One of the great advantages of the MFA program I’m in is that I get to read whatever I want. It’s approved by my mentor, of course, and he sometimes makes suggestions based on what I need to work on, but mostly I read what I want. Right now, I am more than halfway through the reading for this semester, and I’m having some trouble choosing what to read next. Have a look at what I’ve read, and what my options are for my next four books. Suggestions on which to choose are welcome!
1. Best American Essays of 2013, edited by Cheryl Strayed. There were many good essays in this collection, and very few that didn’t keep my interest. I chose to write about Megan Stielstra’s poignant “Channel B.”
2. Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard. Dillard might be my favorite when it comes to CNF. Like her Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (which I wrote about here), this essay collection is full of her marvels at creation, observations of the natural world, and realizations that we as humans are a part of it. My paper focused on the short essay “Living With Weasels.”
3. A Pearl in the Storm by Tori McClure. The first book I read this semester that was a memoir rather than a collection of essays, Pearl is full of both personal triumph and the recognition of physical inability.
4. The Art of the Personal Essay, edited by Philip Lopate. I’ll be honest, I haven’t actually read this entire brick of a book yet. I am still working on it, and I have finished the contributions of the American essayists. For my paper I chose to write about Edward Hoagland’s “The Courage of Turtles,” which is a sad reflection on loss of childhood wilderness and wilderness in general.
5. The Essays of E. B. White. White’s casual honesty and ability to criticize in a happy voice made this book my most pleasurable read so far. I’d recommend it to anyone who writes or reads. One theme I notice in my own writing is a nostalgia for things that are going away in the world, and a desire to preserve those that are heading that way but are not gone yet. There is a strong sense of both these things in White’s essays.
6. The Books that Mattered by Frye Gaillard. Another memoir, this time focusing more heavily on research than on experience, this book was useful to me not necessarily for it’s content but for it’s example. Although I was familiar with some of the books Gaillard mentions, it was his ability to weave the contexts of many books together to make a real-life story that impressed me.
Up next, these are approved books I have on the shelf (or in the stack) and ready to read, but can’t quite decide among them which to write essays about. Wanderlust: A History of Walking, by Rebecca Solnit, I very much want to read next. It might even be decided. That leaves me with three more slots to fill, and here are my choices: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, The Gods of Noonday by Elaine Orr, You Have Given Me a Country by Neela Vaswani, and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.
Anyone care to share an opinion?