Book recommendations from the BGL retreat

Book-recommending has unsurprisingly become a tradition at the BG Literary retreat (see 2013, 2012). Below are the titles we talked about this year, and as a bonus, miscellaneous productivity & other tools. In no particular order.

Revolution by Deborah Wiles

The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

California Bones by Greg van Eekhout

Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Last Dragonslayer series Jasper Fforde

The Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell

Greenglass House by Kate Milford

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

The League of Seven by Alan Gratz

We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

Salvage by Alexandra Duncan

Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry

Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle

Tequila Mockingbird by Tim Federle

Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia

Doll Bones by Holly Black

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy

All the Way to Fairyland by Evelyn Sharp

The Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French

At The Bottom of the Garden: a dark history of fairies, hobgoblins, nymphs, and other troublesome things by Diane Purkiss

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

Pointe by Brandy Colbert

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

A Stranger in Olondria and “Selkie Stories Are For Losers” by Sofia Samatar

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Comics

Pretty Deadly Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

The Sixth Gun by Brian Hurtt and Cullen Bunn

Rat Queens by Kurtis J Wiebe

Hawkeye by Matt Fraction and David Aja

Ms. Marvel v. 1 by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona

Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

Stumptown by Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth

Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro

The Superior Foes of Spider-Man by Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber

Craft Books

 Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 Years of the Clarion Writers Workshop by Kate Wilhelm

 The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer

The Fiction Editor, the Novelist and the Novel by Thomas McCormack

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande

Poking a Dead Frog by Mike Sacks

Productivity & Other Tools

Epic Win

Self Control

Planner Pads

NeuYear.net calendars

Mind mapping with coggle.it

SpiderOak as a DropBox alternative

For outlining: Screenwriting Beat Sheets

And finally, not a tool, but forever my favorite article about procrastination, Robert Benchley’s marvelous “How To Get Things Done,” which begins: “A great many people have come up to me and asked me how I manage to get so much work done and still keep looking so dissipated.” Read the whole thing, then get to work.

 

A gross but perhaps useful metaphor

I don’t post here often enough for a period of silence to seem especially notable, but this time, the silence has been on purpose while I’ve been reflecting on current events.

Today I went to use the restroom at a coffeeshop and found the toilet clogged. (Aren’t you glad I’m not accompanying this with photos?)

I thought of leaving. I thought of telling the staff.

Then I picked up the plunger. Sure, I hadn’t made the mess, but whoever had left the toilet in its heinous condition was long gone, and the coffeeshop staff had a lot of other things to do. I unclogged it myself.

I’m not saying that dismantling the befouled toilet’s structural and institutional equivalents is nearly that simple. But that’s the approach I intend to take: recognize the mess, use the tools at hand to work on cleaning it up.

 

Objective correlatives

Obvious metaphors are obvious, but still.

I have to tell you that I’ve begun to rethink a thing I’ve been struggling with for some time.

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Rocks to navigate, river to cross, the woods to get through.

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The fallen tree that seemed like it could be a bridge doesn’t extend far enough.

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Intricate obstacle.

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Maybe a way to proceed.

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Still not sure where exactly I’m going, but on my way again.

A recent discovery

I listen to a lot of audiobooks; in the car to make long drives bearable, at night to slow the hamster wheel of anxiety.

I never look for a specific title. I browse, often clicking through screen after screen of books that aren’t to my taste, like sifting through the racks at a thrift store.

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It was after midnight and I was nine screens in when I found Valeria Luiselli‘s Faces in the Crowd, read by Roxanne Hernandez and Armando Durán. Hernandez’s voice was immediately captivating, and I was intrigued, too, by the double translation, first from the original Spanish Los ingrávidos (The Weightless Ones), then into audio.

I’m not going to tell you what it’s about, only that I highly recommend it.

Beach best practices

Bring lots of books, but remember that you’ll also want to watch beach TV. Reliable channels include Waves, Clouds, Dogs, and Children. Sometimes you can get Horses or Storms; occasionally Sparklers.

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Someone’s going to be Beach-Fire-Building Alpha. If that’s not you, assist them by gathering kindling, carrying foodstuffs to be carbonized, and not complaining when smoke drifts your way. If you’re the Beach-Fire-Building Alpha, rule benevolently, and gracefully accept all praise of your skills.

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Consider not taking sunset photos because geez, aren’t there enough of them in the world already?

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Reconsider.

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Feel grateful.

 

3 gns I’ve recently enjoyed make a good spine poem

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This One Summer

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

How To Be Happy

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This One Summer, by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, perfectly evokes the early-adolescent state where sometimes you want to be older, sometimes younger, where the issues of the adults around you intersect and influence your world even when, especially when, they try to shield you from them, and what it’s like to be in the place that has always meant one thing but now is starting to mean something else.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, a graphic memoir by Roz Chast, is about dread, denial, dementia, decline, and death, and still manages to be funny. Especially recommended for anyone who is, has been, or anticipates becoming a caregiver for aging parents.

How To Be Happy by Eleanor Davis is a collection of short, spare, lovely and haunting graphic stories. Some of them are funny, too. Among my favorites: “The Emotion Room,”  “How To Be Strong,” and the one-pager that opens the collection which begins: “Write a story. A story about yourself. A story about your life. Now, believe it.”

 

 

 

I was surprised to discover I like Justified

I’ve been watching a lot of Justified. I was a little surprised to discover I like it.

But it’s not that shocking, considering I like Elmore Leonard’s ear for dialog and the ever-present evidence in his books that he follows his own writing advice. I liked discovering that producer Graham Yost gave the writers of the show WWED bracelets.

I’ve also been appreciating:

Timothy Olyphant‘s half Jimmy Stewart, half Jack Nicholson affect.

Herky-jerky Jeremy Davies, who manages to seem simultaneously like someone who’d be running the shooting range at a seedy carnival and a semi-functional toy you’d win there.

Commanding Margo Martindale, who gets a remarkable amount of depth and complexity into what is basically a Big Bad character.

Walton Goggins (whose actual name would also work well for his character), buttoned-up and wild-eyed, with ever-precise diction.

I could go on naming actors; there are a lot of strong performances.

There are missed opportunities, too. I especially wanted more in Noble’s Holler; more characters (where were the women?), more scenes, more nuance.

But overall, good, compelling TV. Will watch again.

Old Home Week

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I’m just back from Ann Arbor, where I tabled at Kids Read Comics and taught a writing workshop at the Ann Arbor District Library.

I kept using the phrase “cognitive dissonance” to express how it felt to be in my old home town after many years away, and it’s close, I suppose, but inadequate.

I wasn’t discomfited per se by seeing how Ann Arbor has (and hasn’t) changed, but I became hyperaware of how site-specific memory can be; how experiences you’ve had in a particular place can suddenly return when you’re physically present.

I’d forgotten, for example, about Dominick’s. But as soon as I was standing inside, conversations I’d had in grad school over sangria came back; some, in fact, with these people (Dave Carter, Jim Ottaviani, & Kat Hagedorn):

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I tried to do an update of this old photo taken outside the Clements Library where my dad used to be a curator:

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but decided to respect the boundary around the book statue:

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I went to some places that didn’t exist in the 1990s, too:

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At Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair, aka 826 Michigan, I bought Don’t Forget to Write: 50 Enthralling and Effective Writing Lessons for the Secondary Grades.

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And at Literati Bookstore (which has splendid graphic design in addition to its well-curated title selection) I got Roz Chast’s graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Perhaps the experience that best encapsulates the visit was going to Seva; a restaurant I remembered fondly which has recently relocated.

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They kept stained glass from the old location, but display it in a different arrangement. They kept some items from the old menu, but added dishes. The result: a comforting, tasty blend of familiar & new.

 

Kids Read Comics

Representing today & tomorrow for teen & adult readers at the Ann Arbor District Library’s Kids Read Comics festival — really fun to be back in the library I grew up using. If you’re in or near Ann Arbor, come say hi!

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