Top Ten Favorite Pieces of Contemporary Literature (Part 1)

I was too late applying for a job today.  The posting was still on the company’s website, but the deadline at the bottom was August 12th.  I sent an email anyway, asking if the position had already been filled.  And if not, if I could send my application and begin dedicating various lucky charms toward the cause.  Sarah, who responded to my email, said in the friendliest way that the position had been filled, but that I should check back later.

I will certainly do so.

But what made me want the position badly enough to send that email in the first place was that applicants were asked to include–along with cover letter, resume, writing sample (the usual)–a list of their ten favorite pieces of contemporary literature.

Let me tell you.  I’ve applied for many a publishing job.  At larger and more prominent publishing houses.  But not one has asked me for such a list.

This is strange, because it seems to me that for one to work in publishing, one must be first and foremost a reader.  A crazed, midnight oil burning, Half Price Books residing, I can’t sleep until I know this character will be all right reader.  Able to recite the red wheelbarrow poem on demand.  Able to explain the origins of Samuel Clemens’ pseudonym without pause.  Unable to use the term “Harry Potter English Major,” because, Good Lord, all readers are wonderful and miraculous and welcome.  And we all have guilty secrets.

The entire Twilight Saga is on my bookshelf right now.  In hardback.  I am not ashamed.

But mostly, readers delight in such lists.  That’s why, if I might be so brash, I’d like to make my list now.  And to make it even thought August 12th is long past.

Don’t think of this as my desperate plea for that job that got away.  Think of it as the kind of opportunity I wait all year for.

Holly’s Ten Favorite Pieces of Contemporary Literature (in no particular order, because I couldn’t possibly):

1. Into the Wild.  This book served as my introduction to creative nonfiction.  It showed me that true stories could be told in literary prose.  Jon Krakauer told us about Chris McCandless without presuming to know him.  And more importantly, without presuming to criticize him.  I like an author humble enough to give you the facts, set the scene, and then back off.

2. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.  Tell me how overdone Hamlet plots are and I’ll smirk and hand you this book.  I haven’t yet been able to describe the plot without making it sound silly (it’s not) and as if it’s for young people (it’s not).  The prose in Edgar Sawtelle is breathtaking.  The story is set in the Chequamegon National Forest in Northern Wisconsin (my childhood stomping grounds).  And I’ve never wanted to bring a character to life more than I’ve wanted Almondine to be real.  Almondine is a Sawtelle dog.  You’ll know what I mean when you read the book.

3. Never Let Me Go.  I am not a professional reviewer.  My adjective pool is somewhat shallow.  The word flawless comes to mind, however.  Heartbreaking.  Eerie.  Masterfully layered.  I read this book when I need a lesson on how to reveal a world slowly, subtly.

Expect the next three on my list in the next post.  You didn’t think I wouldn’t prolong this delight, did you?  Whew double negative.  I’ll just leave that there.

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Marble Memo

I think I’ve missed my window to blog about UMM’s third annual Prairie Gate Literary Festival, held on campus last weekend.  Maybe I shouldn’t admit to my short interest span in this department, but I find when I don’t blog about something right away, I lose the desire to blog about it, even if I know it should be blogged about and deserves to be.  This event really, really deserves it.

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If you can hear a common inhalation of breath after a poem is read,

If you can wear a real, plastic name tag that identifies you as somebody important,

If you can chat with a published poet and blogger while attempting to gnaw spiced beef off a stick with as much grace as you can muster,

If you spend a whole weekend steeped in the literary,

If you’re invited to your college’s librarian’s house for beers to celebrate a successful weekend,

Then you should probably blog about it afterward.  At least a little bit.

Here’s my little bit:

I had the chance to take a 75 minute workshop with Patti See.  At one point, she pulled a little notebook out of her bag.  It was black-and-white marbled, cloth spined, and filled with writing.  She explained that she’s been carrying around notebooks like this for years.  In them, she scribbles ideas for future stories, whether they be in the form of quotes, names, imagery, etc.

Later that night, I sat on a couch, clutching a beer and trying not to giggle at the fact that my professors were doing the same.  (The whole “teacher must sleep at school” illusion never goes away, does it)?  I chatted with the winner of the festival’s short story contest, a middle-aged man who had attended UMM once, and now drives a UPS truck and freelance writes on the side.  He had been in Patti’s workshop as well, and noted casually that the kind of notebook she had used to be called a Marble Memo.

Being someone who couldn’t ignore advice from established writers if she tried, I googled “Marble Memo” when I got home.  It took a while, but eventually, buried in Amazon, I found them.  Little marbled notebooks, just the right size for a pocket.  It cost $3 for two of them, but because Amazon didn’t think it made sense to ship something so cheap, I was forced to buy Michael Perry’s Coop and the film Blue Valentine just to get the notebooks.  $30 total.  Don’t laugh.

They came today: the notebooks (one red, one green), the book, the movie.  I’ve been meaning to start a writer’s notebook for years, but this is the first time I’ve encountered one that is small enough and convenient enough to be habit-forming.  I hope someday I’ll have a drawer full of them.


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