What I’ve been reading

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex,” by Nathaniel Philbrick…I wasn’t very excited about this thick bit of historical nonfiction, as I don’t usually go for stories about boats, ships, whaling, etc. But this was a pretty riveting and amazingly researched book, read for my nonfiction workshop. I now have an urge to go to Nantucket to learn more.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. The classic “nonfiction novel.” Still as good as it was the first time I read it, in high school. There’s a fascinating series of articles done over a year by some J-school students and their professors at the University of Nebraska for the 40th anniversary of the book here.

Patrimony by Philip Roth. I was iffy on this second memoir by the famous novelist. Well written, but I was bothered by what I saw as ethical issues.

The Facts by Philip Roth. I was even iffier on Roth’s first memoir. He just seemed like a real jerk.

Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg. Ok, so I only read the first 200 pages of this exhaustive (and exhausting) 450 page biography of the editor of Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others. It was interesting, for a while.

The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age by Sven Birkerts. I admit, I didn’t get through all of this one either. It’s a collection of essays that are quite dense. You’ve got to be super alert and feeling very intellectual to read through these with any semblance of ease. I liked some of the things Sven (who teaches sometimes at Emerson) had to say, but he can be kind of a Luddite, and more than a little crotchety.

Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster. I got through most of this one, which is more than I can say for a lot of the rest of the books for my Book Editing class. Forster was mildly entertaining in a dry 19th century British humor sort of way.

Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman. This travel memoir about 2 years teaching in China and learning martial arts wasn’t reading for class. I am using it as a kind of model for my writing about Korea. It’s an entertaining read, aside from that.

Feeding a Yen by Calvin Trillin. Also non-required reading, but a great collection of food writing by the New Yorker writer.

Beyond the Sky and the Earth by Jamie Zeppa. More non-required reading, and another model for my own writing. This is a book I’d read before and loved, a memoir of two years spent teaching in Bhutan.

The Fiction Editor, the Novel and the Novelist by Thomas McCormack. An out-of-print cranky rant about the horrid state of fiction editing these days by a cranky editor. Definitely required reading, despite the out-of-print status, and no, I didn’t finish it.

The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer. An awesome first novel by a young San Francisco based writer. The story is set in turn of the 20th century SF and was well-researched, fantastical and beautifully written.

The Koreans: Who they are, What they want, Where their future lies by Michael Breen. This is background reading for my own writing. I’m still in the middle of this one. It has a lot of good things going for it, in terms of shedding light on the Korean pysche, but it makes a lot of generalizations and detours.

Frommer’s Guide to Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard for our upcoming trip…

-The latest issue of the lit journal “Ploughshares”, which has a new story by Melissa Bank, author of The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing, which I loved. She seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth, but now she’s got a new story. And, frankly, it’s the same voice and similar content to the stuff in the aforementioned Girl’s Guide, but I liked it all the same.

-The last two issues of “the New Yorker,” including the travel issue, which I enjoyed immensely. I have missed my subscription, but during the semester I have no time for such reading.


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