Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Favorite Books Bookshelf, July 31, 2018

I recently was forced to move masses of books off and then later back onto their shelves for a carpet cleaning project, and it occurred to me that it might be fun for me to create a record of the books that are on my hallowed FAVORITE BOOKS BOOKSHELF at this particular moment in time. The shelf is pretty packed, so the rule is that I can’t really add a book without subtracting one. The other rule is that I have to remind myself that some of these books may not be the “best” book ever, but that it’s on this shelf because it hit me at the exact right time, or the reading experience was extraordinary in some memorable way that enhanced the book, or, well, because I don’t really care that this isn’t the “best” book ever. Also, for sure, some actually ARE the “best” ever. Usually, I have a sort of feeling as I’m reading and finishing. If I have to ask myself if a book should go on this shelf, I know it shouldn’t.

A few words to remind everyone that I’ve been around about as long as a sequoia, and I’m sure this list reflects to some extent a reader coming of age during a certain time/place. So be it. That is who I am. And this is my secret place where I separate the art from the artist and try not to worry about writers who might be dicks in real life. Additionally, I try not to put books by friends in this area, because those books get their own special shelves. And I (mostly) resist including children’s books.

I’ll also say that I have shelves of other books that I absolutely love! But usually there’s a little something extra that makes me send a book to this shelf. I’m really loathe to remove (or even reread) books that have been here for a long, long, long time…so if you’re going to question me in a deep way about why a book is here, it’s quite possible that I may not be able to answer to your satisfaction or even coherently. Suffice to say that typing each of these titles, touching each of these covers as I unshelved and reshelved did so much more than spark joy, as Marie Kondo suggests: Each book reminded me of who I was, who I am, and how I got to here.

Oh, and for those of you worried that you’re not finding The Great Gatsby here--!!—it, and The Catcher in the Rye, are in with the writing books, due to their outsize influence on me and my writing life.

Presented alphabetically here, but PLEASE don’t think I have them alphabetized on the shelf? What, you think I’m crazy?!? (Also, forgive me for being too lazy to italicize titles.)

Abbott, Lee K.: Love Is the Crooked Thing
Ansay, A. Manette: Vinegar Hill
Austen, Jane: Pride & Prejudice
Baker, Nicholson: The Mezzanine
Black, Robin: If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This
Bodsworth, Fred: Last of the Curlews
Boswell, Tom: Why Time Begins on Opening Day
Bronson, Po: Bombardiers
Campbell, Bonnie Jo: Mother, Tell Your Daughters
Canin, Ethan: The Palace Thief
Capote, Truman: Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Cather, Willa: My Antonia
Conrad, Joseph: Heart of Darkness
Didion, Joan: Play It as It Lays
Doerr, Harriet: Stones for Ibarra
Downham, Jenny: Before I Die
Eliot, T.S.: Collected Poems
Ellis, Bret Easton: Less Than Zero
Eugenides, Jeffrey: The Virgin Suicides
Ferris, Joshua: Then We Came to the End
Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Pat Hobby Stories
Ford, Richard: Independence Day
Frazier, Ian: The Great Plains
Fried, Seth: “Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre,” One Story magazine
Gilchrist, Ellen: Victory Over Japan
Hamper, Ben: Rivethead
Hemingway, Ernest: A Moveable Feast
Hemingway, Ernest: In Our Time
Hemingway, Ernest: The Sun Also Rises
Hemingway, Ernest: Winner Take Nothing
Hempel, Amy: Reasons to Live
Ishiguro, Kazuo: The Remains of the Day
Jong, Erica: Fear of Flying
Krakauer, Jon: Into Thin Air
LaChapelle, Mary: House of Heroes
LeCarre, John: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
Lee, Harper: To Kill a Mockingbird
Lowell, Susan: Ganado Red
MacLean, Norma: A River Runs through It
McCarthy, Cormac: All the Pretty Horses
McEwan, Ian: Atonement
McInerney, Jay: Bright Lights, Big City
McKinght, Reginald: The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas
Melville, Herman: Moby-Dick
Minot, Susan: Monkeys
O’Connor, Flannery: The Complete Stories
Plimpton, George: Open Net
Porter, Katherine Anne: Pale Horse, Pale Rider
Richard, Mark: The Ice at the Bottom of the World
Salinger, J.D.: Nine Stories
Shipstead, Maggie: “Astonish Me,” One Story magazine
Shriver, Lionel: We Need to Talk about Kevin
Simpson, Eileen: Poets in their Youth
Smith, Patti: Just Kids
Stafford, Jean: The Mountain Lion
Strand, Mark: The Continuous Life
Swarthout, Glendon: The Homesman
Tolstoy, Leo: Anna Karenina
Townsend, Sue: The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole
Townsend, Sue: The Secret Life of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾
Updike, John: Pigeon Feathers
Wakefield, Dan: New York in the 50s
White, E.B.: Stuart Little
Whitman, Walt: Leaves of Grass
Wolfe, Tom: The Bonfire of the Vanities
Woodrell, Daniel: Winter’s Bone
Yates, Richard: Eleven Kinds of Loneliness

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

SILVER GIRL Available at a Stock-Up Price of $9!

Passing along this information from my wonderful publisher, Unnamed Press:

Hunting Party by Agn├Ęs Desarthe and Tacky Goblin by T. Sean Steele are both officially out today, which marks 50 books here at Unnamed Press!

To celebrate, we're offering a 50% discount on our website for the next 5 days. Experience the books that made us, and take a chance on something new.

When we think about all of the years of work (from writing to editing to production and publicity) that went into each of our 50 titles and the wonderful authors who made them, it's almost hard to believe. We're going to enjoy this for a little while.

Have a look at our website, where the discount is in full effect, and most books are around $8 each. (INCLUDING SILVER GIRL!!!!!!!!)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Best Writing Books Ever...according to this writer!

Here are my favorite craft books on writing (in random order). Each came along to me at exactly the right time, and most are either highlighted the hell out of or stickied up. If you’re new to writing and even this curated list feels daunting, I’ll follow with a few quick thoughts on what I think each book is best for. (NOTES: These are not resources for how to publish. Also, because I mostly writing fiction, these skew that way.)

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
The Art of Fiction by John Gardner 
On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
How Fiction Works by James Wood
Building Fiction by Jesse Lee Kercheval
Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart
On Writing:  A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood
Vivid and Continuous by John McNally
The Promise of Failure by John McNally
The Half-Known World by Robert Boswell
Thrill Me by Benjamin Percy
Memoir Your Way: Tell Your Story through Writing, Recipes, Quilts, Graphic Novels & More
Crash Course: 52 Essays from Where Writing and Life Collide by Robin Black
The Write Crowd: Literary Citizenship & the Writing Life by Lori A. May
Naming the World edited by Bret Anthony Johnston [writing exercises]


Bird by Bird is like a funny, generous friend who says smart things and assures you it will all be all right. This is a good first writing book.

On Writing is also a good first writing book. There’s a memoir in the beginning about King’s horrific accident/recovery that feels tempting to skip, but I suggest reading it. Also, don’t listen to him when he says a novel draft should be completed in (I think) six months. I mean, REALLY??

John Gardner’s books are the one that will have to be pried out of my cold, dead hands. Everything I am comes from those books. BUT—I find that my low-res students at Converse often don’t like his “dictatorial” writing style which distresses me. I like his authority and confidence (and less so the focus on the male writer…a product of the time, alas).

Prose and Wood are great for learning how to close-read, and I’d say that some knowledge of Chekhov and other “ancient” masterpieces will be helpful. (Of course such knowledge is helpful anyway.)

You can find a very structural, “how to” approach in Building Fiction. Thrill Me is also helpful in approaching concrete topics. I like Vivid and Continuous because the topics addressed move beyond the “traditional” craft books, staking out new territory.

If you’re feeling lost and uncertain about yourself as a writer, I suggest The Promise of Failure. Also Crash Course, which intersperses writing tips with thoughts on managing your overall writing life.

And managing and shaping your writing life in a big-picture way is what The Write Crowd is all about.

Memoir Your Way offers creative approaches to sharing your life story.

Margaret Atwood is a brilliant thinker. The last essay in this book is something I refer to again and again; it’s not exaggerating that reading and rereading it informs my writing at its very core.

You can’t have a better guide leading you into CNF than the smart and generous Beth Kephart in Handling the Truth.

The Half-Known World is like listening to a series of intelligent and interesting craft lectures, which is what these chapters originally were (delivered at Warren Wilson).

Finally, Naming the World is the best of many prompt writing books/guides I’ve consulted. If I can only choose one, this is the one I’m snatching up.


Let me add that I know there are million more excellent books on writing—and that I own maybe a half-million of those. This is just my winnowed-down, whittled list…the life-changing list that I can’t live without, the list that if you were my student, there’d be some point where I’d exclaim something like, “I know exactly which book you need to read,” and I’m 99 percent sure would be one of these. 

Happy reading, and, more importantly, happy writing!


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.