Saturday, July 3, 2010

My Reading Life by Pat Conroy

Pat Conroy told me that he is on an unprecedented roll: there was much waited for novel South Broad in 2009. Now, he says he will publish a new book in 2010, and yet--in a feat that will blow the minds of anyone who knows his glacieristic production--ANOTHER book in 2011. For perspective, the last three novels took 23 years.

The new one this year, called My Reading Life, is a book about his history with books, the ones that influenced him from a child, the ones that continue to influence him as a reader and writer today.

Pat reads on average about 200 pages a day. His routine, when he is writing, is to wake up late, write through lunch. Afterwards, he reads through the afternoon and evening, usually with a nap in between. At this pace, he devours books, reading just about anything that comes his way. As you can imagine, publishers shower him with advanced reading copies for blurbs, and his friends are always sending books his way. His home, not exaggerating here, has probably 10,000 or more books--more books than I've seen in some bookshops.

Here is a great interview from Book TV about My Reading Life.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Well, Edisto Beach has had my full attention the last two weeks. Beach reading at full tilt. The choices came a little haphazardly. I'd been lagging on getting to John Hart's latest book The Last Child. I had a medical book I accidentally started in the bookstore, so I downloaded it to my Kindle and knocked that out. Then there was a Jodi Picoult novel because her stories are best read on Edisto Island under full sun with all day reserved for the inevitable reading frenzy that follows any time you begin a Picoult book. Irresistable, too, was Chris Cleave's small novel Little Bee--a back cover so tantalizing in its lure that I had it bought and in the bag before I was even sure what the damn thing was about. (Note: it delivered big-time). But the real goal for this year's reading had to do with David Foster Wallace. I was in New York last month and saw the press on David Lipsky's book Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself--the five day road trip he took with Wallace back in 1996 when Infinite Jest was lighting up the book world. This took all of a day and a half to digest. And then I was on to the big one: all 1069 pages of Infinite Jest, it's 300+ endnotes included. I'm about 400 pages in and still going with exuberance.

Here's the skinny:

The Last Child by John Hart:

My good friend delivers with his best novel yet. I saw him in June, and he told me he'd feel lucky if he ever wrote a book this good. I think he was right about the book being good; I also think he'll continue to grow as a writer, too. Thoroughly enjoyed this story. He's the thinking man's thriller writer.

Just Trying to Save a Few Lives Here by Pamela Grim:

I made the mistake of starting this book in the bookstore. I read about 50 pages standing in the medical aisle, and then had to have it. The book is a memoir about her experiences working for Doctors Without Borders in Africa, as well as the crazy episodes here in the states working in the emergency room--where simply ANYTHING can happen. I read these books with particular interest since I spent the better part of my high school and college career working in an Atlanta E.R.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult:

After reading Wally Lamb's novel The Hour I First Believed, which dealt with the Columbine shootings, this novel was of particular interest. This involves the trial of a kid who shoots and kills 10 kids at his high school, and in typical Picoult fashion, she gives us unresistable characters and an unresistable plot. Damn her! I always want to find her books pedestrian, senseless brain candy, and romance-y. Sure there are moments of these things, but the woman can flat-out write. The research and fascinating facts, turns, and character reversals require control and skill--something I bow to in Picoult's bag of writer tools. I read to the last page, turned the cover, and handed it over to my wife. She read it faster than I did.

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

This might be my favorite book of the year. The story involves a lonely black girl from Nigeria and her search for the woman who saved her life once on a lonely beach. The story is absolutely riveting, the voice and writing acumen startling. I did not know Cleave's work (he's a British journalist with two novels), and I will most definitely seek out his first book. This guy's skills are razor sharp, and his storytelling ability top drawer.

Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself by David Lipsky:

Welcome to the universe of David Foster Wallace. Wallace committed suicide in 2008, and the world is starting to coalesce around the idea that he was supremely special and perhaps the most talented writer of his generation. Someone said he was the first writer to grow up in the information age, and then die in it--a writer whose life work was to grasp it, comment on it, and understand it. Lipsky's book reads like a transcript of the five days he spent interviewing Wallace for a Rolling Stone profile that Lipsky's editor killed before its writing. The conversations show Wallace's elliptical, genius mind as well as all the insecurities, peccadilloes, and fascinations. I couldn't stop reading. This guy absolutely lights me up. I'm knee deep in Infinite Jest and already feel like this is a life-changer for me as a person, a thinker, a writer, etc.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Look Over the Edge

I saw it in a West Wing epidsode actually.

Butch and Sundance are looking over the ravine at what must be a 300-foot drop into the river. They have to jump because they people chasing them want to shoot them full of holes. Sundance tells Butch, "I can't swim." Sundance looks at him incredulous: "Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you."

As writers, we can get so worried about what someone might think (read: agent/editor) that we totally lose sight of what it means to write without fear. And, yes, I'm talking primarily to myself here.

A book blogger I like to read undertook a year-long project to read a book a day and review it. She not only accomplished her massive undertaking, but she is writing a book about the experience.

She said that when one does SO much reading every single day, writers who write without fear become immediately apparent. On the other hand, when a writer does not take chances, or, worse, manipulates his reader, such tactics become obvious. She claims that her favorite books that year came from the group of fearless writers.

As one with a healthy reading life, but not nearly at the level of a book a day, I find this observation profound. Can readers feel the fear evident in a writer? I'm beginning to think so. My last novel had fear interlaced like fishing line through nearly every sentence. That book failed for that reason, I believe. Now, anyway.

Yeah, I suppose the fall could kill us, and I suppose I might not be able to swim, but like Sundance, I should jump anyway. They did.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Great Workshop Yesterday

Superb group of folks yesterday at the Charleston County Public Library. I've been on a blogging hiatus for a while, primarily due to a small sidetrip I took down Law School Lane this past nine months.

My goal is to keep from being the absent blogger and perhaps post some interesting material this summer. Got an interesting topic or question I can research for you? Drop a line and let me know.

For example, here are my top five best books on general writing (and because I couldn't pick only five, there are now six).

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner
Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See
On Writing by Stephen King
The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman
Hooked by Les Edgerton

These are the ones that reveal themselves again and again on rereading. These are the ones whose spell has yet to let me go...