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My Summer Reading List

I have an ambitious reading list for this summer. Just like my dedication of two hours to write a day (or ten hours per week), I’m challenging myself to read for ninety minutes a day on Monday thru Wednesday plus Friday, or six hour a week. I tend to read 40 pages in an hour, 50 when I’m really feeling it, so if we take my optimistic number and combine it with six hours that’s 300 pages per week. Starting this week through the end of August, that’s fifteen weeks or 4500 pages. …That seems like a lot. I may have to re-think this. In the meantime, let’s get a little ambitious this morning!

All of these are selections I’ve never read before, so I have a completely fresh slate of stories awaiting me. Here they are in no particular order:

Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard (fiction novel, 272 pages)

The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry (fiction novel, 288 pages) * Excelsior UMC Men’s Book Club selection

On the Road by Jack Kerouac (nonfiction novel, 307 pages) * Excelsior UMC Men’s Book Club selection

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (nonfiction novel, 274 pages) * Excelsior UMC Men’s Book Club selection

The View From the Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockemeier (short story collection, 288 pages)

Tin House #39 (short stories and poetry, 200 pages)

I’m Sorry You Feel That Way by Diana Joseph (nonfiction short story collection, 208 pages)

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (nonfiction, 320 pages)

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (fiction, 528 pages… I can’t find the abridged version, which the Ron Book Team has decided is just fine for our summer reading) * Ron Book Team selection

How to Think Theologically by Howard W. Stone & James O. Duke (textbook, 126 pages)

Best American Short Stories 2008 (short story collection, 384 pages)

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier (fiction novel, 272 pages)

I also have the following to “read” on audio, all of which are re-reads for me:

On Writing by Stephen King (nonfiction novel)

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (short story collection)

Up in Honey’s Room by Elmore Leonard (fiction novel)

The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman (kinda-sorta-not-really nonfiction novel)

From a Buick 8 by Stephen King (fiction novel)

That’s only 2235 pages – a far cry from the 4500 pages I calculated above. I think I’m going to be reading a lot slower than at my 50-pages per hour clip. I’ll be reading short stories and each one of those deserves to be digested slowly like little meals unto themselves. Some of the novels are for Men’s Book Club and I want to slow down and annotate them so I can better lead discussion sessions. And others I hope are so good I’ll need to slow down and savor them (Road Dogs). I’ll keep you posted as I finish different stories.

Right now, Kelly and I are almost finished with the audio version of From a Buick 8 and I’m about forty pages into The Last Picture Show and really enjoying it. I hope to finish it before I go to camp and start on a new book by then, too (that’s June 13, for readers who aren’t in the know).

What are you reading this summer?

-nm

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Denver Improv Festival – My Trip, Day 3

Our travels took Kelly and me beyond the Denver metro area to Castle Rock to shop for jeans and books at their famed Outlet Mall. While the Vans outlet store apparently no longer exists (it’s where I bought all of my shoes from 2002-2005, including the shoes I’m wearing now… which says a lot about how infrequently I buy shoes, now that I think about it), they had a Borders outlet store with a lot of closeout books. I picked up The Great Gatsby unabridged on CD for a dollar, a $20 book of over-sized posters from The Simpsons, and a copy of Best American Short Stories 2007 (edited by Stephen King), and now have a copy of nearly every year’s volume going back to 1999. Kelly picked up an autobiography, Multiple Bles8ings by Jon & Kate Gosselin (with Beth Carlson who, with apologies to Jon and Kate, probably did quite a bit of the writing). It’s the story of a couple who had twins and sextuplets and who are the subject of Kelly’s new “favorite” TLC TV show, Jon and Kate Plus Eight. I call anything Kelly likes her “favorite” thing, even if it’s not. That’s how I roll.

I also saw a new anthology of 70 short stories since 1970 that looked interesting (it has a lot of the Scribner Anthology in it), as well an older edition of the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction for only $2.99. I was really tempted to pick it up, but my luggage is already pushing the 50-pound limit at 48 pounds (mostly thanks to my ukulele amp), so I left the heavy tome on the shelf. Frontier’s already charging $15 per checked bag, one-way, and I don’t feel like having it jump up to $25 by surpassing the 50-pound mark; that would make the Norton book $13 and at that price I might as well buy it at home or online (addendum: a quick Amazon check lists Norton as $44 and up, so maybe I missed out).

We continued south and visited the Garden of the Gods, one of my favorite geological anomalies I’ve ever visited. I haven’t been there since I was in high school, but it was as beautiful as ever.Here are some photos we took:

Finally, we headed to see my cousin, Kris, and his wife, Janette, in Colorado Springs. We had some dinner, looked at photos from their trip to China, gossiped about the family, and played the terrible, terrible Wii video game that is Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? I’ll tell you who I am smarter than – the programmers who decided this product was finished and ready for consumers to plunk down money to buy (luckily, it was merely a rental). We forgot to bring our extra Wii-motes and our copy of our latest Wii game addiction, Boom Blox, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. Remember, 50-pound luggage weight limit.

This morning I graded essays (yay!), Kelly slept in (yay!), we drove the Charger north (meh), and ended up back in Denver. I’m writing this in our room at the downtown Hampton Inn where Joe Bill is also staying; I know because we bumped into each other in the lobby, where handshakes and bear hugs were to be had. Joe’s one of those guys who’s been around the Chicago improv scene forever, plus the national improv scene for as long as I can remember. His classes will change your improv, his shows will inspire your improv, and his down-to-earth personality really helps eliminate any perceived “guru status” stigma. I’m looking forward to seeing his shows this weekend.

I did tech rehearsal at the Bovine Metropolis for the Denver Improv Festival and saw several familiar faces from back in the day. Ryan Williams and Chris Wolf are Curds Only, the group I’m sharing the bill with for tomorrow night’s 7:30pm show. Ryan’s been in Chicago for a year and it sounds like good things are happening, while Chris served as tech for the Improv Hootenanny back when Rick and I were doing regular shows here. I’ve improvised with both of these guys before, they’re cool and talented. I also re-met Jean Schuman and Jon Lannen. I say re-met because I know I met them, albeit briefly, way back when they were in a high school improv troupe called Spontaneous Combustion. They’re producing the festival and these two are far more pumped and charged up than anything, and that feeling is both palpable and infectious. Finally, I bumped into Eric Farone, owner of the Bovine Metropolis Theater. Eric and his wife, Denise, have done a lot to put Denver improv on the map and his theater space appears ready for some insane improv action this weekend.

That’s it for today. Kelly and I are heading out to dinner and an evening of improv. I’ll keep you posted.

-nm

Your Friday Recommendation #3.

Young writers who are contemplating whether or not to try tackling the short story should give read some of the best out there. There are plenty of collections and anthologies out there, but the Best American Short Stories series is one you can rest assured lives up to its name.

Best American Short Stories is a collection comprised of precisely what its title indicates, and always features a guest editor who is usually of some high literary stature. 2007 saw Stephen King edit one of the largest collections yet, and his introduction detailing his process of story selection and his thoughts on where the short story fits in modern literature is worth the price of admission alone. As for Best American, one can pick up any volume and find several stories worth their time from both established and new voices. I’m a fan of short stories because they lend themselves to single-serving reading; I can read a great short story in bed and have some closure before turning out the light. Likewise, the short story is a writer’s perfect vehicle for embracing constraints in their craft. Novels take a certain skill, no one debates that, but the short story requires a whole other skill set, and the artist who is able to pull off both is impressive, indeed.

The cover posted is from the 2003 collection, featuring one of my favorite short stories of all time, “Space” by three-time O. Henry Prize winner Kevin Brockmeier. I’m a sucker for father/son stories, and I’ve got a soft spot on my reading list for this engrossing metaphor of a tale. You can pick up a copy of Best American Short Stories of 2003 at bookcloseouts.com for two bucks, plus find plenty of work by Brockmeier at great prices, too. Otherwise, check your favorite bookstore – the latest 2007 Stephen King-edited volume is available pretty much everywhere – or visit your local library for a shelf filled with Best American volumes.

Read a volume and apply what you’ve learned to your craft.

-nm