It never fails. I could spend months preparing for a new course or doing major revisions to a course I have taught before, and the minute I put my final grades in for said course, I pick up a book that would have been perfect for the class. This time, it's Phillip Lopate's To Show and To Tell -- a guide that would have been excellent for my Advanced Prose class this past spring.
Still, not all is lost. Currently, I am wrapping up some of my own work through a WOW! Women on Writing workshop that focuses on flash creative nonfiction/memoir writing. The class, taught by the wonderful Melanie Faith, has really allowed me to focus on my own prose pieces. Lopate's words have echoed throughout my head as I have finished my final pieces for the workshop. His book explores the craft of creative nonfiction (or literary nonfiction) and offers a lot of insight about this fourth genre.
For me, the most intriguing chapter has been about the line between showing and telling. Show, Show, Show, is what I tell my students, when in back of my head, I know that I actually do too much showing in my own work. I tend to overload with images, so yes, my readers do get clear pictures in their heads of the story, characters, and setting -- they just don't know the purpose of these images! Between Lopate's advice and the feedback from the WOW class, I have officially been given more permission to tell, as well as show. Let's just hope that my new work isn't all about merely telling...
Final papers and tests have been graded. Final grades have been posted. Final ceremonies including awards programs, end-of-the-year parties, and graduation have been celebrated.
So, let the summer festivities begin!
Every year, JCC releases a summer reading list to campus staff, faculty members, and administrators. Today, I am posting my contributions. All of these works are books I have read this year, and because they are all by female authors, they would be great picks for the 14 books by women authors challenge for the year 2014. See this post for more information about this challenge.
The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin
I am a fan of Benjamin’s novels, and her latest book, The Aviator’s Wife which explores the life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh did not disappoint me. Critics have raved that the novel was historically accurate – I just loved learning about the woman behind the successes and sorrows of Charles Lindbergh.
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Ann Fowler
Fowler’s retelling of the relationship between F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda is a page turner gives an interesting perspective about this notorious relationship. Was Zelda Fitzgerald’s beloved muse or his literary downfall? This novel suggests that she was neither – but an important literary figure in her own right.
The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison
Jamison’s collection of essays explores empathy in its many forms. While some of the essays may be a little too academic for many readers’ tastes, other essays, including the ones that explore the world of medical actors, the people who suffer from Morgellons disease, and the victims of a murder that sent innocent people to jail, are worth reading over and over again. In her blurb, writer Mary Karr states this book “will make you a better human being.” I don’t know if it made me a better human being but many of Jamison’s stories kept me up late at night thinking about how the world (including myself) can be more empathetic.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Kent’s book is a haunting novel that retells the story Agnes Magnusdottir, who was convicted for her role in the murder of two men and was the last person to be executed in Iceland. Readers will fall in love with Kent’s lyrical picture of the starkly beautiful landscape and rugged characters.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizbeth Kolbert
In her newest book, Kolbert explores our planet’s histories of extinctions by looking at research and data from dozens of scientists, both past and present. Yet, her book is not just a scientific synopsis – indeed, readers will be with Kolbert as she travels the earth looking at the remains of extinct animals and searching for those that are slowly dying.
Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet by Daniella Martin
Martin journeys around the world and makes a great case for how the benefits of eating insects may be a feasible solution to the world’s hunger problems. Balancing logic and emotional appeals, she examines how insects are cost beneficial and healthy. She even includes recipes at the end of her book!
Loud in the House of Myself: Memoir of a Strange Girl by Stacy Pershall
It’s true that memoirs exploring mental health conditions seem to be a dime a dozen in today’s market, but Pershall’s book which follows her journey through her diagnosis of bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, is both funny and touching without added melodrama.
The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd
This book is marketed as a young adult novel, but don’t let this stop you from reading this fun and engaging retelling of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau from the doctor’s daughter point of view. (And you don’t have to read Wells’ book to understand the world of Megan Shepherd!)
Harpur Palate has posted my review of Neil Shepard's (T)ravel/Un(T)ravel. Take a look at the review, and then of course, pick up this great collection of poetry.
In case you haven't noticed, I have also posted two informal reviews on my website under Book Picks. The first one is Prairie Silence by Melanie Hoffert, a wonderful sense of place, coming of age/coming out memoir. The second book is Scrap Iron by Mark Jay Brewin Jr. Brewin's first collection of poetry is a great exploration of the working-class world of Southern New Jersey. Take a look!
In the blogging world, I have read a lot about book clubs/reading groups/individuals aiming to read 14 books by women in 2014. My initial thought was, wow, I read a lot -- reading 14 books by women in one year should not be hard.
I keep a list of books I read, so I looked at my tallies for this year. So far, in 2014, I have read 18 books and only four have been by women. That surprised me; thus, I decided to take a look at what I read last year.
In 2013, I read 209 books. I read a lot of different kinds of books, so included in that list are novels, literary nonfiction, nature writing, memoir, poetry, and young adult books. Out of 209 books, 126 books were written by women. To break these numbers down even further, 25 of these books by women were novels, 21 were poetry collections (both chapbooks and full-length collections), and 47 were young adult novels (YA novels are my guilty pleasures). The remaining books were memoir, nature writing, and history. So yes, I read a lot of books by women.
However, what I did notice was that while I read a lot of poetry books by women, I don't read a lot of nature books (books that are comprised by individual essays about nature or book length scientific studies) by women. Since I am trying my hand at nature writing/personal essays, I am realizing that I simply need to read more women writers who are exploring this genre.
For more information about this challenge, see Kathleen Kirk's latest blog post.
I will admit it. The new year has not started off especially well. The cold that will not go away is lingering, with a cough that in spite of prescription medication is also not going away. To make matters worse, we have been engulfed in what I am calling "The Great Chill" - with temperatures barely reaching single digits. Thank goodness, we have now warmed up a bit, with temperatures in the thirties. I have been so exhausted that I have barely been able to keep up with my classes.
Still, somehow I have found a little time to write.
Years ago, I had a colleague who told us that we should try doing our writing assignments with our students. That sounds great -- but I teach five classes a semester, almost all of them writing courses of some sort. There is just no way I could keep up with all that writing (well, I could if there was no grading or lesson planning involved). Still, this semester I have decided to try to keep up with the writing assignments in my Advanced Prose class. Right now, we are working on memoir/narrative writing, and we just read some fantastic pieces by Lori Jakiela and Amanda Leskovac . My students' memoirs are due next week and I am determined to also have a piece done.
Right now I am working on an essay about fishing trips I had with my brothers and father when I was a child. Somehow, the piece is wandering a bit while I also struggle to explore the demise of the Brook Trout from Pennsylvania waters. That, of course, takes a bit of research and I am always distracted by research, so I am trying to stay on task.
I have also managed to submit to ten journals this past month. I haven't kept up on my submissions for a long time, and it felt good to get ten packets out the door. I'm hoping that at least some of these pieces will find homes soon, especially when I have received four rejection notes this past week. Apparently, editors are cleaning off their desks and cleaning out their inboxes in preparation for AWP.
Classes start tomorrow, and because of a minor health setback I had at the start of the year, I am only now adding the finishing touches to my course schedules and syllabi.
What's on the agenda for the new semester? The usual suspects; I will be teaching sections of developmental writing and writing about literature. However, I am also teaching advanced prose for the second time. This semester, I am using an anthology of essays titled Between Song and Story: Essays for the Twenty-first Century edited by Sheryl St. Germain and Margaret Whitford. Some of my favorite contemporary writers have pieces in this collection, including Dinty Moore, Lori Jakiela, Barbara Hurd, Phillip Lopate, and Rhett Iseman Trull. By teaching the art of the personal essay, I am hoping to actually learn more about craft and style found in the world of literary nonfiction.
I am a poet and professor from rural Pennsylvania. This page is dedicated to my publishing news and events; for book reviews published online go to the Reviews tab above. For my own personal reviews, explore the Book Picks tab.