Category Archives: Reading

Soon: WITTScast Does Poetry!

In Episode 27 the WITTScasters will take a brief break from fiction and try to put together an insightful half-hour of poetry discussion. The following poems will help form the basis of what they’re trying to say:

(Oh, and the light summer schedule is over, so Episode 27 will come out on September 2nd, just one week after Episode 26!)

Shakespeare’s Comedy: “Twelfth Night”

My undergraduate English department offered two Shakespeare courses: the comedies in the fall and the tragedies in the spring. On day one of the tragedies course I took, the professor said, perhaps quoting someone, “For those who think, life is a comedy, and for those who feel, life is a tragedy. You all must be the feelers.”

I do love a good tragedy, with its requisite pity and terror. The other day, however, I read “Twelfth Night” for the first time. Being somewhat unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s comedies, I now understand my old professor’s comment, because “Twelfth Night” — lighthearted, zany, and filled with irony upon irony — is for thinkers. Here’s why:

Continue reading

Happy Sam Lipsyte Day!

When we say “Good things come to those who wait,” the emphasis tends to be on the waiting rather than the eventual, elusive good things. Well, today marks the release of Sam Lipsyte’s new story collection The Fun Parts, so rejoice: The waiting is over. Good things are here.

I’d have to sit down and make the list (don’t think I won’t do it), but Lipsyte’s novel Home Land is comfortably in my all-time top 10. For that reason alone, I probably think of him more as a novelist than a story writer even though he’s one of those tricky Richard Ford types who seems equally adept at both. I first read Venus Drive, his previous collection, on a flight from Indianapolis to Denver, which I remember because I made more use of the fold-down tray table on that trip than I ever did even back when airplanes were serving meals; on almost every page, some insight or line of dialogue made me set down the book and regather my wits, let my head catch up to what I was reading. Continue reading

How do you evaluate a good bookstore?

While we’re on the subject of bookstores this week, do y’all have any test books you use to evaluate a bookstore? On episode 4, Ben mentioned the value of curating, but curating only works if a bookstore is somewhere in the region of your interests.

I used to be a much more ardent reader of southern literature than I am now, but for many years, I evaluated a store based on whether it had a few of my favorites:  Continue reading

Why it’s interesting: Flannery O’Connor’s “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”

oconnorOne of things I love about reading a good story is how it holds up to a careful reading. “Genre” fiction is all well and good, but a truly well-crafted story is worth paying attention to every single word.

This afternoon I reread O’Connor’s “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” with the intention of looking at how she captures the southern dialect, but I was stunned by the sophisticated negotiation that plays out in the dialogue.

The story is about a drifter named Mr. Shiftlet who shows up at a house in the country where an old woman and her grown deaf daughter live. He works on the farm a few days, marries the daughter, and drives her off in the old woman’s automobile for what is supposed to be their honeymoon. Instead, he drops her off at a roadside diner and drives off into a storm.

Rather than analyze what happens at the end, which is strange and open to discussion, I thought it would be fun to go through the first few pages and point out what really stood out to me on this reading.  Continue reading

Politics and Prose

The incomparable Jim Shepard has written an insightful short story about the root causes of gun violence in Connecticut. Even more impressive than successfully pulling off that feat: He did it 12 years ago.

Remember last week when I said I liked having books on my shelf to pull down, thumb through, extract wisdom? This week, I was compelled to grab Shepard’s new and selected story collection Love and Hydrogen. I was looking for good sentences, which Shepard has to spare. (From the title story, about two gay Nazis on The Hindenburg: “It goes without saying that the penalty for exposed homosexuality in this case would begin at the loss of one’s position.”)

But language aside, I found a little piece of prescience in the form of his story “The Gun Lobby.” Continue reading

The Art of the Book Review

Today Cathy Day’s literary citizenship blog directed me here, to Linda Taylor’s blog post about writing book reviews.

I write a handful of book reviews a year, so this is something I think about regularly: How do you write a good book review? Can you ever trash a book? What should be the balance between summary, quotation, and analysis?  Continue reading

On Burying the Hatchet

Just announced: The Hatchet Job of the Year for 2013, awarded by The Omnivore for the best (read: most savage) book review of the last 12 months. This year’s honoree is Camilla Long, for her Sunday Times review of Rachel Cusk’s memoir Aftermath. The full review is available here, wherein Long describes the author as “a brittle little dominatrix and peerless narcissist” and sums up the book as “acres of poetic whimsy and vague literary blah, a needy, neurotic mandolin solo of reflections on child sacrifice and asides about drains.”

Now, look. I’ve got opinions. Last year, I wrote online that The Tree of Life was the year’s best screensaver, and I earnestly think Taylor Swift may be one of the five worst people in America. It’s fun to be critical sometimes, let judgment run loose on some deserving work of art after trying to nice your way through the day. Being judged is an understood part of the bargain for anyone putting something creative out into the world for public (and commercial) consumption — I’d even argue that it’s essential, that good art only has meaning if we know what distinguishes it from bad art, and formal criticism helps us make those distinctions. When done right, it’s actually an art form unto itself.

But something about this award very much turns me off. Continue reading

Cold, Hard Math and Warm, Fuzzy Potential

Nothing beats Friday at 4 p.m. That’s when the prospect of the upcoming weekend — its promises of leisure, adventure, fulfillment — becomes real. On Friday afternoons, I can’t stop thinking about all the things I’m going to get done over the next few days: Writing, reading, dog-walking, meeting friends, going out for brunch, seeing a movie, fixing the slider on my closet door, doing some goddamn pushups for a change, going to a lecture, people-watching, Nuggets-watching, paying people to write poems for me.

Of course, by Monday morning, I haven’t done most of those things. But that doesn’t stop me from getting just as excited when the next weekend rolls around. I think the appeal of a few hours after work, a weekend, or an extended vacation has as much to do with the potential for enjoyment as its actual attainment.

There’s no greater evidence for the power of potential to give pleasure than my bookshelves. Continue reading

A Brief Ride with Gary Lutz

I think we oughta spend a few minutes with this amusement park of a paragraph by Gary Lutz, from “I Have to Feel Halved” in his collection Divorcer (which I mentioned in Episode 1 of the podcast). At this point in the story the narrator and the narrator’s lover have moved in together but remained emotionally distant (no surprise there for Lutz fans) and the lover has been dandying about town, cheating on the narrator. As with all the stories in the book, this one is split into short (50 – 300 word) sections with little continuity between them. This excerpt begins a new section with a look at the lover on the town:

     Or you would have seen him, often as not, sitting alone on the low retaining wall outside a tourist center or at the foot of some moot monument or other. You would have fallen all over yourself for having been just the one to notice so utmost a loneliness in so baseless and unvisited a city. You would soon be flattering yourself that nowhere in his life was there so much as a co-worker who knew him to say hello to.

One reason this catches the reader’s attention is that both the second person and the cinematic feel of the opening sentence are out of the ordinary for Lutz (who has insisted “I am not a camera”). But the foot/moot monument wordplay, the minor metropolis setting (earlier in the story he calls it a “guttery midget city”) and the idea of employment as a last chance for social interaction are all unmistakably him. The paragraph continues: Continue reading