Tag Archives: Emily Choate

The Re-Reading Project: The Book I Couldn’t Re-Read

This time last year, I had a small sheet of paper taped into the back of my journal with a list of twelve books jotted out. My plan was to re-read one of these twelve books each month in 2014 and write about the experience, what I remembered from my original readings and what I discovered reading them now. I’d first read almost all of these books before I was 16 (when I moved to Louisiana) and while I’d read most of them only one time, I counted them all as favorite, influential books.

In January, I quickly fell in love with the project and read 9 kids’ books. I was in the middle of moving for the second time in six months, so I think I was a little nostalgic for childhood and a semblance of stability. It was a lot of fun, in the middle of chaos.

February found me in my new home and brought me company in the project: my friend Maurice re-read an influential book of his own and wrote a guest post. I re-read a Japanese fantasy translated into English.

March brought a guest post from my sister Aimee, re-reading an author she introduced me to and who I would re-read later in the year, as well as a post of my own about re-reading a speculative anthropological romance novel.

As April opened, I re-read a gothic romance while on a train to visit my new love and my friend Missy re-read a philosophical horror novel I’d never read by an author who also wrote a series of books I almost re-read this year.

In May, I confessed to my history as a reader of romance novels and I re-read my first “real” romance novel, by a writer I’ve never read again, and then re-read a romance by a writer whose mysteries I still read, conflicted though I may be about enjoying them.

June saw me at my love’s house, re-reading a young adult trilogy by an author who disappeared for ten years and then became wildly popular again as two of her series were made into t.v. shows. My friend Mary re-read folk tales right around the same time her book of poetry inspired by folk tales was published.

July brought me heartache, but I pushed on and re-read a horror novel by the author my sister introduced me to at age ten and my friend Noel re-read another horror novel by a more famous horror novelist.

August took me back to school, re-reading three books I was assigned as a student, one of which I hated and one of which I loved, and I got on the road for the Residency Road Trip. Blogger Lisa re-read another canonical tome that impacted her.

September was an oasis of calm, of thinking, reading and writing and I re-read a speculative science thriller and my friend James re-read a magical realistic family saga by an author who died this year.

In October, I returned to “real life” and New Orleans, wrapping up the Residency Road Trip and settling back in. I struggled to re-read the book I’d originally scheduled for October and at the last minute changed it to a magical realistic romantic tale as my Peauxdunque cohort Emily re-read a romantic Civil War saga.

During November, I conducted my own private NaNoWriMo and happily re-read an adventure tale based on an ancient Iraqi folktale while another Peauxdunque cohort, Joi, re-read a gothic horror novel about suburbia and family (not written by Gillian Flynn).

December finds me in a familiar place – swimming through chaos and uncertainty. My friend Rachel re-read a satirical science fiction novel and I struggled, once more, to re-read the book I’d originally scheduled for October: a fantasy novel published in 1992 by an author who has switched to writing mysteries. (If you can guess what the book is from that description, let me know.) I’ve always remembered this book as one of my favorites, though I might’ve only read it once (it’s recorded in 1996, when I was 14, but I find it hard to believe I only read it one time). I was excited to re-read this book all year long – it was one of the first titles that went on my list. Several times, as I read other books, I thought of this book. There’s an artist protagonist, so I thought it would be perfect after living with an artist for a month at the residency. But, as I dove in, the book never really caught my attention. I was fifty pages in when I started again this month, so I had a head start and I still couldn’t get invested. It finally got a bit more interesting when I passed the 100 page mark last night, but I’m a firm believer that there is a time for every book in a person’s life. And I finally had to admit that I’m just not meant to re-read this book this year. Maybe next year.

This year, I re-read and wrote about 21 books (rather than the 12 I’d originally intended) and my friends wrote 10 fabulous guest essays about books they re-read. Interesting stats: of the ten guests, eight are women and two are men. Even more interesting: I’ve only read 2.5 of the 10 books my guests re-read (the .5 is for Mary’s folk takes because while I didn’t read her edition, I’ve probably read most of the stories), though I have started reading, but never finished, half of them. I didn’t assign any of the titles my guests picked, though we did discuss them in advance and I sometimes scheduled them according to what I was re-reading (Noel in July most notably).

It turns out that the Re-Reading Project is going to continue, with a new slate of books and in a different form. Let me know if you’re interested in re-reading and writing about your experience and stay tuned. In the meantime, you can use this post as an index (or scavenger hunt, if you prefer) for all of the essays for the 2014 Re-Reading Project. 

1 Comment

Filed under books, Friends, musing, New Orleans, The Re-Reading Project, The Residency Road Trip, travel, what I'm reading

The Re-Reading Project Guest Post: Cold Mountain

“Though Inman could not recall whether Swimmer had told him what else might be involved in reaching that healing realm, Cold Mountain nevertheless soared in his mind as a place where all his scattered forces might gather. Inman did not consider himself to be superstitious person, but he did believe that there is a world invisible to us. He no longer thought of that world as heaven, nor did he still think that we get to go there when we die. Those teachings had been burned away. But he could not abide by a universe composed only of what he could see, especially when it was so frequently foul. So he held to the idea of another world, a better place, and he figured he might as well consider Cold Mountain to be the location of it as anywhere.”

Cold Mountain found me precisely at the moment I needed it. I was twenty-one and immersed in the toughest academic year of my life, at Oxford’s Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. For most American students, the Oxford tutorial system is a nerve-wracking gauntlet, and I was no exception. Producing weekly essays on Chaucer or 13th century mystics consumed my life, and my tutors never tired of reminding me that I was but a pale newbie to the long, long tradition of letters.

Chill rain soaked bustling Cornmarket Street the October day I ducked into the curved, high-columned building that houses Waterstone’s. I’d come to buy a specific translation of Beowulf, a much more traditional version than the one I was in love with—Seamus Heaney’s brilliant, personal encounter with that brutal classic of Olde English. Heaney had brought his Northern Irish heartbreak to bear on the old work, making it new. For the endless term paper I was writing on Heaney’s translation, I’d been urged to get a more “straight-arrow” version for comparison. At the time, I saw this advice as an effort to dampen my rhapsodic enthusiasm for Heaney’s diction (“But he chose word-hoard, don’t you see how radical that is?”), so the assignment had me feeling stymied.

As a treat for capitulating to authority, I wandered into the fiction section, gravitating toward the writers I’d recently been craving. Heaney’s work had me longing for the flinty storytellers of my own country. My homesickness surprised me—I didn’t long for the people back home, for American products, or for Nashville’s familiar city streets. My thoughts roamed instead to ridgetops, cricket chatter, muddy hillsides, country songs, and my grandparents’ peeling front porch. So when I settled onto the floor of the fiction aisle, I pulled down a copy of Cold Mountain.

Charles Frazier’s first novel was still somewhat new and had won the National Book Award. I knew it was set in the lower Blue Ridge. As a teenager, I had traveled there on road trips with my aunt, the mountains signaling to me, for the first time, that my young writer’s imagination was welcome somewhere. This was a powerful discovery—one I did not have words for at the time. The feeling in my chest was good, full of promise, but also dense and toughening, like a shovel striking dark, rich soil. I was thrilled, but kept quiet about it. Even now, the Blue Ridge remains the place that sets my imagination working like no other—a sanctuary, where I go to write whenever I can.

I also knew that Cold Mountain is a loose retelling of Homer’s Odyssey set during the Civil War. Inman, the male protagonist, walks away from his army hospital bed, and the nightmare of battle, to risk a long dangerous trek home to Cold Mountain. As Inman wanders this brutal landscape (or as he understates it, the “feverish world”), Cold Mountain remains his only vision of possible respite. Back home, Ada is fighting for her own survival, learning to farm the land she inherited from her high-minded minister father. Wrestling the land as well as her own “thistleish” manner, Ada’s struggle concerns the lonesome cost of discovering one’s true usefulness.

“Standing thick in the rows and towering over the vegetables were weeds that Ada could not name and had neither the energy nor the heart to fight. Beyond the failed garden stretched the old cornfield, now grown up shoulder high in poke and sumac. Above the fields and pastures, the mountains were just becoming visible as the morning fog burned away. Their pale outlines stood at the horizon, more like the ghosts of mountains than the actual things.”

I slipped the book back onto the shelf and floated outside into the English rain, my imagination roving. The next week, in another bookstore, I took a break from Beowulf research and read the second chapter. Again, I returned it to the shelf. To be clear, any restraint I now have in the ways of book buying came years after this era of my life. When I flew home that spring, I had to buy an extra suitcase to lug home the books I’d accumulated. Why I didn’t buy Cold Mountain—why I read it one chapter at a time throughout the school year, in corner chairs and cafes of numerous bookstores around Oxford—has remained mysterious to me. It’s a memory I’m fond of recalling but had never examined.

The secrets of homeland, my own place in a tradition—that’s what the novel gave me the first time. I was becoming a fiction writer and just beginning to embrace my southern identity. I won’t take these comparisons too far. The Oxford system is tough, but I wasn’t at war. Apprenticeship as a writer takes unreasonable exertion and commitment, but I wasn’t plowing earth for my bodily survival. Still, Frazier’s novel seemed to touch on these matters in a way that writers sometimes need most—contact with the heart of the imagination. Or maybe not the heart—maybe the far periphery, like the shadowed tree line where thick forest meets clearing. Then and now, Cold Mountain meets my imagination at the crepuscular edge of dreamstate, where writers do their best work.

Cold Mountain reached me in that place, and maybe I wanted to keep it there. Perhaps that’s why I kept slipping it back onto the shelf. As a student, I tried my best with all those rigorous critical studies of European classics. But I needed something secret, too. It’s a reading habit I’ve retained. I’m nearly always reading a book I won’t mention to anyone, like a secret ingredient added to my days.

Approaching Cold Mountain now, it’s lost none of its power to enchant. Proceeding at its own pace, it resists any kind of hurry. The book insists that you enter its world on its own terms, leaving behind the stride of the contemporary world. Its mountain landscape is laden with secret coves, gorges, and narrow footpaths, and Inman’s episodes of dark misadventure feel conjured from wafting mists. Homer’s mythic power shines through, made new in ways I’m sure Heaney and his word-hoard would’ve approved.

This time through, Inman and Ada’s decisions resonated more personally for me. At twenty-one, I couldn’t understand their losses, or their fear, because I hadn’t yet lost anything or anyone that truly mattered to me. Even in the face of dire privation and brutality, Inman and Ada try to choose kindness where they can. They keep going in the face of loss, one foot in front of the other.

When I reread Cold Mountain, my copy was crisp, and binding crackled when I opened it. Shortly after I returned to the states, I bought that pristine hardcover, and up it went, onto my shelves where I could think of it fondly whenever I saw it. I’d think not only of Inman and Ada, but also of those stolen hours in corners of Oxford’s bookstores and the furtive pleasure of recognizing my turf. By then, I was headed down my own road—not the scholarly path, but one much messier and closer to the bone. After long foreign travels, I’d come home a fiction writer and a southerner. Cold Mountain will always play a pivotal role in the story of that grand adventure.

***

Photo on 9-15-14 at 4.54 PM

Emily Choate has held writer’s residencies at Vermont Studio Center, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and ISLAND (Institute for Sustainable Living, Art, and Natural Design). A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College’s MFA program, her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Florida ReviewChapter 16YemasseeNashville Scene, and elsewhere. She lives in Nashville, where she’s working on a novel.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under books, Friends, literature, review, The Re-Reading Project

Giving thanks for the brag

I am thankful that the people in my life are achieving success with the projects they are passionate about. And that goes for me, too. I am grateful and thrilled that the passions I have toiled at and for,when it seemed fruitless and silly, are now beginning to come to fruition. It just so happens that it’s Black Friday and I am providing you with a plethora of great gift suggestions. With no further ado, the brag…

Mary McMyne’s “Wolf Skin” will appear in the Los Angeles Review and “Old Woman Gothel” in Pedestal. You can read “Old Woman Gothel” online and also, hear Mary read it!

Daniel Morales has a story called “How to Fly First Class for Free” in the Expats Blog Writing Contest.

Jamey Hatley read from her novel at the fall installment of NOCCA’s Creative Writing Series, along with Brad Richard. The rather large room was crowded with an attentive audience, many of them students at NOCCA who are studying writing. Their response to Jamey and Brad was pretty awesome to witness.

Montana Miller’s Playing Dead: Mock Trauma and Folk Drama in High School Drunk Driving Tragedies has just been published. I first met Montana a few years ago when I interviewed her as background research for my novel and we became friends. In addition to being a professor in the Popular Culture Department at Bowling Green, she’s a professional flying trapeze artist, high diver and now, sky diver. I love this bit from her bio on Amazon: “she researches perceptions of risk and attitudes toward death, particularly among groups that are often stereotyped and misunderstood.” She was just in town at the American Folklore Society’s Annual Meeting, to give a paper called “Death and the Drop Zone: The Esoteric and Exoteric Folklore of Skydiving.”

Tad Bartlett has another great column up at Oxford American, called Food and Recovery: Reclaiming After the Storm.

Also over at OA, Kasimu Harris has lots of amazing new fashion columns up, featuring his stunning photos of fashionable New Orleanians, as well as his essays.

Christopher Shipman’s new chapbook I Carved  Your Name is available from Imaginary Friend Press.

Skip Horack’s story “The Cryptozoologist” is in the newest issue of Narrative Magazine.

Recently, Summer Wood gave a phenomenal reading from her book Raising Wrecker at the gorgeous Garden District Books. The novel has just been released in paperback, so check it out. As well as these pictures from the event, which I’ve borrowed from Ross Peter Nelson.

Emily Choate’s gorgeous story “Thunder Sometimes, Never Bells” will be published in The Florida Review.

While going to The Florida Review site to get the above link, I saw that Randolph Thomas won their Editor’s Award Competition in Fiction for his story, “Dispensations.” His story will appear in the Winter 2012 issue.

Two Fictions by James Claffey will be hosted at FWRICTION: REVIEW until November 28th, so go check them out. James is one of the most prolific publishers I know. “We Sunk My Mother’s Mother” is over at Necessary Fiction. His story “Spreading from the False Fly” is available in the Real issue of Pure Slush. Anyway, if you really want to keep up with everything James is doing, you have to go here: James Claffey.com.

Helen Krieger recently traveled to Amsterdam, where Flood Streets was screened at the Film By the Sea Festival. The movie just screened in Portland and Seattle and will be available on DVD November 27th. You can put it in your Netflix queue now.

Maurice Ruffin’s short story “Pie Man” has been published in the current issue of The South Carolina Review. Maurice will be reading his work, along with Niyi Osundare, Carolyn Hembree, Geoff Munsterman, Nasimiyu, and Michael Allen Zell at the Staple Goods Collective/Gallery on Sunday, December 2nd at 2 p.m.

But, before that, Maurice will also be reading at the Words & Music Writers Alliance reading at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, November 28th, one of the first events of the conference. The event takes place in the Black Box Room on the 2nd Floor of the US Mint and will also feature Terri Shrum Stoor, Sara Paul, Matt Robinson, J.Ed. Marston, Tad Bartlett and yours truly. I will be reading a short version of my winning essay, “Tango Face,” which is about learning to tango, of course, but also describes the experience of sitting for a portrait by the artist Gersin, who I interviewed earlier this year.  I’ll include the portrait below, since it’s not online (it is in the print version of the magazine).

This post has been in the works a long time! It’s impossible to keep up with ALL of the achievements and events of my talented friends, but I do my best. I hope you’ll consider checking out the work of all of these folks and attending the upcoming readings!

Leave a comment

Filed under Baton Rouge, book news, bragging on, Fess Up Friday, Friends, literature, movies, New Orleans, writing updates

Brag and the city

I’m late in bragging on this essay I wrote for 225 Magazine about LSU Press. I interviewed a lot of amazing people for this one and it was a joy to write a positive piece about all the good work being done in publishing, since we all read a lot of negativity about the way the industry is failing.

 

Ronlyn Domingue has an essay in the anthology, The Beautiful Anthology, work collected from The Nervous Breakdown, where she’s been publishing nonfiction for a while. Also, she has a publication date for her second novel, The Mapmaker’s War, which will be released February 19th, 2013. The sequel will be published in the spring of 2014.

 

Here’s the latest update from James Claffey, who has a plethora of recently published work (I especially love his signature – one day I will have a signature like his):

Nice words at the Review Review that mention my three short stories at Thrice Magazine: “Within the journal, my favorite illustrations were the ones that accompanied James Claffey’s trio of stories near the beginning of the issue,” and, “James Claffey’s trio of short pieces about life in Ireland may be succinct, but they explode with powerful descriptions that float off the page and flood the reader’s senses.”
New work at Press 1: Mad Dogs & Irishmen; Tampa Review Online: Hard Freeze; and Orion Headless: Cut Short
If you can, buy a copy of Scissor & Spackle containing two of my short fictions: Counting Holes in my Shoes & Ghost Watch
 —

 

Jamey (Hatley) interviewed the Ernest J. Gaines award winner, Dinaw Mengestu, for 225 and was herself interviewed, along with Chef Chris DeBarr by Tad Bartlett for his new Oxford American column Food and Writing.

 

Arion Berger, a super talented Peauxdunque member, has self-published (as Lyra Byrnes) the first of three paranormal romances set in New Orleans.

 

Daniel Handler selected  Kiki Whang‘s story “Cucarachero” as the 2012 fiction winner of the Enizagam Literary Awards. Her story is published in Issue 6, so mosey on over and buy it. Here’s what Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) has to say about Kiki’s story:

‘Cucarachero’ is one of those stories that works like a trap. I wandered into the first paragraphs, charmed and intrigued, and then, curiouser and curiouser, fell deeper and deeper in, and not until the story was over did I have a real appreciation for how smart the thing is, how wise about people so unwise, how careful and yet how instinctually the whole thing is put together. This is the kind of thing I always want to read.”

 

The MelaNated Writers Collective has had three successful events in their Summer Reading Series. Check out L. Kasimu Harris‘s teaser for the second event event:

Video and photos from the events are available on MelaNated’s website. Here’s a great essay about why the Collective is so vital for its members and for New Orleans.

Some members of MelaNated Writers Collective

 

Tad’s done an amazing job keeping track of events and publications at the Peauxdunque website. There are a plethora of brag-worthy achievements in between my posts, so book your browsers accordingly. He’s beat me to the punch in listing the Peauxdunque finalists in the Faulkner-Wisdom Literary Awards, but I’m still gonna brag.

Keep in mind, the finalists who are still in the running are listed by title only, so there may be additional bragging later. I’m going to mention the folks I know who are finalists, but not list the titles of their work, since it’s a blind reading process.

In the novel category, Tad Bartlett and J.Ed Marston are on the short list of finalists for their novel Flying Kites. My friend and former teacher Rick Blackwood is the author of the semi-finalist novel <Ô!>. Peauxdunque member Susan Kagan ‘s novel Ruxandra is also a semi-finalist.

In the novel-in-progress category, Eloise Holland (Be My Thrill), Elsie Michie (Broken Ornaments) and Susan Kirby-Smith (Canyon Relics) are all semi-finalists.

In the short story category, Maurice still has a story in the running, and also has one on the short list for finalists, “The Winter Lion.” Also on the short list is Tad (“Hawks”), Craig Brandhorst (“No Air Holes Anywhere”), and Emily Choate (“Thunder Sometimes, Never Bells”). Emily is also a semi-finalist with “The Falling Down Side,” as are Jamie Amos (“A Good Dog Buries Its Bone”), Kiki Whang (“Keepers”), and Jenn Nunes (“Nothing That Couldn’t Just Float Away”).

In the essay category, Terri Shrum Stoor and yours truly are both still in the running.

I’ll add folks as the rest of the lists go up, as names are revealed and in case I’ve missed anyone. Congrats to all!

 

In other news, my friend Arvid Cristina is teaching a Final Cut Pro/After Effects class for NOVAC called Gimme Credits, later this month.

 

I’m so lucky to have the friendship of such talented people. I hope you’ll join me in supporting them all.

2 Comments

Filed under books, bragging on, coolness, freelance work, Friends, literature, New Orleans, pop culture