants, “HALF REVEALING, AND HALF CONCEALING THE SOUL: BARRETT WARNER INTERVIEWS CASSIE PRUYN”: https://realpants.com/half-revealing-and-half-concealing-the-soul-barrett-warner-interviews-cassie-pruyn/.

And Christian Whitney’s story, “Acceptance,” was a finalist in the summer fiction contest at Gulf Stream Literary Magazine.  Check out the story here: https://gulfstreamlitmag.com/acceptance/.

Mark Powell’s Small Treasons

Mark Powell’s latest novel, Small Treasons, examines a number of the tragedies and obstacles that particularly face us in these uncertain times.  But also, as with the best of literature, Powell is exploring some of the most universal questions of humanity.  Perhaps the central question of this book is about forgiveness.  Forgiveness of others, and more importantly, forgiveness of ourselves.

At the heart of this question is John Maynard, man whose past blocks him from having genuine relationships with his parents, his children and even his wife.  His wife, Tess, has a secret also.  She has become obsessed with videos ISIS beheadings.  And then there is Reed Sharma, one of Powell’s most complex characters: a young, would-be jihadist searching for something truthful, something more meaningful than those things that satisfy most young Americans, but unable to discern love from hate.

One of the strongest factors that keeps forgiveness at bay is the distance that builds between us and others.  Powell wrote an essay for Authors ‘Round The South about Don DeLillo’s book Players and how that book and the idea of distance inspired Small Treasons: http://authorsroundthesouth.com/90-the-southern-bookstore/10693-mark-powell-finds-his-bookstore.

I’ve read all of Mark Powell’s novels, falling in love along the way with all of them.  There are lines and images from each one that stick with me, and even more so, there are life-shattering questions and explorations from each book that haunt me.  Possibly to Powell’s own detriment, he is able to see the ever-moving mechanics of our modern world, all of the forces working with and against each other.  To our great fortune, Powell is able to use that knowledge to write a book like Small Treasons, both beautiful and tragic.

MarkPowell_AndBook_m

For more about Mark Powell and his work, check out his webpage http://www.markpowellauthor.com/.

My CutBank Interview with Keith Lesmeister

Thanks to Barry Maxwell and CutBank Literary Magazine for allowing me to interview my friend Keith Lesmeister about his new collection of stories, We Could’ve Been Happy Here (published by Midwest Gothic Press). Lesmeister lives and works in rural northeast Iowa, and all 12 of these stories explore the contemporary Midwest in some way. Here’s an excerpt from the interview.

DL: I wanted to ask you about the stories all being set in Iowa, which is your home state. The idea of the Mid-West is apparent in a lot of your work, especially in regards to how you create a sense of place to inform and impact your characters. Do you find it easy or difficult to write about this region that you call home?

KL: Very difficult because I’m from here, which means I take a lot for granted. I’ve had to readjust how I interpret my surroundings, thinking of myself like a tourist when I drive around, trying to take it all in. And despite the stereotypes, several parts of Iowa are quite beautiful. That’s been a big surprise for me as I’ve written this collection—how much I truly love the landscape around here.

It’s funny for this to come as a surprise to Lesmeister because when you’re reading his work, it’s pretty obvious how much to loves the place he’s writing about.

There’s also more in the interview about his love of basketball, and there’s some talk about how difficult it can be to herd cattle. Please read the entire piece at CutBank Onlinehttp://www.cutbankonline.org/cutbank-blog/2017/9/cutbank-interviews-keith-lesmeister.

Lesmeister’s fiction and nonfiction have been widely published, and We Could’ve Been Happy Here has received praise from writers such as Benjamin Percy and David Gates. Bret Anthony Johnston said, “These are brutal stories—brutally good, brutally urgent, brutally hopeful.”

Most importantly, be sure to buy the book.  You won’t be sorry.

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Joanne Proulx’s We All Love the Beautiful Girls

I met Canadian author Joanne Proulx about five years ago.  When we met, she had already published a wonderful novel called Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet, which I fell in love with quickly and deeply and for real.  It’s a beautiful book.  And it’s being made into a major motion film starring Juliette Lewis, Cameron Monaghan, Grayson Gabriel and Alexander MacNicoll.  It’s scheduled for release in 2018, and I can’t wait to watch.

Now Proulx has written another novel, We All Love the Beautiful Girls. I had an opportunity to read an advanced copy of the novel, and it’s so good that it hurts—heartbreaking and full of hope all at the same time.

Joanne Proulx book cover

Robert Wiersema reviewed the book for The Toronto Star, and he gave this synopsis of how the book starts:

Proulx spends the book’s first few pages offering glimpses into what seem nearly blessed lives. Mia and Michael are happily married, with a certain level of financial freedom: Michael is partner in a property management company and Mia, having left a job in banking, is now trying to build a career as a photographer. They might not be able to afford a spontaneous weekend in Whistler, but they own their own home and make do with skiing vacations closer to home in the company of their friends Helen and Peter — Michael’s partner — and their daughter Frankie. Their son, Finn, 17, is a good student, popular, who receives secret nocturnal visits from Jess, the beautiful girl next door, who years before was his babysitter.

Their idyllic lives are shattered, however, with the events of one night in late February. Early that evening, Mia and Michael are informed that not only has Peter been embezzling from the company, he has actually written Michael out of the partnership, stealing the firm out from under him. Later that night, intoxicated and fleeing a debauched house party, Finn passes out in the snow, and loses his right hand to the cold.

While this sounds like it might be the set-up for a standard triumph-against-adversity narrative, a fall-and-rise story, Proulx has something considerably stronger, and subtler, in store. The shifting fortunes of the Slate family put each character through their own individual struggles, pushing them to the breaking point, and beyond.   (Read all of Wiersema’s review here.)

“The book is also about anger and its consequences, both sexual and physical,” says Peter Robb in Ottawa’s artsfile. Robb also reports:

When she was young, Joanne Proulx had a brush with danger. A young man threw her over his shoulder at a party and headed upstairs. It was funny to start and then it wasn’t funny at all. Proulx avoided being sexually assaulted because, she said, she’s a fighter, but many, many women aren’t so fortunate.

The Ottawa writer has taken her own life experiences and those of many others, and built a book, a complex, thoughtful and provocative second novel called We All Love the Beautiful Girls that probes deeply into the lives and relationships of privileged people and those that they hold in their sway.

Proulx says this novel was written in part because she saw a terrifying rise in violence against women all over the world.  “It was always there but the conversation seemed to be moving more to the centre,” she told Robb.  And although this novel is not overtly political, it’s definitely a novel of our current political ad social atmosphere, where anyone who has power will use it regardless of the consequences.  Despite that truth, We All Love the Beautiful Girls is a pleasure to read.  Buy it today.