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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Garbage In, Garbage Out

One of my elementary school teachers was an organized sort of person who not only liked to hang charts on her classroom walls, but also liked to lay down the facts straight off.  On the first day of school it felt like we learned more about her than she learned about us.  We learned her pet peeves, we learned her expectations, and we learned the meanings of distinct phrases she frequently uttered.  “Heavens to Betsy” was one (an expression of mock despair or genuine surprise).  “Crumbuttons” was another (the Catholic school version of “oh shit”).  “Garbage in, garbage out” was a third.

We became used to hearing the phrases after a while, just as I became used to having to stare at the large red x’s that abutted my name on the behavior chart (often, my report card from that year tells me, for talking out of turn.  Imagine that).

But up until now, I had always associated “garbage in, garbage out” with television.  Perhaps the teacher explained it to that effect.  Anyway, it meant that if you watched TV shows with excess violence or profanity, you ran a high risk of adopting similar behaviors yourself.  It made sense.

All these years later, however, I’ve realized that the phrase goes further than that.  Namely, in my case, when I read poorly written books, my writing takes a nose dive in quality as well.  But when I read beautiful books–The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, recently–my writing becomes (forgive me) a little bit beautiful as well.  I’ve always known that as a writer, books are a great influence.  I sincerely doubt I’ve ever written anything that I hadn’t first picked up in one existing book or another.

This is still a dramatic realization, though!  On one hand, if I read Woolf, Fitzgerald, Atwood, I may have a shot at standing in their ranks some day.  On the other hand, I like to read the odd low-grade paperback.  I like to revisit my childhood favorites, down to about RL5.  I sometimes like to not think as I read, as horrific as that may sound to you.  Am I doomed to forever waver between genius and foolishness, then?  Shall I publish a Pulitzer one year, bonfire kindling the next?  Or should I simply stop reading altogether, removing the good in order to avoid temptation to indulge in the bad?

Crumbuttons.

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Will Break for Book Sales

I was utterly prepared to spend the day inside, researching.  My fan was blasting, my books were open, my unshowered ankles were crossed beneath my unshowered knees.

And then my housemate popped her head into my room and asked if I wanted to go to the library book sale.  Obviously, there was no resisting such an offer.

I got: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which was, hands down, the best book I read last summer (I have yet to pick a winner for this summer); The Awakening; and Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles, because I am a sucker for the Royal Diaries series, despite the fact that it’s written for girls half my age.

I spent $2.50 total.

And now I’m waiting until my theatre shift starts.  I’m working tickets, and then I have plans to use my free pass to actually watch the movie.  It’s “The Amazing Spiderman” this week.

This hasn’t been a very interesting post, you guys.  I’m sorry.  Maybe I’ll do a Spiderman review tomorrow.