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Posts Tagged ‘authors’

bargain poetry bookbook nyc

I love a well-crafted poetry collection as much as the next reader. But most often, I’m hankering for a story when I read. True or fictional, I want a compelling narrative, well told. Fortunately, many poets have turned their wordsmithing skills to prose, and their novels and memoirs are some of my favorites.

Marisa de los Santos began her career with the poetry collection From the Bones Out, but has found major success with her fiction, including Love Walked InBelong to Me; and I’ll Be Your Blue Sky. Her prose is simple, warmhearted and truly lovely, as are many of her characters. (I reread those three novels again this spring, when I was heartbroken and badly in need of comfort and hope.)

Former U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith has published four books of poetry, including the 2019 collection Wade in the Water. Her memoir, Ordinary Light, which my friend Colleen gave me a while back, chronicles Smith’s childhood in California, her deep and loving (and sometimes fraught) relationship with her mother, and her journey toward poet as vocation. Her prose is as luminous and (sometimes) as sharp-edged as her poems.

Brian Doyle, the late editor of Portland magazine, wrote anything and everything: poems, prose poems, rambling essays, rollicking or thoughtful novels like Chicago and Mink River, both of which I adored. I’ll read any and all of his work, though my absolute favorite is his essay on how he became a writer. (Also: I reviewed an essay collection he edited a few years ago, and he wrote me a brief, lovely email of thanks, which I still have.)

Poet Ross Gay (Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude) spent his 43rd year capturing ordinary joyful moments almost every day, and spinning them into “essayettes” that became his collection The Book of Delights. Like the subject matter, the result is delightful–both the mosaic of quotidian, unexpected pleasures, and Gay’s commentary on them.

For readers who appreciate a well-turned phrase and an engaging story arc, poets who write prose offer the best of both literary worlds.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it appeared last week. 

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something good polka dot mug

Earlier this month, Anne published a post about how your feed reader can change your life. Her main argument was that reading about a topic can increase a person’s interest in that topic: she recommended, for example, adding blogs related to exercise if your New Year’s resolution is to work out more often.

While I definitely see how such a strategy could be helpful, I took the opposite approach. After reading the post, I went straight to my feed reader and cleaned it out.

Some of the work was simply long-overdue housekeeping. I follow a few blogs whose feeds had moved, or whose authors hadn’t posted in a year or more. I deleted or updated these. But then I took it a step further. If I often find myself skipping past a blog – because I’m bored with it, because the author’s voice no longer resonates, or because the tone makes me feel defensive or guilty – I deleted it too.

The Internet is a loud place, and for those of us who spend a lot of time on it – especially we who relish the odd, beautiful world of the blogosphere and social media – the voices of the bloggers and tweeters we follow become the voices in our heads.

I’ve never met most of my Internet friends in person, but if I’m reading their words consistently, their voices echo in my head with surprising regularity. Sometimes that’s a boon – as when Anne recommends a great book or Micha shares her gratitude on Thankful Tuesday. But some of those voices are often snarky or judgmental, and those are the voices I do not need to hear.

Related: as a reader and book reviewer, I love connecting with authors on social media. It’s a true pleasure to be able to tell someone directly that I love their book, and I’ve made several friends that way, like Rachel and Jennifer. But it took me a long time to realize that I like some authors better on the pages of their books. I’ve unfollowed a few authors because I’d rather spend time with their characters than with them.

In keeping with my word for the yeargentle – I’m not only trying to speak and act gently, but to make sure I’m not filling my head with voices that are sharp-edged or bitter. I welcome honesty, absolutely, and I relish the occasional dose of witty sarcasm. But meanness or snark at others’ expense? I’m out.

When I find a new blog these days and consider adding it to my reader, I pause and ask: do I want this person in my head? Because, if they’re in my feed reader, that’s where they’re going to end up.

Who are the voices in your head (Internet and otherwise) these days?

*Grammar nerd alert: I know I should have used “whom” in the title of this post. But “who” sounded catchier. Forgive me!

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Earlier this summer, I wrote a gushing review (scroll down) of Laura Harrington’s beautiful debut novel, Alice Bliss. Then I listed it among the best books I’ve read so far this year. (Not because anyone asked me to; just because I loved it.) Then I got to meet the author and have her sign my book when I went to hear her read at the Boston Public Library (along with Rebecca Makkai, whose debut novel The Borrower I quite enjoyed). And then, last week, I heard about a new campaign Laura’s conducting to send Alice Bliss out to as many states, countries and continents as possible.

If you’re a book blogger, you’re invited to request a free copy of Alice Bliss through Laura’s website. It will come with a Bookcrossing ID plate attached; follow the instructions to register your book on Bookcrossing, then “release” the book in a public place and see where it goes! You can follow the project on Tumblr and Twitter, and track your book’s journey with its Bookcrossing ID. I think this sounds like such fun – and I can’t wait to see where Alice ends up.

In case you aren’t familiar with Alice Bliss, it’s the story of a girl whose father is deployed to Iraq, and how she learns to cope with that – but it’s also a story of young love, separation and grief, the ways we cling to – and learn to release – those who leave us, and the ways families lean on each other. It’s beautifully written and so real, and it honestly provoked both laughter and tears as I read it.

I’m waiting for my copy to come in the mail (I didn’t want to “release” my signed edition), and I’m wondering where to “release” it. An empty bench on the Common? A coffee house? What do you think? I’d love to hear your ideas!

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(Editor’s note: I met the lovely Erin Blakemore via Twitter and blogs a few months ago, and have been eagerly awaiting the release of her book, The Heroine’s Bookshelf – on sale last week. She’s doing a book signing at Wellesley Booksmith this Wednesday, as well as a panel discussion at the Boston Public Library on Thursday. I’m so excited to finally meet her! Read on for some surprising facts about one of her – and my – favorite authors.)

6 Things You Didn’t Know About Louisa May Alcott

When I started writing The Heroine’s Bookshelf, I knew I was excited to find out more about the lives of the women behind my favorite literary heroines.  What I never expected was to become even more fascinated (okay, semi-obsessed) with one of American letters’ most irascible and intense figures.  Here are six things I was surprised to hear about Louisa May Alcott: 

1.  She hated fame.  When Little Women hit big, Louisa hated the public outcry for information on their favorite new author.  She resented the people who felt it was okay to knock on her door, interrupt her life, and demand her attention.
2.  She might have been a drug addict.  Racked by pain from the time of her ill-fated stint as a Civil War nurse, Louisa turned to morphine and opium for pain relief and sleep.
3.  She didn’t just write girls’ stories.  In fact, Louisa penned some scandalous stuff — racy stories full of sex, violence, and unsavory characters.
4.  She didn’t love being a little woman.  In fact, Louisa railed against her role as a daughter and a woman her entire life long.
5.  She was an adoptive mother.  When Louisa’s sister May died tragically young in Europe, Louisa inherited her daughter, Louisa (“Lulu”).  She also legally adopted the son of her sister Anna, willing him the rights to her work.
6.  She was a runner.  Only about a century ahead of her time.

Want to learn more about Louisa and eleven other fascinating authors?  The Heroine’s Bookshelf finds life lessons in some of literature’s most enduring books.  Visit http://theheroinesbookshelf.com to learn more.

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