The Next American Essay by John D’Agata — I delved into this collection first because it’s on the creative nonfiction reading list and second because of its proclivity for lyric essays. The heavy hitters are all here — Didion, Sontag, Shield and Wallace — but there’s lesser known, yet still delightful, readers to discover. D’Agata takes one essay for each year from 1975 to 2003 and introduces each with a blurb that only D’Agata could deliver. Such as 1975: “This is not a special year. We are not fighting this year a war in Vietnam. We are not worried in this year about the price of gas. . . . Some of us, this year, are born.” I started this collection earlier in the year and it’s begging I finish.
Origins of the Universe and What It All Means by Carole Firstman — This book by a Fresno State MFA alumna, dubbed a “genre-bending memoir” that includes cartoons, diagrams, footnotes and love letters, is speaking my language and appealing to my tastes. Firstman’s struggle to re-connect with her estranged father and while redefining herself as both a grown woman and a daughter, not to mention a writer — I’ve read Firstman’s account of their strained relationship in “Liminal Scorpions”, a Notable Essay in Best American Essays and included here — promises a riveting read.
The War At Home: A Wife’s Search for Peace and Other Missions Impossible by Rachel Starnes — I’m really looking forward to digging into this debut memoir by another Fresno State MFA alumna. Revelations like “the differences between our experiences, though, other than a whole lot of global miles, was that my passport bore the stamps of a crossover into the territory of ‘known fuck-up’ while Ross stayed firmly within the boundaries of honor student and Eagle Scout. This was important because explaining the true course of my sophomore year to someone I intended to become close to had become something of an obligatory disclaimer I had to deliver with the proper gravity — I have the proven potential to screw up massively and be a problem and liability for everyone close to me. Do you accept the risk in investing in me? It wasn’t the kind of leverage I was fond of giving away.” I can’t wait.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter — The only fiction entry on my list has been collecting dust on my bookshelf the past few years. While the cover, a jagged piece of Italian landscape jutting out to sea, first caught my attention, the story — an almost-love affair set on an Italian coast and rekindled in Hollywood nearly fifty years later — will provide the perfect diversion and escape to another time and place.