What We’ve Been Reading: May 0 Comments



Dan: I’ve been reading Frederick Seidel’s 2012 poetry collection Nice Weather. I’d describe him as ‘a nightmarish Dr. Seuss’. His subjects range from the killing of Osama Bin Laden to iPhoto and are horrifyingly written through a confessional lens often with use of a simple rhyme scheme. The collection opens with the poem Night: ‘The city sleeps with the lights on. / The insomniac wants it to be morning. / The quadruple amputee asks the night nurse what time it is. / The woman is asking for her mother’. Reading this collection positions Seidel as a refreshing force in poetry. There’s a significant chunk of his work online so I’d recommend giving him a Google and seeing if you love or loathe him.

Richard Ford has also been getting a lot of time recently. My tutor Adam O’Riordan recommended his short story ‘Pretty Boy’. Try reading the first sentence and not be hooked. I have since devoured the first two books out of his Frank Bascombe series and I’m currently making my way through the third titled The Lay of The Land.

Naturally, one of the first things I did upon arriving in Melbourne was acquire a library card and head straight for the poetry section. There I came across Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse. This bookis crazy amounts of good. What Carson does with form and reworking the Greek myth of Geryon and Herakles (Hercules) into something contemporary is equally beautiful and heart breaking. Go read it.


Joshua: In May I read Mark McGurl’s 2009 book The Program Era, a critical study of the influence that creative writing programs have had on postwar U.S. fiction. The first MFA programs in creative writing appeared in the 1930s at Iowa and Stanford U. and their numbers have grown exponentially (~350 programs in the U.S. alone as of 2009). The Program Era offers a really compelling account of the ways in which the institutionalisation of literature as a creative discipline has influenced its production.

Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage (1992) is also a critical study, but it’s a critical study of the act of not writing a critical study. Dyer documents his attempts to write—and his numerous attempts to not write—a study of D.H. Lawrence. Instead of writing about Lawrence, he travels, takes drugs and complains. But this, Dyer reasons, is OK: what made Lawrence special was the vividness and immediacy of experience captured in his work. As such, the various digressions into languor, debauchery and rage are not only appropriate but also essential to understanding Lawrence’s writing.

It’s for exactly this commitment to experience that Dyer reveres Ryszard Kapuściński. Kapuściński was a Polish reporter who embedded himself in collapsing foreign empires, over and over again, and wrote the stories of their destruction. His most famous book, The Emperor (1978), charts the disintegration of imperial Abyssinia under Haile Selassie. In Shah of Shahs (1982), which I also read this month, Kapuściński’s in similar territory as he documents the overthrow of the shah during the Iranian revolution of 1979. What’s distinctive about Kapuściński is his method: his books are collations, drawing together interviews, reportage, history and photographs to build a compelling narrative testimony.


Vince: Fresh out of assessment purgatory, I couldn’t wait to get stuck into a real proper novel for my own enjoyment. Something happy and maybe a little bit fluffy, to counteract a semester of studying J. M. Coetzee’s ‘Disgrace’ and feeling like my chest had been cut open and completely obliterated. Clearly, it’s an excellent book, but only go and read it if you like that feeling. Or not, don’t let me dictate your life choices.

Finding this fluff fiction did not really happen. I had a brief flirtation with a period-romance handed to me by a friend, after I lamented my inability to find a book that would not break me. But apparently my brain is not ready to leave Academia-land for the semester break, and I’ve been consuming essay after essay; Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, as much Virginia Woolf I can get my hands on, and Roxanne Gay’s ‘Bad Feminist’.

Woolf’s ‘Professions for Women’ is still taking up a good chunk of my consciousness after finishing writing an essay on it for uni. It left me wondering if the current climate of the publishing industry hinders women’s writing. Hunting down statistics and other articles, I found VIDA’s website and my hunch proved right. I’ve since smothered myself in the ongoing discussion concerning sexism in the publishing industry.

This adventure lead me to Roxanne Gay’s work, starting with ‘Beyond the Measure of Man’. When I finally had the funds (broke student + broke writer life = all the fun), I went right to the bookshop and purchased ‘Bad Feminist’. I’ve been torn between wanting to read all of it in one sitting, and savoring it. There’s a perfect amount of feminist essays to nurture my raging feminist tendencies (‘tendencies’ being a colossal understatement), and amusing, moving personal essays on topics from Scrabble to race and privilege.

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