25 August 2014


This weekend's New York Times travel section included a trip that, reading about it, I realized I always wanted to take: Searching for Anne of Green Gables on Prince Edward Island. I loved the Anne of Green Gables books and Montgomery's other books (the Emily of New Moon series is also quite good though I don't want to talk about the ending). Travel writer Ann Mah (a former book editor at Viking Penguin, I have just learned) weaves in scenes and places mentioned in the books in her account. It's totally captivating and I'm in. 

The L.M. Montgomery memoir mentioned in the article, THE ALPINE PATH, is available on Kindle for 99 cents (a deal even at the modest 78 pages). Falling down a rabbit hole there, I also found out that Montgomery's selected journals were published in several volumes, but were edited with a view toward small-town Canadiana and max marketability; the ones you want are in the Complete Journals, which I obviously bought, so see you in 2016 sometime when I'll have all the gossip on 1890s Canadian provinces. 

21 August 2014

A book I'm in, a roommate lesson

Last year I read an irresistible request for interview subjects around the topic of roommates. I have had a lot of roommates in my life but I agreed to be interviewed about one in particular, my experience with whom is captured in the chapter "Newborn Baby." (Some of you have heard that story, and the rest will just have to go seek the book out, I guess.)

Now that I've read my portion, I am pretty happy with how it looks. (I do sound a little naive, but that's on me. And perhaps I was at the time!) I would probably stress again that my story differs from most in the collection in that my experience was uniquely positive. I think if my roommates were to come across it independently, they would be pleased with their portrayal (though they might not remember it the exact same way). The way they handled the stage of their life that they were in was remarkable to me at the time, which is one of the reasons I agreed to be interviewed; it was an uncommon thing.

I haven't read the whole book yet (though I planned to) but I get the sense, again, that most of the stories collected are about bad or bizarre roommates. That can happen, as can the million tiny petty aggressions that come of living with people and that can slowly drive a person crazy. But overall, living with roommates has been beneficial to my life. Even if I would rather have lived alone at times given my druthers, and even though I sometimes still relish the solitude that comes from an empty apartment, on balance it was good for me to have that close-range personal experience. In the portion of this book that came from me, it was much more than that. If you're afraid of moving in with roommates, you shouldn't be, because everyone has her own weird quirks. Sometimes, living with people is as much about discovering what your weird quirks are, and when something goes from "weird quirk that I can get used to" to "intolerable state that I devoutly wish never to experience again." Self-discovery is just the bonus. And the best part is, as long as you're not legally attached, you can always move.

20 August 2014

Three books to talk about when we talk about Ferguson

The Left Bank Bookstore in St. Louis is putting together a recommended reading list for residents and others who want to learn more about the underpinnings behind what's been going on in Ferguson, Missouri these past (nearly) two weeks. The list, which is here, incorporates fiction and nonfiction, recent books and some classics. This is not the only necessary response but for me it is an important one; one of its effects on me has been to make me aware of how much I need to learn about the U.S., racial politics, policing, etc.

Here are some recommendations I have gotten from Twitter and elsewhere that I intend to follow up on:

  • James Loewen, SUNDOWN TOWNS: A HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICAN RACISM. A "Sundown Town," historically, was a town that unofficially kept African-Americans and other minorities from living or working there through intimidation, threats or indirect local ordinances. Ferguson may have been one of those towns, prior to the 1980s when the demographics of the town began to shift to today (majority African-American population). 
  • Radley Balko, THE RISE OF THE WARRIOR COP. Some of the most striking images coming out of Ferguson have been focused on the silhouettes cut by the Ferguson police against the protesters, seemingly over-militarized in their riot gear. This book elaborates on and evaluates the programs that have armed local law enforcement divisions (largely since 9/11) in places like Ferguson. 
On the fictional side, I have been also reminded of some of the historical pieces in Jonathan Franzen's debut novel THE TWENTY-SEVENTH CITY, which is set in St. Louis and whose plot involves suspicion among several racial and ethnic groups in and around the city. 

What have you been reading about Ferguson lately?

11 August 2014

Creative juices

What should I bring to my writing class next week when I go up for critique? Here's my shopping list so far:

  1. Wine for me