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February Recap: Post-MFA Reading List

Another month behind us, and here is the February list of books finally rescued from the “To Read” shelf:

  1. A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan: Thirteen chapters of interlocking stories, varied in voice & point of view, shifts in time and place, including a shift into the future. In format, this book is more like a collection of related stories, though it is presented as a novel. Bookmarks magazine put it this way: ” In the hands of a less-gifted writer, Egans’s time-hopping narrative, unorthodox format, and motley cast of characters might have failed spectacularly. But it works here, primarily because each person shines within his or her individual chapter that offers a distinct voice and a fascinating backstory.”

  2. Knockemstiff – Donald Ray Pollock: This collection of stories is full of the sort of character I try to avoid, in real life and in fiction. The stories are gritty and raw, but there is a realness that makes even the most despicable of these characters human. This is a tough read, for me, because none of the characters are likable, there are no non-depraved characters, and there is little in the way of redemption or change. These stories are well-written, even if I didn’t find much to identify with in this text.

  3. Cold Spring Harbor – Richard Yates: Another New England-y domestic drama by the author of Revolutionary Road. I found Cold Spring Harbor thin when it comes to meaning which resonates beyond the reading of the story and the plot is more unsatisfactory than Revolutionary Road, for me. At the end, I didn’t feel that much of consequence had happened. I wanted more depth, I think. Of course, an average book from Yates is still a good book, in my opinion.

  4. The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey: I won a copy of this book on Twitter, from publisher Little Brown and signed by the author. The book is described like this: “Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.” I found this book to be captivating. I kept returning to it until I was done. The story was intriguing and different, and the writing was smooth and well-executed, especially for a first novel. The quality of the work overcame a few places where the story seemed to drag, just a bit. My only complaint (and it is a minor one) is I wanted a more sensory experience of daily life in frontier Alaska. There are many of these details, but I wanted to be immersed just a little more into that world. Overall, I really enjoyed this read.

  5. The Paris Review Interviews, Vol. 1 – Classic collection of interviews, including (among nine others) in this volume: Dorothy Parker, Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Gottlieb, & Joan Didion.

  6. Alaska Quarterly Review (Fall & Winter 2011) – Poetry, essays, short stories. Two issues in one printing.

  7. On the Street Where We Live – Kelly Fordon: Poetry collection in chapbook format from a fellow Queens MFA writer. Kelly’s poems focus on a fictional street where the lives of the women and families mix and mingle. Kelly is a great writer, and I really enjoyed this collection.

  8. The Oregon Trail is the Oregon Trail – Gregory Sherl: A poetry collection combining images ripped from the classic children’s computer simulation, The Oregon Trail, mixed into a modern family scenario as a form of metaphor. Interesting in concept, nicely constructed language, but ultimately sort of flat, to me. There is nothing technically wrong with the collection, and I am–by no means–a poetry critic, but this collection didn’t resonate on a deeper level.

Only two stand-alone short stories this month (in addition to the stories in the Alaska Quarterly and the story collection, Knockemstiff) and both of them are from One Story:

  1. Open Season – Paul Griner

So, there it is. You can also get a look at January’s reading list, if you missed it.

It’s a new month! Make the most of it!

Happy writing.

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