The second first day

Today, I had my first day of my seminar for this term, which is called something like Seminar in Creative Nonfiction: Memoir. I shall call it “Memoir,” because Steve is taken. Anyway, the instructor is also my adviser for this term. She is the woman who called to tell me I’d been accepted to Oregon, she is the one whose book I read first and loved (and ended up paying about $160 to the KU library for keeping), and my expectations of her greatness are kind of high. So I’m hoping the class will be good. It will, I think, help me focus my writing on writing out of experience, and it should help in encouraging me to talk about the writing process more openly. I think, I think, I think. So we have a ton of reading and writing due for that class, which is why I came home and played Ticket To Ride online and started experimenting with making my own art to hang on the walls.

I need to e-mail said adviser sometime this evening with answers to the following questions: 1). Name ten to fifteen books (or short stories or critical works) that influence my writing/ make me think/ challenge me (the beginnings of a personal canon); 2). a page or so about what my particular interests and challenges with my writing are right now, and what I’d like to focus on for this term.

I find myself somewhat up in the air about these. My tentative “List of 10” would include Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Russo’s Empire Falls, Patchett’s Bel Canto and Taft, maybe Kent Haruf’s Plainsong, though that’s mostly because it was a recent read, The Essays of E.B. White, Carol Shields’s Unless and possibly The Stone Diaries, Franzen’s The Corrections, and McEwan’s Atonement and Saturday and maybe even Amsterdam. (I look at this list and I think: whoa! look at all the men!). I could add Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees because that’s where I turn when I need a reminder of the power of first person; I could add Zadie Smith’s The Autograph Man because I love the obsession in it and the way she seems to write herself from the outside in stories, and I like that. And for short stories, I’d add Aimee Bender’s “The Rememberer,” which is the kind of story that hits you or it doesn’t, and me it hit.

But I don’t know. Some of those will change. Some of them probably should have already changed, because influences are fluid — well, favorites are fluid. Not the same things, but my favorite books tend to be those books that challenge me or influence my thoughts toward/on writing. It’s important to get this list right, because from it will grow the great list — the 40-book personal canon — upon which I’ll be tested next year. And it’s probably important to get it right because these are the things I should be figuring out.

Anyone out there have their own 10-15 book personal canon start? Want to share?

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19 Responses to The second first day

  1. webcowgirl says:

    Hmmm. Number one is 100 Years of Solitude. Number two will probably be Remembrance of Things Past, though I’m only in the middle of the first volume right now.

    I’ll kind of attempt to think about this and see if I get some more good ones.

  2. webcowgirl says:

    Oh yeah. Faulkner’s Sound and the Fury.

  3. kepkanation says:

    Mmm, 100 Year of Solitude. That book would be an excellent addition to my list, particularly in the “books that challenge” category.

    I should read some Faulkner.

  4. webcowgirl says:

    Oh yeah, Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch really gave me a hole in my head.

  5. next_bold_move says:

    I couldn’t think of all 10-15, but I’m pretty sure these would be on my list.

    Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, to be sure.
    Wharton’s The House of Mirth.
    Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
    Oates’s short story collection: Will You Always Love Me?
    Kiernan’s The Dry Salvages. (Which I REALLY need to own, damn it.)

    (Whoa, look at all the women! 😉 )

  6. phillyexpat says:

    Edith Wharton’s “Roman Fever”
    Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale
    Jeff Noon’s Vurt
    Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World
    John Milton’s Paradise Lost and “Lycidas”
    T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
    The Illiad and The Odyssey
    John Irving’s The World According to Garp
    Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”
    John Keats’ “Ode on a Nightingale”

  7. starstraf says:

    I played Ticket to ride online for the first time today – FUN

  8. starstraf says:

    Coyote Blue by Christopher Moore
    Meet Loki/Coyote and see how he makes my life a challenge
    Gossamer Axe by Gael Baudino (out of print) Review
    Christa seems to have the same moral structure that I do
    Tom Robbins
    Still Life With Woodpecker

  9. kepkanation says:

    There’s a woman in my program who names a Cortazar book as her #1. I really need to read some Cortazar! Of course, my to-read list is a book in and of itself. Is Hopscotch a good place to start?

  10. kepkanation says:

    I knew you’d bring the women.

  11. kepkanation says:

    Mmm, Eliot, I should’ve thought of that.

    I really struggle with Garp and Irving in general — I love his writing but never his need to tie up every ending.

  12. kepkanation says:

    I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve only heard of one of those!

  13. kepkanation says:

    I’m a little hooked. But something keeps going wrong with my computer, so I get kicked out of the games.

  14. webcowgirl says:

    I don’t know what else he’s written but I think that’s “the” book to read. It’s about being a writer and, I think, memory; and it has the extra “fun” element of being able to be read either in order or following the chapter numbers he’s given in the book, so it should give you plenty to digest.

  15. webcowgirl says:

    I would also add Age of Innocence but I don’t know if that’s the best Wharton or not. I just loved it to bits, though.

  16. phillyexpat says:

    I love Irving, though his later books are weaker than his earlier ones. Until I Find You shows he may be returning to his former form.

    I have a soft spot for The World According to Garp because of all of the allusions to “The Waste Land.”

  17. kepkanation says:

    Mmm, yes, I love that book, too.

  18. next_bold_move says:

    I know, I know.

  19. Pingback: The revised list « Kepkanation

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