Tag: Monica Byrne

Recommended Short Books by Women

Yesterday I asked the internet for recommendations of short books written by women, with no criterion for what constituted “short.” Here’s what people offered. Books I’ve already read are in bold. (Recommenders are in parentheses.)

  • Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red. (Carmen Machado)
  • Willa Cather, A Lost Lady. (Debbie Kennedy)
  • Willa Cather, My Antonia. (Sarah Boden)
  • Kate Chopin, The Awakening. (Rebecca Coffey, Krystal Rios)
  • Marguerite Duras, The Lover. (Diana Spechler, Josh Rhome)
  • George Eliot, Silas Marner. (Amy Parker)
  • Marian Engel, Bear. (Carmen Machado)
  • Louise Erdich, Love Medicine. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Elena Ferrante, Days of Abandonment. (Amy Parker)
  • Carolyn Forché, The Country Between Us. (Joseph Tomaras)
  • Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm. (Jed Hartman)
  • Carolyn Ives Gilman, Halfway Human. (Jeanne Griggs)
  • Nadine Gordimer, July’s People. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Helene Hanff, 84 Charing Cross Road. (Jed Hartman)
  • Zora Neal Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God. (Amy Parker)
  • Rachel Ingall, Mrs. Caliban. (Carmen Machado)
  • Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House. (Rebecca Coffey, Amy Parker, Carmen Machado, Maureen McHugh)
  • Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived In The Castle. (Amy Parker, Maureen McHugh)
  • Tove Jansson, Tales from Moominvalley. (Jed Hartman)
  • Sesyle Joslin, The Spy Lady and the Muffin Man. (Jed Hartman)
  • Hitomi Kanehera, Snakes and Earrings. (Nick Mamatas)
  • Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy. (Valérie Savard)
  • Barbara Kingsolver, Pigs in Heaven. (Patrice Sarath)
  • Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees. (Patrice Sarath)
  • Nella Larson, Quicksand. (Alea Adigwame)
  • Ursula Le Guin, Fish Soup. (Jed Hartman)
  • Ursula Le Guin, Very Far From Anywhere Else. (Jed Hartman)
  • Tanith Lee, Don’t Bite the Sun. (@Rwenchette)
  • Doris Lessing, Memoirs of a Survivor. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Doris Lessing, The Fifth Child. (Amy Parker, Rebecca Coffey)
  • Denise Levertov, Collected Earlier Poems. (Joseph Tomaras)
  • Bertie MacAvoy, Tea with the Black Dragon. (Dana Huber)
  • Katherine Mansfield, At The Bay. (Debbie Kennedy)
  • Katherine Mansfield, Prelude. (Debbie Kennedy)
  • Patricia McKillip, Stepping from the Shadows. (Jed Hartman)
  • Jane Mendelsohn, I Was Amelia Earhart. (Stephanie Feldman)
  • Naomi Mitchison, Travel Light. (Jackie Monkiewicz)
  • Katherine Faw Morris, Young God. (Nick Mamatas)
  • Toni Morrison, Sula. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Jenny Offill, The Dept. of Speculation. (Josh Rhome)
  • Yoko Ogawa, Revenge. (Alexandra Geraets, Joseph Tomaras)
  • Sharon Olds, The Cold Cell. (Jed Hartman)
  • Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea. (Valérie Savard)
  • Joanna Russ, Picnic on Paradise. (Karen Meisner)
  • Joanna Russ, The Female Man. (Jed Hartman)
  • Ruth Sawyer, Roller Skates. (Jed Hartman)
  • Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. (Monica Byrne, Justin Cosner, Carmen Machado)
  • Cynthia Voigt, Dicey’s Song. (Jed Hartman)
  • Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome. (Amy Parker)
  • Kate Wilhelm, Where Late the Sweet Bird Sang. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry. (Jed Hartman)
  • Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse. (Amy Parker)
  • Margarite Yourcenar, Coup d’Grace. (Maureen McHugh)

I already own a copy of the most recommended book, The Haunting of Hill House, so that’s in the stack (as are several others). I think the first new one of these I’ll add is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Reading 2014: Final Roundup

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My New Year’s resolution for 2014 was to read at least one book per week. I counted as a “book” any bound volume of a complete work, or digital version of the same. So books included things like novels, omnibuses of several novels, novellas published as slim volumes, graphic novels, anthologies, ebooks, or audiobooks. Things that didn’t count were single comic book issues, or individual short stories or articles. My in-progress roundups are here: 1, 2, 3, 4.

For much of the year I was on pace to double my resolved amount, but then I moved from Iowa City to Austin, and my reading rate never really recovered. Looking through my journal I see averaged over 9 books per months before my move, and only a little over 4 per month after. Moving, unpacking, buying furniture, dating, breaking up, traveling; these all replaced the predictability of my Iowa routine after I reached Texas. Here are the stats:

  • 73 total books read
  • 50 prose books
  • 22 graphic novels
  • 1 audiobook
  • 60 male authors (writers & artists)
  • 22 female authors (writers & artists)
  • Best month: March (14 books – 6 GNs, 8 prose)
  • Worst month: October (1 book – prose)

Looking back over my list, there are 12 books (not counting rereads) that stand out as my favorites. Here they are, ranked in order of how much they’ve stayed with me over the last 12 months. That isn’t quite the same thing as how much I liked them, but it’s close.

  1. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  2. Blame by Michelle Huneven
  3. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  4. The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis
  5. Veronica by Mary Gaitskill
  6. The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne
  7. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke1
  8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  9. The Genocides by Thomas Disch
  10. Camp Concentration by Thomas Disch
  11. Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck
  12. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Some things I notice about this is that, while my list for the year doesn’t have gender parity, my list of favorites does: five men (one twice), six women. Also notable is that the top five most-thought-about books are all works of realist fiction, almost certainly the first year of my life when that has been true. I don’t think this is indicative of a shift in my taste so much as an expansion of it. While at Iowa, reading and critiquing the work of my peers, I developed an appreciation for realism that I didn’t have before. My enjoyment of speculative fiction hasn’t lessened, but the appeal of realism is something new and exciting. I think that’s why the top five novels have been so much in my thoughts; I have thorough understanding of how SF works, but I’m still learning the nuances of mimetic realism.

For next year I hope to improve on my 2014 performance. I’d like to hit 100 books read in 2015, and to have at least 50% of them authored by women. I’d also like to read more classic or public domain fiction. At the time of this writing, I’m on my 6th book of the year, and have maintained gender parity thus far.


  1. Technically a reread, but since the first time was when I was under ten years old, I’m counting it. 

Read My Clever Friends

I have many of them, and they just keep on writing things you should read. Also I’m instituting an new tag, My Friends Write Things, to link all these posts together. I’ve propagated it back through my archives, so clicking that will lead you to a trove of work from my most-loved people.

Fiction

  • The Husband Stitch” – Carmen Machado, one of the best fantasists writing today, in Granta with a gorgeous story inspired by Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
  • Mothers” – Carmen Machado again, because she is a force of nature. This time in Interfictions, with a story about two women in a broken relationship who make a baby. Carmen has put personal experience at the service of fiction with astonishing force and efficacy. You can read a little about the writing of this story on her blog.
  • Becoming” – Anna Noyes in Guernica with a story from the point of view of a chimpanzee being raised as a human. I was lucky enough to see an early draft of this memorable story in workshop, and am thrilled it’s found a home.
  • Quality of Descent” – Megan Kurashige in Lightspeed with a story about a man meeting a woman who definitely has wings, and may or may not be able to fly.
  • Ideal Head of a Woman” – Kelly Luce in Midnight Breakfast with a story about a museum employee who has an unusual relationship with a piece of sculpture.

Nonfiction

  • The Gospel of Paul” – Ariel Lewiton writing in the LA Review of Books with a profile of bookseller and new author Paul Ingram. In addition to being a gorgeous portrait of a fascinating man, this is also the best record of the culture of Iowa City that I’ve read.
  • Did Eastern Germany Experience an Economic Miracle?” – Ben Mauk writing in the New Yorker about regional economic variations in Germany 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
  • Freedom to Fuck Up” – Thessaly La Force interviewing Merritt Tierce about her novel Love Me Back, discussing pregnancy, abortion, and sex in fiction.
  • Reconciliation” – Monica Byrne on the need for reconciliation between the United States and Iran, and how that can begin with connection between individuals. If you’re an American and her article makes you want to visit Iran yourself, she’s also written a how-to for U.S. citizens on her blog.

Poetry

The Next Twenty Books of 2014

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When I did my roundup of the first 20 books I read this year, I noticed that only three of them were written by women. I wanted to even up that ratio a bit, so made a point of bumping books by women to the top of the stack for this group.

  1. Technopriests: Supreme Collection by Alejandro Jodorowsky, Zoran Janjetov, and Fred Beltran. This was the last major branch of the Jodoverse that I hadn’t read. Jodorowsky remains one of my favorite writers, for his sheer bonkers extravagance, and having recently re-read the Jodoverse books added an extra layer of delight when I recently saw Jodorowsky’s Dune.
  2. Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck. For such a slim volume, I loved the tonal breadth of this collection. These were stories originally published in Swedish and translated by the author, and they are weird and wonderful. A brief, delightful read.
  3. Crash by J. G. Ballard. I found this difficult to finish. For about the first 80 pages I was engaged, but it became punishingly repetitive by the end. The fetishistic novelty wore off long before the book ended, and there was little else to recommend it. Many people whose opinions I respect are fans of Ballard, but I’m still trying to cultivate an appreciation for much of his work.
  4. Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine. I read this on an airplane and hardly noticed the time passing. It’s kaleidoscopic steampunk with gorgeous images on every page, fragmented into short chapters that build momentum like an avalanche. Genevieve’s second book is coming out tomorrow, and I can’t wait to read it.
  5. The Einstein Intersection by Samuel Delany. This book is… odd. Good, thought provoking. But very strange. It’s surprising to me–in a positive way, mind!–that it’s considered a classic of science fiction. I doubt though that I’m going to be revisiting this book as often as I will Nova.
  6. Saga, vol. 3 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples. It’s been a long time since I’ve been as excited about an ongoing comic series as I am about Saga. Each new trade is an insta-buy.
  7. The Adventures of Alyx by Joanna Russ. I’m glad I read this, though on the whole I enjoyed it less than I thought I would. A couple of the pieces here I found compelling, but the majority was coldly intellectual with an efficiency of prose that I found tiring even as I thought it admirable. I liked We Who Are About To better, but will still be reading more Russ.
  8. The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne. Monica is a Clarion classmate of mine and a dear friend, and so it is a delight to report that her first novel is an explosive debut. Ambitious and engrossing. I consumed it in two days and then spent the next week of my life thinking about it, wandering store aisles and taking unconscious inventory of the provisions I would need if I woke up in the future Monica created. It’s not so far away. We all might wake up there yet.
  9. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I’d been meaning to read Shirley Jackson’s novels for years, and decided to start here. Ho-lee shit. It’s as brilliant as everyone said it was.
  10. A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip by Kevin Brockmeier. Kevin’s a teacher of mine and a friend, so it was a pleasurable but unusual experience to read his first foray into memoir. He has evoked the seventh grade so keenly that I felt my own bubble up as I read, which, as I later told him across a lunch table, put me in the weird position of feeling possessive of someone else’s childhood.
  11. Camp Concentration by Thomas Disch. I think, were it not for Flowers For Algernon exploring some of the same ground first and more accessibly, this would be considered a classic. I thought it an excellent book, though one for which I had to look up many words. I also felt unsure about the ending. It was convincingly rendered, but somehow didn’t fully satisfy. Still, I recommend the book. I think this is the most fully-imagined 1st person voice of increasing intelligence I’ve read.
  12. Unexpected Stories by Octavia Butler. I’d been waiting years to read these stories, and finally getting to do so was both thrilling and bittersweet. This was, so far as I know, my last unread Butler fiction. I wrote about it more here.
  13. Blame by Michelle Huneven. Though she was never one of my teachers, Michelle was on faculty at Iowa when I applied, and is I think one of the people responsible for me getting accepted there. This is the first of her books I’ve read, and I greatly enjoyed it. It’s a novel that sprawls decades and resists tidiness, catching something that feels very true in its tangles. On the strength of this book I’ll be picking up her new one soon.
  14. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. My first time reading Wyndham. He was clearly brilliant, and the book is good, but I’m not sure I approached it from the right frame of mind. As is sometimes the case with classic apocalyptica, Triffids belabors ideas that have, since it was published, become cliche. The combination of that and the antiquated, one-note masculinity of the main character kept me from enjoying the novel as much as I otherwise might have. There’s a lot to appreciate here, but I wish I’d gone in with a more historical literary curiosity.
  15. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. It’s a great book that I had problems with. I wrote about them at some length.
  16. Liar by Justine Larbalestier. After The Sparrow I was in the mood for some YA. This hit the spot. It’s like a young person’s introduction to the unreliable narrator. Great fun.
  17. The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi. I got an ARC of this novella at the Tiptree auction a couple of years ago. When I read it, it was immediately obvious how I would want to use it pedagogically if I ever teach my Fantasy Writing class again.
  18. Osborn: Evil Incarcerated by Kelly-Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios. I enjoyed this, but suspect I would have liked it more had I been previously familiar with the characters. With the talent at Marvel these days, having been a DC kid is feeling more and more like having backed the wrong horse.
  19. The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman. More YA, and more wonderful reading. This book is like Octavia Bulter’s Kindred, but for young readers.
  20. Self-Help by Lorrie Moore. I had read stories from this, but never the whole thing. As I recently wrote some fiction in the second person, I wanted to finally fix that. A deservingly famous collection.

Tweek in Review

I’ve started using IFTT to aggregate my favorite tweets to Evernote. Here are the things I favstarred this week.
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