Friday, June 19, 2009

49 writers weekly roundup

The good news is, conference reports continue to roll in. We have one more about Kachemak Bay Writers' Conference, which I'll post Wednesday. If you have more to add, please do! I want to hear from as many Alaska writers and readers as possible.

The bads news is, I have very little for this roundup. (Again, this is Andromeda talking. Not Deb, our exemplary roundup queen, who is currently in Southeast Alaska, talking and selling books.)

Aw heck. Can can I squeeze in some personal non-book news? I'll be running my very first marathon tomorrow, the wonderful Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon (a beautiful course, if you've ever wanted to run a marathon with 50 to 60 degree temps, in which you are fairly likely to cross paths with a bear or a moose somewhere along the way). This is the culmination (one hopes) of a lifelong dream, and I've been training (sloooowly but steadily) since December, telling my knees that if they'll just let me have this day of glory I promise to be extra nice to them in years to come. Running all these training hours has been very similar to writing a book. You do it, knowing no one else in the world may care, and you're not competing with anyone but yourself, but as long as you show up each day, something will happen. And it has. I did my last training run (of 23 miles) a few weeks ago and I survived. But tomorrow will be the big test.

A week from now, we will be discussing TIDE, FEATHER, SNOW by Miranda Weiss. please join of us if you've read it, started it, are thinking about reading it, or are bursting with opinions to share about memoirs, Homer, coastal life, and so on. All are welcome. Note: In linking this to amazon, I just noticed how many reader reviews Weiss has received (32!) and the sales rank is also looking good.

Juneau author Stuart Archer Cohen recently left us a comment on an old post about my "Fill-in-the-blanks 100 book reading list" (which includes books I plan to read over the next five years). The post is buried on older pages, so few readers may notice it. Cohen was so thorough and spirited in his reading recommendations that I feel the need to re-post his comment here, in case anyone else is looking for some light (that's a joke) beach reading:

Thanks for shoehorning The Army of the Republic onto your list! I was glad to see Dostoyevski's Crime and Punishment up there: one of my favorites, but I thought I'd add a few of REALLY old-timey classics to the list:The Iliad, by Homer. Brutal, depressing, thrilling and an incredibly effective essay on how the petty egos of powerful men result in devastation for the rest of us.

Xenophon's Anabasis. The account of Operation Desert Storm 1, as 10,000 Greek mercenaries get lured into what's now Iraq (then Persia) with a succession of idealistic lies and craven self-interest. Written in 400 BC, it's a true-life thriller whose essential elements still get replayed in the here and now, in all their pathos and random horror.

Virgil's Aeneid: After the fall of Troy, the Trojan survivors flee to found a new country. Unforgettable examples of Roman oratory and a riveting description of the Trojan horse and sack of Troy from the victims' point of view. One moral: don't spurn your lover and drive her to suicide, because you just might run into her in the Underworld.

Mencius: Collected sayings of the great Chinese philosopher, about 330 BC. Okay, this one's a stretch, but if you want to understand China, as well as read some great stories that resonate in any language, dive in and don't come up for air until you've finished. Better Confucian aphorisms than Confucius, and a heck of a lot better sense of humor. Read the Penguin D.C. Lau translation.

The Dream of the Red Chamber (The Story of the Stone) Strange and enchanting novel of 18th century China. The story of the decline of a wealthy Chinese family, their dependents and servants, and various animated pieces of stone and Taoist immortals that wander through from time to time. Yeah, I know it's weird, but it draws you in. Regarded as China's greatest novel, its author died broke and never saw his book in print.

Latin American Literature:Jorge Luis Borges: Ficciones, The Book of Sand, and any others. Borges never wrote a novel because he didn't see the point of using up so many words to get across an idea you could express in a paragraph. His short stories are mind-bending.

Juan Rulfo's Pedro Paramo. Breaks every narrative rule known to man in this story of an early 20th century Mexican village and the patron who controls it. You don't read this "novel" as much as tumble through it, it's mercifully short, so you'll finish before you feel too beat up. Then you'll want to read it again. (I'm generally with Dana Stabenow on writers who make me feel stupid.)

The Hebrew Scriptures, Genesis through Nehemiah. A highly underrated book these days, or one that's taken at face value. Reading the "historical" books takes you from the creation of the universe to the birth of morality, of law, and then the long, unsatisfying trudge across the Sinai and into a questionable future. A book that deals with humanity's continued moral failings and it's heartening desire to keep trying. Must be read in sequence to get the feel for repetition and cycles so dear to its authors. Get past the idea of neat little "Bible stories," the Bible doesn't so much provide the answers, as enshrine the questions we need to keep asking. For the readers digest version, just read the book of Judges. It will leave you saying: "Wow!"I could go on and on, but there it is. Thanks for listening. Stuart

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