Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | June 29, 2013

Summer Reading Joys

woman-reading-book-outside-275pxWhat to read next?  Isn’t that always the question?  What are you reading now?  During the summer I can’t seem to devour books fast enough.  I know writers are supposed to write every day – at least that’s the conventional advice – but sometimes I just want to soak in the wonderful work of others for a while, surrounding my senses with the richness of masterful phrasing, imagery, and dialogue.

Back on New Year’s Day I made a resolution to read and write more instead of wasting time on the web or with my main distraction, crossword puzzles.  The pact I made with myself was to write 2 poems and 2 blog posts each month, plus read at least 1 full-length book.  So far I’ve kept my pledge except for the poetry writing . . . and I’m okay with that for now, especially since I’ve been reading way more than 1 book a month.  I’ve fallen in love again with prose writing and story-telling, in all forms – novels, short stories, memoirs, plays.

books and apple in grassLast year I wrote a post about the 7-year cycling of my creative pursuits.  (See “Creativity Quotient?”  from 8/25.)  It’s bearing out once again now as my interests shift away from poetry and back to prose.  Who knows why this happens?  Seven-ness is mystical.  Whether in relationships, career pursuits, or hobbies, lots of us seem to need renewal at the 7-year mark.

But I know if I’m going to write anything decent in prose, I first need to wallow in the rhythms and styles of masters, like a raw veggie in marinade.  Right now, I’m letting my inner guide lead me to books one day at a time, choosing whatever attracts my attention.

Two memoirs by writer/performers drew me in before school had even let out – Tina Fey’s Bossypants and Eve Ensler’s In the Body of the EnslerWorld.  While these two books are about as opposite as they can be in tone and content, each offers the unequivocal voice of a woman who has discovered who she is at mid-life and is learning to embrace the messiness of it all.  I enjoyed Fey’s humor and sass, and I was happy to know that even someone at her level of success struggles to balance family and career.  I appreciated Ensler’s courage and grit with the journey she’s recently undertaken, coming to terms with her childhood filled with abuse and how that led, she believes, to her work with rape victims of the Congo and her recent battle with uterine cancer.  Since I hadn’t read anything by Ensler other than The Vagina Monologues, I quickly read two other plays she’s written since then, Necessary Targets, a focused look at how America reports on war in foreign lands, particularly on the effects war has on women; and The Good Body, a collection of women’s monologues (real and fictionalized) about their bodies, which I see as a follow-up of V.M. All of these works are powerful for sparking feminist chords in those of us who may be feeling women’s rights slipping again recently.

life-after-life_originalThen came Kate Atkinson’s sprawling novel, Life After Life, which I’d purchased several months ago and been covetously eyeing on my shelf ever since.  What a masterful work of multiple storylines she juggles in this huge book – and what a character she has created in Ursula Todd, the baby born in a snowstorm again and again and again.  In a way, it’s many books in one – a kind of novel-writer’s dream, where she gets to tell the story of a character over and over until she hits upon the one she likes best.  Maybe that’s how the whole project got started in the first place!  Atkinson’s wit and humor, along with her skillful inclusion of literary allusions, make this book a great model for any writer.

Now I’m working my way through two very different kinds of books:  the book-in-a-box, Building Stories, by Chicagoan Chris Ware (which is really 17 separate pieces of graphic fiction that work together as a novel); and the collection, The Best American Short Stories of 2012, edited by Tom Perrotta.  I know I was drawn to these eclectic works just for that reason:  they promise to explore the gamut of writing styles, topics, and characters.  In this most recent “best of” collection, which are always fabulous, Perrotta has chosen the title story from George Saunders’ Tenth of December, which blew me away and building storiesprompted me to write my first book review (See post of 3/18), as well as the much-talked-about story from 2012 by Nathan Englander, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.” This story literally made me stop breathing when I reached the end of it — wow.  Now to get to the other 18! When a writer of Perrotta’s caliber chooses the 20 stories he likes best of out of hundreds published in the year (and most from The New Yorker), the result is bound to be impressive.

Waiting patiently on my Nook and bookcases are 5 more huge books, all of which will have to wait until the class I’m currently teaching has finished – acclaimed works by Hillary Mantel, Richard Ford, Katherine See, and Lauren Hillenbrand.  I can see myself now, sitting on my patio at the end of July, engrossed.  I’m anticipating enjoying them so much that I’ll be moved to write reviews of them here.

wolf-hall1So I’m taking notes and paying attention.  I’m a pickle in the brine.  Today’s best writers are imprinting their stuff on my brain and into my cells.  I can only hope that in a few months, when I start dabbling with my own stories, I’ll feel my legs start to strengthen beneath me.  And in another couple of years, maybe I’ll sense a little sprouting of wings between my shoulder blades.  When you’re on the writing path, the trees always block the way and prevent you from seeing what lies ahead.  But that’s a big part of the fun and adventure.  Regardless, there’s everything to gain, since even if I never do create even one story that works, I’ll have spent many months enjoying fabulous tales spun by others.

I’d love to hear about books you’ve read recently and loved — I’ll add them to my never-ending list of must-reads!  Six weeks remain in the summer, and I’m determined to fill them with the most fabulous stories I can find.



  1. Sounds like a very ambitious schedule to me. Enjoy !

  2. If only we didn’t have to eat and sleep, Jo!

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