Monday, November 8, 2010

Soup and Salad: Gina Frangello's Risky Writing, Laura Munson's Muse, Charles Dickens Disintegrates, Rebecca Skloot Tops Amazon, Killing Shakespeare

On today's menu:

1.  It's not often that I tell you that you MUST read something (I believe firmly in freewill and completely leave the click-aways to you), but today, I'm telling you that you must read Gina Frangello's essay on writing, family, and taking risks with both which has been posted at The Nervous Breakdown.  It begins:
There is a story I like to gloss over but rarely really tell. The short version goes like this.  Soon after my first novel, My Sister’s Continent, was published (while I was almost 9 months pregnant with my son, Giovanni), my mother-in-law stopped speaking to me because she was so appalled by the graphic sexual content of the book.  As the story goes—in the glib, cocktail-party version—she refused to even visit Giovanni after his birth.  Although it’s not a “nice” anecdote, this story frequently gets laughs from those who hear it, especially the part about how, every time her ire began to wear off, my mother-in-law would apparently reread my book so as to outrage herself anew.  She studied it as if for a test, it seems.  My closest reader may well have been my novel’s biggest detractor.
It only gets better from there.  Seriously, if you are a writer or if you know someone who's a writer (that should take care of about 20% of the world's population), you owe it to yourself to read Frangello's crushing exploration of what it means to be honest and revealing in our writing.  And then go out and buy her latest book, Slut Lullabies.

2.  Laura Munson (author of the memoir This is Not the Story You Think It Is... ) is also learning lessons about writing from her family as she describes in this essay she wrote for the blog The Bird Sisters.  Munson's muse is resisting the change of seasons up in northwestern Montana and, as she writes, her characters are anxious to get out and dance.  If only the mornings weren't so cold and sluggish!

3.  Three of Charles Dickens' original manuscripts are starting to crumble, according to the Victoria and Albert Museum where the original pages of A Tale of Two Cities, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and David Copperfield are being stored.  The museum is trying to raise funds to help preserve the documents.
Written in "iron gall" ink on low-grade blue writing paper, purchased by the author from WH Smith, the manuscripts were never "wonderful quality", according to John Meriton, deputy keeper of word and image at the V&A.  But they remain a crucial part of Britain's cultural heritage.   "It is an immense privilege to have them in the collection and just to see Dickens's rather crabby handwriting is a real thrill for me every time," he said.

4.  Like Christmas decorations going up on Labor Day weekend, it seems that "Best Books of the Year" lists start showing up earlier and earlier on our calendars.  Largehearted Boy is List Central for those who like to keep score.  Earlier this week, Amazon was one of the first ones out of the gate with their lists.  Leading the pack was Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which is happy news for those of us who like a good science-y detective story. Skloot's book is a moving portrait of how one woman's cells benefited others long after her death.  Other top books on the Amazon lists include Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes and (surprise!) Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.  Of the two, I'd put Freedom higher than Matterhorn.  But Marlantes has a better back-story.

5.  Have you heard about Kill Shakespeare?  It's "an epic adventure that pits Shakespeare's greatest heroes against his most frightening villains"--sort of like Justice League of America goes all to-be-or-not-to-be on the Bard's ass.  It's already generated a predictable amount of controversy.  I don't think it's any worse than the Jane Austen zombie mash-ups.  But really, I think they should have named it Kill Will.  Forsooth, Tarantino would have a field day.


  1. Thanks for dropping by my blog today with the comment on Tom Groneberg. I just yesterday saw his new book online and was glad he was still writing.

    I came here and read several of your posts - the book festival, with so many great snippets of fiction and poetry. And a long swathe of your own writing from the novel in progress. I thought I'd read enough about Iraq, but you sucked me in. I'll be back for more.

    A question: whatever happened to Ralph Beer? I loved his BLIND CORRAL.

  2. Ron,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to browse around the blog.

    To be honest, I've never read anything by Ralph Beer, but based on your Amazon review of "Blind Corral," he sounds like someone worth tracking down. So many of these good writers only make one or two appearances, then disappear from sight. For instance, I'm still waiting on another book from Jon Billman who published a wonderful collection of short stories, "When We Were Wolves," 11 years ago. Not a peep from him since.

  3. Beer also has a collection of very nicely crafted essays, IN THESE HILLS. He was at the time ranching near Helena.

    I've read WHEN WE WERE WOLVES. You're right. They're great stories. I'd drop about anything to read more by him.