Seven months later …

GolesworthyswindowSpent spring and summer on the hill and many hot afternoons in the ‘van catching up with friends and family. Also caught Lorrie Moore and Joshua Ferris reading at the Hay Festival which was brilliant!

This time here (our third summer) I’ve read a LOT: Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams; Richard Ford, Canada; Annie Proulx’s Bird Cloud; Paul Theroux on The Old Patagonian Express; Bruce Chatwin On The Black Hill; Robert MacFarlane’s The Old Ways; Kjell Askildsen, Selected Stories; Kyle Minor, In The Devil’s Territory; Don DeLillo – Americana; Anthony Doerr, The Shell Collector.

Currently reading (bad habit but yes, I do read several simultaneously): Lee Rourke’s Vulgar Things (captivating read in caravan!); Sarah Hilary’s debut crime novel Someone Else’s Skin (and my first crime novel); Don DeLillo’s The Body Artist; Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki; Joshua Ferris’s Man Booker shortlisted novel To Rise Again at a Decent Hour; Kelly Link’s collection Pretty Monsters – and after I’ve been to the library tomorrow, the J. Robert Lennon collection, Pieces of the Left Hand.

Writing? Had a year of writing/drafting only – no editing no rewriting no submissions – to work out (again) what sort of a writer I am. It was scary to step back and not submit, and there were times when I nearly waded back in, but the year I spent working this out, will I hope, be worth it.

[Photo: Golesworthy’s window. 2014. Diane Becker]
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Happy Reading 2014

nye2013Pretty much a fictional version of my New Year’s Eve (above), one in which I didn’t stay in, play Scrabble – or win. Two very different novels to start the year too: Travis Jeppesen’s The Suiciders to take me out of my literary comfort zone and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (recommended here), a huge cake of a book I’m going to indulge in over January.

Here’s the list of books I read in 2013. Particularly enjoyed the Junot Diaz, Anthony Doerr and George Saunders’ short story collections but they were all worth reading.

Canada, Richard Ford.
Wildlife, Richard Ford.
The Secret History, Donna Tartt.
The Great Railway Bazaar, Paul Theroux.
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower.
The Paris Review: Interviews Vol 3, ed Philip Gourevitch.
The Brief & Frightening Reign of Phil, George Saunders.
The Women, TC Boyle.
Budding Prospects, TC Boyle.
Goodnight Nobody, Ethel Rohan.
Pastoralia, George Saunders.
Bel Canto, Ann Patchett.
This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz.
Drown, Junot Diaz.
The Tortilla Curtain, TC Boyle.
The Wild Places, Robert MacFarlane.
Wildwood, Roger Deakin.
Tenth of December, George Saunders.
Memory Wall, Anthony Doerr.
Holloway, Robert MacFarlane.
May We Be Forgiven, AM Homes.
Notes from Walnut Tree Farm, Roger Deakin.
The Colour of Memory, Geoff Dyer.
The Lighthouse, Alison Moore.

Making progress …

goingdownthehill Been up in the hills for long enough, time to escape to the warm flat in the middle of town for the winter. Spent most of the summer reading: two Junot Diaz collections, Drown and This Is How You Lose Her, both of which I loved; Wells Tower’s Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned (ditto), dipped into Edna O’Brien’s The Love Object and Flannery O’Connor’s Complete Stories (part of a recent prize from Faber that included the Diaz); did some vicarious travelling 70s style with Paul Theroux in The Great Railway Bazaar; worshipped the work of George Saunders (though having read most of his work, I do prefer his latest collection, Tenth of December. I also started the first Donna Tartt (The Secret History) and hope to finish her second, The Little Friend before Christmas as santa has promised me The Goldfinch.

I’ve not written as much over the summer, or rather I have written but haven’t finished anything to a point where I’m happy with it. Part of this is to do with all the reading I’ve been doing, I’ve been taking notes, and after (also) reading two volumes of The Paris Review Interviews (vols 2 &3), I can see a way of working with the writing I’ve done to make some sense of it!

I started yesterday. Dragged out my files, folders and notebooks and started reading through in a dispassionate way, wrote my way around one story that’s  been occupying part of my head for a couple of years. This morning I still haven’t got a handle on what the story’s about but have identified some old drafts that should go IN THE BIN. So, making progress.

Short fiction wins

memay2013So, Lydia Davis has won the 2013 International Man Booker Prize, fuck fuck fuckity fuck – now everyone will be reading her, and talking about her, and she won’t be my secret favourite short story author EVER anymore.

I ordered The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (Abe Books) after reading this review by Tania Hershman in The Short Review (originally posted in 2010), and this (beautiful hardback) collection is now a permanent fixture in the stack of books I keep by my bed.

I love Davis’s writing for its precision, its economy and because it defies categorisation. I love reading her because – among other delights – doing so has given me the freedom to experiment as a writer, to be myself and to define for myself what short fiction can be.

Congratulations to Lydia Davis, this is fantastic news for all readers and writers of short fiction, I will just have to learn to share you. [And I wish I was able to hear you read down the road at Hay Festival tomorrow but I have to take care of a very poorly elderly person instead.]

Other good news, my own this time, this week I have a very short story – Blind Spot – up at The View From Here. A small win for me!

Image: Land of the Unwell © Diane Becker 2013

Books are like seeds …

rogerdeakinnotesfromwalnuttreefarmcvr“Books are like seeds: they come to life when you read them, and grow spines and leaves. I need trees around me as I need books around me, so building bookshelves is something like planting trees.”

© Roger Deakin, Notes from Walnut Tree Farm (Penguin, 2008).

On abandoning Blood Meridian

Have abandoned Blood Meridian on p285 of 353 – a pretty hefty investment of time in any book. So why have I stopped with only 60 pages to go? It is relentlessly bleak*. No, not like The Road. In The Road we get to travel with the kid and his dad, and yes it’s all a bit bleak and post-apocalyptic but, but … nothing really bad ever happens. Blood Meridian? Rewind 150 years, flip to the other side of The Road, and follow another kid and a bunch of mercenaries on a ‘nightmare odyssey’ along the US/Mexico border.

I chose this book to take me out of my comfort zone. Vague memories of Westerns on the telly. US election coming up. ‘Brilliantly subverts the conventions of the Western novel’. OK. And yes, it’s a brilliant book – poetic and savage at the same time.

In the meantime I wonder if there’s a film. I discover … not yet, though someone has bought the rights. I am not surprised, how to do the book justice? Dan Ozzi at Word and Film ventures a cast list.

Maybe I just need a bit of down time before I finish it. Sure McCarthy had to stick his head in a bucket of ice for a month or two when he finished writing it.

This morning I give in and check out Jim Crace’s digested read of Blood Meridian at The Guardian. Spot on Jim. Back to my to-read pile. Open Ragnarok. The Norse gods may fuck around with stuff but usually for good reason.

* In retrospect not ‘bleak’. BRUTAL.

Taking to the hills

About to pack all my books away and put them into storage for a few months. A difficult decision, but necessary while we embark on one of our adventures.

This particular adventure involves clinging to a Welsh hillside in a mobile home for 6 months whilst we look for somewhere more permanent to live. At least it will be summer and we will have views, family nearby and lots of visitors. Oh, and the cat.

I’ll be doing lots of writing (aided by not-terribly-effective internet reception) and reading ALL the outstanding books on my to-read list (pictured – minus a couple I’m currently reviewing). So, wish me luck. Two weeks to go. Aargh.