The Novel Journal Giveaway
Congratulations to the four winners of my Novel Journal Giveaway. Denise will receive the Arthur Conan Doyle; Teresa will receive the Edgar Allan Poe; Virgine will receive the Oscar Wilde; and Jorie will receive the Henry David Thoreau! All winners have been contacted & have 72-hours to respond before I pick someone else. I’ll mail the journals out in the next couple of weeks (three of the four are international, so I can’t say how long they’ll take to reach you!) Stay tuned for future giveaways coming soon.
Books Read Since Last Update
Middlemarch by George Eliot: I saw someone on Goodreads refer to George Eliot as “Austen (Pride and Prejudice) on steroids,” and I think that’s both hilarious and apt. Middlemarch is concerned with a lot of the same issues as Pride and Prejudice; family and neighbors, courtship, romance, property and inheritance, and even politics (social politics as well as governmental). I tried to read this one many years ago and couldn’t get into it. I’ll admit that I feared this time would be the same. I really struggled for at least half of the book, which is quite the struggle considering this one is 800-pages long! The style felt too dense and the language too lofty. It just wasn’t suiting my mood. Something happened maybe two-thirds of the way in, though, where I found myself trying to make more time to read, and not just to be finished! (That was part of it, though, let’s be honest. It’s a long book.) Eliot is hilarious, though, and there’s really no one can turn a phrase the way she does. Despite some oddities, like really important life events happening entirely off the page only to be referred to nonchalantly within another scene (this happened quite a few times, and I found it so bizarre in a book of this length, where one would expect every detail to get its due treatment), and a whole host of characters it was difficult to care about, the read was worth it, in the end, and almost entirely because of how it ends. There’s something about Eliot and Thomas Hardy, that way. I don’t think if I had read this five years ago, or anytime before that, I would’ve appreciated the climax and resolution quite so much as I did now. There’s a philosophy here, which is at the core of the novel’s central character, Dorothea, to which I have become quite vested in recent years. It was, then, a delight to see it wrapped up in such a way that resonated with me intimately. Luckily, it also tied together the many diverse but interrelated plots. (This is definitely a country neighborhood; all business is everyone’s business & all stories are connected!) I gave this one a 5 on Goodreads because I couldn’t give it a 4.5. It’s worth the rounding up, though, despite the slog.
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg: I loved this essentially Buddhist take on writing not just as a craft, but as a personal life practice. Goldberg tied writing (for writer’s) into every other aspect of daily life and the human outlook in general. There are also some great tips in here that I’ve started to use and will hopefully benefit from (one of which is shared in the Gregory Orr book below, which is to keep a personal notebook on craft). I gave this one a 5 out of 5 even though it didn’t have as much craft advice or writing prompt-type references as I’d hoped because the spirit of it was so enjoyable.
A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry by Gregory Orr: This is an excellent book on what Orr himself labels “craft and quest.” There are ample interesting writing prompts with examples of how they went and/or received in Orr’s own classrooms, but there are also numerous explorations of poetry from Orr’s unique perspective. He focuses entirely on lyric poetry, but the way he defines this and the range (time/type) he uses to explore the genre provides for really ample opportunity to work with a variety of tools and styles. I flagged almost every prompt he includes and have already practiced with one of them, though I hope to work on a number of others in coming weeks. Orr makes an excellent case for why a writer should keep his own small book or file of favorite poems and revisit it every year, cutting and adding, but always remaining highly particular. This is an adventure I will embark on soon. Solid 5 out of 5 for invention and instruction.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas: This trans, queer, Latinx young adult novel was just great. It’s definitely a fun one to read around Halloweentime, I think, since the entire plot unfolds over the few days leading up to, and including, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The story is infused with mystery, suspense, action, superb teenage drama elevated by fantasy (magic), and of course, a delightfully wicked little queer romance. The plot points are a tad predictable and some of the episodic conflict was repetitive, but it was still a beautiful, wild ride. I think, like Middlemarch, I gave this one a 5 but that’s really a 4.5+.
100 Poems by Seamus Heaney: The poems in this collection were such a joy to read. There’s something very inviting about Heaney’s style, even when the poems cover topics that are entirely external to my lived experience. They are gentle and warm, funny and thoughtful. I don’t know that I walked away from this one with any new favorite individual poems, but as a collection of his “best” works covering the entire span of his career, it’s a very good one. It’s just a very good collection, period. Instructive and simply enjoyable.
Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen: This one is being hailed as a Best New Voices and Best Debut novel. It’s not hard to understand why. This is the story of a family (and community) of Vietnamese refugees who find themselves in New Orleans at the end of the American War. Told from three perspectives–a mother and two sons–this realistic historical fiction climaxes into a kind of magical realism as Hurricane Katrina strikes and the world becomes unfathomable. It even made former President Obama’s list of recommended reads for the summer. How about that!? I gave it a solid 4 out of 5.
My latest poems are two of the best I think I’ve ever written. Maybe the best. It’s hard to judge one’s own work, though, and I’ve felt pretty darn sure about certain poems and flash pieces in the past, which are then completely uninteresting to anyone else. So, who knows? I’m happy to note that I do have a poem coming out this November at Broad River Review, and I’m continuing to revise and submit. I recently got a pretty tough rejection from a magazine I’ve been submitting to regularly for years, unsuccessfully. I felt pretty confident about this last submission, so I think it might just be time for me to move on from this publication. Perhaps we’re just not a good fit? Also, my latest DIYMFA column article is live: “Is There a Genre Best Suited to LGBTQ+ Stories? (And why is it Historical Fiction?)”
Austen in August
Unfortunately, this year’s reboot of Austen in August seems unlikely. I’ve only gotten one response to my call for guest posts and giveaways, and I personally am not inclined to write an entire month’s worth of content by myself (also, where’s the fun in that!?) So, I think at this point I’m still going to plan my re-read of Persuasion and invite anyone who wants to read along with me to do so. And of course, everyone is encouraged to continue to pursue their own Austen reading as well! I’ll plan three posts for August 1st, 15th, and 30th, for anyone who does want to engage with all things Austen-related next month. They’ll just be comment conversations.