Bonnie ZoBell’s new linked collection, What Happened Here, a novella and stories from Press 53, officially launches tomorrow. Her fiction chapbook, The Whack-Job Girls, was published in 2013. She has won a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in fiction, the Capricorn Novel Award, a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, and others. Find out more on her website.
I have a conveyor-belt system moving books onto my bedside table. First, I place a bunch there. Slowly they manage to get read—or not read. Often I’m reading several at a time. Some have already been read. When the stack is exhausted, I put the read and the never-seemed-to-have-gotten-read into the trunk of my car, drive them to work and give them to my fiction-writing students. Then I put another stack on my bedside table, a stack that until now has been living somewhere else in the house, lying in wait on the dining room table, the kitchen counter, in a bookcase, or on the floor. Then I start over again.
At the moment, I have seven books and one magazine sitting by the bed.
Big Brother by Lionel Shriver — This is about a morbidly obese brother who’s come to visit (read live) with his sister, her husband and their kids. It’s difficult to decide whom to dislike more: the enormous brother who feels entitled to anything he wants, or his slightly overweight and very successful sister who orders him around. The psychology of Shriver’s books is what I love about them. Such seemingly normal people with normal problems, but she goes in deep. Love her insight into sibling relationships, the love and the hate, the competition, and everything else that goes with the territory.
We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver (I often like to read several books by the same author near each other in time to see what that writer is up to.) This novel was every bit as well written and complex as the one I’m reading now and about a teenage boy who shoots up his high school. It was difficult to decide whom to dislike more: the violent ne’er-do-well son, or his icy mother. Fascinating to read how dislikable characters are handled by this author, who manages to get me to love her stories despite this. Love the insight into working mothers, women who don’t want to have children, being a step-parent.
Any Deadly Thing by Roy Kesey was astounding. I’d recently read and loved Pacazo, his most recent book and a novel, which had already gone onto my last student stack and was given to a student I knew would love it. This new book is very different than the novel, showing what a range Kesey has. The beauty of his language is awe-inspiring. The stories are set all over the world. How he seems to get right to the core of who we are and our moral struggles is remarkable.
Three Books I’m Savoring Bits of While Finishing Shriver’s Novel
Something Wrong with Her by Cris Mazza, “a real-time memoir” that seems to defy categorization and on a subject that would make most other writers uncomfortable—anorgasmia or, to put it in old-fashioned terms, “frigidity.” Mazza reads over her own past books to try to find the key to how this problem started, communicates with the man she feels contributed to starting it, as the two of them grapple with how it could have happened. Fascinating.
Blood a Cold Blue by James Claffey, shows a mastery of language in very short stories, or poems, that often take us back to his native Dublin. The way he expresses grief and tragedy, the depth of feeling, is heartbreaking.
This Time While We’re Awake by Heather Fowler, mistress of the surreal. Beautiful tales in dystopian landscapes. The humor slays me, as does the wild imagination displayed in her plots, her fantastic yet very real characters, and the darkness seeping through.
Don’t Tell My Students
People — Want to make something of it? Yes, I savor my People magazines after those days on which I’ve graded too many papers or not had enough sleep. This gives me the opportunity to not much care about anything but whether any of the Kardashians are getting divorced.
What’s your guilty—or shameless—pleasure read? How often do you indulge? Under what circumstances? Come on . . . we won’t tell.