Good News in Writing World

Chimamanda Adichie is offering the world another book.  I’m placing it in my to-be-read pile.  Her work is refreshing, precise, full, and intelligent.  Both her novels and her collection of stories leave me with a broader world, and I think of her as a gift to the reading public.

If you’re looking for something to read, Americanah is a good option after next month.  I read of the book that a part of its appeal is “its immense, uncontained and beating heart”.  Don’t you love looking forward to a favorite author’s next work?

It looks like Ms. Adichie will work into her novel everything from cultural analysis and race to loving long-distance and the politics of black hair.  Familiarize yourself with Adichie’s earlier work by stopping by her website.

Because Love Itself Is Beautiful

It is rather obvious why I chose this title.  I believe it is what life is much of the time.  When I think of great lovers in history, there was always some pain involved.  Maybe not for everyone, but most likely.

I, also, think Love is beautiful and feels good.  I think what some people do with it, who do not know what they are doing, is what makes it painful…sometimes.

So maybe it is not Love that hurts, maybe it’s the person we love.  It can even be a lack of Love.  Because Love itself is beautiful.

I named this book what I think about Life; Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime.

From J. California Cooper’s note in Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime.

Short Story Recommendations

I still think of myself as a person learning to appreciate fiction.  I’ve been reading fiction actively for about seven years, reading more fiction than non-fiction as I go along.  For the last couple years I’ve been getting more into short story collections.  They are both rewarding and brief.

Here are a few recommendations, in case you’re looking for something good to read, alphabetized by author name.

  • The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  This collection is full of grace and care, and it describes well the things that bind people.  I read it a while ago.  I was thankful to get it after reading both of Chimamanda’s novels, two lyrical works she’s won many praises for.  The stories were just as impressive, just as wonderful, and just as searing.  Reading them made me appreciate language more, made me think better about others and how I look at their lives when they are very different from me.
  • I Knew You’d Be Lovely by Alethea Black.  I finished reading this collection on a trip to the Boston area.  It was a treat to read, in part, because the author is from that region.  I soaked these stories up.  They were pointed to the heart and they illuminated the varied ways one event can take on significance in people’s lives.  I read it thinking through the great detail and world-building which came along with the fresh plot lines.  I appreciated seeing the cast of characters giving pieces of their lives to me.  Alethea just participated in a blog interview here.  Leslie won a copy of the collection.
  • Vida by Patricia Engel.  I read this collection two years ago, when I put myself on a short story diet for a few months.  I enjoyed entering into the families, neighborhoods, and conversations Engel created.  I felt like I could see and feel and smell and hear the conversations in her dialogue, like I could sit in front of the scenes she wrote, meeting the men and women on those pages like they were friends and enemies.  The collection was refreshing and stood up and sang right with some of the other stuff I thumbed through around that time.  I’m still waiting for the author to publish more stuff.  I should email her and tell her.
  • Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans.  This delightful collection came to me at the recommendations of writers and bloggers all over the place back when it was first published.  I was glad to get my hands on it and glad to read each story.  The author depicted the youth and young adults with grace, care, specificity and humor.  She dealt with issues of identity and race and love.  When I think about the stories, I smile.  I’ll probably be re-reading them soon.
  • Gumbo edited by E. Lynn Harris and Marita Golden.  This is a feast that I’m still sniffing, biting and savoring.  It is more than a collection; it’s a massive tribute to two writers (Zora Neal Hurston and Richard Wright) and an undertaking of support for the writing foundation in their name which Marita Golden started.  I’m about a fourth of the way through the 800 page collection.  I’ll be reading it for years, but it will be responsible for the love and appreciation I continue to nurture for black writers and all writers.  This collection is a guide for me, a lifesaver for me, a friend I can call when I can’t sleep or write or when I don’t feel like doing either.
  • Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones.  I enjoyed both collections I’ve read by this author, but I came to Lost first.  It was also shorter than the second collection, which is why I’m commending it.  Most readers who are new to short stories look for reasons not to take them on.  Length can be a reason.  But this collection and the other work I’ve read by Edward Jones is still teaching me how to be a patient, careful reader.  His work teaches me how to enjoy a created world on a page.  He is a writer the world needs to read with love and open ears.
  • Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumphi Lahiri.  I read this book because a coworker told me I should.  That coworker maintains a good place in my mind because of that recommendation.  I may be setting up evaluations of people where I determine how much I like them based upon what they tell me to read.  The people, places, and environments I read in Lahiri’s collection were enticing and probing and edifying.  More than anything, I think this collection sparked my imagination, made me want to write better, made me want to read with love and write with depth.  Other books have pulled that same desire from me, but I remember feeling that while reading this.
  • I Got Somebody in Staunton by William Henry Lewis.  This is collection is a tutor for me right now.  I’ve read through it, both slowly and quickly because the pages were a combination of entertaining and elegant.  Lewis did a great job to build characters who stick with you, incorporating humor and depth and color and breath.  I think these stories are truly worth lingering over, spending time with, even though reading them doesn’t require time commitments.  That’s the mark of a good story to me.
  • Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson.  If there’s one book of short stories I’d love to get as a gift, it would be this one.  I already read it, but I rented it from the library when I did.  I haven’t bought it yet because I haven’t seen it in the bookstore.  It’s dated, but it’s worth reading and re-reading.  It’s worth owning.  I’d trade ten books on my shelf for this one if I had to.  I’m coming close to saying it’s one of the best books I’ve read.  I just don’t want to appear presumptuous in saying so.  The author won a Pulitzer for his work, and the pages still speak to readers.  I think you should read this book at the library and then go to your closest bookstore and do what I haven’t–demand it right away.
  • Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer.  I read this collection a few years ago, and I still recall how well Packer introduced me to her characters, to their worlds particularly as women, and to an empathy that I’m steadily cultivating in my life.  I think of her stories as an education in fiction and in living.  This collection should be read and read again.  Her writing is precise and picturesque and spicy.

What short story collections would you recommend?

Interview & Book Giveaway With Alethea Black, Author of I Knew You’d Be Lovely

MW: Tell us about you, perhaps before, behind, or beneath the pages of your work.

AB: I lead a fairly simple life. I live in a house on a lake with a wood-burning stove and a little dog (a dappled miniature dachshund) who’s sleeping beside me right now. I’m a night owl, which is too bad, because I’ve heard the sun rises over the lake. But the moon rises over it, too, so it all works out.

MW:How did you start writing, and how do you sustain your writing life?

AB: I started writing after my sister gave me a 1994 volume of The Best American Short Stories. Something about the stories in that anthology gave me a feeling of having come home. For many years I sustained my writing habit by proofreading for BusinessWeek, but I was laid off in 2009 when the magazine was bought by Bloomberg.

MW: What can you tell us about your writing process?  What helps you nurture your work?

AB: I tend to write a lot when an idea is exciting to me and a project feels urgent — then I can really take the night owl tendency to extremes — and not to write very much when things aren’t hot. This is probably the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to do, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but it’s how things seem to work for me. I find ideas everywhere; the book I’m working on now takes its opening line from something a writer named Mo told me a couple of years ago at the all-night post office across from Madison Square Garden.

MW: Can you give us a view into your world of writing short stories?  What makes the form of fiction interesting to you?

AB: I like intelligent stories with humor and heart, and that’s the kind I try to write. The thing I love about storytelling — I’ve been thinking about this lately — is that sense it can give you that everything is somehow okay, even when things are stupendously, outrageously not okay. There’s a mysterious sense of consolation that  accompanies a well-told story.

MW: Your stories link through decisive moments.  Each one looks to emerge from or respond to a slice of time that is significant for your characters.  Did you always have that link or did that develop as you wrote?

AB: I had a teacher who told us that a writer should always be asking: “Why is this night different from every other?” I’ve tried to abide by that, even when it’s not Passover. The thing that interests me are those moments in life — even if they are subtle — when everything changes.

MW: How were you able to keep the stories fresh and engaging while keeping that common quality to them?

AB: Thank you for the compliment! I tend to write about everyday people in everyday situations but I try to find that spark of the extraordinary. If I can’t keep a story fresh and engaging, it goes in the trash and I start over. Life is short.

MW: The stories take place in the Northeast mostly—with my city being a shining exception!  Do you see geography as important either for your stories in the collection or for your self as an author?

AB: Who doesn’t love Chicago? Actually, I’m not very interested in geography, and I don’t think of myself as a regional writer in any sense. When other writers start to talk about geography, that’s usually when I take a nap. The landscape that interests me is the human heart.

MW: What are you reading or about to read these days?

AB: I just read CORPUS CHRISTI by Bret Anthony Johnston; I’m partway through VOLT by Alan Heathcock; and I’m about to pre-order THE WORLD WITHOUT YOU by Joshua Henkin.

MW: Are you currently working on things you can talk about?  If so, what?  And how can my readers keep in touch with you?

AB: My agent has my next book, a short novel called THE KEY, about a woman who’s missing her dead father when a stranger in Grand Central Station hands her a key. The next next book is about two brothers, one successful and one feckless, who spend a weekend together. I love hearing from readers — it’s been my favorite part of the publishing experience. They can find me at

Now for the giveaway.  If you’re interested in getting a free copy of Alethea’s collection, leave a comment with the title of the last book you read and a sentence about what you thought of the book.  And maybe tell other people to do the same.  Leave the comment by Friday 8, 11:59p.m.  I’ll choose a winner sometime Saturday and email the winner for a mailing address.