Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Sunday, October 10, 2010


It's a Friday night and some people are gathered around a bonfire in a backyard in Moscow, Idaho. Even though I have never lived in a place where one couldn't see the stars, still I am slightly surprised and feel blessed that we can see the stars despite light pollution. Like most gatherings I go to, there's an assortment of MFA people here and we just can't go a minute without talking about writing. Sonya had a piece published recently, and as we talk about submitting our work, a poet (graduated) is surprised that as first years in an MFA program we are trying to get published. Shouldn't we simply be using the time to write and get better? "But if we have pieces we think are ready to send out, why should we wait?" I counter.

Ryan (lit MA, graduated) has his stepfather visiting. The stepfather says he's in business, but he loves to read, and he'd be interested to hear who are the favorite authors in this group. "Wallace Stevens," says the poet. "All mine are men," says my roommate (first year, nonfic) with chagrin. Dave Eggers is top of her list. I'm proud that most of mine are women, and I list some off the top of my head: "Angela Carter, Kathryn Davis, Susanna Clarke, Marilyn Robinson." "Robinson's Home is really good," says the poet.

There aren't many books that I'd willingly spend time to reread. A few I have known before I finished them I want to reread them: Orlando by Virginia Woolf, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf by Kathryn Davis, Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson.

What if I fed myself a diet consisting only of my favorite books? What if I read nothing but Mervyn Peake, Angela Carter, Kathryn Davis, Ray Bradybury, Marilyn Robinson, Helene Cixous, Alan Hollinghurst, Virginia Woolf? How would my writing be with such words roiling around in my body like reactive agents in a test tube? Like a flamingo who eats shrimp and turns pink, what color would my stories be?

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