by Gigi Little, October 6, 2016 11:26 AM
When I put out the call for stories for my anthology City of Weird
— a collection of supernatural and sci-fi tales with an emphasis on the strange, all set in Portland — I expected to be surprised by what I got. It's an expansive theme, full of possibilities for all manner of monsters, ghosts, robots, devils, aliens, witches, Bigfoots (feet?). As expected, I was surprised. But what surprised me was not what I expected.
I figured on being surprised by individual stories. (And I was! When I thought I might get an alien invasion, I got ravening slime molds from outer space. When I hoped I might get a voracious man-eating, many-tentacled beast, I got a love story. The man-eating thing was just icing on the cake.) But what really surprised me were not the individual stories but the combinations, the shared themes...
by Renee Pemberton, December 24, 2014 11:15 AM
A lot of amazing authors contribute to Powell's Blog, and not all of them get the attention they deserve. Here's a look back at some of the most thought-provoking author posts to appear on Powells.com this year — along with four interviews that you really shouldn't miss.
The World of Publishing: 1991 vs. 2014
by Karen Karbo
The author of The Diamond Lane and 13 other works itemizes the responsibilities writers must now shoulder to promote their books.
"The Diamond Lane, published in May 1991, was my second novel, and what is most striking about the difference between the publishing process 23 years ago and now is not that the book was written on a Kaypro, Xeroxed at Kinko's, and sent overnight in a FedEx box to G. P. Putnam's Sons, but that after the manuscript was accepted and given a pub date, I asked my esteemed editor, 'What should I do now?' and she said, 'Just write the next one.'" (Read the full post)
Why Literature Can Save Us
by Richard Bausch
Bausch — author of 20 books including Before, During, After — walks us through the danger of abstractions and the redemptive power of literature.
"There is a form of imaginative genius present in every act of mercy. I believe that if the person who has the power to destroy another life can be given the ability, the gift, of seeing the reality of that life beyond abstraction, of making the leap of imagination that gives forth a sense of the other completely, free of concept, then killing can stop and peace can begin." (Read the full post)
Has My Husband Read It?
by Merritt Tierce
Merritt Tierce, a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree, is the author of Love Me Back. Here she writes about a question she gets asked all too frequently.
"I suppose those who have posed this question to me could be making the most innocent of inquiries; after all, it's a normal enough thing to wonder about someone who makes any kind of art and has a spouse or partner. But the question still grates, because maybe what they mean is something more like, 'Is your husband really OK with the fact that you wrote a book about someone who resembles you in several significant ways, and that person has sex with a lot of different people...?'" (Read the full post)
by Patrick Holland
Patrick Holland, author of The Mary Smokes Boys, explains how he incorporated the East Asian idea of generative silence in his novel.
"Silence, you might say, was bred into my being. The town in which I grew up in southwestern Queensland sits upon a vast and ancient flat plain. The plain is cut by an ephemeral water course called the Bungil Creek, whose headwaters are in a pocket of — very moderate — 'high' country, roughly 70 kilometers north of town and which the vast majority of maps do not even see fit to name." (Read the full post)
Bringing Up the Dead
by Ariel Gore
The author of the memoir The End of Eve addresses her belittling mother, a recurring nightmare, and the decision she made to let the truth come out in all its ugliness.
"My mother was already dead when I started writing The End of Eve, but she'd only been dead a couple of weeks. From a mental health perspective, I probably should have waited longer. Maybe time would have staved off the nightmares. But from an artistic perspective, I knew I couldn't wait." (Read the full post)
by Chris Faatz, April 10, 2014 2:00 PM
Happy National Poetry Month!
I was going to try and do a roundup of several newish poetry books, but I got so stuck on this book, that I couldn't follow through. So...
Lawrence Ferlinghetti is one of my all-time favorite poets. I cut my teeth, 30 years ago, on A Coney Island of the Mind, which was first published by New Directions in 1958. With its jazzy meter and hip parlance, it helped set the mind-set for the whole Beat phenomenon. In fact, he founded both City Lights Books and City Lights Publishers, and went on to publish much of the most interesting material of ensuing years.
Ferlinghetti is now 95 years old, and his subsequent work has been equally important to my development as a reader and devotee of poetry. Time of Useful Consciousness was his last book, a collection I went nuts over, and his newest book, Blasts Cries Laughter, is equally good.
One of the things that sets this book apart is that it's among the latest installments in New Directions' wonderful new series of poetry pamphlets, of which I've written recently. That makes it indeed a slim book. Don't be dismayed by its page count, though, for the thing that really sets Ferlinghetti apart from almost anyone in the universe of poesy is the sheer energy of his writing; his words burn on the page and carry the reader along in a veritable carnival of imaginative and visionary prowess that's nothing short of amazing.
Ferlinghetti's always been a poet with a highly developed social conscience. In Blasts Cries Laugher, he sounds the tocsin against global warming and the climate crisis, against poets who take their social stature for granted and don't dare anything, and against the suppression of such forward-looking movements as Occupy.
An Armageddon of autos
In the City of Angels
In downtown Denver
In Chicago and Manhattan
Mexico City and Milan
Calcutta and Tokyo
Drowned in the bad breath of machines
The sun's wearing shades
The Ozone layer coughing smog
The ecosystem as finely balanced as a mobile
A computer about to crash
Wait — there's more:
A casino culture out of control
A hole in its ozone soul
A sweepstakes Winner Take All
A shooting gallery for masters of war
A bull market with toreadors
A runaway juggernaut heading for naught
A runaway robot bombing through cities
The hydraulic brakes blown
Not even the UN not even the EU
Not even the Pope or you name it
If you're looking for something that will leave you humbled, dizzy, challenged, and grateful, look no further. Hands down, this is one of the best, most interesting, and most downright prophetic books of the
by Jessica Hagy, March 19, 2013 2:00 PM
Everyone and everything is interesting — there's a novel silver lining in every mundane fog. Interesting people have a knack for always seeing these things, and they're always uncovering the fun that's lurking behind PowerPoint slides, the humor hidden in eulogies, and the beauty on display in filthy
by Chris Faatz, March 11, 2013 5:20 PM
True confession: I love anthologies. Travel writing, mysteries, literary essays, and fiction — virtually anything, if it's well done, will command my undivided attention. Well, at least for a while, until the next Excellent Endeavor comes along.
But, in my heart, one style really takes precedence — poetry.
In my experience, poetry anthologies are gateways to the new and unexplored. They are an opening to the wondrous for those new to the form, forays in a carefully crafted deepening for seasoned poetic travelers, and, quite simply, literary opiates for those readers who, like me, continue to search for Blake's "palace of wisdom," or Coleridge's "Xanadu."
Admittedly, it's sometimes difficult to find something fresh, something in the anthological universe to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Several titles do come to mind — Simic's The Horse Has Six Legs, his anthology of Serbian poets, or Conductors of the Pit, Clayton Eshleman's unnerving collection of darkly intoxicating translations — but there are so many more, and most of them just don't come near Pound's dictum to "make it new."
Imagine my pleasure, then, at having received an anthology that has kept me totally enchanted for several weeks, an anthology that I can see myself revisiting time and time again, both for edification and for sustenance. That book is Time of Grief: Mourning Poems, edited by Jeffrey Yang.
Yang, an editor at both New Directions publishers (who brought out this volume) and the New York Review of Books, is the author of several stand-alone collections of his own work, and the editor of one previous New Directions anthology, Birds, Beasts, and Seas: Nature Poems from New Directions.
Obviously, Time of Grief includes poems from the New Directions pantheon, in itself a treasure house of much of the best work of the last 100 years. William Carlos Williams, Nicanor Parra, Anne Carson, Kenneth Rexroth, Susan Howe, Kamau Brathwaite, Luljeta Lleshanaku, the known and the unknown alike, are all represented here. So are many New Directions translations from such far-flung fields as ancient Greece and China and modern Albania and Chile. In truth, imagination seems to be the only limit.
As stated on the cover, the book's theme is mourning, and indeed most of the poems touch on that subject, at least tangentially. They may address the loss of a love or the end of a relationship, but to take Time of Grief as merely a theme anthology, to automatically shelve it next to a collection of war poetry or socialist poems, is to do it a serious disservice. This book rises immediately to a point that is head-and-shoulders above most other examples of the genre. Based solely on the translations of Rexroth and Pound and the single, exquisite piece by Denise Levertov, Time of Grief is worth its price. But, this handful of poems only tickles the palate. The rest of the book consists of a chorus of poems that sing and wail and offer sheer, unalloyed beauty to the lucky reader to accompany her through her days. Dig deep. Whether you're someone new to poetry, tentatively exploring the unknown and unimaginable, or a seasoned, grizzled veteran, this book will continue to give rich sustenance.
To close, let me share one poem — one of dozens I had to choose from — from Time of Grief. It's called "My Heart's as Empty as This Pail," and it's by Aharon Shabtai. Now, imagine a whole book composed of material like this. Enjoy.
My heart's as empty as this pail
over the bathtub
and fill it with water
the dishrag in it
then mop the floor
by Renee Pemberton, January 22, 2013 10:02 AM
|Participants in a new study demonstrated higher levels of brain activity when reading the original passages from select Shakespeare plays as compared to the same text rewritten in simpler language.|
I admit it: I have trouble retaining the details of books. Most texts eventually get relegated to a dark corner of my mind, slowly accumulating dust until they're barely visible at all. The only thing I can remember about DeLillo's White Noise
is that the narrator's wife is named Babette, The Corrections
by Jonathan Franzen brings to mind sharp angles and little else, and the specifics of Conrad's Heart of Darkness
have grown as murky as the book's title.
The process is gradual but often follows a pattern. First plot particulars float away. Next the theme grows fuzzy. Then characters and images start to vanish until all that's left is one or two lone figures standing in a cornfield or the high desert or a sprawling suburban home. Occasionally the entire book recedes into the ether.
As part of my New Year's resolution, I've decided to take some steps to boost my recall. While I don't expect to be able to recite Crime and Punishment, I hope that I'll come to recollect a little more about the books I read. If you experience the same forgetfulness, you might want to consider trying out some of these strategies as well.
Take notes. When you read, your mind processes the text at varying levels, from shallow to deep. Deep processing involves analyzing something in a more meaningful way (e.g., reflecting, creating associations, visualizing). Interacting with a book as you read can help you achieve that higher level of thinking so you're more likely to store and retrieve the material. So go to town: highlight, underline, draw diagrams, ask questions in the margins, add Post-it notes. Using an ereader? Most devices have the functionality to let you highlight, take notes, add bookmarks, and so on.
If you'd rather not mark up the text, use a notebook to jot down quotes, capture ideas inspired by the work, even summarize the plot if you're so inclined. Writing things down by hand has been proven to engage the brain in learning, and notes act as excellent aids for reflection. Returning to important passages after taking in an entire work can help enrich your overall experience with the book and make it easier to formulate key takeaways.
Whatever form of note-taking you employ, don't let it become a chore. Focus your efforts on what inspires you and what you'd like to get out of the book.
Give yourself a break. In a 2012 study conducted by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, participants were presented with two stories: one was followed by a 10-minute "wakeful rest"; the second was followed by a game. Participants demonstrated a significant improvement in recall, on both a short- and long-term basis, when they were given a brief rest following the reading. The takeaway: Next time you put down your book, avoid jumping to a new task. By giving yourself some time to let the information sink in, you'll be more likely to retain it.
Consider the medium. While research is limited on the topic, there is some evidence that people are more likely to remember information when reading old-fashioned books as opposed to ebooks or text on a computer screen. Reading a physical book tends to involve a variety of unique visual and spatial cues — the artwork, the typography, the pages, how the sections are broken up, the size and heft of the book, where a passage falls within the framework — all of which augment the act of reading and may ultimately help trigger memories associated with that book. Ebooks, on the other hand, tend to strip away many of those unique characteristics, so that the reading experience becomes markedly similar from one book to the next. While I'm not suggesting that you throw out your ereader, it might be a good idea to be selective about what you read on paper and what you read on a device.
Challenge yourself. In a new study, as reported by the Telegraph, researchers at Liverpool University found that reading difficult works, such as prose and poetry by Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and T. S. Eliot, sets off more activity in the brain than reading more straightforward language. The brain's right hemisphere, an area associated with "autobiographical memory" and self-reflection, tends to become particularly active while processing poetry. When a text demands higher levels of concentration, readers are more likely to reflect on what they've read and reconsider events in their own life in light of the new information. This process of incorporation helps anchor the concepts in the brain in a more meaningful way.
Seek out other perspectives. Get into the practice of discussing what you read with a friend, reading group, or participants in an online forum. Hearing other people's interpretations of a book and discussing ideas will give you a broader perspective on the work and prompt you to perform the deep, intensive thinking needed for memory formation. Reading critical thought can produce the same effects — even something as simple as a reader review can be enlightening. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the opinions, your reactions will help reinforce your impression of the book.
Write a review. Create a written record — be it on social media, on a bookseller's website, on a blog, or even in your own journal — of your take on the book. By summarizing the text in your own words and sharing your reaction, you're engaging in a time-tested learning method. Detailing how you feel about a book can better organize your thoughts, reveal how you're going to store the information, and help build a model of the book in your memory. It's a great way to examine a book's intricacies and then pull back to consider the larger picture: How has the work affected you? What will you take away from it? You decide what details are worth hanging onto.
Create your own Top 5 list. Every year at Powell's, staff members put together their top five favorite books of the year to celebrate recently published works. Performing this exercise forces employees to look back on everything
by Chris Faatz, December 21, 2012 10:00 AM
If you have a poetry lover in your family or circle of friends — or if you're a fan yourself — many, many excellent poetry books have been published over the past 18 months or so. Here are a few standouts.
÷ ÷ ÷
Many years ago, the legendary Lawrence Ferlinghetti conquered my heart with his book A Coney Island of the Mind. For those few who may not know, Ferlinghetti is the founder of City Lights Books and City Lights Publishers, a staunch defender of the First Amendment, and an all-around gadfly and embodiment of humane values in our quickly degenerating society. It's funny: he's 93 now, and one might, in all good faith, lower one's expectations regarding the quality of his work. That would be a mistake, however, as his latest book, Time of Useful Consciousness, is hands down the best book I've read this year.
It's painful to be concise when someone receives so much from something they've read. I felt that way with Patti Smith's Just Kids and her subsequent book of poems, Woolgathering, and this new book by Ferlinghetti has done the same thing — only over and over and over again. Suffice it to say that Time of Useful Consciousness is an incredible, mind-bending journey across America, reminiscent of Whitman or William Carlos Williams, touching down in Chicago and San Francisco and all points in between, and channeling the voices and visions of poets and writers as diverse as Robinson Jeffers, Carl Sandburg, and Jack Kerouac. The country's seemingly inevitable slide into disaster is a prevalent theme, but so is Ferlinghetti's indefatigable sense of hope and optimism. This is a lovely, incredible, inspiring book. There's more energy on one page than in any 20 books from a mainstream, literary, or academic publisher. It will inform your conscience and help keep you truly sane in a way that's not been on the table in many a publishing cycle.
÷ ÷ ÷
One of the strangest books that has passed through my hands this year was Sotere Torregian's On the Planet without Visa. You can always be confident that the good people at Coffee House Press will bring you something that surprises and dazzles, and this book is no exception. At first, I wasn't sure what to think. As I read it, and some of it repeatedly, I came to really like what I'd... what?... discovered? There are no fewer than 15 bookmarks in my copy of On the Planet, and they mark material as diverse as a bizarre interview with the author, a poem titled "You Must Be 'Larger Than Life' Like Mayakovsky" (who doesn't want to be larger than life like Mayakovsky?), and musings and rants on various loves, obsessions, and opinions on the nature of "real" surrealism.
Torregian, as I've come to discover, is a bit of a cult figure in the literary world. He claims Ethiopian, Arabic, Greek, Armenian, and Moorish ancestry, identifies with classical French Surrealism, and is grouped with the New York School of poets. Funny thing is, he has never left the U.S. and apparently doesn't use a dictionary — of any flavor — when he writes. His work, elliptical and fantastic, and ultimately both entertaining and enlightening, is peppered with multilingual words and phrases, and rewards repeated reading.
Constantly entertaining — I guess that's how I'd sum up Sotere Torregian.
÷ ÷ ÷
One of my all-time favorite poets is Margo Berdeshevsky, a longtime figure on the literary, artistic, and dramatic scenes in the U.S. and abroad (she currently lives in Paris). Her latest book, Between Soul and Stone, is incredible. This may sound trite, but I can't help but identify Berdeshevsky's work as being like a gossamer web: intensely beautiful, painstakingly crafted into textually dense strands of poetic light. This is not an easy book to read. It demands, it rewards, every ounce of your reading attention. It is also deeply transformative. If nothing else, you'll emerge from your reading with a more exalted sense of what beauty means in our lives. That someone can think, and write, like this is a gift to us all.
We've forgotten, they confess, teach us, please,
again. And he does. And leaves them to their lonely
holiness. No sooner gone, than the old men forget
their prayer, bereft, one runs and chases after:
running on waves to cry oh Father,
Father we've forgotten, tell us again.
There are 92 pages of this stuff. What a feast.
÷ ÷ ÷
I once had the pleasure of meeting, and hearing read, the prominent African-American poet Lucille Clifton. It was a high point of my literary life, as I'd admired her work for years. She died in 2010 and left behind her a raft of awards and citations, no less than 11 books, and more than 60 previously unpublished poems.
Now her main publisher, BOA Editions, has brought out one of the most beautifully designed books of the season with a table of contents that will floor even the casual reader.
The book, The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010, is published in hardcover with a beautiful color photo of the author on the jacket. It has a sewn binding and a ribbon, and weighs in at a stunning 700-plus pages. It also includes — and this is somehow not surprising considering the weight that Clifton had in the poetry community — a foreword by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison.
Clifton was not afraid of tackling hard things. She dealt with abuse, with cancer, with religion, with being Black in a racist world. None of her poems, none of her skill, however, was spent
by Billie Bloebaum, December 14, 2012 3:00 PM
I love a good villain. I mean, Maleficent is my favorite Disney character, so I appreciate how truly amazing a well-done villain can be. I even have moods where I want nothing more than a two-dimensional, mustache-twirling, melodramatic villain to add a dose of over-the-top crazy to my reading. But here's the thing: not every book needs a villain. And, in particular, not every romance
book needs a villain. Let's face it: feelings are messy, and relationships are hard enough without always having to contend with a creepy cousin who wants to steal your inheritance, or a shady man of business who is embezzling from your company, or a deranged ex who wants to kill you and/or your new lover. Sometimes an external villain is just too much and feels like a shortcut around the hero and heroine dealing with the real
obstacles to their Happily Ever Afters.
Recently, though, I was fortunate enough to read two lovely novels that don't play up external villains but instead focus on the hero and heroine working through their own, internal obstacles on the road to love.
The Importance of Being Wicked by Miranda Neville features a character who has the potential to become a villain — and he is an eensy bit of one — but, since he is never a physical threat to the hero or heroine, he avoids true villain status. Instead, the villain here is debt, an enemy that most of us have tussled with. Caro's deceased husband left her saddled with debt, and Thomas needs to marry Caro's cousin Anne for her fortune, to save his estate. In the end, of course, the two find a way to be together, but it's pretty clear that money will always be an issue for them.
In When the Duchess Said Yes by Isabella Bradford, what stands in the way of the protagonists' happiness isn't money but rather the youthfulness and idealism of the heroine and the jaded cynicism of the hero. Lizzie believes that love is forever, while Hawke is convinced that love will always fade and that he and Lizzie will eventually pursue separate lives. Watching these two work through their issues — well, mostly they're Hawke's issues — is lovely and heartbreaking and makes the HEA feel more well-earned than any kidnapping or murder attempt ever could.
Love is hard. Stuff gets in the way. Feelings get hurt and hearts get broken. Sometimes, the obstacles to true love are the everyday things we all deal with. In the hands of a skilled writer, there's no need for an external villain when the characters' inner demons can be just as difficult to
by Chris Faatz, December 14, 2012 10:00 AM
Well, the season's upon us, and I feel compelled to write about two of my favorite religious books of the last year. They are two deceptively small titles published by one of my all-time favorite presses, New Directions
. The books are collections of related work by that 20th-century religious titan, the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. The first is On Eastern Meditation
; the second, On Christian Contemplation
. Needless to say, they're published in uniform editions with French flaps and are nothing less than exquisite — just like anything you see from New Directions. Of course, there's nothing really new in these little books, outside of the editors' introductions, but the way they've been assembled and presented offers up a challenge and a source of solace and inspiration to seekers of whatever flavor.
The introductory material in each book is fabulous: learned, astute, and informative. On Eastern Meditation is edited by Bonnie Thurston, a founding member and past president of the Thomas Merton Society, and On Christian Contemplation is edited by Dr. Paul M. Pearson, the director and archivist at Bellarmine University's Thomas Merton Center in Louisville, Kentucky.
Both books, it appears to me, can be approached in several ways. For example, one might randomly dip in and out, reading here and there, adopting them as guides to mining more depth out of one's life. Another means is, of course, to read them cover to cover as an introduction to Merton's thought on both subjects (I find this the least satisfying of the options). And then, in the end, they can easily and profitably be approached as an aid to prayer and discernment, to engaging, as it were, with the Mystery that surrounds us.
Bear in mind, these are very different books. The selections in the Christian volume are, for the most part, much longer and demand more focus; those in the Eastern Meditation book, on the other hand, are brief and radical, capturing an idea or a thought or a sudden insight that describes a Way of Being in relationship with the world.
This is from On Eastern Meditation (it's originally drawn from Merton's Asian Journal):
Our real journey in life is interior; it is a matter of growth, deepening, and of an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts. Never was it more necessary for us to respond to that action. I pray that we may all do so.
One might think that such an insight would leave any other book in the dust. But I feel like this quote, originally issued in perhaps my favorite Merton book of all time, The Wisdom of the Desert, more than rises to the challenge:
Abbot Lot came to Abbot Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and according as I am able I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not be totally changed into fire?
Ah. There you have it. I'm at a complete loss as to which I'd choose to take to the proverbial desert island with me; they both feed such different parts of my Self. But then, who, in the Spirit, could ever ask for