2016 started off rough for reading. I just wasn’t picking anything that inspired me but was reading it anyway. Then I started school and learned not to do that anymore. Reading for a writer is very important: it is the study of writing and it also inspires writing. If reading does neither of those, it’s time to put it down and pick up something else. I am unlearning to always finish what I start.
Here were my top reads from last year:
1. The Sound of Gravel
by Ruth Wariner
A heart-breaking account of a young girl raised in a pologamist Mormon colony in Mexico. Young Ruthie is abused and sees two family members die. Memoirs rip me up. Places like this exist, people actually live through these experiences and live to tell about it.
2. Going Clear
by Lawrence Wright
This was recommended to me by a customer at the coffee shop and a few pages in, I was hooked. This is a book explaining Scientology – all the way from the founder L. Ron Hubbard to his psychology ideas evolving into a religion. Fascinating and disturbing, much like The Sound of Gravel.
3. The Mermaid Chair
by Sue Monk Kidd
Sue Monk Kidd (also author of better known The Secret Life of the Bees) is a master of writing place. This book takes place on Egret Island. The protagonist, Jessie, returns there as an adult, after her mother has chopped off a finger. Jessie’s daughter has just left for college and Jessie is going through something of a mid-life crisis. On this island, Jessie finds a part of herself that was lost.
by Lorrie Moore
I read a lot of short stories during the last half of 2016. My mentor in school has a bit of a penchant for them, and I learned that I do too. It is pretty fantastic to be able to pick up a book and read a self-contained piece between errands and chores. Lorrie Moore has a voice that I envy. She writes in second person. She is sassy and self-depricating and sad but funny. She is a new favorite writer.
5. Lust and Other Stories
by Susan Minot
The title story of this collection is something like the novel I am writing so I read the collection as a requirement for school. Susan Minot is another master of short fiction. She also has a voice to envy and writes and revises with some sort of crazy genius.
by Raymond Carver
Ray Carver writes about ordinary people doing every day things, but somehow makes it interesting. I can’t get his story, “A Small, Good Thing” out of my head. Carver successfully folds stories into stories with his own unique style. His narrator always has a clear point of view that pulls the reader in.
7. After the Dam
by Amy Hassinger
Amy is one of the mentors in the MFA program. She is actually one of the first people I met at residency and she has this calm, welcoming aura about her. Right after residency, her third book came out and I went to see her read at UNO. There was a busload of high school students and Amy read a sex scene and they giggled and guffawed and it was an experience I was glad to have had. Her book follows a young mother who, like in The Mermaid Chair, returns to a place where she grew up. I guess I like these kind of books because I can relate.
by Kelly Corrigan
I’m calling this a toilet book because I don’t know what they’re called. It’s one of those small books that can be read through really quickly. You find them suggested as stocking stuffers and see them on coffee tables. Any way, everyone knows I love Kelly Corrigan (I even fan-mailed her this year and she wrote me back. My love grew). I realized she had a book I hadn’t read and instantly ordered it. This book is written as a letter to her daughters. I would suggest it to any mother.
9. Why Won’t You Talk to Me?
by Richard Duggin
I have a bias on this one. Richard was my mentor my first semester in the MFA program. Additionally, he is the reason the MFA program exists. He has been a professor for fifty years. He is a wealth of knowledge and helped me as a writer immensely. He is also an accomplished writer His stories about loves that were lost or given up on remind me what I write to understand, ultimately: human emotion.
10. The Color Purple
by Alice Walker
I have no idea how I made it to 33 without reading this book. If you haven’t read it, what are you doing reading my blog? Pick this up. Read it. Cry. Laugh. Remember how a book can transport you and illuminate you and make you feel.
I have a long list of books to read for school in 2017. Books are multiplying around here, like rabbits.