reading Archive

Proxy Narratives: Jennifer Clement’s “Widow Basquiat”

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I’m always looking for a stellar book come November. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for the uninitiated) is about as appealing of an idea as having a month-long dental procedure and about as equally fun to be around. So, I mostly hide away. I do the opposite of what

The Book That Changed My Country

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I mostly sit at the window when I’m working at Café la Habana. I have a spot. It’s the same spot where I sat when my buddy, Santiago, first brought me for coffee when I arrived in Mexico City. But I’m attached to the spot for other reasons too.

Say Anything: A Case for Dialogue

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Recently I was reading the prose section of an online literary magazine’s fall issue when I could not overcome a nagging sense that something was lacking. The stories themselves were well-written; the style was cohesive with the magazine’s tone; the narratives were engaging. Yet it somehow felt incomplete. As

The Ploughshares Round-Down: Never Tell Me the Demographics

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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

The Power of An Author Who Can Share Her Insides

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At 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

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,

What Is It About the Literature of War?

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Up until that short story workshop I took my junior year of college, my TBR pile was made up of a bizarre mix of Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, and Bill Bryson. Then my professor passed around photocopied packets containing stories by Lorrie Moore, Grace Paley, and Tim O’Brien, and I realized there was more

The Ploughshares Round Down: 10 Times in Life When Writers Have the Upper Hand

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I’ve interviewed a lot of entry level job candidates. I’ve had plenty of recent college graduates sent to a conference room to meet me with a strong thumbs-up from Human Resources. Bright, well-dressed, great resumes, and eager. This impresses the HR types. However, when I’d ask questions, especially follow-up

The Ploughshares Round-down: The Problem with Literary Doomsday Laments

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We who love literature face an urgent crisis: a gruesome epidemic of articles worrying over the demise of literature, reading, English Departments, and apparently (along with them) culture, art, morality, humanity, and ALL KNOWLEDGE AND CIVILIZATION. We’re in dire need of an antidote for this doom–prophesying fever, these impassioned warnings about “philistinism.” (A word that, btw, needs

Of All Things: The Signature

Congratulations! You’ve published a book, and people are lining up to buy it. Now begins the trickiest part of an author’s journey: signing your own book. You’ve read an excerpt, charmed the crowd. You’ve perfected the swooshy drama of your signature. Uncap your Official Signing Pen. Take a seat. Lined