• Reading Resolution: March Report

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in WBN News & Events     Comments 6 comments

    TombstoneMarch was a real bummer of a month for me, reading-wise: three books, all dudes, which doesn’t help much in keeping me ahead of pace on the reading resolution I told y’all about.

    Public shaming is imminent.

    Not only that, two of the three books were disappointing, to the point that I almost didn’t finish them.

    If not for this resolution thingie, and how it forced me to forge ahead, I probably would have read in full only one book this month.

    Let’s start with the one I did enjoy:

    1) The Tombstone Race, Jose Skinner (University of New Mexico Press)

    I’m going through a phase in which short stories don’t appeal to me, at all. Could be more than a phase: it’s lasted for over two years now. I can’t explain it. Short stories used to be my jam, as the kids say. Now I’ve let all of my lit mag subscriptions lapse, and I don’t buy new ones, and I don’t read short stories on the Internet, and I sure as hell don’t write them, and I never, ever pick up story collections anymore.

    But Jose Skinner is a friend, and I enjoyed his first collection, Flight, back when I was still reading stories. This one is even better.

    All fourteen stories are set in New Mexico, mostly the Albuquerque-Santa Fe corridor. The title story is particularly stellar: a teenager is drafted into service during the Vietnam War, but a biker gang helps him get in touch with himself, as the narrator, his younger sister, looks on. Think Tim O’Brien’s “On the Rainy River” with a Southwest spin, where the conflicted teen enters the annual Tombstone Race, in which contestants run with a replica of Billy the Kid’s grave marker on their backs.

    “Solidarity” brings together two old friends and former members of El Movimiento, one looking for a teaching job on the strength of his book about police brutality during the movement, the other now firmly entrenched in the establishment … and with a kid in the police force.

    In “Judge, Your Honor, Sir,” a judge notorious for being tough on petty drug (and other) crime finds himself sharing space in the pokey with a guy he has sentenced several times; the story is a brilliant harangue, the con finding himself in the fortuitous position of being able to lecture the judge, for once.

    Skinner writes with a social consciousness that’s difficult to find in fiction today. I’m a big fan, and I hope to see a novel someday. Because not even this book is enough to get me reading short fiction again.


    2) The Moviegoer, Walker Percy (Vintage)

    I’ve been meaning, for years, to read this classic of Southern lit. So when I was assigned a review of a book that apparently owes a great debt to Percy’s, I figured it was a good time to give it a go.

    It’s not for me. I understand the attraction, and I enjoyed certain segments of it, but overall it’s a shoulder-shrugger.

    I won’t rehash the plot here. Call it a philosophical novel whose philosophy isn’t up my alley.


    3) Brothers and Keepers, John Edgar Wideman (Holt)

    I desperately wanted to enjoy this book. Wideman is a great writer, and the central premise here is full of potential: how does one brother end up teaching literature in Wyoming and the other, never able to escape the streets, is sentenced to life in prison for murder?

    Wideman’s search for answers is too difficult to read. There are plenty of flashes of brilliance, because it’s Wideman. But the path is long and torturous/tortuous, difficult to navigate. I won’t say that Wideman leaves the reader cold, but he left this reader cold.

    One of our favorite short stories, and one we used to teach in our workshops, is “What We Cannot Speak About We Must Pass Over in Silence.” Like Wideman’s brother, his son is in prison for murder, for life, and this story is a fictionalized version of a father dealing with that situation. Brothers and Keepers, written before his son committed the crime, contains scenes of Wideman taking that son to prison to visit Wideman’s brother. Those are some heart-wrenching moments, and makes the book even tougher to handle.

    But I’ve got a Wideman novel ready to go, and I expect it’ll be great, like most of the rest of his fiction.


    So that’s my March reading; I’m fourteen books towards my resolution. Coming up in April: more Chester Himes, hopefully more Mark Binelli, and if I have time, my annual rereading of Jazz.

    What have you been reading? How is your reading resolution going so far? Better yet, how is your writing resolution going so far? Let us know in the comments below.


    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services. And join our mailing list, over in the right sidebar, for once-per-week writing goodies in your inbox. 

    Linked2WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and contributes regularly to the Dallas Morning News, Publishing Perspectives, the Observer and other publications.







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    Yi Shun Lai

    I went to AWP. I came back with a stack of historical fiction and lit mags. I tried to get into a new British detective series and failed, and then I read something forgettable, and I’ve just finished The Wives of Los Alamos, which was incredible, in a “How the frickety frack did she pull that off?” kind of way. The whole damn thing is written in first-person plural, and it walks a fine, fine line of nebulousness, except that by the end, you are very clear on who these women are. Fascinating stuff.

    Yi Shun Lai

    How do I “plus one” this???
    This is like the day I told an editor he could look at my short story, only to realize it had already been published somewhere. We are all a little bit stupid this week. Something is in retrograde.

    B. Holloway

    I’ve spent most of the late winter catching up on my romance novels )some paranormal, not all!). I can read three or four of those a week, and sometimes if I really like it I’ll go right back to page 1 and start over. But it’s almost never better the second time through it. I also want to read some of the Jane Austen books I never read before, like Persuasion and Northhanger Abbey. And even her juvenalia, lol I’m a sucker for it.

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