It’s about that time in the year when West Virginia Wesleyan’s MFA program concludes one semester and has a little turn-around time before preparation begins for the summer residency. This seems like a very good time to check in with our students (and alums!) to see what everyone has been reading or looks forward to reading in the near future. We have quite a collection to recommend, and if one of our recommendations doesn’t suit your fancy, Amanda Jo Slone (Fiction ’17) has also blogged on this topic for Shadelandhouse Modern Press and has a number of titles to suggest.
Joyce Allan (Fiction ’15) — One of my favorite books of the last year is Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. It is considered a book for adolescents, but is a wonderful read for anyone. A memoir written in verse, it tells of growing up black in the turbulent 1960s. I loved this book!
Rebecca Elswick (Fiction ’18) — I want to recommend A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. I read this over a year ago, and I’m still thinking about it. It’s an amazing example of creating an unforgettable character, and it’s been a long time before or since that a book made me laugh out loud!
Lisa Hayes Minney (Nonfiction ’17) — I just finished reading Girlish by Lara Lillibridge (Nonfiction ’16), and I enjoyed it immensely. I'm now reading Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey off the Beaten Path by Erin Loechner.
Julia Kastner (Nonfiction ’19) — I recently enjoyed Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, trans. by Ginny Tapley Takemori. It's weird and intriguing, and I had to turn to a classmate for help with my review (Thanks, Megan Mann, Poetry '19!). Also recently, I read journalist Elizabeth Rush's Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, a study of rising sea levels that combines science, poetry and personal witness, concerned with human and more-than-human communities. I think it's the best book I've read this year.
Megan Mallory Martin (Nonfiction ’17) — As a soon-to-be mom, I’ve been reading lots of birthing and childcare books and articles. In Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, I came across a line that aptly describes why I love to read and to write: “What I love about stories the most is the power they have to teach us of possibilities that might not occur to us without them.”
Dee Sydnor (Fiction ’15) — I am reading Alice Hoffman's The Rules of Magic, a prequel to Practical Magic. It tells the beginnings of the Owens' family and their realization of their magical powers in spite of their mother's attempts to shield them from their fate. Like everything Alice Hoffman writes, it is absolutely delicious and spellbinding.
Larry D. Thacker (Poetry ’18) — I recommend anything by Barbara Ras, along with An Almost Pure Empty Walking, by someone I just happened happily upon, Tryfon Tolides.
We will conclude this reading round-up with a delightful collection of titles suggested by David Evans (Non-fiction ’18). Happy reading!
Evans — Even if fiction is not your genre, you can't go wrong with any of James Wood’s books. He is an English-born essayist, literary critic, and novelist, and currently professor of the practice of literary criticism at Harvard University (a part-time position) and a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. Wood advocates an aesthetic approach to literature, rather than more ideologically driven trends in academic literary criticism. He is noted for coining the genre term hysterical realism, which he uses to denote the contemporary conception of the “big, ambitious novel” that pursues vitality “at all costs.” As he describes it, hysterical realism describes novels that are characterized by chronic length, manic characters, frenzied action, and frequent digressions on topics secondary to the story. Think David Foster Wallace.
I've been reading his articles in The New Yorker for several years. At my adviser’s recommendation nearly two years ago, I read his How Fiction Works, a craft book that was invaluable when I was writing my critical essay. I am now reading The Nearest Thing to Life, a blend of memoir and criticism making connections between fiction and life. As Wood declares, “Of all the arts, fiction has a unique ability to describe the shape of our lives and to rescue the texture of those lives from death and historical oblivion.”
As part of my binge, I also have in the queue a couple of other Wood books:
- The Broken Estate, Essays on Literature and Belief — Susan Sontag praised it and said, “In a distinctively impassioned voice, James Wood advances some formidable arguments for what fiction and the truthful deployment of the imagination can be.”
- The Irresponsible Self, On Laughter and the Novel — Wyatt Mason of Harpers wrote, “Wood's literary criticism has been the most fruitfully polemical of recent years. Wood is unforgiving of complacency, unsparing of triviality, and unrelenting in his assault on the half-formed or the overwrought."
I'm looking forward to many enjoyable hours feasting on these books. I hope you will, too.