What and How I Read in 2014

In 2014, I read 41 books:

  1. The Snow Child: A Novel by Eowyn Ivey
  2. The Business of Books: How the International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read by Andre Schiffrin
  3. Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
  4. Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
  5. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  6. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  7. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie (reread)
  8. The First Person: And Other Stories by Ali Smith
  9. Ploughshares Winter 2013-14
  10. The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope
  11. Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones
  12. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  13. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
  14. Textual Editing and Criticism: An Introduction by Erick Kelemen
  15. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  16. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
  17. Bark: Stories by Lorrie Moore
  18. Big Fat Manifesto by Susan Vaught
  19. Graveyard Sparrow by Kayla Bashe
  20. Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian
  21. Bumped by Megan McCafferty
  22. Yours Ever: People and Their Letters by Thomas Mallon
  23. Monster by Walter Dean Myers
  24. Sia by Josh Grayson
  25. Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout
  26. White Girls by Hilton Als
  27. Walker on Water by Kristiina Ehin
  28. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
  29. One Hundred and One Ways by Mako Yoshikawa
  30. Once Removed by Mako Yoshikawa
  31. Friendship: A Novel by Emily Gould
  32. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
  33. All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost: A Novel by Lan Samantha Chang
  34. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  35. All My Friends are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman
  36. The Beauty Experiment: How I Skipped Lipstick, Ditched Fashion, Faced the World without Concealer, and Learned to Love the Real Me by Phoebe Baker Hyde
  37. The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison
  38. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  39. The Interestings: A Novel by Meg Wolitzer
  40. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (reread)
  41. Ploughshares Winter 2014-15

Of these, I dearly loved Americanah, The Golem and the Jinni, White Girls, Code Name VerityThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, The Empathy Exams, and The Interestings. I was also incredibly moved by Half of a Yellow Sun, Bark, and Yours Ever.

Here’s some quick data about my reading habits this year:

(The 3rd chart includes the two literary journals on my list; the first two exclude them.) This has been revealing! I’m perfectly pleased to have read overwhelmingly female authors in 2014 (and disappointed that my publishing school-related texts are by male authors), but my goal is to even out the disparity in POC vs. White authors I read in 2015.

Happy reading!

Post-Workshop Debriefing

Last September, I had just started a novel workshop, the first and only dedicated workshop of my graduate school career. Let’s debrief!

Above tweet is not representative of my experience, thank goodness.

Above tweet not representative of my experience, thank goodness.

My novel: I submitted chapter one, a revision of chapter one, and chapter two throughout the course of the workshop. I’m currently working on yet another revision of chapter one in fits and starts. I could have hoped for a clearer path forward, but that’s work I need to keep doing on my own. I’m grateful that the workshop gave me built-in writing time–it’s frustrating to not have that this semester.

The bad: The first few weeks were very difficult: I was defensive, quiet, and had a hard time articulating my opinions and judgments of a piece. I felt a lot of pressure to perform highly, to “prove” myself as one of only two publishing students in a classroom full of MFA candidates in fiction. I was envious of everyone else’s apparent comfort in the workshop environment and how well they knew one another.

The good: I put those bad feelings on myself for no reason. The workshop surpassed all my expectations. My professor, notoriously demanding, was nothing but encouraging and kind to me, often joking that she worried because she couldn’t boss me around the way she could her MFA students since my thesis wasn’t under her control. She praised my comments when applicable, took the time to meet outside of class, wrote lengthy, detailed feedback, and told me more than once how much she enjoyed working with my novel. She made me feel more capable and more like I belonged in the class than I believed I would. The other students were completely accepting and gave excellent feedback and some of them became good pals. In fact, several of us have continued with an informal workshop into this semester.

In all, I was really impressed with how the class was built to encourage novel-writing in particular, despite the limitation of working with single chapters at a time. We workshopped as much as possible with an eye to building momentum, catching plot problems early, and looking ahead to the scope of the wider novel.

An unexpected pleasure: I’m older now; my skin is thicker; I don’t mind sharing my work as much as I once did; I take things less personally. I wouldn’t know all this about myself without dreading this workshop and then realizing that the being workshopped bit was the least terrifying part. I was much more concerned about providing strong feedback to my peers than I was about hearing them critique my work. Hurrah for being a grown up!

10/10, would recommend. Let others put their eyes and thoughts on your work to strengthen and vitalize it.

“Announcing Literary Hub” and more in Bookish Tweets of the Week

All my nerdy lit friends (e.g. all my Ploughshares colleagues, among others) are excited for the launch of Literary Hub, a new aggregate of literary news around the Web.

I’m a sucker for any news about Kanye West, and was psyched to see if there was a connection between him and V.S. Naipaul. Spoiler alert: Naipaul’s biographer, Patrick French, was merely having a laugh while proving a point about how readers overlook footnotes. Bummer.

Aren’t they!? Love this turn of phrase.

“Fact.”

I’ve been loving the range of bookstore tweets with their Black History Month displays…but let’s keep them up all year round, please!

Real Change from We Need Diverse Books

Last week, Flavorwire featured an in-depth article on the We Need Diverse Books nonprofit and the strides it has made so far to affect lasting change in the publishing industry. I wrote about the #colormyshelf hashtag last June when it boosted a conversation about diversity in children’s lit that kickstarted the WNDB campaign. Since then, WNDB has kept the ball rolling in impressive ways, especially considering that movements like #colormyshelf often fizzle out after a few weeks, without the initiative and forward thinking that translates momentum, desire, and ideas into action, progress, and change.

WNDB did just that. Since incorporating in July 2014, WNDB has established grants and awards for authors of color, paired with other organizations to bring diverse books to classrooms around the US, and created and chaired panels to spread awareness and education about this topic. In 2016, WNDB is also hosting a conference all their own, The Children’s Literature Diversity Festival in Washington, D.C.

WNDB goals

from Flavorwire.com

This is brilliant, useful, actionable planning and goal-setting from an organization with powerhouse authors such as Jacqueline Woodson on the advisory board. Lamar Giles, one of the founders of WNDB, is working toward a five percent change per year to close the huge gap between the reported percentage of POC, LGBT, and disabled protagonists and authors and the percentage of POC, LGBT, and disabled children in the US. With leaders like those at WNDB taking charge, we can expect real change from publishers and a shifting demand in consumers–particularly in those who currently write off diverse content as “niche” and refuse to see its wider appeal.

Here’s to the new year–and here’s to 2015’s five percent or more in bringing change to children’s publishing.

Write With Bravery

I wrote briefly about Ferguson back in August. On the evening of Nov 24th, the news finally broke that Darren Wilson wasn’t indicted. As we do, I turned to social media to get a more nuanced view of the news as it broke.

It’s in big, world-changing cultural moments like this that I most question what I’m doing. When I see the stark contrast between my publishing Twitter feed and my everyday one–

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Publishing Twitter feed

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Regular Twitter feed


–I feel a massive disconnect between the world of literature and the real world. It’s jarring, because I always turn to books to understand the world better, and because we seem to have forgotten that literature, as an art form, is supposed to be a vehicle for expressing what is wrong and broken about the world and offering compassion, healing, and a path forward based on the thinking of great minds that came before us. We can’t separate our literature from our politics. Yet page after page of my publishing Twitter feed either glossed over the events or ignored them entirely. This sort of avoidance is not charmingly out of touch; it’s dangerous. Publishers risk becoming obsolete if they’re not willing to engage with the events affecting a living, breathing, reading public. Even worse, as gatekeepers of literature out of touch with reality, they are running the risk of publishing books that don’t matter.

I need what I do to matter to more than just a select privileged few. I don’t want to publish or read or write books that don’t reflect human reality, and I don’t want to live and work in a bubble that makes itself impregnable to outside events.

There is so much space in literary publishing for stirring, unafraid, politically conscious voices. Add yours. Write bravely. Read widely.

Books have power, and so do the institutions humans have built around them. Where publishers may fail us,  libraries rarely do. Ferguson’s public library has remained open, offering shelter and support for the people of Ferguson. Teachers are congregating there though the schools have closed. This good work should be supported. You can donate to Ferguson’s public library from their homepage.

Louise Glück Wins National Book Award for Poetry 2014

And I couldn’t be happier! I’m desperate to pick up a copy of Faithful and Virtuous NightHer book, The Wild Iris, changed the way I read and think about poetry. Its distinctive voice(s) are so powerful, so beautiful, so convincing, that I think they’ll change you, too.

Here she is, in her own home, telling us that writing poetry “is the most miraculous thing to do.”

Writing Process Blog Tour

I was nominated for this blog tour ages ago by my friends Cathe Shubert and Ryan Bradley. Cathe is a second-year MFA candidate in poetry at UNC-Wilmington, and a thoughtful, surprising writer. Ryan is in the MFA program at Emerson College and writes a kick-ass action figure column. You can find out more about these writers on their blogs.

My job is to answer some questions. I can do that!

1. What are you working on?

A novel, currently untitled (novels feel so homeless until they have a title, don’t they?), about two women who are too thick-headed to excuse the past and fight their way back to the saving grace of their lifelong friendship. Featuring cameos by domestic violence; a big, dumb, full-hearted man; a girl in a bad way; and begrudging forgiveness.

2. How does your work differ from others of its ilk?

It’s written by me, I guess. What I try to bring to the table is a chaotic, dirty, loving honesty about family and desire and wants v. needs. I also try to conjure up northern Michigan every chance I get, presumably to understand it more, and to go home every night while I tap away at the keys.

3. Why do you write what you write?

I’ve always wanted to write myself home, into a skin that fits better. It’s sort of–writing feels like an alien’s way of putting on a human mask and clothes, trying to blend in. Look, I am a people, too! I understand people feelings and tools!

4. What is your writing process?

My physical writing process: I wouldn’t recommend it. I work 9-5 and have class three nights a week from 6-9:45, so when I get home at 10:30pm, I play with my cat for a few minutes and then turn off all the lights, lay on my stomach on my bed with a pillow under my chin, and tappety tap until I suddenly wake up to find the screen black and the house around me sleeping. Then I put the laptop away and go to bed for real.

My writing writing process: I write and rewrite the opening of a story until the tone and voice feel pitch-perfect. It’s like hacking out a hole in a brick wall and fitting it with a door frame and door. Not until I’ve finished the door can I enter the house. Once I’ve frittered away weeks or months on that hurdle, my next big effort is to just get the rest of the stupid monster out of me. I want things done as quickly and completely as possible, and only when I have the whole mess in front of me will I turn my attention to cleaning up and focusing on details, which I could do for, oh, eternity if I wasn’t forcibly stopped.

5. What bloggers are you tagging next?

If you haven’t yet done this tag, please consider this a formal invitation to do so.