The Mark Blog

Spring Reading List

On Friday I turned in my Mid-Project Review packet. There were a lot of late nights last week. The manuscript is by no means complete, in fact it’s a bit of a mess, but it’s coming together. I’m generating a lot of new material, which will have to be workshopped, re-re-written, all the usual stuff. But for now, I can breathe a sigh of relief that I turned in the project in its current, unfinished state.

Now we’re in a semi-break period as we await our hearing, er, I mean, our review, so I have a little time to get back to the other essential part of the writer’s life: reading. Last week, I spoke of the importance of having a reader, but being one is equally important. In the last couple months, I’ve bought some books that relate to my own writing in some way, so I thought I’d compile them for you here. Let’s call it My Spring Reading List:

1. Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner
In an earlier blog post, I discussed David Shields' controversial assessment that the traditional novel is a dying art form. He has written that poet/author Ben Lerner is his “doppelgänger of the next generation.” This book, which details a year Lerner spent in Spain on a Fulbright scholarship for poetry, is a prime example of that blurry line between fiction and memoir that Shields so admires. Though the narrator does have a different name, they share most of the same backstory: childhood in Kansas, education at Brown, the Fulbright, etc., so there is reason to believe that there is a lot personal narrative within the book. Since I’m attempting a somewhat similar approach in my collection, I thought it was worth a look.

2. Dirty Havana Trilogy by Pedro Juan Gutierrez
Gutierrez is a Cuban writer who details his life of poverty on the streets of Havana. The main character in these linked stories is, like Guiterrez, a disillusioned journalist who pursues women, rum, and writing with equal passion. This book piqued my interest for several reasons: the alter-ego persona, the linked stories, as well as the sexual content. By page 3, we’ve already had a graphic anal sex scene. I’m hooked!

3. Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan & Cacilda Jetha
Rarely do I go nonfiction bestseller. But the premise for this book intrigued me: It challenges the traditional argument for marriage and monogamy, asserting that their roots may be much more cultural than evolutionary. I’ve read that the book oversimplifies some modern theories, that it reverts to pseudo-science to support some of its theories, etc., but these same critiques have been refuted as well. However, modern scientists and anthropologists seem to agree that there is clear evidence humans did not evolve to be monogamous, so I’m intrigued by the common concept, or misconception, that monogomy is biologically determined. I'd like to learn more about the troubles monogamy has caused through the ages as humans have unnaturally adapted to it.

4. The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro
An earlier work by the great Alice Munro. I’ve never read a full collection of her stories, but since this one is linked by two characters, I thought it was a good choice considering what I’m doing with mine. She is one of the most highly-praised short-story authors of our time, but the quote that really got me to buy this was from an Amazon reviewer: “She writes stories like Leonard Cohen writes songs.”

5. The Wanderers by Richard Price
Another linked story collection, this one about 60s street gangs in the Bronx, written when Price was just 24. (Bastard! Why does it always upset me when someone writes something good at such a young age? Jealousy, I guess.) I was a fan of his last novel Lush Life, the only Price novel I’ve read. True, he utilizes the unsubtle and immediate style of crime fiction, but he tends to delve deeper than your average pulp writer. Plus, what’s wrong with being readable? I feel the same way about some other favorites, like Chandler, Jim Thompson, John Fante, and yeah, even good ol’ Bukowski.