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Three non-fiction books and one short story collection is not necessarily a great mix.  I think the proportions are a little off, though, in truth, the short story collection reads like actual stories taken directly my childhood.  I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, and Lorrie Moore’s collection Self Help reads exactly as the title suggests:  a manual for your childhood and early adulthood.  I love it, painful and uncomfortable as it is.

I just finished reading Alan Cumming’s memoir  Not My Father’s Son.  The title suggests some paternal issues, but it’s so much more than that.  There are many revelations in this book (none of which I will spoil here) and to a sensitive soul such as Alan, they prove difficult to navigate.  Cumming’s journey begins with the TV show “Who do you think you are?” — a show that searches out your roots, your genealogical secrets.  There are dual stories running throughout the book, as well as dual timelines:  the present (2010, during which he is filming the TV show) and chapters of “Then” which flash back to his childhood.  Cumming’s father was a brute of a man, abusive to his family in multiple heartbreaking ways.

What sets this memoir apart, in a spate of celebrity memoirs, is that Cummings is incredibly insightful; he has a strong sense of self. He is articulate without being self serving. Yes, he is emotional, but who wouldn’t be in the midst of the family revelations and drama he weathers? At an early age, Alan decides he will not feel shame about himself; this, to me, is in large part why he stays so strong.

Cummings writes short, descriptive episodes, writing dual stories about the present (which was 2010) and his childhood (only titled Then). There are some delightful photos throughout, and candid revelations. A quick, interesting read.

Two other outstanding books I’ve read recently: The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison, and Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. Both incredibly smart, talented writers who put together two brilliant essay collections. (See also what Cheryl Strayed had to say in the New York Times regarding the “golden age for women essayists– why do we need a qualifier?)

Next, a return to fiction.  Can’t decide between Tartt’s A Secret History or Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay.  Any thoughts?

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I felt excitement the first moment I knew that I had been published in a literary journal while an undergrad.  I never knew a moment of regret or worry over it, although it was not the best poem I’d ever written. I was satisfied.

Not so with the publishing of my first e-book.  There was excitement at first, yes, closely followed by fear and anxiety.  I began to wonder if publishing the ‘traditional’ way was a more legitimate way than via e-book.  I began to doubt myself, my work.  I began to panic.  Did I do the right thing?  For myself?

My incipient dream:    to see my book, my pages, my words on bookshelves in bookstores.  On bookshelves in homes all across America, all across Europe.  Is this what writers dream of?  Do dreams have to keep up with technology & the constant flux of change in the world?  Why do we always want things to change or want to keep things from ever changing?

So, the e-book changes things a bit.  No hard-cover, no numbered pages.  No tactile experience; no smell.  No feel.  No weight of a newly pressed hardcover.  Just some words on a screen.

But is reading a text the same regardless of the source?  Do we read text messages, online magazines differently than novels?  It’s all just words, right?  I’m asking these questions because I’m not sure of the answers.

Arguments over the future of publishing aside, I feel like I’ve given birth, and am now in postpartum depression.  Teary, weary, worried.  Wondering how my words are being perceived by others.  How will they see my work?  What will others think of  me and what I’ve birthed?

They’re just some words on a screen, right?

I was thrilled to be able to hear Marjane Satrapi speak on her books and film last night at MTSU.  She is charming, funny, and the kind of person you just know you could be best friends with.

Satrapi’s work was an inspiration to me in grad school.  Her drawings are simple yet enormously appealing.  Her writing is sparse and to the point.  As she said last night, what she does not say in text, she draws; what is not said by her artwork is in text.  She refuses to call her memoir a graphic novel or memoir:  she prefers to call it a comic.

One thing that caught my attention was her distinction about what she considers her art form to be:  she considers it a medium, not a genre.  I guess I’ve always considered the comic/graphic novel or memoir to be included in the fourth genre, that of creative or literary non-fiction.  Satrapi says that the comic is just another medium, not a genre on its own.

Regarding being a human, Satrapi said that we cannot help but be cynical, considering the challenges that come with living on this earth and having the burden of consciousness.  We all have the same fate:  humans, dogs, cats, etc…. We all die one day, we all have the same fate.  But, about once per month, she says she sees some hope.

One of her influences for writing Persepolis was of course Spiegelman’s Maus. How can a person not be affected by that work?  Maus is so profound, deeply disturbing and yet illuminating at the same time.  Persepolis is heartbreaking and endearing, just as the author is.

I wrote a memoir in grad school, and were I to have any talent at all in the comic arts, I would have followed suit and rendered my own story in black and white drawings.  But I am stuck with only words, and that’s ok with me.

I do have to admit, however, that I was blushing and near tears when I met Marjane and she autographed my copy of Persepolis.  Writerly crushes are nothing to be ashamed of!

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