June was another fantastic month for reading. From spy fiction to a fantasy/sci-fi writing guide, everything was engaging and inspiring. I recommend all of the following:
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carré — It took me a little while to get into this book. I honestly don’t read much spy fiction or British literature, and so this book made me realize just how American my taste has become. But by the end, I was thoroughly hooked. I’m curious to see how the film stacks up.
Lake: And Other Poems of Love in a Foreign Land by Jeff Fearnside — These are poems of place and displacement, of being traveler, teacher, and novice. These are all themes I love exploring in my own work, and it’s interesting to see Fearnside’s approach. The title poem is by far my favorite, but “The Painters” and “The Rules” come in close behind it.
Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by David Gerrold — I’m declaring this a must-read for any writer, not just those of the sci-fi and fantasy genres. I picked it up because Cutting Teeth has fantasy elements, and because I’ll be drafting a fantasy novel later this year. But I found so much that I could apply to any genre. The chapter on worldbuilding, for example, was really helpful. Yes, worldbuilding is crucial in fantasy and sci-fi, but one of the things I have often noticed is that, when setting books in the real world, authors get complacent about developing setting. This is definitely a flaw in my own writing. This chapter was a good reminder of how important one’s world is, no matter what they’re writing.
This Error is the Sign of Love by Lewis Hyde — Hyde was one of my professors at Kenyon, and I’ve had this book on my shelves for years, but only now am getting around to reading it. The middle section, “Wasp Body,” was my particular favorite, but the blend of human interaction and the natural world is strong throughout this entire collection.
Metes and Bounds by J. Kates — I read this entire chapbook in one sitting. The imagery really brought me back to my family home back up north; for a while, I felt like I was back in the land of real autumn and snow, even in the beginnings of Texas summer. But this isn’t just a treatise on nature; it gets political at times, but never heavy-handed. “Possession” is my favorite piece in this book.
The Kenyon Review 34.3 — I think this is their best issue yet. George Steiner’s “Fragments (Somewhat Charred)” was fascinating to read immediately after I finished Rose (see below), though Steiner’s use of “he” as the universal gender neutral pronoun was maddening. The fiction was especially good. In recent years, I have found myself frustrated by literary fiction, feeling as though it is more about creating mood than having anything happen. But none of the pieces in this issue reflect my frustrations. Judy Troy’s “My Buried Life” and Hugh Sheehy’s “Meat and Mouth” were my two favorites.
Rose: Love in Violent Times by Inga Muscio — This is Muscio’s third book, and by far my favorite. I bought this because I was already a fan of her other work, but this one really inspired me. Yes, the first half is a little depressing, because it she discusses every facet of both active and passive violence in American culture. I was in a pretty bleak mood for a few hours. But Muscio’s greatest talent is inspiring people to get up and take action. This book left me ready to take on the world, and made me want to be more connected to the feminist community in Austin. I’ve gotten a little complacent in my activism over the past year, and this book is what I needed to shake me up and get me back into that world.
Poets & Writers July/August 2012 — All in all a pretty good issue, with some interesting articles on technology and publishing. The special section on literary agents didn’t do much for me, but as I’ve decided not to go the agented route with my writing, I wasn’t the target audience anyway.
Waiting for Pentecost by Nancy Craig Zarzar — I admit that a lot of the religious imagery in this chapbook probably went over my head, but I still enjoyed Zarzar’s sense of rhythm, as well as her stunning word choice.