notes from a creative writing PhD candidate
A book a week: that’s my summer reading goal. A fast reader by nature, I can usually manage a few hundred pages a week; I read two hours a day on the train back and forth to work, and for a while before bed to relax each night. Now that summer is here I find myself sitting outside on the balcony more, a glass of wine and a new book in hand, enjoying the weather and the large oak tree out front. I think I read more in summer than in any other season.
As a child I loved the summer reading program at the library. A point was earned for each book you read, and I remember being so competitive, so exact, with my tallying of titles. I hung up my list on the refrigerator and added to it almost daily. I don’t remember what kind of award or accolade was granted to those who read so many books, but I do remember the feeling of happiness, almost relief, after finishing each one. The problem, though, is that I often read so fast that I don’t spend enough time pondering or reflecting on the text; the blog will help with this, will encourage me to reengage with literature in a more literal, physical way.
Each book I complete will have a brief book review, posted under the “Book Reviews” tab on my blog. Let me know what you think–I hope you read along with me, and maybe even have a few recommendations to add to my ever-growing list.
I go to the library every few weeks to check out books, but here is the list of texts I’ve compiled from my own bookshelves that I’d like to read for the first time this summer, or am now happily revisiting.
James A. Michener, The Novel
This book was mentioned in Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild which I devoured in about three days. She carried various books with her (see the complete list here) while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, ripping out chapters and burning them as she went. I was enticed by her praise of The Novel, so I bought it–my first Michener book.
Sylvia Plath, Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams
Plath is one of my favorite poets. I’ve read her Collected Poems a dozen times, and The Bell Jar about half as many. I’ve never read her short fiction; flipping through the pages I notice her prose seems iconically haunting, but always beautiful.
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
I picked this book up randomly at Borders (many years ago, back when it was still in business) and honestly loved every page of it. It’s one of those constantly quotable texts; I found myself highlighting the shit out of it. One of my all-time favorite quotes: “If you like metaphysics, throw pots.” Dillard: you eloquent, witty genius.
Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Long-distance running is a new hobby of mine; I’m running my first half marathon in two weeks (eek!). I’ve already read Murakami’s short nonfiction work last month, but am going to read it again before the race. He ties the act of running to being a novelist, and I find his thoughts so relatable. The work is translated from Japanese, so at times the wording seems awkward or overly simple, but if you’re a runner–or a writer–you have to read this little book.
Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Someone gave me this book when I was twenty-one, and I didn’t like it very much. Honestly, I don’t even remember what it’s about. But I read Immortality recently and loved it, so I thought perhaps I’d give his most widely read novel another shot. Anyway, I love the title.
Michele Morano, Grammar Lessons: Translating a Life in Spain
If you are a traveler, a studier of foreign languages, a lover of words, a lover in general, you will love this book. It’s short, but the essays–there are thirteen of them–are all so well-crafted and stand alone as wonderful examples of creative nonfiction writing. View some excerpts of her book here.
Jon Lee Anderson, Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life
Do you ever give someone a gift, knowing that you’ll probably be the one actually enjoying it? I purchased this book for my fiance, Juan Pablo, last year. He hasn’t read it yet, so I decided to tackle the 700+ page work first. A book this intriguing simply can’t go unread.
So tell me: what are you reading this summer?