Tag Archives: reading

Summer Reading

18 Jun

I realized that it hasn’t been since I did my post on my top 20 books of poetry for National Poetry Month that I’ve talked about what I’m reading/what I recommend reading.  As this is summer and as this blog is titled “Books & Baubles,” I think it is the appropriate time to talk about my summer reading list.

I love reading lists — I think it’s the literary voyeur (or just the voyeur) in me that like peeking in other people’s shelves (selves) to see what books they’re devouring at any given moment.  I think summer reading lists are the best because they often include “light reading” (and what this “light reading” may be varies, of course, from Stephen King to Anna Maxted) if the one doing the reading is being honest.  I want to be honest: I am reading these books (and yes, some haven’t been started, yet, but are on the near-horizon) and I am not ashamed in the least of what my summer reading list entails.  There is no War and Peace.  I’m not kidding myself.  There is no way that I will read a heavy text when it’s 100 degrees outside.  Nope.  Not going to happen.

What I am reading (listed from top to bottom):

Summer reading

Summer reading

Something From The Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America  by Laura Shapiro

I love this book!  It’s a culinary history of sorts of 1950s American “cuisine.”  It focuses its attention on the rise of packaged food items, corporate food writing and advertising, home cooks and their unwillingness to chuck traditional methods for meals from a can or a box, and the incredibly role of Poppy Cannon.

Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds

This won the Pulitzer for Poetry and is a book of poetry by the force that is Sharon Olds.  Need I say more?

Wife Dressing: The Fine Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife by Anne Fogarty (Author) and Rosemary Feitelberg (Introduction)

If you haven’t been able to tell yet, I’m on a bit of a 1950s vintage kick.  This book was released in 1959 and re-released in 2007 with the Feitelberg introduction.  Wife Dressing influenced a decade of style, social mores, and thinking about well, wife dressing.  As “quaint” as some of the advice may be in this book, there are some excellent reminders about body image, not comparing yourself to anyone else (especially fashion models), and dressing for your body type, not your fantasy body type.

The Exchange by Sophie Cabot Black

I haven’t started this book, yet (it was recently released by Graywolf), but I am a huge Sophie Cabot Black fan and I can’t wait to read her newest collection of poems.  If you haven’t read her second book, The Descent, you must run out and do so.  That collection has inspired me in immeasurable ways.

Mad Girl’s Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted by Andrew Wilson

I am so excited about this book!  I’m a Plathophile and literally own every book written by or about Plath.  This book is exciting because it focuses on Plath’s life before Ted Hughes, which I think adds much to her narrative.  While the Plath-Hughes drama is interesting, I think that story is a bit played out.  This book also illuminates her early beginnings in terms of childhood and young adult traumas and mental illness.

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder

This is another excellent Plath text and one that entirely focuses on Plath’s pre-Ted life.  What I love about this book is that not only is it about Plath’s Mademoiselle summer and subsequent breakdown, but it also offers the vintage-loving reader an insight into early 1950s American life in New York and the issues that plagued young, college-age women during this decade.

Inferno by Dan Brown

Don’t judge me!  This is my official “light summer reading” and I’m loving it.  I have actually read several Dan Brown novels (Angels & Demons and The DaVinci Code), but this one is by far the best and the most intelligent.  I felt that, in particular, The DaVinci Code was written on an eighth grade level.  In contrast, I applaud Brown’s use of exceptionally high vocabulary, artistic and literary references in his latest novel.   Inferno uses Dante’s famous work as the backdrop to this fast-paced mystery, which to a literary-lover such as myself, I find especially intriguing.  I also hope that people who have never read Dante will now be inspired to do so.  It’s amazing sometimes what pop fiction can do to the average reader.

Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook

This is a fabulous eBay find for me as it is the original 1950 edition.  The book itself is in very good shape (I don’t think anyone even cooked out of it, it would seem).  I actually purchased two of these — one to keep and one to use.  If you follow me on Instagram, you saw that I recently posted a photo of one of the recipes I used out of this cookbook — blueberry muffins.  This might seem an easy from-scratch recipe, and the use of shortening might scare you (and gentle reader, shortening is NOT lard — it’s solidified vegetable oil that actually has less transfat and calories than butter), but with the added fresh blueberries, these were the best muffins I’ve ever made.

MM Personal: from the Private Archives of Marilyn Monroe

MM Personal: from the Private Archives of Marilyn Monroe

This book by Lois Banner (photographs by Anderson) is another one of my summer indulgent reads and if you’re a MM fan, you’ll love it.  It features numerous photographs of Monroe’s letters, receipts, telegrams, cosmetics, clothing, etc. and wonderful stories to accompany each item.  I just watched HBO’s documentary, “Love, Marilyn,” last night, so this is a perfect time to flip through this book.  It’s a gorgeous coffee table book and perfect for any Marilyn aficionado.

Five Points: A Journal of Literature & Art, vol. 15. no. 1 & 2

Five Points: A Journal of Literature & Art, vol. 15. no. 1 & 2

When I went to Atlanta last month to read from my books at Charis Books, my friend Julie (who I also read with) had this waiting for me on the guest bed, all tied up with a little bow.  It was a wonderful house guest gift!  This double-issue journal reads like a who’s who of contemporary writing: Kim Addonizio, Madison Smart Bell, Billy Collins, Barbara Hamby, Edward Hirsch, Jane Hirshfield, Alice Hoffman, David Kirby, Thomas Lux, James May, Sharon Olds, Tom Perrotta, Elizabeth Spencer, Elizabeth Spires, and more.  I don’t see it on the Five Points website, yet, so I don’t how you can get a copy of it.  Julie got a copy at a literary event and I’m so thrilled to add it to my collection.

What’s on your shelf this summer?

So Many Books: A 2012 Reading List

27 Dec

When I was at Bennington for graduate school, we were required to read around 100 books in two years.  Bennington’s MFA Program motto is famous: “Read 100 books. Write one.”  I had to put myself on a very rigorous reading schedule to accomplish this and for the most part, I did.  In the years since, I’ve scaled back a bit, but have always tried to keep some sort of reading “list.”  Call it OCD (I love lists) or habit (grad school training), but at the end of every year, I compile a new, revised reading list for the next year.  This list usually changes some depending on a new book I’ve heard about or if a friend has recently come out with something, but more or less I try to work my way through my list.



This year’s list (for 2012) is comprised of books I’ve been wanting to read, books I’ve mostly read and really want to finish, or books I’ve skimmed and need to make the time to actually sit down and enjoy.  Reading my way through this list is one of my top New Year’s Resolutions.  What better way to enter a new year than with the promise of a good story, a poem, or uncovering a new writer?


Must Read, 2012 Edition:




Blue Nights by Joan Didion
Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley
The Ticking is the Bomb by Nick Flynn
Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Amen, Amen, Amen by Abby Sher
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Unpacking the Boxes by Donald Hall
Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife by Francine Prose
Happy by Alex Lemon
Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock by David Margolick
The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure
20 Under 40: Stories from the New Yorker
The Bill From by Father by Bernard Cooper
Every Day by the Sun: A Memoir of the Faulkners of Mississippi by Dean Faulkner Wells
The Mammy by Brendan O’Carroll
The Writer’s Notebook: Craft Essays from Tin House
Hungry Town by Tom Fitzmorris
A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle




Belfast Confetti by Ciaran Carson
For the Living and the Dead: Poems and a Memoir by Tomas Tranströmer
Temper by Beth Bachmann
The McSweeney’s Book of Poets Picking Poets
Facts for Visitors by Srikanth Reddy
The Kingdom of Ordinary Time by Marie Howe
Black Blossoms by Rigoberto Gonzalez
Stupid Hope by Jason Shinder
Milk Dress by Nicole Cooley
Special Orders by Edward Hirsch
Cocktails by D.A. Powell
A Village Life by Louise Gluck
Elegy by Mary Jo Bang
In the Surgical Theatre by Dana Levin
Pierce the Skin by Henri Cole
The Diminishing House by Nicky Beer
The Half-Finished Heaven: The Best Poems of Tomas Tranströmer
Letter to a Stranger by Thomas James
The Living Fire by Edward Hirsch
Domestic Violence by Eavan Boland


I’m also thinking about returning to some of my most-loved children’s books.  I feel that the books that we read as children shaped us in the way that no other books can: we learn from them, grow from them, try on their identities.  Some of the books that I would read again are:


The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Secret Garden by Eliza Hodgson Burnett
Daphne’s Book by Mary Downing Hahn
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen




Another related resolution that I’d like to add is inspired by the NPR article, “A Poem a Day: Portable, Peaceful, and Perfect.”  I love the idea of beginning the day with a poem and I find myself breathing easier whenever I read and then sit with a poem.  I think that doing so would make my day more peaceful, perfect.


A Community of Writers, A Community of Books

2 Jul

Taken in my room at Bennington, Jan. 2007



I am almost finished with the writing of my second manuscript (the first, The Glass Crib, is due out from Zone 3 Press in September).  I’ve been working on it steadily since January 2010 and have about 41 pages that I feel good about.  I’ve been keeping this second manuscript — the actual focus of it — a secret for a multitude of reasons, but if you’ve read some of the poems from it in journals, I think you might have a inkling of what it’s about.


I’m both excited and dreading hopping back on the merry-go-round of book contests.  For those of you who have done it, it’s such an arduous, albeit hopeful, process.  My first book was a finalist/semi-finalist for 6 contests, which was both rewarding and frustrating (insert the “always the bride” cliche here).  It took me almost 2 years to write it and about 1 1/2 years of sending it out to find a suitable home (a home which I absolutely adore).  I have no idea what to expect this time, because each manuscript/reader/judge is so different.  Of course, we all want to our manuscripts to be selected straight out the gate, but that so rarely happens.  If this manuscript gets picked up in the same amount of time as my first, I’ll throw a party.  No joke.


After grad school, it has felt a times like I’m writing in a vacuum.  I’m out of the “bubble” of grad school (and for me, even undergrad — I had such an amazing time there and feel very lucky to have been able to get both a BA and MFA in Creative Writing & Literature and work with wonderful teachers at both).  The first year out of Bennington’s MFA program, I had no idea what to do with myself, especially as my writing community dwindled and dwindled as the people I knew and loved here in Houston graduated from Houston’s MFA/PhD program and moved away.


However, little by little, I’ve made the transition and now when I look around, I have my own community created not by being thrown together in classes and such, but out of true friendships and love of language and books and everything in between.  I like coming out of my little nest of books and paper and tea to talk to other writers and share new work, ideas, or new books we’ve just read.  I can’t think of anything worse than living like Emily Dickinson and if that means I’ll never be Emily Dickinson, than so be it.


Recently, I have swapped manuscripts with a poet-friend of mine and also have a handful of other writer-friends that have agreed to read over my manuscript for me.  I am in awe of how gracious they all are and that I do have such a community to turn to again and again.





I think that in addition to a “people” community, we as writers (and readers in general) also build a community of books.  At last count (last year, when my husband conceived the plans for building our built-in bookcases), there are over 800 books in this house.  I’m reading a hodgepodge of books right now: books for research for the manuscript, others for fun, others for cooking, others I’m re-reading for the zillionth time.  Here are a few I’m reading:


Trouble in Mind by Lucie Brock Broido

Nothing In Nature Is Private by Claudia Rankine

Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table by Sara Roahen

My Father’s Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow