Creepy kids, lit babes, and how to write about your escape from a burning building: Monthly Roundup, April 2015

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I kept meaning to post my April roundup, and now, embarrassingly, it’s the middle of May. So let me dust off my Goodreads history and see what I read last month.

WRITING THE WRITER

I started the month with a writing ‘how-to’ book which I picked up randomly from the library, called Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives by Louise DeSalvo. I can’t remember why I picked it up, but I think it had something to do with the fact that I have had a pretty rough winter, and I am also trying to create a steady, permanent writing routine for the first time in my life (I can make a post on that later if you would like to hear more). A lot of my fiction is personal, I suppose, but never autobiographical. When I try to write autobiographical fiction, it just ends up boring and whiny. I tend to instead borrow bits and pieces of feelings, places, and characters from my experiences, but narratively speaking, it’s mostly invented. Anyway, I’m in a weird time in my life, trying to heal some past wounds while also trying to build a writing career with no starting-off point except my own stubborn belief that this is what I’m meant to do. I thought this book could help me turn my own personal brand of unhappiness into something that I felt was good enough to merit readers. Unfortunately, I found myself not relating to most of the text. I think it’s aimed much more towards memoirists or, at the very least, writers of purely autobiographical fiction.

One thing I absolutely hated was when DeSalvo would bring up ‘confessional’ type writers, such as Sylvia Plath, who were apparently Doing it Wrong. I felt it was kind of tacky how DeSalvo brought up the personal nature of Plath’s writing only to say that Plath wasn’t viewing her work as a form of healing so therefore she committed suicide. That felt very simplistic and diminishing to me, and totally dismisses how powerful/healing so many readers have found Plath’s work. DeSalvo also wrote a lot about her creative writing students, and this was sometimes laughable. ‘My one student who was raped, my one student who was homeless, my one student who escaped a burning building’, etc and so on. Did she ever have students who didn’t have traumatic pasts? How did they do in her class? It seemed to me that her brand/style of teaching writing is aimed entirely on memoirs of traumatic experience. This is fine, I just couldn’t really find a use for it myself.

It also made me wonder about different types of teaching that goes on in creative writing. Some teachers will really play up the emotional aspect of writing, while others will say that all that matters is the quality of the work. DeSalvo is writing from a place that says that our writing has more purpose than just being good work. I think she believes that good work will come if we make healing ourselves with our writing our main goal. I disagree. There’s a place for emotional, healing writing, but writing that you give to others to read and react to is usually a different kind of work–sometimes they intersect, but I wouldn’t expect to make a narrative out of my journals and have people get anything out of reading them. But, again, that’s just the kind of writer I am; there is good reason why writing a memoir at my age is not something I will even consider. I need to look outside of myself in order to write stories that are worthwhile. All this is just to say that this book isn’t for me, but writers of memoirs might get something out of it. I wouldn’t recommend it to writers of poetry, because her writing ‘program’ is aimed towards the turning of painful experiences into narratives in order to heal, and I know that personally, focusing too much on narrative doesn’t really work when I’m writing poetry.

Next I read Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood. The title refers to a novel-within-the-novel written by the main character, who is a writer of romance novels under a pen name, and is currently on the run after faking her own death. I would describe this as a mostly comic novel, and I liked it a lot although it’s not a favorite. I’m really enjoying reading Atwood’s novels in chronological order–I’ll make a post on this later.

LIT BABE ALERT: Junot Díaz

I broke my current streak of reading only women to read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, and ended up with a crush. (This is the real reason I don’t like to read men.) After I finished this novel I went right on youtube and watched a bunch of interviews with Díaz, consumed with lust/admiration. What a babe. I don’t have much to say about this book except it was excellent, weird and stubborn and unapologetic in all the best ways, and reminded me that I want to learn Spanish. Now I’m back on Duolingo and learning a lot. Reading improves your life!™

THE MONSTER YOU RAISE

After that things took a creepy turn in April when I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, who wrote “The Lottery”. I loved this novel so much. It’s very American gothic, and it gets under your skin while somehow being so delightful to read. I think it’s basically I Capture the Castle meets American Horror Story, which of course means I recommend it to EVERYONE. So great. It’s basically about two sisters who are shunned by their whole town because of an “accident” that had poisoned their entire family years before. It’s so good, definitely a must-read for anyone who loves books with unreliable narrators and psychologically disturbed characters.

I somehow read two novels in a row about young characters who are accused of killing their families. How cute. Is there a genre for this? Anyway, I read Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, and I must say, Flynn is becoming one of my favorite contemporary writers. Her books are just so entertaining; I fly through them. I definitely recommend them for anyone who is in a reading slump, or wants to get back into reading–all three of her novels are impossible to put down. The main character of Dark Places is a mentally unstable woman, in true Flynn fashion. When she was a child she escaped from the murder of her entire family except her brother, who was accused of the crime and is currently in jail. Like with Sharp Objects, much of the story felt like it was for pure shock value, but the writing is so crisp that I can’t help but feel that Flynn almost always gets away with it.


That’s it for April. In total I read five books. If you’re wondering where I’m at in my Goodreads 2015 Challenge: I have read a total of 27 books to meet my goal of 80 for the year. Goodreads tells me I am 2 books behind, but that’s fine for me. Because we’re halfway through May already, I can give you some spoilers for next month’s roundup: so far I have been reading mostly short story collections, and gasp! Two books by men. Other than that I am really enjoying making an effort to read women this year, although I have noticed that the books I am reading are written by predominately white, Western authors. I am going to try to make an effort to change that this summer, so please feel free to give me some recommendations, and as always, hang out with me on Goodreads to see what I’m currently reading.

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2 thoughts on “Creepy kids, lit babes, and how to write about your escape from a burning building: Monthly Roundup, April 2015

  1. Cristina Peri Rossi, a (brilliant) lesbian author from Uruguay.

    Cherríe Moraga, a lesbian Chicana author with poems and stories that really strike at the heart.

    Haven’t read any of her works, but Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian author who gave this TED talk on feminism:

  2. I believe I read a bit of Moraga’s work in college, but since I don’t remember it very well I should revisit. & re: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I have heard SO many good things about Americanah. I think I will read that very soon. (I also love that TED talk.)

    Thanks so much for the suggestions! 🙂

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