Casey Plett’s A Safe Girl to Love

I just had a review of Casey Plett’s short story collection A Safe Girl to Love published in Mennonite Life. It’s an excellent, important book that anyone interested in good literature should read. You can read the review here.

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Clinching Safety

I took the above photograph at the end of Sunderland’s 0-0 draw at Arsenal yesterday afternoon, which ensured that the Black Cats are safe from relegation this season. The caption, “Clinch safety,” is a simple statement within the context of the match, but it also struck me as a profound statement about life. Isn’t that what we all want, to be assured that we are safe, not just physically, but emotionally as well? It’s such a basic, plain graphic, but it was on the screen for at least five minutes, and I think the moment I happened to photograph it, which shows Sunderland manager Dick Advocaat crying with happiness, epitomizes its deeper significance. We watch sports to help us try to escape from the stresses of life (even though they often cause us more stress) because we always know that true safety is never really assured.

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Books Acquired Recently

Adler, Renata. Speedboat. 1976. New York: New York Review, 2013.

Fox, Paula. Desperate Characters. 1970. New York: Norton, 1999.

I was recently reading The David Foster Wallace Reader, which includes a few syllabi from Wallace’s creative writing and literature courses. The syllabi are the best written, most thought-provoking ones I have ever encountered, and it is inspiring to see how Wallace took even this most mundane of genres seriously as a writing task. The syllabus for his contemporary American fiction course included several texts that I have not read before, including Adler’s and Fox’s, which I bought right away because if Wallace thinks they are important, they are.

Human, Charlie. Apocalypse Now Now. London: Titan, 2015.

A few weeks ago a colleague and I were discussing how Apocalypse Now constantly gets referenced in pop culture, and she mentioned this South African novel as an example. Apocalypse Now is one of my favorite films, so I decided to buy Human’s book to see what he does with it. It’s fascinating to have an African text dialogue with the film because the film itself is a retelling of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

These three texts were purchased from amazon.com’s network of independent sellers.

Swartley, André. Leon Martin and the Fantasy Girl. Newton: Workplay, 2014.

Swartley and I were in college together and we recently reconnected at a conference. He sent me a review copy of this novel, the sequel of which will be coming out this fall. Up until recently examples of U.S. Mennonite fiction were few and far between, but happily the field has been flowering as of late, and it is exciting to have Swartley play a role in this resurgence.

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Book Acquired Recently: Jill Bialosky’s The Players

Bialosky, Jill. The Players. New York: Knopf, 2015.

I recently read a review of this poetry collection and decided to buy it because it includes a section about baseball. Baseball and poetry are a perfect match for each other because they both invite contemplation. The empty spaces between pitches (which really only seem to be empty) are like the spaces between stanzas: one is being pulled forward by the game’s/poem’s momentum while simultaneously considering what has gone before. Just as a baseball game carries the sport’s history with it in the comparison of statistics between today’s players and those of the past, the ever-constant form of the game (three strikes and you’re out, three outs to an inning, and you play until there is a winner), and as many meditations on the relationship between the sport and America as one chooses to mention, so to does every poem situate itself in the millennia-old tradition of poetry, attempting to make something new out of words worn soft with constant use.

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Books Acquired Recently

Coverley, Merlin. The Art of Wandering: The Writer as Walker. Harpenden: Oldcastle, 2012.

Dorsey, Candas Jane. Black Wine. New York: Tor, 1997.

—. Machine Sex and Other Stories. London: Women’s, 1990.

I bought these three books (all from amazon.com’s network of independent sellers) as a result of reading Greg Bechtel’s collection of short stories Boundary Problems. Many of Bechtel’s stories are infused with psychogeographical themes, which is a topic that Coverley has written about at length. As a result of my interest in psychogeography I have thought about reading The Art of Wandering in the past, and decided that this summer would be a good time to do so.

Similarly, I have been wanting to read some of Dorsey’s fiction since I read an article by her on Samuel R. Delany’s work called “Being One’s Own Pornographer” about five years ago. One of Bechtel’s stories has a quotation from this essay as an epigraph, which I took as a kind of sign that it was time for me to explore Dorsey’s work.

Tytell, John. Writing Beat and Other Occasions of Literary Mayhem. Nashville: Vanderbilt UP, 2014.

I was randomly sent an exam copy of this book by the publisher. I am excited to read it soon because I enjoy the Beats and because I am hoping to do lots of writing this summer and the book looks like it offers some helpful meditations on the subject.

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Books Acquired Recently: Desk Copy Edition

Over the past few weeks I’ve received desk copies of several novels that I’ll be teaching in the fall. They are all books that I already own which have been reprinted with different pagination than previous editions, hence the need for new copies.

Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. 1969. New York: Random, 2009.

Dick, Philip K. The Man in the High Castle. 1962. Boston: Mariner, 2011.

Winterson, Jeanette. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. 1985. New York: Grove, 1987.

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Books Acquired Recently: Nostalgia Edition

My parents have recently been completing some house renovations, and in the process of moving furniture around to accommodate these changes my mother has been de-accessioning some books. She asked whether I wanted any of them and I took a few, some because I have fond memories of them from childhood and some because I am interested in their Mennonite subject matter.

MacDonald, Betty. Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. 1957. New York: Scholastic, 1987.

When I was little my mother would read the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books to my sister and me after school, and I loved them for their humor. This copy has my mother’s name scrawled on the front cover in my crooked elementary school handwriting.

—. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. 1947. New York: Scholastic, 1987.

Like the previous book, this one is falling apart, with tape everywhere and some dog-eared pages–they are well-worn because we loved them so much. I also wrote my mother’s name in this volume. Apparently I’ve always been concerned about which books belonged where.

Reed, Kenneth. Mennonite Soldier. Scottdale: Herald, 1974.

This book is a retelling of the prodigal son story set during World War I, a war in which many American Mennonites were persecuted for their pacifist stance and German heritage. It is a fascinating early example of Church-sanctioned (Herald Press is the official publishing house of Mennonite Church USA) Mennonite literature.

Smucker, Barbara Claassen. Days of Terror. Scottdale: Herald, 1979.

We had several of Claassen’s fictional retellings of Mennonite persecution in Russia when I was a child. This book also has a price tag from Provident, this time on the back cover, $7.95.

Wenger, John C. Glimpses of Mennonite History and Doctrine. Scottdale: Herald, 1947.

Wenger was a well-know Mennonite theologian in the mid-twentieth century, and I have several of his other books on Mennonite thought. I love that the title humbly claims to only offer “glimpses” of Mennonitism rather than claiming to be definitive.

Wiebe, Rudy. Peace Shall Destroy Many. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962.

I already have several copies of Wiebe’s seminal novel, but wanted this copy because it belonged to my mother. Before I was old enough to read it I would often stare at its spine on the shelf and wonder what it was about because I found the title haunting. I love thinking about the history of copies of old books (i.e., thinking about the object itself), and thus it makes me very happy that the original price tag is still with the book on the first page (the design of the book’s famous cover leaves no room for a price tag there). The book was bought at a Provident Bookstore (Provident [Which is now, alas! defunct. Shopping at the Provident in Lancaster, Pennsylvania was how I learned to love browsing for books.] was Herald Press’s official bookstore chain) for $1.95.

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