I Have To Tell You

Cover of I Have To Tell YouI Have To Tell You
Victoria Hetherington
0s&1s, 2014
69,000 words
$6.00

Buy: ebook

While reading Victoria Hetherington’s novel, I Have To Tell You, I occasionally found myself wanting to shake one or two of the characters for a host of self-destructive behaviors and dysfunctional relationships. And just as my frustration rose, inevitably one of Hetherington’s precisely crafted sentences would render her characters so vulnerable and relateable that I found myself willing if not to forgive, then to understand their infidelities, obsessions and shortcomings. This pattern in my reading experience is a powerful testament to Hetherington’s ability to create immensely engaging characters and shine kindness on the less admirable sides of our natures. Continue reading

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Private Tutor to the Stars: On THE HOOPS WHISPERER by Idan Ravin

Even this man needs a tutor for the subject he knows best.

Even this man needs a tutor for the subject he knows best.

The Hoops Whisperer: On the Court and Inside the Heads of Basketball’s Best Players
Idan Ravin
Gotham Books, 2014
246 pages

Buy: book | ebook

As a national champion during his only year of college, as the third overall pick in the NBA draft, and as a recipient, this summer, of a five-year, $124 million contract from the New York Knicks, Carmelo Anthony has spent his entire adult life playing elite basketball, and under the brightest lights of public scrutiny. Anthony has averaged at least 20 points scored per game in each of his eleven NBA seasons and has already earned an estimated $135.8 million in team salary, with untold millions more coming from endorsements and additional investments. Carmelo Anthony’s life couldn’t be more different than yours and mine if he were living on a different planet. Continue reading

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Likeable, Relatable, and Real

By zeevveez

By zzeevveez

When I was a junior in high school, we read The Great Gatsby in English class. I hadn’t read the book yet, but I knew the rest of my family hated it. (They’re Hemingway fans.) “Ugh, that Daisy,” my mom said. “Who cares?” Obviously a lot of readers care about Daisy and Gatsby, but many readers also place a priority on likeability.

On popular review sites, reviewers refer to everyone from Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley to Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester to the cast of A Visit from the Goon Squad as unlikeable. Part of this is a personal taste issue, but it also deals with what kind of people we want to surround ourselves with. A novel that’s over three-hundred pages long is a fair time commitment—it can be grating to spend that much time with a character you wouldn’t want to interact with on a daily basis. Likeability is about ease and comfort and a kind of emotional bond. Continue reading

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The Ploughshares Round-Down: Never Tell Me the Demographics

I’ll read anything if it’s great. A romance novel, or a soldier’s tale; a book about Zsa Zsa Gabor, or one about Obama. I know what kinds of books dorky, urban-literary type of guys are supposed to be reading–those by Jonathan Safran Foer, and things titled Introduction to Banjo–but I hate most of that stuff; I don’t usually follow stereotypes. I’m continually surprised by how many people think in that sort of shorthand, though. 3tb4fep

The other day, for example, someone said to me that most of the people who read Nate Silver’s book, The Signal and the Noise, were men. (Nate is one of my agency’s clients.)  It was a woman saying this, and she had read the book. Despite that,  she was dividing the world into “big ideas” to read by men, and “great stories” that would be read by women. Not only is this sexist, it’s pure speculation. No one has any idea who bought and read Silver’s book. We can see from looking at Amazon that people who bought his book also bought other big idea books, but we don’t know anything about his readers beyond what else they might have read.

Despite this, I still hear smart people say, when reading proposals, “That’s a young person’s topic and young people don’t buy books.” Now, we can find out if a topic tends to sell books or not, but we don’t know if its readers are old or young. Still, however, this is a widely held assumption: younger people don’t buy books. That’s why the most interesting thing I’ve read this week is a report from Pew Research on the reading habits of young people. The results go against that common wisdom. Millennials are reading more books than other age groups, lagging behind older generations on ebook adoption, and looking for information they know you can’t find for free on the internet. The lesson here is, never judge a book by its cover, but also never judge a book by the kind of person you think might be reading it. Because you have no idea. Continue reading

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Welcome to the Literary Jungle

Eudora WeltySeveral times a year I am the recipient of emails or phone calls from friends, colleagues, parents, or complete strangers in search of writing guidance. Often the messages begins, “Hello, my name is Barbra. My daughter wants to be a writer. She’s very talented. Jill Matthews said you might be able to . . .” What follows ranges from, “give some advice” to “edit her trilogy.” These types of messages leave me sighing, not because I don’t enjoy cultivating new voices, but because how those people perceive the writing community and the writing vocation is often vastly different from actuality.

While it would be easy to give advice from my personal experiences, those experiences are just that–personal. Continue reading

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The Power of An Author Who Can Share Her Insides

Prozac Nation Book CoverAt least sixteen years ago, maybe more, I read Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation and saw myself.

These days, it’s de rigueur to dismiss Wurtzel as a chaotic, self-involved mess. But back then, after receiving a diagnosis of chronic depression with bipolar tendencies, I ate up Wurtzel’s navel-gazing, book-length confessional. I read about her struggles with depression and, in a time when going to therapy was still a bit taboo to talk about, I began to feel a little bit less alone. Continue reading

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Back to School Special: Thoughtful Imitation

"Mimicry in South African Butterflies - chromolithographic frontispiece of The Colours of Animals by Edward Bagnall Poulton, 1890" by Edward Bagnall Poulton - own scan of The Colours of Animals by Edward Bagnall Poulton, 1890. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mimicry_in_South_African_Butterflies_-_chromolithographic_frontispiece_of_The_Colours_of_Animals_by_Edward_Bagnall_Poulton,_1890.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Mimicry_in_South_African_Butterflies_-_chromolithographic_frontispiece_of_The_Colours_of_Animals_by_Edward_Bagnall_Poulton,_1890.jpg

Mimicry in South African Butterflies – chromolithographic frontispiece of The Colours of Animals by Edward Bagnall Poulton, 1890. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

I didn’t study creative writing as an undergraduate; it wasn’t an option. When I enrolled in the MFA program at University of Washington, what I craved more than workshop (which I’d experienced a few times in continuing education settings) was the elusive “craft” class: reading analytically not to make an argument about literature (which I also enjoy) but to learn how another writer achieved an artistic effect. One of the most enriching classes I took at UW was such a class, taught by David Bosworth.

We looked at everything from aphorisms and fables to stories by Joseph Conrad and James Baldwin and Mavis Gallant and Marguerite Duras, among others. Students chose additional stories they wanted to dissect for the class and brought in Flannery O’Connor, George Saunders, Roberto Bolaño, and more. I felt little gaps in my novel-heavy education filling. We imitated, we analyzed, we explored choices the writers did and did not make. The one thing we were not allowed to do was write parody, a rule for which I was grateful. Allowing parody, I think, could have opened the door to being a little less thoughtful, a little less open to learning from what all of these writers offered. Continue reading

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Writers Do It Best: Robin McCarthy

In the ‘Writers Do It Best’ series, contributors reflect on how their education and experiences as writers have uniquely prepared them for their lives outside the writing world. Today, we hear from Robin McCarthy, an MFA student studying fiction at Northern Michigan University.  You can follow Robin on Twitter @RobinMcCarthy28.

headshotI have held a lot of jobs for which I have not been qualified, and the position I was perhaps least prepared for was as a cook aboard a small cruise ship taking middle-aged tourists on vacations in the arctic. When I explained to the ship’s captain in an interview that I had no professional experience as either a chef or a mariner, he shrugged. No problem. The job, he explained, was just a collection of skills, and skills could be learned.

I took the job and was immediately confronted by the depths of all I did not know. There was a catalog of knots and safety protocol, the persnickety temperature-setting of the oven, the art of cramming months of provisions into storage and the timing of a five-part meal for twenty delivered hot in a rolling sea. I was overwhelmed by the volume of tedious minutiae to be learned.

And I messed up. A lot. Continue reading

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The Ploughshares Round-Down: The Calvary Film and the Purpose of Art

uncomfortable CALVARY

“[T]he barrier between one’s self and one’s knowledge of oneself is high indeed. There are so many things we would rather not know!
– James Baldwin

John Michael McDonagh’s film Calvary begins with priest Father James (played by Brendan Gleeson) preparing to hear an unseen confessor. The confessor reveals that as a child, he was repeatedly raped by a now-deceased priest– and his language for this revelation is violently forthright enough that I won’t include it here. McDonagh chose this “startling opening line” because, in his view, the euphemistic language of “child abuse”

has enabled us to detach ourselves . . . because we never actually think about what it means to be abused every day of your life. What that physically means.

The grim candor of his opening line is indicative of McDonagh’s approach to the rest of the film: an experiment in taking viewers where we don’t want to go, leaving us embarrassed and backed into our seats, waiting for relief or levity that doesn’t come. Continue reading

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Is Chicana/o Literature Dead? (A: No, not really): A Teacher’s Ramblings

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It used to be that I didn’t know what Chicana/o literature was. Sometimes I still think I don’t, which is embarrassing because I teach classes on Chicana/o lit. The dictionary definition is easy—it’s been studied, chronicled, crystalized–and I can easily think of my heroes: Helena Maria Viramontes, Dagoberto Gilb, Corky Gonzales, Sandra Cisneros, La Gloria tambien. But what the genre is today is a different matter all together, giving me nightmares about how to teach a Chicana/o literature course at all. One question about the subject in specific used to unravel me:

In my dreams, I’m teaching in this ill-fitting Tommy Hilfiger suit (used car salesman grey), just killing it with my lesson plan, when some kid raises her hand and asks, “So, what is contemporary Chicano literature?” Of course there are writers I could cite, dates I could mention, etc. But what is it? Continue reading

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