My summer reading list: John Hales

Today is the fourth installment of “My Summer Reading List,” a look at what books the MFA faculty will be reading in the coming months.

Today’s recommendations are from John Hales, who says that in addition to watching bad TV and trying to write a book of his own, his summer reading plans include:

Lauren Slater, Welcome to My Country. “As some of you know, her book Lying drives me crazy; after teaching it in two different classes this semester, I’m still not sure how I feel about her screwing around with nonfictional assumptions–I mean, admitting that you can’t be trusted only gains a writer of nonfiction so much credibility with me. But her writing is very smart and truly beautiful, and I’m anxious to read a book of hers that I assume will mess with my head a little less.”

David Mas Masumoto, Harvest Son. “I’m also anxious to read this book. I’m embarrassed that it has taken me this long to get around to this book; I read Epitaph for a Peach years ago, and more carefully recently, and really admire it. He’s not just local; he’s really good, and this book apparently takes a less Thoreauvian approach to his subject matter, and to address questions about history and race that weren’t part of the story he tells in Epitaph. Not that there’s anything bad about being under the influence of Thoreau.”

Jack Miles, God: A Biography. “I keep telling people about this book, an incredibly readable retelling of the Old Testament, in which god is interpreted and understood in the same way a complex character from literature (or life), kind of Yahweh as Hamlet, an character god represents in this telling to a remarkable degree, not quite knowing what he wants, but being very interesting in his motivations and mood swings. I worry a little about explaining this book–I’m not getting religious or anything, but I’m very interested in both the stories and the obvious influence of the OT and its very complicated central figure on our history and literature. I also feel the need to point out that it’s respectful to believers, not really concerned with theology or truth or belief as with what the stories say about human experience, both in its telling and its influence on readers. (Miles is a former Jesuit theologian, and writes and thinks like the best kind of English-department colleague.) I first listened to this on tape years ago, and I’m looking forward to visiting it again.”

Joe Mackall, The Last Street Before Cleveland. “This is a short memoir. I heard him talk about this book at AWP, and bought it immediately. In it he revisits the rough neighborhood he somehow survived, and apparently underwent a kind of relapse in the process. I’ve been interested in Mackall for a long time; he’s editor of River Teeth, one of the few journals dedicated solely to creative nonfiction (which he calls nonfiction narrative), and he’s of the fundamentalist wing of the CN genre, having no patience with composite characters and invented scenes etc. I’m very interested in seeing how he balances his troubled past with his apparently re-troubled present, and with the in-recovery years in between.”

Coming next week: Connie Hales’ list.

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