Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Guest Post: Steve Mitchell

THIS IS A BLOG POST WITH INSTRUCTIONS






  [Let this music play until further instructions.] 

  In the Fall of 2017, in anticipation of the publication of my novel, Cloud Diary, I began approaching musicians about responding to short scenes from the novel in any manner they chose. By early 2018, 19 musicians had responded with 25 original pieces. 

Writing, music, art: they don’t travel in a straight line. The roots of their narrative tunnel and curl, vanish and re-appear, spreading outward, never quite resting. It’s impossible to say exactly what art does, and while the arts speak to our connectedness, they also accentuate the vast gulfs between us: the breadth of interpretation, of response, and the uniqueness of that response.

Sometimes, in my process of writing, it happens that a piece of music takes on a value. It’s not an inspiration exactly, but it stakes out an emotional territory that’s not obvious or causal. An innocent bystander might never see the connection, but the music helps to form an interior landscape I return to throughout the writing.

Cloud Diary (C&R Press, 2018) is the story of Doug and Sophie, their intense relationship in their twenties, then eight years later when they meet again. Even before I’d begun the writing, Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane, Over the Sea became an anchor for the early part of Doug and Sophie’s life together.

Raw, loose, and loud, Neutral Milk Hotel has a dangerous, wailing nakedness, the kind which might pivot in an instant into something necessitating an intervention. I wanted that feeling around Doug and Sophie: a messy vulnerability, a life with dirt in the corners, a life of rummaging in couch cushions for change to do laundry, of hoping your more established friends invite you to dinner because it’s two days before payday.

 Yet, in contrast, I needed very quiet, still places within the book and a different kind of music could come into play then.

 The story of Doug and Sophie is one of intimacy, and powerlessness in the face of tests upon that intimacy. It’s intensely personal, in that it’s focused almost solely upon them over eight years of their lives.

In the middle section of Cloud Diary, the tone changes, becoming quieter, a bit more melancholy, as Sophie and Doug meet again after their separation. Their meeting is tentative at first‑‑‑there’s a lot of history to address or avoid---then tender, then more demanding than either might have imagined. In the writing, Neutral Milk Hotel was replaced by Sigur Ros; very specific Sigur Ros tracks from a 2004 ep, BA BA TI KI DI DO. That’s what you’ve been listening to.

In Philip K. Dick’s short story, The Preserving Machine, Doc Labyrinth invents a machine that converts great music into living creatures. He’s concerned that Beethoven or Bach might not survive a coming apocalypse and believes that through this conversion they might be set free in the wild, fend for themselves, then be scooped up in the future and converted again into beautiful music.

  [Scroll up and stop the Sigur Ros now. Scroll back down.] 

  [Start this music now.]

 

Things don’t go as planned. A year or two after releasing the various creatures into the nearby forest, Labyrinth finds every animal has changed in order to survive and flourish, and that to place the Bach bugs back into the Preserving Machine does not deliver Bach at all, but a whole new music.

As contributions to the Cloud Diary Music Project began to appear in my inbox, I was reminded of Dick’s story. All types of music were represented here, from barroom songs and bluegrass to electronica and avant-garde classical.

Each person who submitted knew very little about the book as a whole. They’d simply received a short scene and a three-sentence synopsis. (One likened it to peering through a hole in a construction fence. He could only see a couple of beams and girders, imagining the rest.) Each was creating something whole from a mere glimpse, in the same way a simple exchange overheard between strangers can become, for me, the basis of a short story.

The music you're listening to now was written and performed (with Steve Sollod) by Kim Church. Kim is a writer herself. It’s a response to a fictional scene written, in part, as a response to the music of Sigur Ros. In the scene, Doug and Sophie struggle with their future over a late night and a morning, working to rekindle old bonds, or perhaps establish new ones. There’s a darkness hanging over this scene. And a stillness.

When we write, we are translating feelings, images, conversations; we’re collating them, bringing them together, and then threading a needle of words to create something. It’s not a record, not a historical document; we are translating experience into another language.

This is what we do when we read. We gather the words and form our own images, feelings, history, even music, around them. They become our own. Every translation is different. Every read text is unique.

This is true even of our own work. Now, when I remember Sophie turning to Doug in the middle of that night and asking, quietly, “Can you just hold me. For a moment…”, I hear both Sigur Ros and Kim Church. They are distinct views of the same scene.

Because, once our creatures scuttle or dart from the nest they become their own beings and they, like Doc Labyrinth’s musical creations, will transform as they explore and chart the world for themselves.

With luck, they’ll learn to survive on their own. We may or may not recognize them when they do. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~







Kendra Harding’s Lover Leap was written in response to a different scene within Part Two of the book. Music for this piece: Lucy Dacus, Historian / Big Thief, Capacity Steve Mitchell is the author of Cloud Diary and co-owner of Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, NC       

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Where Robert Lopez Writes

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!


Where Writers Write is a series in which authors showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 








This is Robert Lopez. 

He is the author of three novels, Part of the World, Kamby Bolongo Mean River, and All Back Full, and two story collections, Asunder and Good People. www.robertlopez.net










Where Robert Lopez Writes




This is where I work, when I work. This is also where I spend a fair amount of time when I'm not working. I could never write in a cafe full of people and the sounds they make. I'm distracted enough here alone, what with the news and social media and all the other etceteras. I don't need real live people crossing through my field of vision at the same time. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Isabelle Kenyon's Guide to Books & Booze



Time to grab a book and get tipsy!

Books & Booze challenges participating authors to make up their own drinks, name and all, or create a drink list for their characters and/or readers using drinks that already exist. 




Today, Isabelle Kenyon whips up a new drink in honor of her latest collection of poetry, 

Ready to get your booze on??

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Drink: 'Jungle Fever'
Malibu (fruity and tropical)
Coconut milk (cleansing, pure)
A starfruit garnish (think thick jungles and exotic new tastes and topics)
Lemon juice (bittersweet aftertaste)


I chose this drink because the book is entirely based on my time in New Zealand - exotic greenery, coastal beaches and fresh flavours. It was a time to cleanse the pallet so to speak, after the funeral of my Grandma, and so the exciting new experiences were often bittersweet.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Isabelle Kenyon is the author of poetry anthology, This is not a Spectacle and micro chapbook, The Trees Whispered, published by Origami Poetry Press. She is also the editor of MIND Poetry Anthology 'Please Hear What I'm Not Saying' and her latest release, Digging Holes To Another Continent, will be published by Clare Songbirds Publishing House this May. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Suzanne Burns' Would You Rather

Bored with the same old fashioned author interviews you see all around the blogosphere? Well, TNBBC's got a fun, literary spin on the ole Would You Rather game. Get to know the authors we love to read in ways no other interviewer has. I've asked them to pick sides against the same odd bookish scenarios.





Suzanne Burns'

Would You Rather



Would you rather start every sentence in your book with ‘And’ or end every sentence with ‘but’?
I think starting every sentence with ‘and’ might end up reading like some sort of exciting and very long list of announcements. To me, ‘but’ would read like an overwrought and worrisome apology.

Would you rather write in an isolated cabin that was infested with spiders or in a noisy coffee shop with bad musak?
I could handle the cabin during the day. I’m quick and excitable enough to fend off any spider heading my way. Night, and sleep, and long hair is another story. But I could never write with noise and bad, or even good, musak.

Would you rather think in a language you could understand but write in one you couldn’t read, or think in a language you couldn’t understand but write in one you could read?
One has to understand their own thoughts or they couldn’t write in any language.

Would you rather write the best book of your career and never publish it or publish a bunch of books that leave you feeling unsatisfied?
A bunch of books that leave me feeling unsatisfied. That’s the constant state of artists, isn’t it? Why else do we all keep going? But if I did write the best book of my career and never published it, it wasn’t my best book.

Would you rather have everything you think automatically appear on your Twitter feed or have a voice in your head narrate your every move?
Twitter, because I’m not on it so would never check it. That way when I get weird, think PMS when potato chips for dinner combined with stalking exes on Facebook sounds like a good idea, I’d be oblivious.

Would you rather your books be bound and covered with human skin or made out of tissue paper?
Tissue paper. I have a suspicion that no one but my mom actually reads them cover to cover, anyway, and she loves collecting tissue paper. She has a large wooden box in the garage filled with the fluff.

Would you rather read naked in front of a packed room or have no one show up to your reading?

I’ve had no one show up to a reading more than a few times, so I’m a seasoned pro.


Would you rather your book incite the world’s largest riot or be used as tinder in everyone’s fireplace?
Who doesn’t want to incite the world’s largest riot?

Would you rather give up your computer or pens and paper?
Computer. I write longhand.

Would you rather have every word of your favorite novel tattooed on your skin or always playing as an audio in the background for the rest of your life?

I think Catcher in the Rye would be a perfect fit.


Would you rather meet your favorite author and have them turn out to be a total jerkwad or hate a book written by an author you are really close to?
All favorite authors are total jerkwads.

 Would you rather your book have an awesome title with a really ugly cover or an awesome cover with a really bad title?
You obviously haven’t see this book. This is real. Yes, she is floating over a tree surrounded by a circular rainbow and yes, she has a shaved head and side boob.

 Would you rather write beautiful prose with no point or write the perfect story badly?
Beautiful prose with no point, like Proust.

Would you rather write only embarrassingly truthful essays or write nothing at all?
How embarrassing? I don’t have to mention that one time I did that one thing, right?

Would you rather your book become an instant best seller that burns out quickly and is forgotten forever or be met with mediocre criticism but continue to sell well after you’re gone?
Instant, forgettable, burned out bestseller.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 Suzanne Burns writes both fiction and prose. Her fiction most recently appeared in The Chicago Tribune. Her second short story collection, The Veneration of Monsters, published by Dzanc Books, received a starred Kirkus Review and went on to be named one of the Top 100 Fiction Titles of 2017. She is currently working on a new short story collection.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Bronwyn Reviews: For Two Thousand Years


For Two Thousand Years
by Mihail Sebastian
translated from the Romanian by Philip Ó Ceallaigh
Publisher: Other Press
Released: 2017




Reviewed by Bronwyn Mauldin




“Being persecuted is not just a physical trial. It is one that affects you intellectually. The reality of it slowly deforms you and attacks, above all, your sense of proportion.”

So says the anonymous narrator of the powerful novel For Two Thousand Years as he reflects on his time as a university student in 1920s Romania. But this book belies those words. Even as he and fellow Jewish students are assaulted daily, he seeks to understand himself, his attackers, and his own response to their anti-Semitism. The strength of this book is found in its clear-eyed reporting of conversations the narrator has with friends and colleagues – their candid brutality at times stunning – combined with his thoughtful reflection on what he hears and sees.

Originally published in Romanian in 1934, this novel by Mihail Sebastian has been available in French for some time. It has only now appeared in English in a translation by Philip Ó Ceallaigh, and it couldn’t be more timely. Then, as today, while the perpetrators get most of the attention, silent bystanders also get their due:

“If somebody set themselves up in the middle of the street to demand, let’s say, ‘Death to badgers,’ I think that would suffice to arouse some surprise among those passing by. Now that I think about it, the problem isn’t that three boys can stand at a street corner and cry ‘Death to the Yids.’ But that the cry goes unobserved and unopposed, like the tinkling of a bell on a tram.” 

The Nazis haven’t arrived in Romania yet, but anti-Semitism is on the march. Jewish students are attacked and beaten for having the temerity to attend their classes. Professors at best stand quietly by; at times they encourage the perpetrators. Each night the narrator returns to a dormitory where the victims compare wounds and try to imagine the future.

The novel follows this insightful young student into adulthood. The narrator changes his major to architecture, at the encouragement of a nationalist professor he idolizes. He becomes an architect and is hired by an eccentric American tycoon named Ralph Rice. He lives in Paris for a time, and eventually returns to Romania to work on Rice’s oil fields. The drilling kills the local plum trees, which are the heart of the peasant economy and culture. An entire village is moved to make way for oil production. Then the narrator takes on the design and building of a house for the professor he once loved, whose classes he used to be thrown out of by the professor’s young acolytes.

All this drama, though, is backdrop to the narrator’s deeper struggle not just to survive but to understand, and this is the beating heart of the novel that echoes through to today. As he moves through life, he meets with many anti-Semites. He attends their classes. He breaks bread with them, works side-by-side with them. He talks to other Jews with differing responses to the rising crisis. Most of the people he talks with – nationalists, anti-Semites, communists, Zionists, and oblivious foreigners – are types intended to represent a particular point of view. And yet, his conversations with them are fresh and engaging, as are his later reflection on them:

“Don’t allow yourself to indulge your suffering. There’s a great voluptuousness in persecution and feeling yourself wronged is probably one of the proudest of private pleasures…. Think how ridiculous we would be if we were alarmed at every shower of rain that soaked us.”

Mihail Sebastian is the pen name of Iosif Hechter, and this novel is thinly disguised autobiography. The other major work he is known for is the journal he kept from 1935 to 1944. When it was finally published in 1996, it was quickly recognized as an important chronicle of the rise of nazism in Europe. Sebastian’s humanistic observations of the catastrophe as it unfolded can help us understand his time and ours. Having survived the Holocaust, Sebastian was hit by a truck and killed while crossing a Bucharest street in 1945, on his way to give a lecture on Balzac. He was 37 years old. As the prescient young narrator says early in this book, making a failing of Sebastian’s great strength as a chronicler,

“Something tells me that we are unable to live any of life’s moments fully. Not one of them. That we eternally stand at a remove from what is happening. A little above or a little below things, but never at their heart… That the fires we lit to offer up our hearts smouldered out too soon.”





###


Bronwyn Mauldin writes fiction and poetry, and creates zines. She will be an Artist in Residence at Denali National Park and Preserve in summer 2018. More at bronwynmauldin.com.  


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

K.M. Ecke on Being Indie

On "Being Indie" is a blog series that introduces us to a wide variety of small press authors and publishers as they discuss what being indie means to them.



Today, we're featuring K.M. Ecke as part of the Moral Panic blog tour, hosted by RogerCharlie.








K.M. Ecke is an organic, free-range, preservative-free, philosopher-poet using universal truth to battle cultural insanity. Ecke chose to pursue writing, soul-searching and creative projects. After several years of odd jobs learning about different pieces of the world, he began his own private music teaching business and attended Colorado Film School for a year and a half to study filmmaking. After 18-months in his program, he veered to his own path and established Dream Flow Media, the home to all of his creative endeavors; publishing, music and all additional branches of the many-faceted visionary. Along with his own creations, he strives to bring other artists into the fold to develop a creative collective for a variety of multimedia projects.


Ecke also works as a filmmaker for local non-profits and bands, and hopes one day to see Moral Panic on the big screen. The author lives in Denver, Colorado and hosts a storytelling micro-podcast Myths, Metaphors, and Morality. For more info, visit the author online at TheDreamFlow.com. 











My first reason for being in the independent publishing world is sovereignty.

Whenever possible, I want control over my own destiny. I want to experience my own successes and failures.

The publishing world is changing so rapidly that the big five publishers can’t adapt as quickly as a smaller player.

I’d rather set sail in the storm and learn from the crashing waves than board the Titanic knowing I’m not getting a lifeboat. At least there’s honor in facing the rolling tide.

The second reason is pragmatism. I honestly think it’s a better idea in the current market conditions.

If I went with the old system, I’d have to send my manuscripts to dozens of agents receiving hundreds of novels every week, wait months to hear back from them (if I heard back at all), and then best-case scenario I’d get signed to a publishing deal (probably without an advance, because unless you’re already well-known with a big following they won’t give you one) where they take the majority of the revenue from my work, and completely control the amount of resources they use to promote the book.

I’ve heard horror stories about authors who get signed to a publishing deal and then don’t get any support after the first sign that the novel won’t be a New York Times bestseller. Even if I were signed to a big publishing company, let’s be honest, if they’re deciding where a better return on their investment is going to come from they’re not going to pick my book, they’ll get far more money using their resources on the next Dan Brown or Neil Gaiman book than mine.

By the time I got all of that going and started making anywhere near enough money to live, I probably could have written another novel.

I don’t want to stall and anxiously wait around for someone else to tell me when I’m allowed into the art form. I’d rather publish and move on to the next story, learning along the way, because then I know I’m growing on several different levels. Prolificity is more important to me than perfection.

I believe the story of my novel, Moral Panic, needs to be told, and the only guaranteed way to do that is to take on all the boring publishing business stuff I don’t want to do as the burden of responsibility for living the life I want to live. I won’t have the brass ring of being a “published author” but my book is mine to shape, refine, or rework until the day I die.

My third reason has to do with fulfillment. Not just happiness, fulfillment.

I became self-employed three and a half years ago and that experience has afforded me the time to explore what I’ve wanted to explore. I’ve left jobs where I would have made more money to go after the self-development and potential of making either the same amount (or more) money in the long-term doing what actually interests me.

They say time is money . . . and they’re wrong.

Time is more valuable than money. Money is something humans create that we attribute arbitrary value to. Time is something we experience. You can recover lost money. You can’t recover lost time. I’m still relatively young. This is the time to take risks.

When I was in college I thought about becoming a lawyer. It was safe and I would have been good at it, but why be a mediocre lawyer? Why be a mediocre anything? Mediocrity comes from the lack of courage to be what you are.


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You can find K.M. Ecke by following the links below: 




Monday, March 19, 2018

Seeking Reviewers for David Barbee's JIMBO YOJIMBO

Readers, my readers, I swear I have not forsaken you. 


Last year was a rough year for this blog. Many of our contributing reviewers left us to persue exciting projects of their own, and we found ourselves in the midst of an amazing opportunity to provide publicity for a handful of incredible small press authors. 

All of these changes, as awesome as they have been, meant less free time for reading and reviewing books here. And looking forward into 2018, it looks like we'll be up against more of the same. 

We'll still be featuring small press authors - it'll just be through more of the author series we host, and a lot less in the way of reviews. 

In the meantime, I'd like you to check out the current book I'm promoting: 




This is David Barbee's latest novel Jimbo Yojimbo
It's Eraserhead Press's first release of the year, and David and I are looking for reviewers. 


In this satirical, post-frog-plagued, bizarro alt-future, most of humanity has been reengineered by an evil restaurateur. Bushido Budnick is a mad master chef slash scientist of sorts, who has clawed his way to the top of the food chain, breathing life into strange (and tasty) fish and frog-like minions, who also serve as Menu Items if they fail to please their creator. 
Not one to let things simmer, Barbee throws us headfirst into a dungeon cell where our hillbilly samurai hero, Jimbo Yojimbo, and his ghost daddy are making a quick escape. Jimbo's taken a revenge oath against Bushido and plans to kill him and bring his entire Buddha Gump Shrimp Company down with him. 
Along the way, he has to fight endless armies of crawds and Quakers, genetically enhanced crayfish and ducks, all the while trying to shake Toadlicker, Bushido's grotesquely modified superspy and right-hand-man, who's convinced himself that Jimbo Yojimbo is his ultimate match. 
Fans of bizarro fiction will find much to appreciate here - Barbee's imagination truly knows no bounds - while newbies to the genre, provided they are prepared to suspend reality farther than they've ever suspended it before, are guaranteed to identify with the book's underlying themes of love, loss, and an unquenchable blood thirsty vengance. 
Jimbo Yojimbo is an action packed, mind blowing clash of good vs evil set in a world in which the only rule is that there are no rules.

If you think you might like to review this book, let us know! 
We have digital review copies in PDF, Mobi, and Epub. 


Also, check out these really cool black out poems that ST Cartledge created from the text within the novel:








Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Kelly Cherry's Would You Rather

Bored with the same old fashioned author interviews you see all around the blogosphere? Well, TNBBC's got a fun, literary spin on the ole Would You Rather game. Get to know the authors we love to read in ways no other interviewer has. I've asked them to pick sides against the same 20 odd bookish scenarios.






Kelly Cherry's 
Would You Rather







Would you rather start every sentence in your book with ‘And’ or end every sentence with ‘but’?

    I use "but" frequently. That's because there are always so many sides to an issue and I feel a need to capture them.



Would you rather write in an isolated cabin that was infested with spiders or in a noisy coffee shop with bad musak?

    I'll choose the spiders! My parents were string quartet violinists and I grew up on late Beethoven. I think classical music is what keeps me alive. Besides, spiders don't attack; they just quietly climb up an down.



Would you rather think in a language you could understand but write in one you couldn’t read, or think in a language you couldn’t understand but write in one you could read?
   
 This is tricky. I'd rather think and write in the one language I know. In fact, I can't escape it.



Would you rather write the best book of your career and never publish it or publish a bunch of books that leave you feeling unsatisfied?

    I've already published 27 books. There are some I wish I could throw out, but it's too late. But again (all these 'but's, cf. above) there are some I believe in and would not throw out.



Would you rather have everything you think automatically appear on your Twitter feed or have a voice in your head narrate your every move?
   
Voice in my head, for sure. There are things I definitely do not want Twitter to know.



Would you rather your books be bound and covered with human skin or made out of tissue paper?
   
 Tissue paper. Even if it blows away, tumbling down a street.



Would you rather read naked in front of a packed room or have no one show up to your reading?
   
 I am happy to have never had to give a  reading naked. On the other hand, I have given a reading to the one person who showed up for it.




Would you rather your book incite the world’s largest riot or be used as tinder in everyone’s fireplace?

   Here I'll vote for the riot. Maybe someone will find something in it more alluring than a riot.



Would you rather give up your computer or pens and paper?
  
  I have already given up pens and paper, and I still wonder if was the wrong choice. My computer is unruly and far too complicated.



Would you rather have every word of your favorite novel tattooed on your skin or always playing as an audio in the background for the rest of your life?
   
 I hope I never have to deal with either, but in a  pinch I'll vote for the tattoo over the noise, which would make it hard to think.




Would you rather meet your favorite author and have them turn out to be a total jerkwad or hate a book written by an author you are really close to?
   
 Well, I've already met some jerkwads. I'd choose the to meet the writer whose book I hate but whose person I respect.



Would you rather your book have an awesome title with a really ugly cover or an awesome cover with a really bad title?
  
  Awesome title, please! It's titles that sell books, not covers.



Would you rather write beautiful prose with no point or write the perfect story badly?

    The latter, although I try to make my prose as beautiful as I can.



Would you rather write only embarrassingly truthful essays or write nothing at all?

Embarrassingly truthful. I think I've already written some of those.



Would you rather your book become an instant best seller that burns out quickly and is forgotten forever or be met with mediocre criticism but continue to sell well after you’re gone?

   I think I've already missed the opportunity to have a best seller that burns out but I do have hope that some of my books will reach readers after I've gone.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~




Author of 27 books, 11 chapbooks, 2 translations of classical drama. Former PL of Virginia. Emerita, Poets Corner, NYC. Hanes Poetry Prize, NEA, USIA (the Philippines), Rockefeller, Bradley Lifetime Award, Phillabaum Prize, Weinstein Award, Notable Wisconsin Author, three Arts Board fellowship grants  and two New Work awards from Wisconsin, Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook Award (2000, for 1999), Walker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Southern Letters; four Prize anthologies. Eminent Scholar, UAH, 2001-2005.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Guest Post - Lynn Sloan on Downsizing Her Library

Downsizing a personal collection of books is not an easy feat for a booklover. More accuractely, it is probably a task that most booklovers procrastinate at or avoid at all costs! Just the thought of removing books from my shelves to place into storage bins gives me anxiety... let alone contemplating CULLING any.

Today, we welcome Lynn Sloan, author of the recently released This Far Isn't Far Enough, to the blog as she shares her recent experience with doing just such a thing:








The Wisdom and the Folly of Downsizing a Library






“So these’ll be gone, right?” George, the house painter, nods at the long wall in my bedroom of floor-to-ceiling shelves loaded with books.

Like all avid readers and most writers, I have books in many rooms—cookbooks, in the kitchen, obviously; local history and poetry in the living room, less obviously; in my office, predictably, dictionaries, style guides, books I turn to for inspiration; in my workroom, reference books, books I mean to read, and books I’ll never read but can’t give away because of the giver; in the den, art, more art, photography, travel, history, essays, film studies; and so on.

The books that really matter to me are in my bedroom. George, sizing up the job ahead, and I look at them, me with affection, George with a baffled, who-needs-books expression.

I am a fiction writer. Most of the novels and short story collections that I’ve read in the last twenty-five years are here, in my most private, intimate space. No book goes on these shelves unless I read it to the end. Non-fiction I’ll read on my digital devices, but books of fiction I want to hold in my hand as objects; I want to turn their paper pages; I want to write in the margins. When I became a fiction writer, I gave up borrowing novels and story collections from the library and started buying them as a way to support living authors and the legacy of the dead, so this twenty-foot-long wall of books has become a three dimensional record of my history as a reader of fiction. Arranged in alphabetical order by author, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winners alongside out-of-print, mid-twentieth century British Penguins, hardbound books written by my personal favorites, cherished volumes from friends, soft with many readings, peeling pulp paperbacks with lurid covers bought secondhand. Books stacked in front of other books, groaning shelves, a twenty-foot long wall, my most personal library.

I assure George, the painter, that I will deal with the books before his crew arrives.

*

The painters were due.  It was time to box up my books.

I’ve done this before. I’ve boxed and moved books from college to my first apartment, which is why I still have my musty copy of English Poetry and Prose of the Romantic Movement, to my next apartment, and the next, to one fixer-upper house after another, to my current beloved cottage. Books have made the journey with me. My bedroom wall of books is personal.

These are the books that have entertained me, challenged and taught me, and sustained me. But I have too many books. The shelves are double-stacked. I don’t even know what’s behind the visible rows of books.

I drag out boxes, dusting rags, and the stepladder. Amis, Kingsley and Martin, Atkinson, Atwood, Austin—my eyes drift over the faded spines, past Richard Yates, and two bottom rows of Best American anthologies. Many of these familiar friends I haven’t opened in years. Do I need them any more? Which of them will I ever read again? I have so many books that I sometimes hesitate to buy new books, and so many good books are published all the time.  

I decide to keep only those books I truly expect to read again. Most of Kingsley Amis I save, none of Martin Amis. I keep Atkinson’s Life after Life and God in Ruins, set aside her Brodie mysteries for a mystery-loving friend, the others go in a stack for the public library’s sale. I move through the As and on to the Bs. Each decision is tough. Baxter, Berlin, keep, most of Brookner, to the library. I persist. Each book that I have loved tests my resolve, but if I figure I’m not going to read it again, out it goes onto the library pile. Soon the library pile becomes several piles. I am ruthless. My book-loving husband walks in and is shaken.

“Are you sure?”

Such a question is no help. If I weaken, I’m doomed. Ahead I envision a beckoning openness, not dusty yellowing volumes from the past, but a spacious and blooming future.

I have three hundred hardbound books and eighty-three paperbound books to give away. I am exhausted, and I am content.

The painters do their work. We move back in the bed, the bedside tables, the lamps, the reading chair, but the shelves remain empty. I want them to dry thoroughly before I bring in the books.

On a sunny day, I carry in the boxes and begin. I’m glad to see my old friends. Each volume seems fresh and new. Some authors’ works I place sideways so the titles can be read easily. Here and there I leave space for new acquisitions. When I step back to review the result, it looks as if an interior decorator has been at work, arranging the books just so, in other words, my wall of carefully chosen books does not look like my library. What I have left is a skeleton, the remains of a formerly living organism. I try not to be disappointed. I try not to obsess over the Veronica Gengs and the Malcolm Muggeridges, the Tom Rachman, the Téa Obreht, the four hundred books I gave away. I want them all back.

I avoid looking at that wall in my bedroom for weeks, until one day I need to look up a passage in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies. Guided by my old penciled notes, I find what I’m looking for. Delighted that I’d saved this book, happy that the process of finding what I wanted was so easy, I pull down nearby books. They are full of notes I’d written in the margins; inside the back cover are thoughts I’d had and connections I’d made between passages. I discover bookmarks from now-closed bookstores. I remember buying each of these books, some in distance towns, and most near home. Each book tells not just the author’s tale, but my mine too.

Opposite the passage I’d gone looking for in Interpreter of Maladies, I found, “It was only then . . . that I knew what it meant to miss someone . . .”

I miss the books I gave away. I’m happy to have lots of free space on my shelves to fill with new books and new experiences, but I miss what I no longer have. It will be years before I have to face downsizing again.


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Lynn Sloan is a writer and photographer. Her stories have appeared in Ploughshares, Shenandoah, and American Literary Review, among other publications, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She is the author of the novel Principles of Navigation (2015 Fomite), which was a Chicago Book Review Best Book in 2015, and the newly released short story collection, This Far Isn't Far Enough (Fomite, 2018). Her fine art photographs have been exhibited nationally and internationally. For many years she taught photography at Columbia College Chicago, where she founded the journal Occasional Readings in Photography, and contributed to Afterimage, Art Week, and Exposure. She lives in Evanston, Illinois with her husband. Learn more at http://www.lynnsloan.com/

Monday, February 5, 2018

Where Writers Write: Judithe Little

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!


Where Writers Write is a series in which authors showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 







This is Judithe Little.

Judithe grew up in Virginia and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia. After a brief time studying in France and interning at the U.S. Department of State, she earned her law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law, where she was on the Editorial Board of the Journal of International Law and a Dillard Fellow. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Writer’s League of Texas, Houston Writers Guild, and the Churchill Society. She lives with her husband and three children in Houston, Texas, where she is a lawyer at Haynes and Boone. Wickwythe Hall is her first novel. Learn more at judithelittle.com.











Where Judithe Little Writes


Most writers work in an office or at the very least from a desk. Not me. I work curled up on the couch in the middle of my family room. You can find me there with my lap top on my lap, surrounded by dogs and kids going in and out. It might seem weird that my office is a couch and my lap is my desk, but my kids are growing up. My oldest is going to college next year. I want to write, but I want to be around them too while they’re still here. Maybe once they’re all gone, I’ll take over a bedroom. I’ll turn it into a real writer’s office with a real desk and a bulletin board on the wall with timelines and inspiring pictures. But I’m so used to being where the action is, it might be too quiet. I might not be able to get anything done.