#FridayReads for 9/27/13

Desperate Characters

Krista Drummond (Editorial Assistant) is reading Desperate Characters by Paula Fox.

As someone who has been primarily reading poetry over the past few months I decided it was a good idea to pick up a book of prose. I had stumbled upon, Desperate Characters, after searching for more work to read by Jonathan Franzen, who writes an introduction to the 1999 edition of the novel. After reading this novel, I am in awe, everything from the precision of language to the execution of characters impresses me. Paula Fox introduces us to couple Sophie and Otto Bentwood who live in an up and coming, at least masked hopefully as so, neighborhood in Brooklyn in the late 1960s. She shows us only a glimpse into their home and their relationships, but chips away at some of the most genuine fears, experiences, and incidents in human life. By introducing the novel with a feral cat biting Sophie as she tries to feed it, Fox creates a heartbeat of nervousness for the characters and reader. You are fed images of America in the truest of forms: racism, affairs, lies, and insecurity. A book so concise in language and eerie in manner, all due to the hum of truth it carries. It is perfect reading material for this crisp transition in weather, or in one’s life.

Great Expectations

Moses Utomi (Editorial Assistant) is reading Great Expectations by Kathy Acker. 

There’s a very good chance that you’ve never read a novel like Kathy Acker’s Great Expectations before, and even calling it a novel may be doing it a disservice. Acker’s book is probably better categorized as a verbal experience, mish-mashing disjointed diary excerpts, autobiographical episodes, extremely graphic and sexually violent interludes, and transcripted melodrama – to name just some of the devices she employs – into a piece that challenges the reader’s notions of what reading a book should feel like and what writing a book can accomplish. Rather than engaging the reader, the book is so jarring and deliberately difficult that it actually forces the reader to surrender, to admit defeat, to float downriver as the book washes in and out of several narratives – the sexual experiences and abuses of a young prostitute being among the most salient. You may not enjoy it – I didn’t, to be honest – but you also won’t be able to ignore it. This book will haunt you.

bird by birdCourteney Palis (Editorial Assistant) is reading Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.
I hate to admit it, but after years of others telling me I just have to read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, I just picked it up earlier this week–and now I know what all the fuss is about. I’ve read several books on writing that have been helpful for me in various ways, but there’s just something about Bird by Bird that made it very easy to connect to and very hard to put down. Perhaps it’s Lamott’s humorous and honest voice or the anecdotes she uses to illustrate her loving relationship/daily struggle with writing. Or maybe it’s the fact that, rather than intimidating the reader with long-winded, unnecessarily complex discussions of plot, character, voice, etc., Lamott presents these literary elements in ways accessible to both experienced and fledgling writers.
Whatever it is, it’s working. I’m grateful for the sudden courage to write that Bird by Bird has instilled in me as well as Lamott’s beautifully accurate description of that one obstacle nearly every writer encounters when they sit down to face that inevitably terrible first draft:
“Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground–you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move.”

Wide Sargasso SeaNicole Cloutier (Editor in Chief) is reading Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.

You know when you keep hearing this one book title but for some reason it never makes it to the top of your reading list? I picked up Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, finally, after it was recommended to me at least four times. This 1966 book takes the insane woman in Mr. Rochester’s attic and tells us the story from her side starting with her childhood in Jamaica and ending with her descent into madness. But what really drew me in, and the reason so many recommended it, were the sentences. Jean Rhys’s prose is gorgeously lyrical, bringing to life the landscapes of Jamaica and Dominica and delving into the true natures of her characters. For that, I recommend moving it up a few spots on your list. My only regret is that I can never look at Mr. Rochester or Jane Eyre the same again.

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